Perhaps you already know Nick Usborne.
Nick is a web-writing pioneer. He recognized early that the internet was going to have a tremendous impact on how we communicate and do business.
He made the shift from traditional copywriter to online copywriter before the turn of the century. Since that time, he’s anticipated many of the emerging trends and mastered them before they became mainstream.
So it’s no surprise that Nick knows a thing or two about blogging.
When asked about how he came into blogging Nick was happy to share his origin story.
“It wasn’t like deliberate decision, really. Before the days of blogging, I was posting articles — at the time there was no such things as a blog, really — so I wrote articles for the same reasons you might write guest blog posts today. In other words, to get myself out there.”
As the internet grew and matured, Nick continued to publish online. As blogging became a bigger deal, he played with blogging platforms. He noted that the reason blogging outstripped publishing articles was because of the comment stream. “With the comment stream, that changed the character of things… because now you’re inviting interaction and conversation.”
Nick has had several experiences with blogging, covering different topics in different blogs. And his method of choosing a topic shows an interesting insight into the different purposes that blogging can service. He said, “Basically I use blogging as a way to help me market myself in a particular area. I have a website called NickUsborne.com, which is me as a freelancer, teacher, and writer on online copywriting. The principal part of that website is a blog. I’m simply using the blog as a tool to help me talk about my business, about what I do… which is write and teach the craft of online copywriting.”
Nick went on to talk about one of his other blogs.
“I also have a website about coffee. How to brew nice, fancy coffee at home. That’s a whole different deal there. There’s a lot of static website qualities to that website. Lots of permanent, evergreen content. But there’s also a blogging area as well where I cover what’s new. But again, the blogging function is a useful tool.”
The tool aspect is important. At no point did Nick think, “Oh, hey, I want to be a blogger.” He was always focused on growing and reaching an audience, and when blogging promised to be an effective tool to do that, he would incorporate it.
Nick also moved into the social media space early in its inception, and he talked about the compounding power that social media brought to blogging. “There’s a very natural connection between blogging and social media. When social media arrived, it became the perfect add-on.”
He described social media and blogging as a huge inbound marketing opportunity: “It’s a great way to reach a larger audience and to engage with them.”
Depending on what the purpose of your blog is, you’ll find your ego plays a different role. On his NickUsborne.com blog, Nick focuses on what he wants to say and what he wants to teach because part of his purpose is to establish his authority and demonstrate his expertise, to grow his reputation as a writer. But on his coffee site, CoffeeDetective.com, he focuses on figuring out what his audience wants to know, what information they’re looking for, how he can help them, how he can entertain them, and how he can please them.
That means doing a lot of audience research. He uses keyword research tools to find out what his audience is searching for. He uses BuzzSumo and other social listening tools to see what is popular on social platforms. He’ll look at other coffee sites to see what they’re doing well, and then try to do something similar but better on his own site.
When asked about doing that competitive analysis of other websites, Nick shared his favorite tool: “The site I use most is SEMRush. It gives you a pretty broad picture in terms of your competitor’s traffic, in terms of their inbound links, in terms of the keywords that are working for them, in terms of their close competitors… stuff like that. So I find that a useful tool.”
Starting out, most bloggers struggle in one way or another. Nick talked about his own early trials, saying, “The early days of driving traffic to anything online is tough… and probably getting harder. There are millions of blog posts being published every day around the world. The competition, the noise, is phenomenal.”
But Nick was quick to clarify that there are advantages too. “When I started out, there was very little competition, but the tools were incredibly rudimentary, and the bandwidth was dial-up. So I had certain advantages and disadvantages when I started.”
Nick went on to talk about how things have changed.
“Now people have different advantages and disadvantages. The advantages these days are driven by technology. The technology’s amazing, the bandwidth is amazing. But the big disadvantage now is you have to compete with a phenomenal level of noise. So I think the biggest struggle now is how do you rise above the noise? How do you set yourself apart? How do you get people to pay attention, to take notice?”
Nick answered his own question, saying, “There are a bunch of strategies… there are a bunch of tactics. Some are familiar… like guest blogging. That’s a classic way to build an audience and build some credibility.”
Nick’s most important advice for guest blogging is to aim above where you are. You want your work to be featured on a site with a bigger audience than yours, that has earned more authority than you have so far, so that you can enjoy a halo effect.
Another strategy Nick uses is to interview people. “I’ve interviewed Ann Handley, I’ve interviewed Jay Baer, I’ve interviewed Seth Godin… And again, that helps. It helps in terms of search, it helps in terms of reputation. And if they promote the interview a bit as well, then I’m getting some of their audience. So I look for people who have an audience that’s related to my audience, an audience that might be interested in what I’m doing. But also, again, I’m getting the halo effect of their authority and credibility.”
And that makes sense. If people see your work featured on a site like Copyblogger, they’ll assume you’re writing must be good. That’s what you want.
Nick loves to keep up with new technologies. They give him something to learn about and to play with. And they open doors to opportunities, as well. He explained how learning to do video helped him grow his Coffee Detective audience. He said, “So video is very, very strong… and growing very, very fast as part of a marketing toolkit. I’ve been making videos for Coffee Detective. I have a YouTube channel for Coffee Detective… I’m approaching 2 million views on my coffee videos, which isn’t too shabby.
“I have one video review of a coffee maker that is approaching half a million views. So half a million views for a video is huge. Video reviews, equipment reviews, for coffee makers and coffee grinders and stuff has proved to be really, really useful to me. And it all started with me, 10 years ago thinking, ‘Hey, I bet video’s going to be a bigger thing than it is now.’ And I said, ‘Hey, with coffee, it’s great, because there’s a lot of how-to.’”
Nick has continued to play with video and experiment with different platforms. He said, “Recently I’ve been creating these very, very short-form videos, which in a sense are almost like little video slideshows. All of them are less than a minute. And they’re all for Coffee Detective. And they’re all geared to social media. They have headlines like ‘4 Ways to Make Coffee You Probably Never Tried.’”
When it comes to bring traffic to his sight, Nick likes to use a mix of classic, proven strategies, like guest blogging, and newer strategies. like short-form videos optimized for social media.
In particular Nick pays attention to how technology changes the way people consume media. He explained, “If you’re sitting at home on your computer, you may sit and watch my eight-minute video review of a coffee maker. If you’re lining up at Starbucks and you’re on your phone, probably not so likely. But will you watch something that’s 50 seconds long on your phone while you’re lining up at Starbucks? Sure.”
Nick is always trying to understand given advances in technology, given changes in behavior, changes in how people consume online media. He uses what he learns to guide where he puts his focus. He describes it as his secret sauce.
“If I have an advantage over a lot of my competitors, it’s that I generally am one or two steps ahead of them on that technological side of what’s happening now and where the growth is coming over the next two or three years.”
Guest blogging has become such a classic strategy that it can be hard to cut through the noise there. A lot of blog owners are inundated with poorly written, boilerplate guest-blogging requests. Nick underscores the importance of building a relationship first. It’s much easier to get a yes to your guest blogging pitch if the person you’re sending it to already knows you a little bit… at least well enough to recognize your name.
Nick drove the point home, saying, “I’m trying to think if I have ever managed to do an interview or a guest blog post where I haven’t established some kind of relationship in advance. I don’t think I have. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is to meet people. Meet people. As I look back over my 40 years as a writer, I don’t think anything significant has ever come out of any relationship where I haven’t met the person face to face, in the flesh. It makes a huge difference.”
Most successful bloggers have a moment when they realize, “Oh hey, I’m on to something here.” And Nick is no exception. His a-ha moment for Coffee Detective came when he received a media invite to cover a coffee conference in Chicago. Nick recalled his thoughts at that moment.
“This is my side gig, right? I’m not a professional coffee person. This is like hobby stuff for me. And so my first response almost was like, ‘How can these people think that I’m professional coffee media?’ But naturally, I said yes, because stuff like that, I say yes to.”
But it wasn’t just the coffee conference. While there, Nick got to hang out in the media room with a lot of big names in the coffee industry. And then when he published his coverage of the event, his credibility with his readers grew. After all, if Coffee Detective is being invited to cover the CoffeeCon conference in Chicago, it must be a serious player.
A successful blog demands more than good writing skills. And again, Nick focused on the value of keeping up with technology trends.
“I think you need to roll your sleeves up and actually understand the technology a bit. Like I was talking about those short-form videos. I built those with Animoto, this online tool. I could outsource that. But I don’t because then instead of being the creator, I would just become the client.”
Whether it’s learning to use WordPress or learning how to make the most of Instagram or learning how to make short-form videos with Animoto, Nick’s advice is to “roll your sleeves up and immerse yourself in some of that stuff.” He says you’ll do better when you do.
The other non-writing skill Nick emphasized was a willingness to do hard and to work through the frustration when learning new things. As an example, Nick talked about creating PowerPoint courses with audio on top. “My first time trying to build out a course of my own where it was voiceover on PowerPoint… you can ask my wife, I mean, just endless frustration and cursing and shouting. It’s hard, these learning curves are all hard.
“But I do it because I want to be a maker and a creator rather than a client.”
Mostly though, Nick says success comes down to showing up and doing the work.
“I’ve got up in the morning, every morning, for 40 years and I work. And that’s it. That that truly is the secret to my success. So, I’d say to bloggers, is if there’s any part of you that expects this to be easy, don’t. Expect it to be hard.”
When you expect it to be hard, you’ll set yourself up to stick with it. And that’s important. Blogging success is a long play. It doesn’t happen overnight. If you expect it to be easy, it will be easy to give up. But if you go in, expect to work hard, you’ll persist. And then five years from now, you might be earning six or seven figures because of the hard work you do today.
Editor’s Note: If you want to write your own blogging success story, AWAI now has a program to help you do that. It walks you through picking a topic, coming up with ideas, writing excellent blog entries, building your audience, and earning money from your efforts. You can find all the details here.
This article is part of the Blogging Stories series.
Series Table of Contents:
- A Serial Entrepreneur Shares His Story of Blogging Success
- A Blog – The Ultimate Writer’s Tool (This Article)
- Blogging Your Way to a Life of Adventure
- Blogging and Business: Harnessing the Power of Attention
- How Jon Morrow Launched His Blog with 13,000 Subscribers – and Other Blogging Stories
- Living a Beautiful Life – Blogging Success with Sal O’Neill
- Follow Your Passion – A Blogging Success Story with Carol Bryant
- Building the Life You Want – Holly Reisem Hanna’s Blogging Success Story
- From $700 a month to $3.5 million a year – Sarah Titus and Blogging Success