Admit it … you’ve wondered.
You’re writing and writing and writing, and a few people say they like it, but you’re just not getting results. Traffic is coming in at a trickle, links are hard to come by, and your comments section is about as lively as a nightclub at breakfast.
And you can’t help wondering …
Do you just need to be patient, waiting for your traffic to snowball?
Or could it be possible that, really, your content sucks (thereby breaking the first rule of Copyblogger), and everyone is just being nice so as not to hurt your delicate artistic feelings?
The hard truth: there’s no way to know for sure
For one, we’re talking about quality, which is subjective by definition. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and all that jazz.
It’s also a matter of scale. This isn’t American Idol, where you have 30 million people voting, transforming a singer into a superstar through the power of public consensus.
If you’re a beginning blogger, you might have fewer than 100 regular readers, and 20 of them are your friends and family. And let’s face it; your mother is going to like everything you do, no matter how bad it is. That’s her job.
So who are you supposed to listen to?
Well … nobody, and everybody, all at the same time. The maddening thing about creating anything is no one can tell you how to do it, and yet everyone’s opinion can teach you something.
There aren’t any rules, no, but there are warnings. If your content sucks, you’ll see dozens, maybe hundreds of telltale signs, hinting that something is wrong.
I’ve collected 20 of the most common here. Take a look through them, and see if any describe you:
1. You think your content is “good enough”
If you had to rate your content on a scale of 1 to 10, what would you give it? A 6? A 7? That’s what most bloggers say.
But here’s the problem: you can’t really grade content on a scale. You’re either blowing people’s minds or putting them to sleep, and there’s nothing in between.
Put another way, content graded as a 6 or 7 gets the same reaction as a 1. It’s a waste of time to publish it.
2. Your posts read like journal entries
Not too long ago, most people used their blog as a sort of online journal, where people took a few minutes every day to write down their thoughts. But blogs have evolved beyond that. Now they’re more like online magazines, with highly polished content.
If your posts look more like “Dear Diary” than a magazine you would see at the newsstand, you’ve probably got a problem.
3. You’re not getting many (or any) comments
Comments are one of the best ways to measure reader engagement. If you have a few hundred subscribers, and yet none of them are commenting, then it might be because they find your content unworthy of their attention.
Translation: it sucks.
4. Your visitors stay less than two minutes, on average
Install Google Analytics, and look at the average amount of time visitors are staying on your website.
For most traffic sources, anything less than two minutes is bad. If you are at less than one minute, then your content is repelling people. You can do better.
5. You spend less than an hour on each post
Yes, it’s possible to write a great blog post in 15 minutes, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that it doesn’t happen very often. Most of the popular bloggers I know spend anywhere from 2 to 10 hours on each blog post they write. If you’re not, you should be.
6. You’ve never received fan mail
If your content is good, people will go out of their way to tell you how good it is. We’re not just talking about nice little tweets; we’re talking about five page e-mails where they tell you their life story and thank God for your existence.
No, you won’t get much of it when you’re a beginner, but you will get some. If you haven’t, then your content isn’t as good as it should be.
7. You’ve never received hate mail
The opposite is also true. If your content is good, you’ll always have a small but vocal group of people who think you’re wrong, rude, or inconsiderate. They are the righteous majority for moral authority, and nothing you can say will appease them.
So don’t try. Their mockery and screams of outrage are merely signs that you’re headed in the right direction.
8. You focus on SEO before you get your first link
Whenever a newbie starts asking me about SEO before they’ve even written a post, I always know they’re doomed. There is no better way to write horrible, crappy content than to deliberately stuff it with keywords in an attempt to boost your search engine rankings, when what you really need is for people to link to you in the first place.
If this is you, immediately throw salt over your shoulder, turn around three times, and spit. Then forget everything you think you know about SEO. Study smart SEO instead. (But pay attention to the next item.)
9. You believe SEO is the secret to building a popular blog
First, let me set the record straight. I am a big fan of SEO. I’m just not a fan of the pedestal many beginners put it on.
SEO can’t, by itself, make a popular blog. First, you need remarkable content, and then you optimize it for search engines. Skip the remarkable part, and all the optimization in the world won’t help you.
10. You’re saving your best ideas for later
Are you planning to do an e-book or course, and you’re holding back all of your best ideas, waiting for your blog to get popular before you publish them and make gobs of money?
If so, stop. To riff on Warren Buffett, waiting until your blog is popular to publish your best ideas is like waiting until you’re old to have sex. Get your good stuff published today.
11. Your blog is about … well … everything
One of the quickest ways to frustrate your readers is to write about everything that’s on your mind.
Here’s why: people don’t come to your blog to find out what you think. They come to your blog for solutions to their problems. The moment you stop talking about them is the moment they stop reading.
12. You don’t know the benefit
Pop quiz: one year from now, how will your readers’ lives be better? What specific, measurable results will you have helped them obtain?
We are not talking about “Having a greater sense of fulfillment and prosperity.” We’re talking about “They’ve lost 20 pounds” or “They’ve brought in five high-quality new clients.”
If you can’t put your content in these terms, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
13. You think you deserve more traffic than you’re getting
Do you feel annoyed that no one appreciates the value of the knowledge that you’re giving away for free?
I know I used to, and it took several years of struggling to realize no one is entitled to attention.
You have to earn it, day in and day out. No exceptions.
14. You have a science, engineering, or technology background
I know, it sounds horribly prejudiced. But here’s the deal: scientists, engineers, and other types of technologists are trained to be objective, passive, and detached — all three of which will destroy you as a blogger.
No, you’re not doomed if you have a background in one of these disciplines. But it is a handicap, and you need to be aware of it.
15. You’ve never read a book on copywriting
Writing a blog post without studying copywriting is like hunting for buried treasure without a map. You might be able to do it, but you’ll have to get astoundingly lucky.
If you haven’t studied copywriting, you should. Like right now.
16. You have no idea what keeps your readers up at night
Great writing is about intimacy, and nothing is more intimate than knowing what keeps your readers up at night.
Find out what makes them afraid, find out what makes them excited, find out what’s going through their minds at 2 a.m. Then use it in your blog posts. You’ll be communicating with them on such a deep, emotional level that it will be impossible for them to ignore you.
17. You write less than 1,000 words per day
Of all the warning signs, this is probably the biggest. If you’re not writing at least 1,000 words per day, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for you to write anything but mediocre content.
Try writing at least 1000 words every day for 30 days, and see what an impact it has on your writing. You’ll be astounded.
18. You read less than 10 hours per week
Besides writing a lot, you also need to read a lot. It exposes you to different writing styles to learn from; it gives you new stories and metaphors; it keeps you abreast of what’s going on in your field.
In my opinion, 10 hours a week is a bare minimum. If you really want to be good, think more in the range of 20-40 hours a week.
19. You’ve never talked to a reader on the phone or in person
A one-hour conversation with one of your most ardent readers will teach you more about how to communicate with your audience than anything else you can do. If you’re not doing it at least once every month or two, there’s a good chance you’re falling out of touch.
20. You’ve been blogging for less than six months
Okay, we’re at the end, so I’ll go ahead and admit it: not everything is your fault. If you’ve been blogging for less than six months, there’s almost nothing you can do; your content is going to suck to some degree.
Keep your chin up, expect to be ignored, and just keep going. You’ll get good soon.
The bottom line
I’d love to tell you that producing great content is easy. I’d love to tell you that there are shortcuts. I’d love to tell you you can do it with your brain on auto pilot.
But I won’t, because we’re being honest here, right?
Producing great content is work. No, it’s not building a pyramid or putting a man on the moon or curing cancer, but it does take time, energy, and dedication.
If you’re sitting here, right now, worrying about whether your content sucks or not, that’s actually a good sign. If you’re worrying about it at 2 in the morning, that’s even better.
Achieving greatness in blogging is the same as anything else. You have to work your butt off.
If you’re willing to do that, then there will always be a place for you on the web. You’ll always be in demand. You’ll always be able to stand out.
It’s tough, yes, but it’s worth it.
So, what are you waiting for?
Hurry up and get started.