Darren Rowse: Blogging from the Heart but Smart

I’ve been enjoying ProBlogger for a while so it was great to hear him in person at BlogWorld. Here’s the essence of his talk.

Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse at BlogWorld 2011 LA

I’d like to start with an experiment. Find a person next to you that you don’t know and ask them why they started blogging. [Think about your answer, I’ll wait.] I asked this on Google Plus. At the beginning most people said something about “I had something I needed to say” or “I wanted to engage people” or “I wanted to help.”

Then some brave soul finally said “I heard you could make money blogging.”

And then other people started saying things like that. Not just making money directly, but raise my profile, get a job, make a book deal.

Many of the earlier bloggers had noble reasons about wanting to share. Many people who joined later were more profit oriented. And some of the old-timers resent the newcomers, but I don’t, these are all good reasons to blog.

Somebody, let’s call her Sally, wrote to me saying “I heard that if you just blog from the heart things will work out. So I’ve been pouring my heart out, helping people but nothing has worked out for me, and I can’t keep doing this with no return.”

It does happen to some people. [And because of Survivors’ Bias, those people often loudly repeat the “it will work itself out” canard and implicitly if it’s not working out for you you’re not really blogging from the heart. I’m glad Darren isn’t spouting that line.] But for most people just blogging from the heart isn’t enough.

And on the other extreme I got approached from somebody I’ll call Harry. “I’ve been following the formula and it just doesn’t work.” “What formula,” I asked. He had subscribed to some program that said something like regular content + link building + comments + nice design + ads in good places + affiliate links = large profits.

“Can I look at your blog?” I asked.

“Sure, I’ll send you links to all 15 of them.”

And he’s really writing on 15 blogs every day. But when I read them, it looked like they’d been written by a robot. It was so formulaic and strategic that there was no heart in it.

I started as a heart blogger, but I couldn’t sustain it. It was taking me away from my family, and from commercial opportunities, and it wasn’t making me any money. In fact, it was costing me money.

Then things started working. Once I had 30 blogs going. But I didn’t care enough about the 30 things.

So let’s talk about When Harry Met Sally [I guess I should have seen that one coming. Any of you readers see that coming? Be honest]. Where the Heart and the Smart Come Together. There’s nothing wrong with Strategic Blogging and nothing wrong with Heart Blogging. But ideally you combine them.

Robert Frost wrote “There’s no tears in the writer, there’s no tears in the reader. If there’s no surprise in the write, there’s no surprise in the reader.”

You need to be engaged in the topic.

Tell stories. The posts that people remember are usually stories. They don’t remember what I told them about shutter speed. They do remember “Why this photographer is better than me.” A post about how I was smugly observing this silly woman with a camera at a George Michael concert. She held the camera over her head and took pictures with the flash and then looked and saw just black. She tried looking through the lens and only managed to get pictures of the guy in front of her’s bald spot. But as I laughed smugly she just kept experimenting, learning, taking pictures, and having fun. I realized she was a better photographer than I was, for three reasons. She had her camera with her. She was using it and enjoying it. And she was learning.

My most read post this year is a guest post of How to quit your job, move to paradise, and get paid to change the world.

Build community. People don’t come on line just to get information, they want to engage, they want to belong to something.

Inspire people. I don’t know about you but my life isn’t always that inspiring.

Inspiration was driving readers to information. Put up 15 inspiring photos. People e-mailed him asking for the techniques. Now these posts link to a tutorial. People click on those links like crazy.

Be personal.

Be playful. Be yourself.

I write best in a conversational style. My best posts often start as e-mails. Then I realize I can just remove the other person’s name and it’s a great post that people connect to.

Do Good.

Blogging Smart

If you want your blog to be a business someday, then start treating your blog as a business today. If you want your blog to eventually be something else, start focusing on that today.

After humoring my blogging habit for years, my wife gave me 6 months to get blogging working. That day I started calling advertisers. Finally got one, for $30 a month. Then I needed to figure out how to increase my traffic.

Define what success looks like to you.

I put together a 5 year plan. I recently found it. I was surprised by how much my accomplishments matched my plan. Articulating what I wanted to achieve helped me achieve them. Then I made a 1 year plan, which included what am I going to do in the next 30 days.

Know your reader. Create user personas. Creating a user profile gives me content ideas, marketing ideas, and monetization ideas. It tells me how to engage him. Knowing who you want to reach will transform how you blog. If you already have readers, great, it can help you figure out who you should be reaching.


Jeff Bezos says a brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

So what do you want people to say about you. If you spend 15 minutes thinking about that it will help you.

Marketing: Build it and they will come? No, they won’t.

So another exercise: Where are your potential readers gathering? How can you participate there?

Hooks. Think through how do I get a first time visitor to become an evangelist for my site.

Create something to sell.

Editorial Strategy. What type of post should I be writing for my blog? I write to serve my current reader. And some posts I write to get shared. Some posts are to inform, some to interact, some to inspire. Mix it up. The more you think about this the better. Also think about frequency. Do some testing, and look what your competition is doing.

Experiment, test, and tweak. Did 31 days to a better blog. Did OK. Second year did it better. 3rd year did it again, this time with an e-mail list and a daily reminder, a forum. People asked for an eBook. I said, OK, I can gather it into an eBook and sell you that. We’ve sold around 300,000 eBooks from that random idea that I tweaked and experimented on. It’s now gone through 5 iterations. So if something works, make it work better.


Great session. And give the man credit, during the half hour I took finishing up this post Darren was patiently talking to everybody that came up to talk to him, and is now talking to the people who stayed in the room.

For more BlogWorld coverage see Peter Shankman Rocks BlogWorld and Best of BlogWorld.