Lessons learned while deleting 274 blog posts

deleting blog posts

By Mark W. Schaefer

I’m in the process of creating a new website (soon to be revealed with the help of Joel Hughes and his Glass Mountains Digital Agency) and decided it was time to clean house.

After more than seven years of blogging I had a lot of clutter. Irrelevant posts. Broken links. Out-dated information. Silly stuff. So I started at the beginning of the {grow} timeline and began deleting blog posts. Hundreds of them.

When the dust had cleared, I had trashed 274 blog posts.

In most cases, I had not seen these old posts for six or seven years. Re-living those early days of my social media journey — and the re-invention of a career — was an emotional and illuminating experience. Here are a few observations and lessons I learned.

The firsts

It was fun to go back and figure out who left the first of 65,000 comments on this blog. Somebody named Houston. Have no idea who that is. Michele Linn was the first guest blogger. There was a group of us who guest blogged for each other at the beginning to help our communities get started.

Since those early days I have had more than 65,000 comments on the blog. I have deleted nine for being over the top. Nine. This is an exceptional audience and I never, ever take you for granted. Thank you!

It’s funny that nearly all of the “top bloggers” I wrote about seven years ago have moved on to other things. Some have moved off the grid completely. I wonder what will happen to me in the next five years? I’m still having fun.

How I’ve changed

I was struck by what has changed on the blog and what hasn’t. The early blog posts were not as bad as I expected them to be. Between 2009 and mid-2011 I could see a definite shift toward a more confident and authoritative voice. So it took me two and a half years to firmly find my footing. That’s about the same time frame I hear from a lot of other bloggers, so the lesson is, be persistent!

Even from the beginning, many of my themes have been consistent — a practical, rational, measurable, and human approach to marketing. But at that 2.5 year mark, the quality and depth of my writing spiked up dramatically.

Here’s what has changed the most. Expressing my sense of humor. In the early years I wrote absolutely wacky blog posts like

… and I don’t do any of that crazy stuff any more.

I think one reason might be that I have more of the world watching now. I’m more self-conscience when thousands of people from all over the world are looking for something thought-provoking every day. I can never, ever break that promise. If you spend time on this blog, it will be INTERESTING! I’m not sure how “wacky” fits into the plan any more.

Another reason is that there is so much to write about. I have a backlog of hundreds of marketing ideas. Maybe there is not so much room these days for funny.

But there is probably a deeper reason. Years ago, when I had just 20 readers, I had nothing to lose. I wrote with reckless abandon. I do miss that and it’s something to think about.

Engagement is dramatically down

There has been a significant shift in the engagement level here. Back in 2011-2013 it would not be unusual to get 60-80 comments on a single post. Today I probably average 10-20 comments. This is a phenomenon being witnessed all over the web right now.

Some of the engagement is moving to other places like Facebook and LinkedIn, some of the decline is because people are busy (people had more time to comment if they were looking for work in the recession) and part of it is the fact that most of you read this on a mobile device and it is damn hard leaving a comment on a smartphone.

Smartphones have really worked against bloggers.

Rapid adoption versus today

I was amazed to see that within the first three months some of my blog posts were making “best of” lists. Three months! I’m not sure it would be that easy to get that kind of attention today.

There used to be this “blog power ranking” created by AdAge magazine. Oh my how bloggers swooned over that thing. Within a year I had made the top 25 in the world and by year two I was usually ranked in the Top 10. So looking back, I’m surprised I was able to make so much progress that rapidly and I’m not sure I could achieve that today from a standing start. It’s a much more competitive world.

The tipping point

In Joe Pulizzi’s fine book Content Inc., he talks about a “tipping point” that finally sends your blog over the top. I have been thinking a lot about this point. What made my blog finally “tip?”

From the beginning, my blog audience grew steadily but after about 2.5 years it really shot up to a new level.

For me, I believe the change came because I was tuned in to audience feedback. As I plowed through hundreds of posts I wrote through the years, I could see my “voice” solidify, and my topics became more focused. I attribute this to the tremendous feedback I received through reader comments. Each week you gently nudged me into becoming the writer I am today.

There was another subtle strategy that helped me break through. I made a decision at the beginning of my blogging career to write for readers and NOT write for SEO. This was a risky decision because it was squarely against the conventional wisdom of that time, and maybe even today.

By definition, if you constantly optimize for “popular” words, you’re not distinct. To stand out you have to be original, and you’re not going to be original if you write the same keyword-laden posts as everybody else. SEO works against viral.

One reader recently told me that she starts every day with a cup of coffee and my blog. I have become part of the fabric of her life. You’re not going to build that kind of emotional connection with an audience by tweaking keywords every day. I write for you, period.

Where is everybody? 

It’s amazing how blog readers seem to come and go in waves. Sure, I have a few people who have read the blog for many years but it made me sad to see how many regulars (who became friends) have gone silent.

Time passes so quickly. It was stunning to see how many people I’ve lost track of. Are you out there?

So those are a few things that went through my mind during the blog post purge. If you’re reading this … well, it just makes me appreciate you even more. I feed off of your support and comments and I thank you. Thank you so much for being here. It will be fascinating to see how {grow} continues to unfold.


SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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