How to have a successful martial arts blog

This post is going to be a little different from what I normally write about but after checking with all of you on my Facebook page, turns out you wanted me to post this so here goes.The biggest part of this post comes from something I wrote in response to a friend of mine (famous author and expert) who has an ongoing argument with his wife: she thinks he’s wasting his time on the internet (primarily on Facebook), he thinks he’s not.

I disagreed in part with both of them and will explain below why.

If this isn’t your thing, don’t bother reading any of it; I’ll resume my normal posting after this one.

 

Some background

I made my first martial arts website in 1999 with a state-of-the-art piece of crap software called AOL Press. Since then, I’ve made all of my sites, as I’m a bit of an IT geek who enjoys this stuff, and have used a bunch of technologies. I also did lots of research on how to go about it all. Now I have no illusions of grandeur but I do have a bit of experience with both. Also, I started blogging in 2008 and have seen my blog here get an increasingly large audience, for which I’m very grateful. It’s amazing the support I have received from all of you so thank you for that.

Back on track: I started blogging in 2008 after reading this article from Yaro Starak and listening to the podcast. I thought it was a bunch of nonsense. Making thousands of dollars a month by writing about stuff you’re interested in? Without the support of traditional publishing or media? Ha! But for some reason, I decided to investigate some more to see if this was just another of those internet scams or if there was something to it. Turns out the site was legit and the story accurate enough. It also turned out a bunch of other people were doing similar things.

Being interested in on-line ventures by nature, I started doing the research to set up my own blog. A few months later, I did just that and here we are now in December 2012.

I didn’t have any aspirations of becoming a millionaire with my blog for two reasons:

  • I doubted it would be possible in my niche; martial arts and self-defense.
  • I refused to do some of the things needed to gain a lot of traffic fast.

I didn’t spam people. I didn’t infest the forums with my presence, baiting everybody to come check out my blog. Nor did I write typical short “link-bait” posts to make sure I’d get those coveted back links. I also refused to do black hat or use borderline methods to rank well in the search engines.  I think all that stuff is bullshit.

I’ve been online for well over 15 years and saw what happened on the forums. I remember when the word “troll” just started getting used and how easy it was to recognize them for what they were. I also saw the rise of spam before there were good spam filters. But mainly, I abhor a certain kind of marketing and self-promoting. The kind you used to see in some of the martial arts magazines (you know what I mean…) It just annoys the hell out of me.

There’s nothing wrong with promoting yourself. If you have goods or services for sale, you should promote them. Otherwise, you’re not a professional and you won’t get anywhere. If you don’t want to get anywhere, then don’t bother making professional products. If you do, then be a professional and market them.  But you don’t have to be an annoying douchebag while you do so. That’s why I didn’t do a lot of the stuff they told bloggers to do five years ago; I disagree with it.

True, had I done that, I would have had exponentially more people visiting this blog. But I would have loathed both doing what was necessary to reach those goals and myself for using those tactics. So I decided on a couple of guidelines for myself early on:

  • Don’t write crap. If it’s nonsense, I don’t write it. Even if it would get me tons of visitors. Because these visitors will all be gone right away if all they read next on my blog is more crap.
  • Get over over yourself, Belgian boy. I’m an opinionated bastard, always have been. But I learned the hard way (by being wrong a lot) that I’m not the fountain of ultimate truth we all would like to be. So I try not to write from a stance of absolute authority claiming my words are gospel. Nor do I discard everybody else’s opinion as wrong by default. You better bring good arguments to the table but if you do, I’m all ears.
  • Write your opinion truthfully and qualify it as such. This relates to the previous bullet: everything you read here is my opinion on certain topics. I almost always try to explain the logic behind it so you know where I’m coming from. But none of what you read here is set in stone. If it works for you, that’s great. If you think I’m full of it, equally great. My opinion is no more (but also no less) important than that of anybody else. So why get worked up over it either way?
  • Try to help. I remember starting my training and having loads of questions. I didn’t often get the kind of answers I was looking for. The people who gave them are people I still look up to to this day. All I’m doing is paying it forward and trying to be like them because if it helped me, maybe I can help somebody else the same way. In many ways, I’m still that young kid with a lot of questions and my blog is a way of thinking out loud, organizing my thoughts and getting feedback that fuels more thought. So it helps me too.

All that combined creates a certain kind of blogging style in both the writing and the type of content I give here. A style that works for me but one that isn’t as effective for attracting more visitors or selling more products. Mind you, I do want you to buy my books and videos. I worked hard to make them as good as possible and I think they have value. But I don’t have to club you to death with banner ads or sales copy either. I don’t like pushy salesmen so I try not to be one either. Hence the specific style I just mentioned.

However, it’s almost 2013 now. The internet has changed a lot since I started blogging and what do you know? A lot of the advice I read in the beginning is no longer valid today. Search engines have changed, web 2.0 has come and gone, social media has arrived and people are much more knowledgeable than ever before. So the old tricks don’t work anymore.

What does work is writing the best content you possibly can and try to view your blog as a business, one that you run with best practices and as much integrity as you can. Which is no big deal for me as that’s how I saw things to begin with.

But in the last couple years, I’ve seen the same type of nonsense from the blogging con-artists crop up about social media, mostly about Facebook. There is a truckload of disinformation and outright lies being spread on this topic. There’s also a lot of misunderstanding about social media and how successful blogs work. In this next part, I’ll try to explain some of the things I both believe are true and know actually work. Here goes.

 

 It all started with…

My friend replying to his wife with this comment about his time spent on Facebook:

Granted it’s that damn quip about advertising “Half my money in advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half”

This old cliche is no longer really true in the online world; you can find out. There are a couple things you need to do but they’re all easy. Most of them are free too. Here are some thoughts:

  • Stop using a personal account on Facebook  For your marketing it sucks. You need to create a Facebook page. Personal accounts have a limit of 5000 friends, so eventually you’ll have to do this anyway. The difference if you wait until then is that you’ll lose a lot of people in the transition. People who might not ever come back to you. People you spent a lot of time getting to befriend you. All wasted…
  • A page gives you analytics. These statistics tell you who your audience is, which posts, images, videos, etc. are viewed, clicked on, shared, etc. In short, you will know what people do on your Facebook page. You will know which type of content you are wasting your time with. A personal account will not give you that information.
  • More control. Another benefit of a page is that it gives you more options to highlight what you want to emphasize. It de-emphasizes the stuff other people post by placing it in a small section on the side. Not so with a personal account: your stuff is often buried underneath the posts other people make. Not good marketing.

So if your goal is to use Facebook for marketing, then a personal account is not how you want to do it. You need to make a page.

 

How to integrate all your online real estate.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about online marketing, primarily in how you should use all the different tools out there like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc. The biggest mistake people make is putting all their eggs in that basket. Here’s the thing: you don’t control anything that is on Facebook or Twitter. If they decide you violate their TOS, they block your account or page and you‘re screwed. And then what? How will all those people who follow you there stay in touch?

Facebook has done this before (to pages with 10K likes and more) and will keep on doing it. They will do what they think is right and you have absolutely no control over it. Also, if Facebook would ever go bust, then all of your content is gone. Totally gone. Can’t happen? I don’t think it will happen soon but remember when MySpace was big? They are pretty much dead and gone now. All the time spent getting people to like you there was wasted.

This happens consistently on the internet: sites and technologies come and go. The only consistent thing is actual websites. They’re still around and probably always will be. The key is this: they’re the only thing you can control. You own your domain name when you buy it Nobody can tell you what to do there. At worst, if you run into trouble with your webhost, then you just migrate to another one. Other than that, you can do whatever you want on your own site.

The key to leverage social media is to use them to make your site or blog stronger. Making your Facebook presence grow is only a means to that end. Here’s why:

It is unlikely that there will come an end to search engines. Chances are good Google will dominate for a long time. They don’t like Facebook though. And until Facebook becomes a better search engine than Google, your best content should be somewhere Google can find it. For instance all the content you post  as “notes” on Facebook is not found in Google; it’s only findable by Facebook users. But so far, these don’t use Facebook as a search engine (despite Facebook trying to lure them into doing that), they are using Google for that…

 

The key to online success is this:  make all the social media and other online outlets point back to something you control. That will almost always be your site or blog.

Your site or blog will always let you sell your products and services better than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even Google. You will never have more control over anything online than a site or blog you own.

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information to explain why I say this: anything you post on your Facebook page gets seen by on average only 16% of your fans. For a personal account, the number is about 12%.

That’s just how Facebook rolls. If you want more visibility, that’s perfectly possible: you just have to pay for it.

Facebook is free to use but they never said they weren’t going to charge you for additional services. Like it or not, that’s how it is. So if you only reach 12-16% of those people, doesn’t it make sense to send them somewhere where they will always see 100% of what you put online? Meaning, your site or blog…

The same is true for Youtube (to a lesser extent), Twitter and the others for a variety of different reasons. In the end, you don’t want to spend all your time there. Instead, you want to use your activities there to strengthen the core of your online business: your site or blog.

 

My suggestions for online success are this:

  • You need to have your own blog. Check with your webhost, 99% certain they can install WordPress on your domain name. If you don’t have one, buy a domain name. Don’t use Blogger or other free blogging platforms: you don’t own them and they can kick you out whenever they like.
  • This part is crucial: create a Google+ account and claim authorship of your blog. https://plus.google.com/authorship From then on, if people rip off your content, Google knows. There is more to come from Google and the pirates are in for rough weather. The Panda and Penguin updates were just the beginning of cleaning up the spammers, crappy sales pages and others who either game the system or try to rip you off. People who write good content are in for good times. Providing you let Google know who you are and which content is yours. Hence claiming authorship.
  • Sign up for Google Analytics. Put it on your site and your blog if you have both. It will tell you everything you need to know about what you write: who reads it, how often, where did people find it, etc. I was very surprised when I first installed it years ago. Turned out some of the pages on my site I thought were great got no visitors. I tweaked them until they did. Analytics told me when I was doing it right.
  • Start blogging the smart way. View the blog as an extension of your site or your main web presence, not Facebook. You get zero link juice from Facebook. Google and Facebook don’t get along. They are competitors, not allies. Your words there are wasted as far as Google is concerned. If you put them on your own blog (especially if you claim authorship), Google will index the hell out of it and you’ll boost your site’s rankings for keywords you’re not scoring for right now. Or score better for the ones you do.
  • Use Facebook for the other stuff. On Facebook, you put pictures, videos, motivational quotes, and anything else you like to share. Your page is where people can easily connect and interact with you. They know who you are and they just want to drop you a line, leave a comment or get to know you better still. But the main content, you make them read it on your site/blog with pictures of your books and videos in the sidebar should they like your posts enough to actually buy from you.  And whenever you publish another blog post, you post a link to it on your Facebook page. If people share it there, your rankings go up even more in Google as social media reach (how often something gets shared) is now one of the factors that determines search engine rankings.
  • Drive them deeper into your blog. Whenever you blog and it makes sense to do so, link to pages at your main site or previous blog posts. This will drive people deeper into your site, where they can see even more of your content. If they like it, they may end up buying your stuff. But if they don’t read it because you don’t show them the way to it, they will probably just leave.
  • Put a Facebook badge on your blog linking to your Facebook page. Then people who find your blog via Google or other means will like your page and there is cross-pollination.
  • It’s never wasted. If you think writing for a blog is throwaway stuff, it’s not. Not only does it help people find you via Google, you can use those posts to do a blogging classic: make an e-book out of your posts. You already did the writing, you only need to revise, format and preferably add some new content like I did with mine.
  • Don’t do it yourself. It takes too long to learn to edit an e-book correctly. Your time is better spent writing new material.  I worked with Judi: she charges very reasonable fees, does good work and will even put it online for you on the Kindle publishing platform and all others.

 

This is the stuff I believe can work for anybody. It worked for me and I’ve seen it work for a lot of others too. It isn’t difficult, though it is a bit technical sometimes. But anybody can do it and sometimes it’s an amazing ride. I’ve been blogging for a few years now. More good things (book and video sales, seminars, private clients, etc.) have come of that than from my main site, ever.

It’s been the best decision I ever made, starting my blog. Maybe it can be the same for you. If so, I’d like to give a handful more ideas:

  • Be yourself. People smell fake very fast. If you blog with too many ulterior motives, it will show in your writing. Just be yourself, that’s plenty difficult enough. I obviously don’t share everything on my blog or elsewhere on the internet. But what you see here is what you get, though in person, it’s with a slight Belgian accent when I speak English…
  • Be nice. There will be tons of idiots and assholes who come at you when you are active online. For the most part, I try to ignore them and be nice. Every now and then, I’ll react more strongly if I feel the situation warrants it but that’s rare. You can’t win a flame war, nor can you come out looking good when you argue over the internet. So as much as I might want to write in all caps that somebody is galacticly stupid, I usually stay nice and walk away. There’s little point in anything else.
  • Be patient. I don’t believe in overnight success, barring exceptions. I believe in hard work though. So blog because you like blogging and writing. Be active on Facebook because you enjoy interacting with people. But don’t do it because some internet guru told you so.

 

That’s pretty much it. I hesitated putting all this online because it’s far removed from my usual content. But as lots of people asked me to post it, here it is. I hope it helps you in your own online adventures. Good luck!

 

UPDATE:

I received a couple emails from people about this article and think I need to clarify a bit:

I in no way want to give you the idea that Facebook is evil and Google is your best buddy.

They pull a bunch of crap, just like Facebook does and legitimate businesses/bloggers are hurt by their updates too. It’s not a black and white issue, but there’s more to it than the “get rid of spammers” line that is touted as the sole reason for every update they do to their search engine. The main reason I compared Google to Facebook and told my friend to stop posting his content on the latter is that Google is the dominant player for search engines right now.  They’re at well over 80% market share if I recall correctly. Nobody even comes close and probably won’t for a long time to come. So you ignore Google and the benefits of ranking high in their search results at your own detriment. We may not like this, but that doesn’t change Google’s dominance in this market.

But that doesn’t mean you should think Google won’t hurt you, just as much as Facebook could, if you overly depend on them.

Like I said: you need to focus on getting people to your own blog or site, using whatever tools available to you. It doesn’t matter which tools those are as they will change over time, depending on how fast technologies come and ago. Just try to use those that yield the most bang for buck. Right now, for search engines that means Google. For social media that means Facebook and to a certain extent Twitter.

But this can all change very fast.

Look at how Instagram (owned by Facebook now…)  did a 180° after pissing off it’s users. It makes me shudder to think it but perhaps there’s some truth to the theory that all it takes for Instagram to be in real trouble is the Kardashians deciding to leave the site and take their followers with them. Would you want to rely on a service that gets into trouble if it loses the patronage of Kim and her family?

I’m exaggerating a bit, but not all that much. Caveat emptor applies, even if you’re not paying for a service. Or perhaps especially so as all those companies still have to make money one way or another. So by definition, they have their own best interest at heart, not yours. Which brings me back to my main point: focus on what you can control; your own blog or site. Everything else can change on you in an instant.

 

Comments

  1. Very nice post, unusual for a MA blog and i agree with almost everything you say :)

    Just want to touch the search engines / SEO thing a bit. You don’t need to be a nerd or know too much about it but knowing a bit about keyword research can be the difference between 100 visitors/day and 1000/day.

    As you said, people still use Google to search for things and that won’t change in the near future so if you use word combinations (mainly in the title of your post) people don’t use to start their search you have a problem…

    For example, the combination “self defense techniques” is used 5-7 x more than “self defence tactics”.

    A small detail that can give you 5-7x more traffic. You don’t need to change your writing style, spam google or forums… just change your title :)

    • Thanks Dave. I try to get a mix between good titles and SEO friendly/worthwile titles. Some of the crap I read at MA blogs and sites is so deliberately written for the search engines, I stop reading after the title alone. I try to avoid going to those extremes with both my titles and my content. :-)

      • You need Joost’s SEO Plugin (http://yoast.com/wordpress/seo/) so you can make the title of your page different with the title of your article ;)

        • Is Headspace out of fashion now?

          • Still ok but the latter has more functionalities , especially in combination with their video (snippet) plugin (not free)..

            Since you’re using vids in your posts every now and than i would consider it :)

            Why don’t you use the page/article function in headspace ?

            • Cool, thanks. I’ll take a closer look.
              I hadn’t really considered the page/article function. I remember reading about it back when you recommended heasdspace but forgot about it. Too many punches to the head I think… :-)

  2. So if you are not the Fountain of Ultimate Truth does that mean that… I am?

    I must meditate on this.

    -Bob

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