As part of our ongoing series on successful bloggers to answer the question - what makes a successful blog, we've interviewed Nick Thacker. He is the owner of Livehacked.com, a great blog for writers on how to achieve success in the publishing world.
1. Who is Nick Thacker?
I'm a creator. Writing books, blog posts, articles--or music, building businesses, or whatever--I enjoy the process of creating something from nothing. I've been an entrepreneur for around 7 years, most recently at LiveHacked.com, where I am trying to help people find out their inner passion for building and creating cool stuff, then find the confidence to "ship" it!
2. Why did you start Livehacked.com? How does Livehacked.com make money?
LiveHacked.com is part personal blog, part resource center for budding writers, entrepreneurs, and creators. Its target focus is "productive writing," "platform building through blogging," and "getting more done in a distracting world." The current stage it's in is solely as a content-center--the monetization will come through books and paid resources for people who like what's going on (for example, I'm just about finished with a book on creating a business plan for a blog by answering 101 "questions" about your passion and topic.).
The next stage will be community-driven: creating a tribe and launching a movement of people who want to engage and interact with others and create content out of it.
Eventually, I hope to roll out a publishing resource site for authors and bloggers--we'll see!
3. Why not a video blog? Or a podcast? What made you choose to write a blog?
Truthfully--quality control and consistency. I don't have good enough equipment to create high-quality video and do the lighting. I know I could do something simple with my MacBook Pro, but spending years doing A/V production in church sort of ruined my ability to accept that quality! If I do it, I don't want the quality to be a hindrance to the brand.
The consistency part is why I haven't done podcasting. I read and write all the time, so blogging is easy (or easier!). Podcasting, though, might be fun for awhile and then become a chore--I don't want to either be stuck producing a podcast that's not fun for me, or worse: produce something people can TELL I don't enjoy!
Both mediums are amazing ways to capture and exchange ideas, though--I hope to be able to incorporate them into my platform soon, but for now I'm sticking to my guns!
4. How do you come up with the content that meets your readers' needs?
The first thing I do is ask myself what I would want to read--is there a question I had (or have) that I can try to answer? If so, I'll do some research and write about it.
Second, I ask anyone who reads the site--if you sign up for the newsletter, I ask, "what are you struggling with?" (thanks to Derek Halpern for that AWESOME advice!), and then personally respond to the email, thanking them for their response. Then I try to help. If it's a question they ask ("how do I promote my book," or "how can I get people to read my blog?") then I can do some more research and provide an opinion. If it's a more intangible response, like "I'm struggling with getting started on my big projects," I might try to offer some insight based on what got me through the bigger projects, etc.
The last way to come up with content is to steal it! Not steal the actual content, necessarily, but to steal the subject matter or the idea: if there's a post a certain subject that's getting massive response, there's a good chance people want to read about that subject! If it's something I know about and have an opinion on that might help others, I'll write something on the same subject, or from another perspective, that explains a different aspect of it. That way, I'm not actually "stealing" anything--just writing on a topic I know is currently popular!
5. How long does it take to create a blog post for you?
I'll spend anywhere from 2 hours to upwards of 4, but the longer I spend on a post the more I tend to think it can better served in another format, like an ebook or course or something. Length isn't really the issue--I write quickly enough--it's the organization of my thoughts into a coherent format that makes sense, and finding the research/studies/images to support the post.
I have the exact same process for posts on LiveHacked.com as I do for guest posts--neither is "more important," and both are permanent, so I try to write equally in-depth stuff for other websites as I do for my own. The only difference is that I might try to leave a guest post more open-ended to get traffic to my site, and on my own site I'll end with a call to action ("sign up," "leave a comment," etc.)
6. What's your marketing strategy?
Those are the lofty, idealistic things you'll find in my marketing plan. Here are the things in my marketing "bag of tricks:"
Basically, the crane/platform strategy is an exotic form of "start small." But it really works, and got me in the right mindset!
7. I noticed that you have a free course on writing a novel. Why's that?
I've always read fiction thrillers as my escape from the real world, and so I decided to write one awhile ago. I learned so much during the process--not just on writing fiction, but on goal-setting, productivity, and creation in general--that I thought it would be helpful to other writers as well. Half of my readership is made up of people who love to write, but can't get to "The End." The other half is people wanting to build something from nothing; to get noticed. Writing a novel may not help, but the tools I found and used certainly help me build other stuff as well!
And it's free because it's a crane--leading to a larger platform!
8. On Problogger, you mentioned that leaving comments on other blogs is a great way to drive traffic back, however, with Google disallowing any backlinks from commenting, is this still a good strategy?
I think it's a great way to develop the long-tail in your overall traffic strategy. Looking at Analytics data over the few years I've maintained my site, I see tons of incoming traffic from sites I've left an insightful, thoughtful comment on. Sure, I REALLY want to leave a comment on those sites that aren't rel="nofollow" or whatever, but I've had real traffic in the long run from people who clicked over from another site.
It's not something I'm going to recommend as an SEO tactic--there's just too much work involved for too little payout. But for overall traffic and engagement, absolutely. Plus, as a blog owner, I understand the feeling of getting a great comment on a blog post--so it's a way I can "pay it forward!"
"...I can bet that our current understanding of SEO won't be anything close to the future understanding of it--except that people like great content, and they want to figure out how to answer their questions and solve their problems..."
9. What is the best way to discover guest posting opportunities as a way to drive traffic back to your site?
I start by looking at the sites I already read! What works really well for me is to find a search bar on a site I read, and search for "guest post" on it. Many times I'll find a long-forgotten page detailing the guest-posting policy, or at least a contact form. I don't spend too much time seeking out sites I don't already read--it takes too long to get acquainted with the readership by commenting and interacting.
However, whenever I come across a site I love, I'll subscribe immediately and start the process of becoming a "regular reader"--and whenever I'm ready to guest post, I'll already have more of an "in" with the site owner.
10. Is guest posting one good way to create backlinks or part of a larger strategy?
Definitely part of a larger strategy; that of getting targeted readers. To me, there's no reason to focus only on SEO--my site will be successful by building long-term relationships with actual readers, not by generating traffic and clicks. Yes, the backlinks help--but they don't pay the bills.
11. What is your opinion on Google's action against blog networks such as Buildmyrank and others? How does it change your blog marketing strategy?
You know, it's upsetting that the Panda update and Google's recent actions have hurt certain "repository"-style websites. But if you build an entire business model around a proprietary algorithm that you don't fully understand nor control, how can you be expect to maintain the status quo at all? In all honesty, I've always focused on SEO as an integral part of an overall strategy, but nothing more. I'm focusing on capturing long-term readers, and whether or not a backlink increases my external SEO or not, it definitely increases the chances someone will find LiveHacked.com!
Google has a stranglehold on the entire Internet currently, but it won't last forever. I have no idea what it's going to look like ten years from now, but I can bet that our current understanding of SEO won't be anything close to the future understanding of it--except that people like great content, and they want to figure out how to answer their questions and solve their problems.
If we can help them do that, it won't matter what Google or any of the other search engine players decide to do.
12. What are some of the mistakes that people do in promoting their blog?
I can answer this one very well, because I've made most of the mistakes! First, thinking that the online world is any different than the offline world in terms of what people want. They want engagement and relationship, NOT self-promoted hype and hyperbole.
Second, I made a big mistake when I first started in online marketing by trying to offer what I thought people wanted, rather than what I was passionate about. The result was a quick level of growth, then a plateau after I lost interest, then a decline.
A third mistake is trying to do a little of everything. The web makes it easy to try so many new things in promoting our work, but that doesn't mean we should. It's great to explore the traffic strategies to see what works, but we can quickly become spread too thin and fizzle out. Instead, it seems like focusing on a few or a handful of proven growth strategies and sticking with them for some time would be the best long-term strategy.
13. Where do you see Livehacked.com in the future?
Planes, trains, and spaceships, entire branded theme parks, and becoming a household name. No, really--I hope LiveHacked can grow, for sure, into something that more people can get use out of. Everyone has a "big project" or "lifelong dream" that they're completely and totally capable of accomplishing, but for whatever reason, don't.
I want LiveHacked.com to become the site that helps people figure out what that reason is, and get over it. Eventually, I see LiveHacked moving from a personal blog to more of a community-driven publishing and content-creation project. We'll see!