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How This Blogger Grew a 6-Figure Blog Business

Host Jon Penland, 

Ryan Robinson’s highly successful blog has gone through quite a few iterations over the years. What started as a Tumbler blog in 2012 is now a business that teaches bloggers, freelancers, and entrepreneurs how to start their own blogs and side businesses. But Ryan’s success didn’t come overnight. He’s learned several valuable lessons over the years, like how to overcome perfectionism, the ratio of promoting vs creating when it comes to new content, picking traffic channels, and more.

Duration

48 minutes

Guest

Host

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Episode Summary

It’s easy to see a successful blog and want to replicate it. But behind that blog is often years of hard work. The truth is, you can’t expect to start making money off your blog overnight. It takes a lot of time and effort to turn your blog into a lucrative side business. 

In this episode of the Reverse Engineered podcast, Jon Penland welcomes Ryan Robinson, a successful blogger, podcaster, and as he calls himself, a recovering side project addict. We get into ways to monetize your blog, how to pick your primary traffic channel, and why you can’t be a perfectionist if you want to be a thriving content marketer.

Key Insights:

Today’s Guest: Ryan Robinson of ryrob.com

Ryan’s first side project lost him $6,500 but what he learned from that experience was priceless. Today Ryan teaches what successful side projects look like and how to avoid some of his early mistakes.

Episode Highlights

The 80/20 Rule About Content Promotion

“It would often take me too long to hit the publish button. I had to really train myself to be okay with publishing what feels like a first draft on my site and make an agreement with myself saying, ‘Hey Ryan, you can come back and update this anytime. No big deal. Millions of people will not be seeing it the first few weeks it’s live. You can always update it.’ 

I also had to shift my focus from spending more time on creating content to more time promoting my work. To this day, I go back and forth and I think it’s a constant balancing act where I can shift back towards what needs my attention most.”

Perfectionism Is the Enemy of Progress

“I struggle with it all the time. I’m making myself ok with releasing perfectionism and being okay with not everything going exactly the way that I would do it. It’s a constant process for me, but having really good people that are managing my content and really talented writers and people that I just trust with my baby has helped me a lot in that journey.”

Pick Your Primary Traffic Channel

“There are tons of other ways you can focus on to drive traffic to your site. I think where a lot of (especially newer) bloggers get confused or drawn out into the weeds is by trying to do too many things at once. I’m a big advocate of saying, ‘Focus seriously on just one traffic channel, if you’re just getting started and see if you can make it work for a couple of months.'”

Video Marketing Will Continue To Be Huge in the Years To Come

“I think video is going lead in the future. I’m trying to make more time for myself to do at least a couple of videos a week for my YouTube channel. I’d like to continue picking up the pace because that’s the muscle I want to build more at this point in my career.”

Transcript

[00:00:05] Jon Penland: Hey everyone. My name is Jon Penland and Reverse Engineered is brought to you by Kinsta, a premium managed hosting provider. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Ryan Robinson, a blogger, podcaster, and recovering side project addict. Ryan, welcome to Reverse Engineered.

[00:00:20] Ryan Robinson: Thank you for having me. 

[00:00:22] Jon Penland: Yeah. So Ryan, can you get us started by introducing yourself to our listeners.

[00:00:26] Ryan Robinson: Absolutely. Today, let’s start with who I am today because that’s something that has grown and changed and morphed a lot over the last decade or so. Today though my blog teaches people how to blog. Essentially, breaking it down to the main categories of writing, marketing, driving traffic, and monetizing a website. Those are kind of the big buckets that I live, breathe, and essentially just exist in. Several hundred articles on my site, a podcast that I’m working on revamping and bringing back in the coming months, which will be all dedicated to blogging. 

[00:01:01] Jon Penland: Yeah. So again, your focus is kind of this blogging about blogging or content about blogging. But the first thing that I have to ask you about is your Twitter bio. And I referenced it at the top of the show. You refer to yourself among other things as a recovering side project addict. And I have to ask about that. Unpack that for me. What is a recovering side project addict?

[00:01:24] Ryan Robinson: Well, it is someone who is seeking to essentially follow my own advice. I’ve long since, you know, when I was in college, I kind of got my first entrepreneurial bug working on little side businesses while I was a student, developing a product called the iStash. I think I’ve got one back up on my little bookshelf back here somewhere. 

[00:01:44] Jon Penland: And I have to tell our listeners, there is a hilarious blog post about that. They need to track down. We’ll make sure and link to it in the show notes.

[00:01:54] Ryan Robinson: Yes, but the TLDR on it is that I essentially ended up learning how not to build a product-based business and it lost me $6,500 or so, which at the time college student, right, very meaningful amount of money for me. But truly ever since then, you know, graduating college worked in content marketing, and that’s really what I did as a profession for five or six years before eventually transitioning into my blog full-time. But all throughout this journey I constantly had different side projects. Freelancing, working with friends who are more technical than I am to build little tools or other websites online. But yeah, that’s really kind of the impetus of being a recovering side-project addict today is that I’m trying to be laser-focused on doing just one thing, maybe two things, but doing them really well and knowing that the journey I’m on is a long one, and I’ll always have time to come back to, you know, the ideas that sparked my interest. But just being very thoughtful about not kind of diluting my effectiveness by doing too many things at once. You know, multitasking I think is kind of the downfall, at least speaking for myself. Multitasking, when I try and do that, that’s when everything just suffers versus just doing one thing really, really well. 

[00:03:23] Jon Penland: Yeah. I found that is similar to my own story or my own thoughts, at least around side projects. I didn’t experience the same degree perhaps of success with my various side projects. But when I first came to work for Kinsta, I was working in support at Kinsta. I was blogging on my own site. I was writing as a freelance writer for other clients. I had one or two clients for whom I was maintaining websites, and I was trying to find additional clients to build just simple, like business landing page style websites. And there was a period after, I don’t know, really within three or four months of starting, I started to wind some of that stuff down and I actually swore pretty much all of it off before too long. I’m curious if there was like a specific incident, situation or if it was just a gradual realization over time, that caused you to swear off, sort of that side project addiction?

[00:04:05] Ryan Robinson: Honestly, it’s hard because I think, you know, one of the most impactful things I did do was happening to find myself, let’s put it that way. Not necessarily super strategically making this happen, but finding myself in a career, in a job, doing content marketing for tech startups. And that right there is something that allowed me to support the growth of my blog because a part of my day job, what I would spend 40, 50 hours a week on was promoting the content on a blog like Close, the sales CRM that I worked for for a few years. Or Creative Live, the online education, I worked with their business classes. So all this crossover and topics that I’m personally interested in and was blogging about on my own site. I had the opportunity as my day job to go out and write guest posts and, you know, get a publication column on sites like Forbes and such. And all this stuff kind of simultaneously benefited me alongside my day jobs. And I think that was like by far happenstance, you know, in a way, the best thing that I found myself in. And, you know, doing freelance projects on the side of all that too, like that kind of was my, my third bucket of stuff I was doing. And I think I honestly just went through enough cycles of burnout being like, “Holy shit, I just can’t do this.” Like, writing for other people, writing for my job, writing for myself. Like I was just getting so tired of it all. And, I also became more and more aware too, of my varying degrees of interests. And, you know, writing for my day job kind of have to get myself up and motivated for that because that’s my steady thing. And writing for my blog was always like my kind of passion energy, where I just felt drawn most. And then eventually I was like, “Wow, I have no energy left in the tank to do this freelance stuff.” You know, it’s really hard when, especially like I was building up a decent brand for myself as a content marketer, and I would have people, people reach out to me wanting to book me for 5, $10,000/month projects. And it’s crazy like saying that now turning those things down, but you know, it was kind of the opportunity cost to just became too great. And so investing in my blog is something that eventually did end up paying off really, really well. And who’s to say it was always going to go that way? I don’t know. But I got combination of lucky and hard work and a lot of the right relationships all kind of fell into place that allowed me to focus on growing my own channel too. 

[00:06:59] Jon Penland: Yeah, the way that I think about side projects today, and I’m curious if this resonates at all with you or your feel free to disagree as well, but I think of them as not necessarily a positive or a negative. I think of them as something that has a place along the journey. And there are times where it makes sense. Right. Like, there are times where you’re trying to figure out exactly what’s next and how do these different pieces fit together. Maybe you’re developing skills or expertise in a new area. And then there are times where it’s like, “All right, now I’ve identified my thing and I really need to drill down and focus on this thing.”

[00:07:13] Ryan Robinson: Yup. I’m actually in complete agreement with you. No disagreement here. I think its, side projects are great ways to test your way into something that could be your next thing. Or yeah, as you said, building a skill. I think equally as useful building relationships. Taking on a freelance project with someone that you just want to become friends with or see the opportunity to do more hands-on worth work with in the future. Those are the kinds of things that I really enjoy side projects for. And I have a side project today with you know, one of my few that I actually keep working on with my friend, Andy, who is a WordPress developer. And the reason that I have a side project with him is just because he’s so good at what he does. And he’s so skilled at helping me with anything technical on my blog behind the scenes too. And, you know, we find this nice, like really cool harmony of working together that makes it a really enjoyable experience and worthwhile investing in. Yeah, and that blog’s SmartWP. 

[00:08:30] Jon Penland: Okay. Nice. Okay. So, I did want to focus in for the first part of our conversation here on your story. Right. Like how did you get into blogging and what does that look like for you as you moved then from blogging into being a more general content marketer? 

[00:08:46] And one of the first questions I had that I had written down as you’re in this meta space where you’re blogging about blogging. Right. And I was having this like, chicken and the egg question in my mind, it was like, “Which came first? Right. The blogging or the blog? Right.” And I think you kinda answered that already. So did you have some expertise outside of your own initiative, of your own business that you brought to the experience of blogging about blogging? Tell us about how that happen?

[00:09:15] Ryan Robinson: Yeah. I actually have really strong feelings about this. Because it, it really turns me off when I see a new website that every single article is about blogging and the person doesn’t have experience blogging. Right. So, that was a big thing for me to reckon with when I started making a transition to blogging about blogging, was that, you know, looking at my blog today, I think there’s around 350 articles. I’d say the first 50 to 100 were much more about my adventures inside projects, and freelancing. So documenting my experience along my journey has always been kind of the through-line to my content. And the focus on freelancing stuff, like advice for, you know, putting together a contract, how to put together proposals, making sure you’re reaching out to the right, you know, decision-maker at the company you want to work for. That really made up the bulk of my content for the first several years, because it mirrored my journey figuring out this whole freelancing thing. So, yeah, I really didn’t start blogging about blogging until my site was getting 50 to 100,000 monthly readers on mostly the side hustle, but some the freelancing stuff too is kind of the majority of my like first audience. And then a lot of that audience has kind of stuck with me as I’ve transitioned mostly into talking about how to build your own audience, how to monetize, and do more of the online business stuff. 

[00:10:35] Jon Penland: Yeah. Earlier in our conversation, you also referenced that, I think you did content marketing for other companies before you were doing your own thing. Is that true? Did you, did you bring some content experience to that project? To your own, you know, your own website?

[00:11:00] Ryan Robinson: Yeah. Yeah. I, gosh, I actually registered my blog, my domain name, back when I was in college. So credit to my, this might date me, internet marketing a teacher for having us all sit down and register a domain name first day of class. And so as a part of that class, we actually started experimenting with blogging, and writing, and marketing. And there were class projects where we worked for a company and helped them with their blog and taught them like, “Hey, you can bring people to your website from the internet with a blog.” So yeah, that was instantly what I was drawn to most. And yeah, all of my day jobs essentially before working full-time for myself were in content marketing. And most of them were tech startups kind of in like the B2B space for the most part. And yeah, like I can still trace so many of the relationships I made too for my content marketing jobs as places that I’ve done guest posts for. Or publication writers that I was just in contact with from a day job eventually transitioning me into being a contributor on some of these sites. And so, yeah, like truly invaluable experience having a day job and essentially, you know, my field that I wanted to work in for myself long before I made that transition. 

[00:12:19] Jon Penland: So, so how long, I’m glad you mentioned the registration of the domain name in college. Because as I was preparing for this conversation, I was trying to figure out like, when did Ryan start blogging? And, and I couldn’t really tell, and I looked up the registration and said 2012, and I was like, that seems a little too far back. Right? Like that seemed a little bit too far back in history for, for what you’re doing today. So kind of talk me through that process. It sounds like you’re in college 2012, you’re working with some other companies for a while, and then eventually you’re transitioning to doing your own thing. What did that timeline look like?

[00:12:54] Ryan Robinson: Yeah. 2012, registration date. Right. Now, my blog at the time, oh my god. It was a tumbler blog, I think, first. And so it’s had a few different reincarnations throughout the years, but you know, the day that I think of as kind of the rebirth would be somewhere in January of 2014. When I finally got WordPress installed and figured out these things called WordPress themes. Like, you know, to me, this was all like a foreign language as, as a writer, a marketer first. Teaching myself more of the visual page-building aspects of bringing a WordPress-powered site to life. And yeah, 2014. was when I began like really getting more firmly entrenched in content marketing jobs, and also as an extension of that taking my blog more seriously too. So that’s when, I think my first post was actually about the iStash I want to say like, one of my very first blog posts.

[00:13:53] Jon Penland: So when was the point where you’re working for other companies doing content marketing and you realize, “I can actually do my own thing and make money doing this myself.” When does that happen? When, when do you kind of reach that tipping point where you go, “This is no longer just a website that I use to market myself to get a job. This can become my job.” But when did that happen?

[00:14:18] Ryan Robinson: I’m glad you mentioned what you just said because it was at first a website that I use to market myself to get better full-time jobs. And I think it was a really organic progression where I was essentially using my blog to document my processes, my lessons learned, and to also kind of publish content that I was personally interested in writing about. And could serve, thinking in the back of my mind, could serve as kind of like case studies for what I can do for other companies. And, you know, at first I was thinking about it through the lens of, “All right, how do I get a better job, better job, better do a better job living in San Francisco”, like kind of the rat race sort of lifestyle there. And companies began reaching out to me, once I was getting a decent number of readers, to do freelance projects for them. And that was a little bit of a light bulb moment where I had that kind of inbound outreach coming to me first and I thought, “Oh my gosh. Yeah, of course, I want to take some extra side gigs on, earn a little bit more, pad my savings, you know, do things like that.” And yeah, I think freelance clients were really kind of the first switch that flipped and I began, you know, I published a long-form page on my site that ranks, maybe even still, I think it ranks really well for like, if you Google search freelance content marketer or content marketing consultant, it should be in the first few, but I invested a lot of time and effort into getting that to rank number one in Google searches. And that alone brought me so many clients and really qualified prospects too. So, yeah, freelancing first one. And along with that wave of people reaching out about freelance projects for me to create the similar kind of content I do on my blog but for them, I was also getting people that wanted to do sponsored content on my site and reach my, you know, growing audience, 50,000, a 100,000 monthly readers or so. And yeah, it just kind of kept progressing very organically naturally from there. And I was learning about things like affiliate marketing and digital products, online courses, ebooks, things like that. And began, you know, as I very slowly had limited amounts of time to experiment with this stuff began dropping out my own products and affiliate offers and learning how to kind of curate content that’s designed to convert well for affiliate offers too. That’s a whole other topic. 

[00:16:46] Jon Penland: Right. You mentioned their products. And I’m glad you mentioned that because one of the things that struck me is that while you may have started blogging, you have done a lot of other things. You’ve mentioned a podcast early on. I know there’s an online course, I believe that you’re involved with. So you’ve expanded into all these other types of content. Now you’re not just a blogger, you’re a content marketer or more generally. Can you speak to that process of going from being a writer to being more generally a content marketer? What was that process like?

[00:17:20] Ryan Robinson: Oh, man. I got to give a shout out to, I believe Derek Halpern. I first saw, now he’s like kind of older school internet marketer. I think he was one of the first people I saw talking about using the 80/20 rule to content promotion. And that for me was something that really clicked. As someone who is also a recovering perfectionist, it would often take me too long to hit the publish button. And I had to really train myself to be okay with publishing what feels like a first draft on my site, and making an agreement with myself, “Hey Ryan, you can come back and update this anytime. No big deal. You know, not millions of people are going to be seeing it the first few weeks it’s live. So you can update it.” And really shifting my focus to promoting my work way more than I spent on time actually creating the work. And, you know, I still to this day go back and forth about how I feel about, you know, spending way more time promotion than I do on creation. But I think it’s a constant balancing act where I can shift back towards what needs my attention most. But yeah, doing the things like once you hit publish writing, you know, 10 guest post pitches. And sending them out to a bunch of different relevant websites that might take, you know, one or two sections from this 10 steps to do XYZ article, where I can write a fresh article for them about those two little sections. And, you know, kind of just building quality links back to my own blog posts and trying to connect with other influencers in my space too, and do things like podcast episodes with them, or feature them on my blog, ask them to feature me on their blog. There’s a lot of kind of mutual win-win stuff. I think that can go on if you reach out to people by providing some value to them first. That’s been one really important through line for me too, is trying to just give a lot of goodness out to other people through my blog. And I’ve been able to see a lot of goodness come back to me as a result too. 

[00:19:25] Jon Penland: Yeah. So you’ve brought a lot of content. You spend a lot of time promoting it. I know you have an online course. So today, as you think about yourself as a content marketer, what are your priorities today as a marketer? And what does the future hold for Ryan Robinson?

[00:19:45] Ryan Robinson: Well, this year at the beginning of 2021, I actually partnered with an agency and they have essentially helped me to step out of being the blogger, the marketer, the writer, the doer of all the things, the WordPress guy. And now essentially I am acting as kind of an overseer editor of the content that gets published on my site. So I’m no longer tackling first drafts. I have writers that helped me after I worked with them on an outline, and they put together the first draft, I do my edits, content goes live. And so that helps me kind of step out of being the person who spends tons of hours each week inside my blog. And, yeah, my number one focus now these days is on things much more like doing fun podcast interviews, doing videos for YouTube, working on course curriculum, and spending much more time trying to essentially better understand my people and work directly with them on ways that I can create courses, ebooks, different types of content, I guess, you know, trying to zoom out, view it as content that helps people versus just writing blog posts that help people. 

[00:21:01] Jon Penland: Right. Yeah. So I want to ask two follow-up questions. One has to do with developing expertise in those areas. But before I, before I come to that one, I want to ask, have you found it difficult to, I mean, your website is basically your name, right. Like it’s RyRob, I think. Is how you say it, Ryrob? So to allow, you stop ultimate control, right. You’re still the editor. But you’ve allowed others to be part of this project. Have you found that to be a difficult process?

[00:21:34] Ryan Robinson: Oh, absolutely. I struggle with it all the time. ‘Cause I, you know, coming from this place of releasing perfectionism and being okay with not everything, you know, going exactly to a T the way that I would do it, that’s honestly okay. And I’m making myself okay with that. It’s a constant process for me, but having really good people that are managing my content and really talented writers and people that I just trust with, you know, my baby essentially has helped me a lot in that journey. 

[00:22:08] Jon Penland: Yeah, yeah. I like how you said that, but forcing myself to be all right with it. Right. 

[00:22:15] Ryan Robinson: Yeah. Yeah. ‘Cause it’s never easy. 

[00:22:20] Jon Penland: Yeah. So, the second question I wanted to ask then was about expertise and how you develop the skills to branch out into these other areas. You mentioned videos and there’s an online course. How have you thought about developing sufficient expertise to put a product out that matches the quality of what you’re already doing? Right. You already have an audience, you can’t go out there with something that’s half-baked. Right. It’s gotta be done right. How have you approached that to make sure that what you put out when you’re venturing into new types of content, that aren’t what you’ve already done for the last 10 years? How do you think about making sure that those are up to par with the rest of what you’re doing?

[00:23:01] Ryan Robinson: Well, I think the answer actually is that the V1 does kind of suck of something like a course for me. And I’m okay with it being very stripped down and not the most like polished videos with captions and flying graphics. And I essentially try and do validation experiments with every course offering or digital product that I go into and really forced myself to, make it simple. Otherwise, I’ll spend like a month or two doing something and if you emerge with that, you know, the product you spent making for a month or two and no one wants to buy it, that’s a huge waste of time. So, I often take the approach of, you know, sending out an email or email campaign series to my audience and have just a landing page of, “This is what, you know, this course I’m thinking of making, this is what it’ll include if you want it now, you know, this is going to be the cheapest price you’ll ever be able to get it.” And if enough people purchase it then I’ll fully fund it, and I’ll do it, and it’ll be ready, and, you know, 60 days let’s say, arbitrary number. But I think it’s really important, at least for me, to kind of, in a sense bribe myself into creating these products based on people voting with their wallets. And that goes both ways. That tells me that, “Yes, I have a product that people are going to be excited about, but also that they see the value in it and they’re voting on it, you know, with their wallets.” So, yeah. I wouldn’t say that my first versions of any course product I come out with are perfect or great. There’s There’s still a working progress honestly, even built to blog, which is like my primary flagship course right now. There’s 54 lessons in there and it’s like 11 or 12 hours, I think, of total video content. 

[00:24:55] It’s not all perfect. It’s all, you know, I’m in a constant stage of updating different sections of it too. As you know, as you guys know the nature of WordPress changes so often, and so different things have to always be updated. And same goes with SEO best practices and content writing, marketing, all this stuff. So it’s, I think striving for perfection kind of can cripple a lot of online creators versus just doing basic validation tests. And once people give you that kind of affirmation and approval that they’ll buy something from you, then make your best possible version you can do yourself. And since having this agency on board, I do have help with things like video editing, and putting up the course pages, and structuring the curriculum, and making sure there’s the right checklist, and the right time expectations for people based on each lesson of course. So, lots of these things that, you know, I would have a really hard time getting fully right myself. It helps to have some good people in my corner. 

[00:25:58] Jon Penland: Yeah. I really think the idea that you presented there is powerful though. So I want to make sure that like, as I heard it, that our listeners hear it and you correct it if I heard it wrong. But what I understood is that when you have a product idea, whether it’s a course or whatever, that you actually validate the idea by, in some sense, selling it before you’ve created it. I mean, you’ve brainstormed. You might have an outline. You have a sense for what you want to do. Enough to write a landing copy at least. Right. So, but you haven’t actually created the course yet. You validate the idea by going ahead and offering it to your audience. And then if there’s sufficient uptake, you get, “All right. This is, there’s a market for this. This is worth investing my time in.” 

[00:26:40] Ryan Robinson: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I, the validation process usually starts with a long-form blog post also. So I’ll do a blog post for my site. Today I have the benefit of a sizable engaged email list that I can send an email to and promote to this blog post and see like, “Okay, did this get an average amount of opens and clicks or did it get, you know, a lot more or a lot less?” And so those kinds of things will inform kind of the early stages. But then also like if an article rises really quickly in organic search and starts to get a lot of readers to it, and maybe these people are downloading a freebie, from this let’s say like one example, I have an article about how to craft a blog business plan for your goals. And, there’s a freebie on there for a blog business plan template. And when someone downloads that template, that’s a really like qualified lead for someone who may want some more guidance through something like a more hands-on course and putting their plan into action essentially. So, trying to think very strategically through this process of content that can validate an idea. And then, yeah, pre-selling an actual course or a book or something like that is really central, I think. So, just making sure you’re not creating a product for, you know, your own wins and desires, but that people actually do want to pay for and see some benefits from. 

[00:28:07] Jon Penland: Yeah. So I have two more questions that are about your story, and then I’m going to shift over and I’m going to ask you to kind of back up and take a 30,000-foot view of the content marketing space. But sticking with your story just for two last questions here. So early on, I know that you did a lot of consulting, and when I look on your website, I see brands like Adobe, Google, LinkedIn, some really impressive companies. And I’m curious, what role does freelancing or consulting play in your business today?

[00:28:38] Ryan Robinson: Ooh, you know today it’s, it’s hard to really stick from on this line, but today I don’t take on any freelance work at all. And if you look at, I think that freelance content marketer landing page on my site, I think it qualifies people to reach out if they’re open to a 10,000 a month minimum engagement with me. And so I still get people reaching out every week from that landing page. And sometimes it’s harder than other times to say no to that work, but I do end up referring people around through different content marketers I know who, who have the bandwidth, so I can kind of recommend people. But yeah, today, zero work as far as paid consultation stuff. But lots of those relationships I’ll do collaborations with guest posting, you know, joint webinars, things like that. 

[00:29:30] Jon Penland: Yeah. So, if you’re not taking on, you know, $10,000 a month clients that, that want to do business with you, that indicates a very high degree of engagement with what you are doing. So you’ve been in this space for about a decade now, and I’m curious what is it that keeps you engaged and interested in staying kind of laser-focused in on this, you know, how do you build a profitable business, how do you make money blogging online? What keeps you so focused in on that space, now nearly a decade in?

[00:30:00] Ryan Robinson: Gosh, I think number one for me is some version of selfishness. I like spending my time on my own projects. Really, truly at the end of the day I’m really grateful to have found this space that I can operate in, in which my content that I create does help people out there online who are looking to do similar things. And so for me, finding this space of being able to work for myself, being able to write for my site, where I get the most positive energy out of the work I’m doing and, and shooting videos here, like in my office, like I have so much fun doing this kind of stuff that it just doesn’t compare doing it for someone else, I guess. 

[00:30:44] Jon Penland: Yeah, absolutely. So that’s a, I want to shift now and kind of zoom way up and we’ve talked a lot about your story, but I want to get your take on kind of the state of the content marketing industry and in a few different directions. So, before I was at Kinsta. I was right at the edge of the content marketing industry. Before Kinsta I was a freelance writer for two or three years. And when I think back to that time, which would have been then like eight years, seven years ago, writing was what was most important. Right. So writing was where the content game was focused. 

[00:31:21] It seems to me that things have changed a lot since that time. And that content has diversified into podcasts, videos, online courses, and so forth. So, as I think about it now as an outsider to the industry, not having really been involved in five years, you think it’s harder or easier for somebody to get started in the content marketing world today than it may have been 5 or 10 years ago when maybe things were a little bit simpler?

[00:31:48] Ryan Robinson: Well, I’ll agree with you simpler, in 5 or 10 years ago. No doubt about that. But I would have a hard time saying harder or easier. I think something that’s more important today is picking your primary traffic channel that you want to go after. And I think that should be informed on based on what your interests and kind of your natural skills and proclivities are. Because if you were, let’s say you were a social media manager for a day job, and maybe you’re really, really good at like drawing an audience from Instagram, or from TikTok. Like there are so many emerging platforms out there beyond just Google search or Facebook, that I think you can really win big by leaning into what your own interests and skills are towards a particular channel. But you know, someone who started almost 10 years ago, I leaned really hard into the SEO content and focusing on essentially Google as the lion’s share of my traffic and everything else is a nice to have. Because I was a bit more of a writer first at the start, I really worked hard on teaching myself kind of the SEO best practices and kept learning. You know, today, talking about the transition from writing, being number one back then, today it’s so much more about what you’re doing to promote your content. And I think that’s only picking up pace. Google will tell you from shouting from the mountaintops that backlinks aren’t the way to get your content to rank, but I’m sorry, the way that, you know, algorithms and search crawlers work is that they determine authority based on, you know, the quantity and quality of links that you have pointing to your content. And I don’t know if there’s going to be a day in which they figure out a different entire way to parse that kind of data, but, you know, maybe that’s naivety, but I think that promoting your content by doing things like guest posting and having other websites you can write on, and tastefully link back to your content is really still the number one way to go if you want to go after an organic search play. But yeah, there are tons of other ways you can focus on driving traffic. But I think where a lot of, especially newer bloggers get confused or drawn out into the weeds is by trying to do too many things at once. And I’m a big advocate of saying, “Focus on just like seriously one traffic channel, if you’re just getting started and see if you can make it work for a couple of months. And, maybe that’s figuring out how to, you know, go semi viral on Pinterest or Instagram, Facebook, TikTok.” There’s lots of different options on the menu these days, but I think, you know, diluting your efforts by trying to do everything is really tough. You look at people who are successful at all of these different traffic channels. They’ve been doing it for a long time, or they have a large team where people are doing different things. And so, if you’re a solo business, you can only do so much with your time and finding that right balance too, between whether it’s writing content or if you have a podcast as your primary kind of discovery vehicle or a YouTube channel, whatever that may be. I think balancing, perfecting your craft. Let me take it back. Not perfecting. Getting better at your craft and working with the audience that you start to build relationships with. That’s kind of where, where the sweet spot exists and, you know, promotion finding its way in there somehow to. 

[00:35:27] Jon Penland: Yeah. So if I’m kind of reading between the lines there, I think you would agree then that if somebody’s relatively new in the space, trying to be engaged in multiple channels is actually going to make them less effective. I mean, now maybe I don’t want to be too exclusionary there. Like maybe they have a blog and maybe they have a Facebook and a Twitter or something, and I’m really dating myself by listing those three. But, that’s not the same as also having 17 other social media profiles and trying to also launch a podcast at the same time.

[00:36:00] Ryan Robinson: Right. That’s exactly true. And yeah, sure. I think it’s okay to have all those different platforms and maybe you do some automation on the social media stuff, and you’re ok if you monitor your, your performance stats, maybe, maybe Twitter looks like a really good audience for you. But I would listen to those types of signals that are popping up and say, “All right, if Twitter consistently”, you know, every, every week or two, you have a tweet that gets a lot of action. Maybe you should spend more time on Twitter and deprioritize this other channel you’re working towards. So it’s something that I think can be very fluid. 

[00:36:38] Jon Penland: Yeah. One of the things that you hit on there, and you’ve actually mentioned it two or three times now is the importance of finding the right balance between creating content and promoting that content. So, I think you would agree that learning to promote your own content is a critical skill for anybody getting into content marketing. I’m curious if there are any other skills that you would say “These are essential skills for content marketers”?

[00:37:07] Ryan Robinson: Man, I think, you know, as, as tempting as it is to, to lean into all the AI writing tools and things like that, I think there’s really no escaping the need to be at least a decent writer. And, if you want to focus on like SEO traffic as your primary kind of channel, figuring out how to be a good SEO writer ’cause that’s very different than like narrative storytelling or, you know, press focus writing, publication style content. So there’s lots of different kinds of writing out there, but finding, you know, what works for you, what kind of is interesting to you, and what your readers start to engage with is really important. But yeah, aside from that, like I think a really common trough line would be relationship building. Just being, just being a good people person in some way. And that doesn’t mean being extroverted and having to go to tons of live events all over the world, especially these days, but finding ways to just connect with people that you resonate with. And maybe that’s through Twitter DMs, or maybe you send someone an email, and hop on Zoom calls that you just want to connect with. And, and maybe, maybe you find some ways to work together on promoting each other’s content. Maybe you just get a friend out of it, or maybe it goes nowhere. I think that’s something that I try and always create space for myself to just connect with people that I find interesting, and who are doing cool things online. And oftentimes there is a collaboration that comes up somewhere along the way.

[00:38:35] Jon Penland: Yeah, I’m just getting really practical. What is, what does that relationship building, connection building look like for you? Like, is that Twitter DMs? Is that email? Is that Zoom? Like, what does that actually look like for you?

[00:38:48] Ryan Robinson: I think that, if I’m being totally honest, the pace of it, and the volume of it has slowed down a lot today. I don’t personally enjoy being at meetup events with tons and tons of people. Even pre-COVID times, didn’t personally enjoy that all too much. So I do prefer kind of the one-on-one stuff. And for me, it often does look like, you know, maybe interacting with someone on Twitter a bit and pulling that off to an email conversation. I am actually talking with someone on Thursday this week that I’ve known on Twitter for a couple of years and just love his content. And I sent him an email the other day. I was like, “Man, we’ve been tweeting on each other for years. We’ve never talked, would love to.” And he has a really cool blog. His name’s Nick Wag, Wagnall, and, or Wignall, sorry. And his blog is all about kind of like the mental health aspect to being an entrepreneur. And that’s something I’ve gotten so much more into in recent years that I just want to talk to him and kind of see if there are some ways we can collaborate more together, but mostly just, “Hey, this is a great person.” 

[00:39:52] Jon Penland: Yeah. I think lots of folks who are into content marketing and I think of myself in this group because I did this a few years ago. Yeah, the whole idea of being in a huge group with lots of people is not super appealing, you know, pandemic or not. Right. Like that’s not our preferred vehicle. We’re folks who want to work from home, right and write. So that’s not usually a recipe for being super social in large groups. 

[00:40:17] Ryan Robinson: Yeah. And I think you can also even just have really meaningful connections with people, whether it’s just ongoing Twitter DMs, or emails that go back and forth. And maybe you never need to hop on like a video call or a phone call if that’s not something you’re into, but I’ve had lots of just great relationships with people that are, I like to call them my internet friends. Yeah. 

[00:40:39] Jon Penland: Yeah. So I want to recap though, the three skills that I feel like you honed in on as things that content marketers really need to master regardless of what their specific expertise is. Promotion, building relationships, and you have to be a good writer. Really kind of, regardless of what type of content you’re producing, being a good writer. And good writer will require some further definition, but that’s a, that’s a critical skill as well.

[00:41:08] Ryan Robinson: I think it’s really important still. And you know, you look at what Google messages to you, or to the world rather is that they do want their search algorithm to surface what is the best, in air quotes, content for their users. And, you know, eventually, maybe that does weed out people who are just gaming the SEO system in a really hardcore way. So I think there’s no, there’s no substitute for having at least an element of pretty good writing as the backbone to any strategy online. 

[00:41:40] Jon Penland: Yeah. The internet has obviously changed a lot over the last, you know, 5 to 10 years while you’ve been in this space. As you look forward, and you think about the future of your own business and efforts as a content marketer, are there any trends you’re paying close attention to or tools that you’re paying close attention to that you think are going to be critically important in the future?

[00:42:02] Ryan Robinson: Yes. I think number one, this isn’t new news by any means, but I think the pace with which it’s getting more important is video. I think video first is gonna be like by far the lead in the future. And I’m trying to really, really make more time for myself to do at least a couple of videos a week for my YouTube channel. I’d like to just continue picking up the pace with that, because I think that’s the muscle I want to build more right now at this point in my career, than writing. Then, I feel like my writing has gotten to a good enough place that I’d like to now master video and build up an audience on platforms like YouTube, but also publishing stuff on my own site. And that’s really huge. And I think, you know, this gets pretty into the weeds, but I think there’s something magical between the connection of having a long-form article on your blog that is paired with a video on the same topic embedded into your blog from YouTube. I think there’s some magic that Google really likes about that. Seeing like embedded YouTube videos that are topically very relevant to the written content on a page. I think they really like to reward that. So I’m seeing really good results right now with both getting more views, naturally on YouTube for my videos, and also seeing posts rise quicker in organic search rankings. Because well, can’t necessarily say because, because I’m doing all these other things to promote my work too, but I think it has been helping to also have an embedded YouTube video with most of my posts that go up. 

[00:43:39] Jon Penland: Yeah. I can’t speak to the combination of writing and, and of written content with embedded video. I’m not deep enough in the weeds with our marketing team to know whether or not that’s been critical for us, but I can echo that at Kinsta our video game we’ve stepped that way up in 2021. We’ve gone from having virtually a non-existent YouTube presence to trying to put out 5 videos a week. Right. So it’s similarly viewing it as you know, I try to remember the number. I think YouTube, if you rank it as its own search engine is the second largest search engine in the world. Something like that. 

[00:44:14] Ryan Robinson: Number two. Can’t sleep on it.

[00:44:18] Jon Penland: Right. I’m sure you get folks, on social media or in your life in general, asking for advice as they’re trying to get started in content marketing. So, I’m going to ask you here as well. Like when somebody asks you that question, they want to get started in content marketing, what’s your advice to somebody who’s trying to get started in that space?

[00:44:36] Ryan Robinson: I do think, especially if it’s going to be a brand new space for you, I do think having a day job, or at least having freelance work where you’re being paid to learn is by far the best way to do it. That’s what has worked really well for me, that way you’re building up skills as you’re getting paid to learn it. And, you know, if you don’t find yourself interested in getting a day job, or of taking on freelance work, do it for yourself. Start learning, putting into practice some of the learnings that you can read about out there. I mean, there’s great content on how to perfect your writing craft, how to do marketing strategies. Like there’s no shortage of content that’s instructional and very useful, but I think you’ll always learn the most by just putting it into practice on your own blog, let’s say. I think that’s by far the best way to get real experience, and having a blog can get you jobs. It can get you freelance gigs. It can grow into your own business one day, if you want it to also. So, yeah. I mean, that’s very heavily reliant upon my own experience of this journey, but I do see many people I know also kind of having a similar trajectory. 

[00:45:48] Jon Penland: Yeah, no. I think virtually anybody that I’m aware of in the content marketing space, even if they’re working for other companies has their own website and has their own blog. I mean, I think setting aside whether or not it’s necessary for your resume, just having that sort of proving ground, where you have a place where you can put content out, get feedback from people you don’t know and, and that sort of thing. Absolutely. 

[00:46:15] So Ryan, as our conversation moves to a close, I have to wrap up questions for you. So the first is, what is a resource you would recommend to the listeners of Reverse Engineered? This could be a book, a blog, an online course, a newsletter, really anything. What’s one thing our listeners should check out?

[00:46:34] Ryan Robinson: I would recommend, I’d mentioned it earlier, my most popular downloadable resource is my blog business plan templates. And it’s very extensive. There’s a share, a downloadable Google doc, you can do lots of different kinds of activities that will help you set the right kinds of goals, help you lean into what’s going to be, you know, maybe your traffic channel based on what your natural proclivities are. And yeah, I’d say that’s, if that is at all of interest, then that’s one of my best resources.

[00:47:06] Jon Penland: Awesome. So the blog business plan. So we’ll make sure and get that in the show notes for listeners who are interested in checking that out. And our final wrap-up question, where can our listeners go to learn more about you or to connect with you?

[00:47:18] Ryan Robinson: My home base is ryrob.com, my nickname. But yeah, I’m most active on Twitter too. That’s where I probably talk with people the most. But yeah, email inbox is always open as well. It’s just [email protected] 

[00:47:33] Jon Penland: Awesome. Well, Ryan, thank you so much for joining me today on Reverse Engineered.

[00:47:45] Ryan Robinson: Yeah, thank you for having me.

[00:47:48] Jon Penland: And thank you to our listeners. That’s all for today’s podcast. You can access the episode show notes at kinsta.com/podcast. If you enjoyed this episode don’t forget to subscribe to Reverse Engineered and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or the platform you’re listening on right now. See you next time.

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