I've been writing online for almost a decade now.
I feel very lucky that I started getting into this "industry" (if you can even call it that) right at the very high point of blogging.
When blogging was easy.
I'll never forget it: I was living in a timber chalet in the rainforest back home with an ex-girlfriend I met in Tbilisi.
We were both working holiday jobs and I had recently finished my Masters degree in Applied Linguistics.
I had a head full of fresh knowledge that I was enthusiastic about sharing, so I started a little hobby blog called The Mezzofanti Guild where I shared my thoughts on various language-related issues (what I would now consider low quality writing).
I anticipated about 0 people ever reading it.
It was just a hobby - a way for me to get things off my chest.
But that little hobby ended up changing my life.
Seriously: I wouldn't have ever been able to accomplish what I've done if I hadn't of started writing (it took me around the world). I wouldn't have met my wife. We wouldn't have had our kids. I wouldn't be living here in California, that's for sure.
One insignificant little blog set off a chain of life-altering events.
Funny, my girlfriend at the time even made fun of me for starting it - she told me it was a waste of time! 😆
If only I knew then what I know now.
Around the time that I started, my largest blog's niche (language learning) had about 3 or 4 prolific bloggers (and I was one of them).
In addition to our blogs, there were 2 or 3 prominent YouTube channels in the niche.
That's pretty much it.
Putting up a few articles as a completely unknown figure at that time gained fast traction and my blog grew almost on autopilot.
Not that I cared about competition.
And of course, I can't discredit my experience and qualifications in linguistics that gave my authority and credibility a boost.
But even for those who had zero training in the field and just did it for fun or a side-earner, the only thing that really mattered for blogging success in the long-term was persistence.
People who persisted with their writing and social media presence were eventually rewarded for it.
These days everyone's obsessed with scrambling for SEO dominance
SEO has become a real knife fight in the years since.
It's a dirty game full of dirty people.
Google's search monopoly has driven everyone insane with SEO lust.
But here's the truth:
I never once wrote a single article for SEO in 8 years of successful blogging.
I knew about it of course, but I just didn't care.
While all these clowns were talking about 'keyword research' and going to absurd lengths to craft perfect blog posts to fool a robot, I was busy writing quality content for people about a topic I loved and knew like the back of my hand.
I let my personality attract readers and shares.
So naturally, over time my content was passed around and my articles ranked high.
Never even gave SEO an afterthought! 😆
You can't really afford to treat SEO like an afterthought anymore unfortunately
Times are changing (for the worst).
Over the last 6 months or so, I've actually begun to pay attention to what's going on in the world of SEO and competitive blogging.
Not to strategize on or obsess over it but to remain more attentive to and aware of the changing Internet landscape.
What prompted this?
A few things actually.
One is that I accidentally stumbled upon a report written by an affiliate partner of mine (someone I was collaborating with) who publicized that they were analyzing my site in great detail in an effort to derail me.
They openly shared that collaborating with me was part of their strategy to undercut my site's authority.
I had even helped this company several times.
So I did some digging and realized that they weren't the only ones doing it - there are literally dozens (if not hundreds) of blogs out there created by shady individuals and companies spending money and time trying to siphon my (and my friends') traffic.
Creative writing is being killed.
UPDATE: Here's a good article/podcast on the matter.
Tools like Ahrefs, while having lots of potential for good, can also be the equivalent to letting a business competitor walk into your office and go through all your paperwork whenever they feel like it (I'd advise blocking all these crawlers in your
robots.txt as a preventative measure).
Some grubs even try to mimick content style! 😠
What's the point of creativity if SEO can be abused so easily?
Now, I've seen many dodgy bloggers over the years.
It's usually an unsustainable strategy that doesn't last long.
But when people take your hard work (that you put passion, creativity and time into), and create "spun" content to try and game the system over you so they can make a quick buck on ads or affiliate revenue, it's a real kick to the teeth.
Google's algorithm needs to get better in this area (if that's even possible).
Don't get me wrong - I love competition.
I've competed with other similar blogs in my niche for years (with a focus on my content and message -- not SEO tricks).
Ultimately, readers decide who they follow or not.
But SEO has made the entire process less about content creativity and being a unique "influencer", and more about reading up on the latest tricks to fool an AI and get high CTR.
SERP is full of low quality trash that shouldn't be ranking.
It's sapping the blogging "industry" of its entire point.
To give you an analogy:
Imagine you have an amazing restaurant with a 5 star chef, and some terrible quality restaurant sets up across the street with a sign that blocks your sign.
All your potential customers can't see your sign anymore so they go and eat the garbage across the road.
This is what SEO algorithms are doing to legitimate blogs and businesses.
Unless you pay for ads (which people are less likely to respond to anyway), it's no longer a level playing field and the whole thing just becomes a race to the bottom.
The one guaranteed, long-term preventative measure you have against SEO competitors and scoundrels
Here it is:
I spoke to a friend of mine - a fellow blogger - who confirmed my thoughts on this when I raised the issue with him.
The one thing people can't steal or imitate is you.
Your distinct personality and voice.
I mentioned above that I let my personality attract my readership.
My content comes from a place of educated authority and experience sure, but people get to know Donovan through me sharing my experiences and struggles.
Nobody can imitate your voice and personality.
They might be able to impersonate your writing style (to an extent) but it becomes quickly apparent that their writing is hollow and uninspiring.
I used to see personal writing flair as optional - now I consider it the most vital blogging strategy if you want to be heard.
What are your thoughts?