Over 6.7 million people blog globally. Blogging is a trend that has caught on fast and furiously. How does one benefit from blogging, not just socially but also monetarily? The story of ShoutMeLoud a pathbreaking blog platform and its pioneering founder, Harsh Agrawal, tells us how to ride the blogging wave.
Business: An award-winning platform that teaches people the nuts and bolts of blogging, how to make money online and increase traffic to your website.
Founder / CEO: Harsh Agrawal
“If you want to live a different life than others, don’t do what everyone is doing.”
– Harsh Agrawal
- How he launched the idea for ShoutMteLoud?
- How he drove traffic to his blog?
- How he scaled the business?
- Summary of Marketing
- Distribution of Traffic
- Advice from the founder
A visual journey of Harsh’s early days leading up to ShoutMeLoud.
How he launched the idea for ShoutMeLoud?
Harsh’s blogging journey began with the initiation of a blog on BlogSpot. This was a great place to begin because it helped combine his two great passions – network security and writing. He began blogging about computer security and technology in an effort to share his views with the world.
His deft planning was evident in the way he went about laying the groundwork for his blog. He zeroed in on the topics and the number of posts he wanted to write a week prior. He wrote diligently every day for 3 months and published 90 articles with a minimum count of 800 words per blog.
Just blogging was not enough. After publishing each article he would aggressively market it using all of the following routes –
- He spread the word on search engine and social groups like Google, Yahoo, and Orkut. He participated in discussions to create relationships with other members of the group.
- To stay ahead in the conversation game, he would subscribe to blogs via RSS feeds (A format used by publishers to deliver the latest content to you) and be the first to comment on their posts. Harsh would provide valuable feedback to these blogs which helped him connect with other members of the community.
Despite all his effort,s the articles did not get much traction. His blog received approximately 800-1000 visits a month but nothing of great promise. After a while, one of his articles was picked up by Digg, a news aggregation platform that curated articles for different categories. This article on blogging received over 18,000 visits in one day. This sudden spike in traffic signified appreciation from the readers which was much-needed validation for the blog.
Back in 2008, Harsh knew the next step for him was to make all this traffic count. There was serious potential to grow and monetize the blog but no one around him really knew how to make it happen. Right there was a market which was completely untapped and that is when he knew he had to be in it. He spent the next two months learning more about blogging, internet marketing, and technology. He borrowed a friend’s credit card, bought a domain and web hosting services from Dreamhost, (the cheapest option back then) and swiftly migrated the blog to WordPress. After considerable thought, his brand name found its way into a quick logo and onto his website – Shout Me Loud.
How he drove traffic to his blog?
Although that blog piece went viral, it was still 1 out of almost 100 articles that he had written. It wasn’t smart or sustainable to keep writing the way he was and hope his writing would meet the same level of success he saw with that article. It clearly was an outlier.
Harsh did some research and realized a lot of content that he was writing was about technology and it wasn’t unique. He came up with a set of to-dos for himself to help realize the vision he had for ShoutMeLoud. Aspiring bloggers and those just starting out pay close attention.
- Create content from your own experiences. It is unique and cannot be replicated.
- Create more content on blogging and WordPress. People are seeking this content.
- Focus on a specific audience, the ones who really love ShoutMeLoud. The rest don’t matter.
- Shift from time-sensitive content to timeless content.
- Continue posting once a day but keep a buffer of a few posts in the bank.
- Analyze comments and virality of posts.
- Monetize the blog.
This shift in strategy led to more focused content and Harsh started getting a lot more traffic to the blog. People connected with his personal experiences/learnings and encouraged him to write more content around it. The timeless pieces he wrote could be shared even after months of first being published. In terms of his marketing strategy, he continued to generate traffic by commenting on other blogs and keeping his community engaged via social groups.
The traffic slowly moved from a few 100 visits a day to ~2000 visits a day.
One day while promoting his blog post on Digital Point Forum (a discussion forum related to marketing, tools and other technical content), Harsh came across a comment posted by a member on one of the discussion groups, regarding an error on their blog. The member had been struggling with this error for a while and had not found a solution. Harsh saw the comment and came up with a solution to resolve the error. Out of goodwill, the member asked for his PayPal details and transferred $10. That was the first sign of revenue for ShoutMeLoud.
Cash in on Traffic
As the blog grew in visits, Harsh knew it was time to start making money off it. He added AdSense [Google’s ad platform where you can get advertisers to place ads on your site] and within the first week made $40 through ads.
With the initial and encouraging signs of being able to monetize the blog, Harsh decided it was time to take ShoutMeLoud to the next level.
How he scaled the business?
1. Blogging Techniques
He blogged every day. 1 article a day.
- Quality content over quantity: Harsh switched from high-frequency short posts to low-frequency long posts. He was able to incorporate more relevant content with value for readers in longer posts. This improved the time spent on the website and led to more shares per piece. His average word count increased from 800 to 1500 words per article.
- More actionable content: The content created was more focused on “How to, Why, Tips and Tools”, topics that would help increase traffic and also make blogging easier for aspiring bloggers.
- Easy Read format: Harsh realized breaking the content into smaller value paragraphs helped register concepts better. The article was broken down into paragraphs with titles for each paragraph making it easy to skim through.
- Supporting material: Each of these articles would be supported by images, videos, and presentations to understand concepts better. In case the concepts got heavy or the terminologies were new, there would be hyperlinks to learn more about these concepts.
- Catchy headlines: The headlines were catchy and straightforward. The idea was to create enough curiosity to read the article. Harsh used titles like “12 Ultra Modern Tools That Every Digital Marketer Should Know” or “Harsh Agrawal: My Blogging Journey So Far” or “5 Things All First-Time Entrepreneurs Need To Know”.
- Language: The language was kept really simple. Nothing too fancy. Even a tenth standard kid could understand it.
- Tone: Harsh spoke directly to his readers. He always used ‘You’ for them to relate to his content better. Example: “So if you are passionate about blogging then only read it” to “This story will tell you about an important time period of my blogging journey.”
- Categorise content: By now Harsh had already written over 100 articles and knew his previous content was something that his new readers would also like. So, he categorized his existing content into topics like blogging, entrepreneurship, SEO, lifehacks along with trending topics, popular posts and recently updated posts.
A nifty infographic for you to work with whenever you decide to start blogging.
In blogging terms, the content was really optimized for search engines i.e. it gave readers a seamless reading experience while making it easy for search engines to index and deliver this content to them.
If you want to learn more about On-Page SEO techniques, check out Backlinko
Harsh started measuring the performance of posts both from a qualitative as well as a quantitative standpoint. He would measure qualitative feedback by analyzing the posts in the Comment section and with questions like How did this article make you feel? with emoticons for options to answer.
In terms of quantitative metrics, Harsh focused more on post shares, the number of new accounts created and time spent on each article rather than the number of likes.
2. Growth Strategies
#1 Growth Hack: Income Generator Report
Harsh did what is NEVER expected from a company that is not publicly-traded. He went public with his Income Reports. His transparency was so inspiring for people that it became a huge Traffic Generator. He was also approached by Advertisers.
Created a strong process for Content Marketing
Earlier on Harsh had switched from high-frequency short posts to low-frequency longer posts i.e. from 800-word article pieces to 1500 word content pieces with 3 new posts per week. Here is how Harsh deployed Content Marketing to scale to 6 quality, high-value posts a week.
- Network of writers: He first reached out to his network of contract writers to see if they could refer new writers. Usually good writers already have a strong following and their audience is really responsive. Next, Harsh directly reached out to his community of Shouters as a lot of his readers were aspiring bloggers. Finally, he leveraged freelance marketplaces like Fiverr, Contentmart to hire more writers. His primary mode of filtering was consistency and a passion to write. The writers who wrote more often were given more work and made contract writers i.e. ‘x’ number of articles per month for a flat fee.
- Topics to write: Instead of following his gut, Harsh decided to reverse engineer the process. He would gauge what his audience wants by engaging with his community on his blog, Facebook, and other social channels. He would also use an approach called keyword research where you can research actual terms that people enter into search engines and how popular these keywords are. It’s a scientific approach to achieve better rankings on Google & other search engines. Also, writers from the network would suggest topics.
- Content calendar: Once a list of topics were finalized, publishing dates were placed on the calendar at least a month in advance. These topics were opened up to the network of writers and they chose the articles they wanted to write.
- Rough draft: The outline of the article was created with a few guidelines followed by a full form rough draft. Think of it as a free-flowing form containing all the content pieces without the editing. The turnaround for this piece would be 3-5 days.
- Refine the content: The rough draft underwent copy edits, reference edits with images being added and content optimized for search. The written content had to be easily understood by search engines as well as humans. Content would be refined within a week.
- Final review: The content would be finally reviewed by an editor or Harsh for flow and readability. Once OK’ed by everyone, it would be placed in the blog editor and would be scheduled to go live on a certain day.
- Distribution of content: Once live, the content was distributed on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Email while measuring reach, engagement, and sentiment of the post. Over time, the content was repurposed and shared as either excerpts, infographics, summaries to continue engagement.
Collecting emails became the #1 Acquisition Strategy
Harsh realized in order to grow an audience he needed their email address. It was the only way to ensure they received content which they could engage with, be hooked to and come back to the website for more. In a smart move, he made this the central theme of the website. So when you visited the home page, there would be Call To Action (CTAs) that focused on newsletter sign up. If you visited the blog, a widget would appear on the side asking for the visitor’s email in return for free courses or tips. Harsh also set up an Exit Overlay, a modal lightbox that activates in the same window the user is looking at. It’s not a new window nor is it built like a traditional pop-up.
Creating New Revenue Streams
- Affiliate Marketing: In addition to incorporating ads on the blog which is an obvious and more traditional form of revenue generation, Harsh also resorted to Affiliate Marketing, a format that promotes other businesses on a platform for a fee. This involved writing about companies and their product offerings and diverting traffic from his blog to their sites. Each time a user converted on their site, ShoutMeLoud would earn a fee. He also found other affiliates that were willing to promote ShoutMeLoud on their site and in return for every account created offered to pay ShoutMeLoud a fee.
- Offline Communities: Harsh wanted to engage with bloggers and readers offline to create a ShoutMeLoud community across India. He curated events that led to road trips, speaking gigs and workshops, especially in Tier 2 cities. Workshops on SEO, speaking gigs on how to make money online and creating a lifestyle for oneself were well received and soon came to be known as ShoutMeLoudMeetups.
- Tangible Products: With vast quantities of original and useful content being created in-house, Harsh wanted to offer it in various formats beyond just the blog. He strategically converted the content into books, e-books, podcasts, and courses. ShoutUniversity is the culmination of these efforts.
- Consulting: He also consulted for companies likeThrilloPhilia, Musin, Jaago Investor.
- Cross promotion: He built connections within the blogger community which lead to lucrative and mutually beneficial cross-promotional activities.
- Sister site: To widen expand Shouter community, Harsh took to blogging in Hindi through ShoutMeHindi. Through this addition, he was able to provide the same expertise and opportunities for Hindi reading audiences which too is a fairly untapped market online.
Summary of Marketing
|Launching the Idea
(July 2008 – Dec 2008)
|Idea → Demand Validation
(Dec 2008 – April 2009)
|Demand Validation → Scale
Distribution of Traffic
SimilarWeb, a data collection tool was used to gather statistics related to online visitors.
80% of traffic coming from search is huge. That is every blogger’s dream. But it also means that ShoutMeLoud is creating content that people are searching for and its blogs are ranking for it. The main aspect of ranking for search traffic is keyword research and creating content that is optimized for search.
Top Referring Sites are where ShoutMeLoud is getting their traffic from and Top Destination Sites are the ones people are going to from ShoutMeLoud’s site.
Advice from the founder
Take it seriously
If you are passionate about blogging, take it seriously. You might end up making the kind of money that may not have been possible otherwise.
Focus only on your audience
Giving value to your audience is all that matters. Whatever you receive over and above readers’ appreciation is a bonus.
Learn SEO & how to make money blogging
If you wish to make money via blogging, learn SEO. It is the best way to drive targeted traffic looking for a solution, to the articles on your blog which have the answers they are looking for. Start learning about SEO from day one. This could help your blog grow a lot faster in a smaller span of time.
Get better at writing
The only way you can create a difference is through the words you choose to use. Spend time learning about writing, creating copy. More importantly, write daily.
Understand trends in tech
Stay ahead of tech and understand what’s working and what’s not. Especially when a big portion of the web is shifting to mobile, you can’t expect to earn the same with a year-old strategy.
Other skills to pick up
Content marketing, sales, and basics of Affiliate Marketing + Copywriting. A good affiliate marketer needs to be an outstanding salesperson and an effective copywriter.
Focus on Lean Marketing
Do more of what is working and get rid of what is not.
Keeping good company
Work with people who are passionate about the work they do.