Imagine if we lived in a world with an infinite amount of time. You could get all your projects done, and you could read all the things. What would you do with all that time?
One thing you would do is talk to people. Having conversations is one of the most useful things you can do. Not only can you help out someone else outside their area of expertise, but it can often get paid back to you–whether with a sale or just a unique insight about your business.
Imagine that you could spend 10-20 hours per day talking to people, and you’d still have exactly as much time as you do now. Well, that world is here.
Yesterday people spent a combined sum of 10 hours on this blog, the same thing that you’re doing. And spent 5 hours on my corporate blog, which started relatively recently. And yesterday was a Sunday, so those are low numbers. I “spent” 15 hours talking to people, with absolutely zero effort. I could be on vacation somewhere, or building a new product, or re-investing my time in some other capacity, all the while having useful conversations with thousands of people, 100% on autopilot.
Let me give you specific example. Some time ago, I found a bug in an Apple graphics library. I wrote a blog post about this bug. A post of about 150 words, which took me about five minutes. Since that time, people have spent a combined total of 30 hours reading that post. I’m sure that I’ve helped hundreds of developers work around that obscure bug. I can’t imagine the effort it would require to e-mail or call hundreds of individual developers to help them with their problem, but I’ve achieved that result–with five minutes of actual work. If you consider the “time economy”, my investment of five minutes paid a dividend of 360-fold.
Nothing is unique about me, or about that post. I have dozens of posts like that. I don’t have some magical toolbag of SEO tricks. My PageRank is 3. Maybe I should be thinking about that stuff, but I don’t. I just write about things, and Google sends me traffic. Occasionally I consider what people might be searching for, and write posts about that, but that’s the full extent of my strategy.
When you pay for clicks, you get clicks. $.20 spent, gone. When you write content, that content is out working for you for the next 20 years, like a unit in an RTS. It’s out there, tirelessly talking to people, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, gathering traffic, and representing you to the world. SEM is like buying a product; writing content is like investing. SEM is sharecropping; SEO is owning the land. Even with a bad article, you get a dribble of recurring traffic on any topic you want, forever.
And it’s not that hard. In spite of the apparent completeness of Wikipedia, there are many, many holes to fill, huge continents of unexplored territory in content. My article about the Apple bug is now the #2 search result for CGContextStrokeColor, simply because not a whole lot of people write about it, yet a lot of people search for it when they have a problem. #1 and #3 are blog posts. Apple’s own documentation doesn’t show up until the 10th spot, because Google knows that the reason someone searches for CGContextStrokeColor is because the documentation already didn’t answer their question. Google knows that my post answers a question that people have, because people spend 10 minutes trying out my solution instead of returning to Google. With five minutes of work, I outranked the Apple documentation, just by being helpful.
Think of writing a blog post not as a chore, but as an investment–an investment of your time, and redeemable for the time and attention of others.
But blog posts are also automation. If you get asked a question three times, whether in the same day or in the same year, that’s three times you get nerd sniped and your train of thought falls out of your head, not to mention at best copy-and-pasting some reply from earlier, assuming you have it, and at worst re-inventing the response three separate times. Blogging about it instead means that you don’t get any e-mails, because people can already find out via Google what they want to know. I think one of the big reasons people complain about e-mail overload is because we’re privacy-obsessed today (inappropriate e-mail disclaimers, anyone?). 99% of your communication is not confidential, and using the medium of e-mail to keep it just between you and the correspondant means that if someone else has the same problem or question you’ll have to talk to them separately too.
Assuming, of course, you know that person. The beauty of blogging is that you can reach people that you don’t know. I have no idea what kind of people are going to experience the same graphics library bug that I did, nor am I really sure how to reach them. Although I have legit analytics and I know vaguely what kinds of people read that post after the fact, I don’t know anything about their project, their real names, how to reach them, or anything about them. I don’t have so much as a single comment on that post, although it’s probably been directly useful to hundreds of professional developers. I don’t know, and never will know, much about my audience. And that’s the power of blogging–the ability to help many more people than any other conceivable distribution mechanism, and the ability to reach people that are otherwise unreachable.
All of this to say, if you don’t have a blog already, you need to get on that train right now. It doesn’t matter whether you have anything interesting to say or which side of the holy war between WordPress and Jekyll you’re on. You run into a potential gotcha in Python, you blog about it so nobody else makes your mistake. You compile PHP from source on Debian, write a blog post with just your Terminal output. Every e-mail you get, consider whether writing a blog post would keep you from having to answer that same e-mail ever again. Having a friendly argument, consider writing a blog post so you don’t have to recap the argument for the next three friends.
I’m ashamed to say that it’s taken me this long to realize all this. But if you’ve reached the end of this article, I have to be right. Why? Because