It was May 2008. I was a 20 year-old college kid, and just finished my sophomore year at Denison University. It was around this time that I found myself reading music blogs on a daily basis. I had been consuming the content on hip-hop websites and forums since middle school. Now, though, blogs were part of my daily mix.
A few weeks after launching the blogspot, I moved to New York City to start a summer internship at a travel startup called Eurocheapo. There was something in the Manhattan air that made me want to go full-force with my blog. I decided that it needed it’s own brand name and domain name. I settled on Hiptics; the hip’ from Hip-Hop and the ‘tics from Politics. Even though I eventually focused solely on covering the world of hip-hop, the name stuck.
My goal was simply to see if I could make a popular website.
In February 2009, only 8 months after launching, Hiptics was ranked as one of WordPress’ “top 100″ blogs based on traffic. By February 2011, Hiptics had over 160,000 unique monthly readers from around the world. Organic traffic was up 236% year-over-year. I was supporting myself from advertising revenue.
In less than three years, I went from a passionate hip-hop fan to one of the most prominent hip-hop tastemakers online. I didn’t have any money to spend on marketing, but I was able to build an audience of over 160,000 unique monthly readers in less than three years.
I created one of the most popular new music blogs of all time without a marketing budget. Here’s 7 lessons I learned from the experience.
1. You need to be passionate about the subject. The driving force from 0-to-160,000 unique monthly readers was my passion for hip-hop music. Getting a website off the ground is hard work. In the first year requires that you give a lot of your time and get little in return. Passion is what gets you through that period. There have been times I have thought about applying my growth formula to other, more lucrative niches. For example, I could make a website about a topic that commands high CPM advertising rates. The problem is it would be a miserable existence. The consistency required to get a blog off the ground, let alone reach hundreds of thousands of unique monthly readers, is hard to
2. Deliver value to your readers consistently. Consistency is what separates blogs from blog businesses.There were some days where I published upwards of 16 new blog posts. I can’t remember ever missing a day of posting. It became like brushing my teeth; I felt off if I didn’t do it at least twice a day. The most popular blogs create fresh new content every day. As a result, readers check back every day. It’s how you develop the viral loop. Posting quality content every single day is good for other reasons, too. It makes you better at blogging because you find your voice. Your writing starts to read more like how you talk rather than how you would write an English paper in high school. Also, the more content you are creating, the more content Google is indexing. More content means more potential eyeballs. Just make sure it’s good content. If you add value to the web, Google will reward you for it.
3. Master search engine optimization. You will spend a lot of time creating content. SEO is the smartest way maximize the reach of your content. The summer I started my blog, I had an internship in New York City at a travel startup where I was introduced to the basics of SEO. That sparked my interest in optimizing content for search engines. I began educating myself on the inner-workings of Google’s algorithm. It seemed like the most logical thing to do: I wanted to make a popular website, but had $0 to spend on marketing. SEO is always evolving so it can be challenging to stay current. However, there’s no better way to learn SEO, and stay current, then to have a real, live website to experiment with. It also doesn’t hurt that SEO is a valuable skill to have in today’s economy.
4. Live-and-breathe your analytics. If you don’t pay attention to your metrics, you’re at a huge disadvantage. I started using Google Analytics — which is free, btw — to see how many people came to the site each day. That lead to me paying attention to what pages got the most traffic, time spent on site, mobile vs desktop usage, and much more. All of these metrics guided decisions not only about the content, but the product itself.
5. Keep narrowing your focus. Tracking my analytics, specifically by looking at what posts were viewed most, allowed me to narrow the focus of the site. I started out publishing everything hip-hop: interviews, videos, concert footage, new music, album reviews, etc. Over time, I narrowed the focus to 2-3 verticals under the hip-hop umbrella. Narrowing the content scope makes the content better, and easier to generate. When you know what you are creating, you aren’t easily distracted. It keeps you focused.
6. Capture exclusive video content. Over the three years I ran my blog, I published exclusive interviews and concert footage with artists like Nas, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Warren G, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, Wale, and many more. This legitimized my blog’s brand and exposed my blog to millions of hip-hop fans.
One day when I was working that internship, I heard Nas was going to be leading a protest at the Fox News headquarters in midtown manhattan. During my lunch break, I headed uptown with a Flipcam to see if I could get some footage. Not only did I get front-row footage, but I worked myself into the press line and asked Nas a question.
7. I found really good people to help me. Right after my site brought Wiz Khalifa to my campus to perform, I got a call from a freshman who said he loves hip-hop and wanted to be part of the site in any way. His name was Ian Rummler. Ian would wind up blogging regularly and eventually became Editor-in-Chief. Having another passionate hip-hop fan blogging increased the volume of content, and made the product better for daily readers who came by for a fix of new hip-hop music.
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