John Espirian calls himself the relentlessly helpful technical copywriter. Find out how he strategically thinks about his blog’s content and how he has been able to grow his client base because of it.
Revenue of $2,500/mo
Email list size of 530
Founded in 2014
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
I’m John Espirian and I call myself the relentlessly helpful technical copywriter. I’ve been working as an independent writer since 2009, when I left an in-house role as quality assurance manager at one of the UK’s largest internet service providers.
I started blogging at Espirian in 2014, writing mostly about how to write good content for the web, using the principles of content marketing. My strength is in explaining how things work, so I prefer to create how-to content rather than anything story driven. I aim the posts at people who are interested in improving their online presence through good content rather than via ads. Most of those who become clients tend to be leaders of small to medium B2B companies in the UK.
In the last 18 months, I’ve developed a keen interest in using LinkedIn, so many of my posts relate to this excellent platform for doing business.
The blog is the main way that prospective clients find me, and my web traffic has doubled in consecutive years, from 25K page views per year to 50K and now to 100K for 2018.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
In 2014, I had agreed to give a conference presentation about how to set up a website. Although I had a website, it wasn’t based on a CMS and therefore I didn’t have a convenient way to run a blog. The conference preparation was my spur to sort this out, so I moved my content over to WordPress and decided to start writing content about writing along with some mildly techie tips.
As someone who had worked in IT for more than a decade and as an independent writer for more than 5 years, I felt I could produce something of value to people – though at that time I had very little idea of who my potential audience might be.
My business was already pretty stable at this point (well, as much as it could be as a one-man independent operation), but creating content has helped improve my visibility online and led to many more opportunities than I ever thought possible. My regret is not having committed to creating content much sooner.
What is the revenue model for the blog?
Most of my content is aimed at demonstrating a clear writing style and building trust with readers so that they hire me for website and blog copywriting work. This is my main income, though for some businesses I also write user guides and case studies.
The other main income stream I have is through 1-to-1 consultancy for those who want to improve their website, their writing or their social media presence.
As I write this, I’m also starting to offer a LinkedIn profile critiquing and consultation service – so this will be another revenue stream.
My approach isn’t to go for direct monetisation via my blog, so I don’t use ads or link to any of my own paid products.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?
Consistent, in-depth content creation has been the main vehicle for increasing my web traffic. Most of my content has been written for my own blog, but I’ve also created guest post content for other sites as well as doing written, video and audio interviews, all of which refer back to my site.
A standout achievement was writing a guest post about LinkedIn engagement for Social Media Examiner. The post was published in August 2017 and has received 10K shares in its first year, which has helped me boost traffic to my own site.
My growing Twitter and (in particular) LinkedIn presence has meant that my content has been travelling further via social media. However, about two-thirds of my web traffic still comes from organic search. I know enough about SEO to create content that tends to rank quite well, and this has a compounding effect on my web traffic.
A challenge for aspiring bloggers is not only to write good SEO copy but also to build a good network so that people are more likely to share and link to your content from their own sites. Such backlinks are still valuable and the lack of them often means that content won’t perform as well as it otherwise might.
I have experimented with ads for Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. All have returned very little in the way of results, and so I’m sticking with Plan A: sharing relentlessly helpful content.
How have you grown the email list?
I use a MailChimp-powered mailing list to reach a little over 500 subscribers, and I try to keep in touch with subscribers once a week.
I’ve found the list to be good for engagement, probably because I send no salesy content to the list. Subscribers respond well to this and often share my content and recommend me for work to potential clients.
I have tried enticing people to join by offering ebooks, but I tire of this approach by others and therefore have stopped doing this on my own site. Almost all of my content can now be accessed ‘ungated’. Also, I can’t stand popups, slideovers or other tactics that some sites use to build their email subscriber base.
While my list is growing slowly, I believe the engagement is better than average. I currently have a 47% open rate.
How do you write great content that performs well?
It all starts with the nugget of an idea. It has to be something that is relevant and valuable to people who will either do business with me or refer me to those who will do business with me.
Some keyword research helps to work out what the proposed content will be competing with, and then after that it’s all about writing a messy first draft. At this stage, there are no limits or filters.
Only after getting everything written down and leaving the text to rest does the real magic happen – the edit! That’s where I come back and ruthlessly cut the fat from the content.
Along with the edit, I spend time thinking about the call to action and the headline for the article. I don’t like sensational headlines, as these rarely deliver on what’s promised – and they tend not to be good for SEO.
My best-performing content tends to be that which answers readers’ questions – the ones they knew they had and the ones they hadn’t even thought of. I try to put a dash of humour into my writing. At least my blog is one place I know I’m safe to attempt this (because most writing clients tend to want serious rather than funny B2B content).
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
I use Bitmoji for my personal branding and I wish I’d done that sooner, along with better visuals in general. I’ve also relatively recently started using more personal video in my blogs, and again it would have been good to do this sooner.
Creating content takes time. I often spend 6–8 hours on a post, and that’s a huge time suck when you want to be consistent. One way to reduce the burden is to write satellite posts to support other posts that have done well in the past. This is quicker than creating completely fresh content, and yet the resulting posts often rank well.
If I had started blogging earlier, I would like to have covered more of the low-level content sooner, e.g. What is technical writing? How much does it cost? How does the process work?
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Building an engaged social network has helped a lot, as has joining the Content Marketing Academy and ATOMIC – two membership groups who help members with their marketing.
Writing content and social posts is an education in itself. The more you do it, the better you become. I always say that you have to be bad before you can be good – so allow yourself the indulgence of making some mistakes as you tweet out to your 3 follows. Your following will soon increase as you learn your craft, so long as you’re providing something of value.
A great way for me to learn is to listen to business and marketing podcasts while I’m walking or cooking.
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
Commit to a plan of action and know that it can take time for you to see any results. My case study was in Mark Schaefer’s book KNOWN in 2017. In it he interviewed 70+ people who told him that it took on average 30 months for their content efforts to start returning results. No surprise, then, that people give up after 3 months and say ‘blogging doesn’t work’. The truth is that people quit too soon.
If you struggle with distractions and procrastination, I recommend reading Deep Work by Cal Newport.
Where can we go to learn more?
Head over to Espirian!