Why 95% of Blogs Fail

I’ve started a few blogs before.

They all failed within a few months. I worked for hours to make my “best content.” I waited. And waited. But nobody came. It was frustrating. I thought I was a bad writer. So I quit.

But that wasn’t it. I wasn’t a bad writer. I was just making mistakes—the same mistakes that 95% of bloggers make. And that is why they fail.

Here are some common ones…

They don’t test assumptions

Failing bloggers blow hundreds of dollars into domains, site design, hosting, and SEO before they know if their idea will even work.

There are over 3 million blog posts written every day. Where’s the proof that yours will do well?

First, make sure your blog’s niche, writing style and unique angle actually work. Treat your blog like an early-stage startup: validate your ideas first, then spend the big money.

They do fake work

It’s the Internet age. There are thousands of things bloggers can be tweaking: site design, headlines, buttons, word counts, keywords…it goes on and on forever.

Unfortunately, 99% of these ‘tweaks’ don’t matter at all. Bloggers spend hours tweaking trivialities and then scratch their heads wondering why no results happened.

Most things don’t matter. Here’s what does:

  • Making your content better than everyone else’s
  • Putting your work in front of people
  • Building a readership

Your time and resources are limited. Only tweak what needs tweaking.

They write for themselves

“There is only one thing that you write for yourself, and that is a shopping list.” —Umberto Eco

Your blog isn’t a private journal. Whether people admit it openly or not, they write on the Internet because, deep down, they want to be read.

Make your writing about other people, for other people.

Some questions to ask:

  • Who is my target audience? Make it ONE person. What does he do? Where does he live? What’s his income range? Where does he spend all his time on the Internet? Figure out way more details than you need—then you’ll have just enough.
  • What unique value am I adding? Write down three things: (1) what you love to do, (2) what you are good at and (3) what your target audience needs. Find what lies at the intersection of these three, and the magic happens.

They don’t understand the game

Let’s face it. You blog because you want people to read your content, come to your platform and engage with you. So does every other blogger out there.

The blogging word is harsh. We’re all playing to win. If you want to do well, you need to know how the game is played.

If you don’t know how to earn attention, where people gather, or the tools and tactics your competition is using… You’re playing a loser’s game.

Don’t let that happen. Study the art of blogging.

They’re greedy

Successful bloggers come in many colors, but they all share one common trait—they give (almost) all of their content away for free.

If any decent publication wants to syndicate my content, I always say yes. Leo Babauta does the same thing with his “Uncopyright”—anyone who wants his stuff can have it. No questions asked and no referrals needed.

You won’t get anywhere by hoarding value. Make the switch to providing incredible value instead.

They don’t create a conversation

Congratulations! You got some readers to come to your site.

What’s next for them? They click the “Home” button and leave your site forever… Most bloggers focus way too much on traffic. It’s a leaky funnel with no end.

Of course, you need people to come to your site. But of equal (or greater) importance is building a community of loyal readers that keep coming back over and over again.

They copy

Over 90% of blogs fail. To be an “average” blog is to fail. By definition, if you do what everybody else is doing, you will get average results.

To make a successful blog, you must do things differently. This can be with target audience, with content quality, with design, with marketing or with something else that nobody has caught of yet.

Whatever you do, don’t copy. And whatever you do, make it the best there is.

9 Out of 10 Bloggers Make the Same Mistakes

It’s not a bad thing to dive in face-first and learn everything through failure. But just in case you’re interested in saving years of failed experimentation, check out my new guide. It’s got all the tips and tactics I used to grow a high-traffic blog with 100k monthly readers in less than 3 months.

Use the code ‘SENECA’ to get 50% off this week only. It comes out in January 2017.

Choice Minimalism: Why Mark Zuckerberg Wears the Same Thing Every Day

Take a peek inside Mark Zuckerberg’s closet.

Zuckerberg wears the same thing every day.

How strange. Is he a nutcase?

But it’s not just Zuck.

Here’s Obama’s outfit of choice:

He always wears a gray or blue suit with a blue-ish tie.

Same thing with Ray Dalio, manager of Bridgewater Associates one of the most successful hedge funds in history ($122 Billion under management):


Why are these guys wearing the same thing every day? Are they idiot savants with no fashion sense?

Not quite.

The truth is rather simple.

The reason is: they don’t want to choose.

The War on Choice

Choice isn’t always good.

Let me summarize two decades of willpower research:

  • We use willpower to do everything (make decisions, focus, be creative, and on and on)
  • Our daily willpower is limited (use too much, and you function like a drunk person)

If that didn’t blow your mind, read it again.

In other words: making pointless decisions cripples performance.

Here’s Obama in a Vanity Fair article:

“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Zuckerberg echoes Obama:

“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,”

Zuck, Obama and others aren’t dressing the same because it’s fun. They’re doing it because it works.

Each decision digs into our willpower “HP bar”. Each decision makes us less creative, less in control and less focused.

Beating Decision Fatigue

We aren’t Mark Zuckerberg. We aren’t Steve Jobs.

But decision fatigue affects our life.

I started making small tweaks several years ago, with some amazing results in both business and my personal life. I’m more creative. I have more time to spend with friends or family.

You don’t have to ditch your wardrobe for a set of gray T-shirts, but here are some things you can start doing.

Phase I: Do A Self-Diagnostic

  1. Track decisions. Spend a week tracking all the choices you make in a day.
  2. Evaluate effectiveness. Review your notes and group decisions by category. Then ask, “Does this decision affect my desired outcomes?” Many of them won’t.
  3. Do a Pareto analysis. Ask, “What are the 20% or fewer useless decisions that are taking up 80% or more of my time?” Those are the ones to tackle first.

*Note: If you don’t know about the Pareto Principle, learn it ASAP. When I read about it in 4HWW, it was a game-changer.

Phase II: Make the Changes

Devise a plan to reduce or eliminate unless decisions.

Some things I have done:

  • Simplify my wardrobe. I cut down to less than 15 items of clothing. We tend to wear the same 10-20% of our wardrobes for 80%+ of the time. Cut the tail.
  • Eat the same few meals. This is in part due to decision fatigue, but it’s also a powerful dieting tool. For example, Tim Ferris’s Slow Carb Diet suggests eating the same few meals to boost adherence.
  • Design a morning routine. There are a lot of low-impact decisions we make in the morning (wear, dress, food, etc.). Automate it with a routine. This pays your willpower forward to important decisions later in the day.
  • Shop the periphery. This comes from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. Grocery stores are my arch-nemesis. The unhealthy stuff is built into the center of grocery stores (it sells more). I avoid this by staying on outskirts: there are fewer options AND it’s healthier.
  • Set “key objectives” before bed. I decide what I want to do BEFORE I go to sleep. This saves time in the morning when I want to jump right into doing focused work.

That should get you started.

A final quote—

“We must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can… . The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.” —William James

Just the Tips: Short Musings on Living Well

These are a short, bullet-form compilation of some of my popular Quora answers on living well:

  • Ignore the news. Why? Read the paper from 6 months ago. How much of it matters? None of it. It’s 0% signal, 100% noise.
  • Go hungry. Fast for 24 hours once a week. Do sprints without eating. Stronger mind. Longer life. Sexier body. (You can thank me later)
  • Drop the insecurities. No, nobody is staring at your ass at the gym. Except me.
  • Skip college. Save the $100k+. Study with real masters instead. Make things from day one. Fail a lot. Learn. Grow. Get out of the cage.
  • Ditch beauty products. What? 50 kinds weren’t enough? Sorry, my mistake. Maybe you’ll be happy after 50 more.
  • Take risks. Real risk-taking isn’t about the big gamble. It’s about asymmetries: risk 10% to get 1000%. Most people don’t see the world this way. Make sure you do.
  • Invest in yourself. Lose the big screen TV. Ditch the retirement fund too. Invest in YOU. I’ve spent thousands to learn from my heroes. It was worth every penny.
  • Pause for gratitude.  Call a friend and say thank you. Feel the wind on your skin. You have what you have. That’s pretty good.
  • Fire your customers. Build something amazing. Find your 1000 True Fans. Then say no to the rest. They’re not good enough.
  • Don’t live someone else’s life. You aren’t your parents. You aren’t your teachers. You are…you.
  • Love haters. Every time I get hate mail, I do a little happy dance. Why? It means I’m doing great work. If you aren’t pissing people off, you aren’t doing anything important.
  • Read (really) old books. Old books survive for a reason. They’re really, really good. Read those. Life is short.
  • Fail more. Why do 99% of people fail? Because they aren’t failing enough. Success is born from repeated failure… Get out there and start rolling the dice.
  • Meditate. No lotus pose necessary. Sitting, lying, walking, squattin—it doesn’t matter. Just breathe.
  • Delete your ‘friends’. You are the 5 people you spend the most time with. Don’t keep the ‘friends’ around. Keep the FRIENDS around.
  • Celebrate fear. Stress and challenge are growth. Dive in face-first, take the hit, and grow.
  • Know biochemistry. Do you know how food affects cognition? Drugs? Meditation? Educate yourself. Build a better engine.
  • Don’t be average. The average is fat, depressed and addicted to drugs (yes, sugar counts too). Make the same decisions as them, and… you become them. Don’t do that. Always think for yourself.
  • Avoid cheesecake. Lots of things taste good. Some of them won’t kill you.
  • Eat cheesecake. Okay, it’s okay if it kills you.
  • No regrets. Extract the lessons and move on. The only way to lose is to stop moving.
  • Laugh at ‘experts’. Pssst. They don’t know what they’re talking about either.
  • Simplify. It takes a lot less than you think to get what you want. But nobody wants to believe it.
  • Not ‘passion’. OBSESSION. Yoga classes 3 times a week? Hah, get out of here. Do you see it in your dreams? No? Go home, kids.

…and thousands more.

The Myth of Speed Reading: Read Better, Not Faster

myth speed reading

Speed reading is great.

It sells a lot of books and blog articles.

There’s just one problem. It doesn’t actually work.

I’m a skeptic. I am always trying to ask: What is something most people believe that is wrong? There are misconceptions everywhere: in investing (housing prices always go up), in health (saturated fat is bad), and in reading too (speed reading is possible).

I really, really want speed reading to work. I could be reading 600 books a year! But, when I looked at the evidence…there wasn’t any.

The myth of speed reading

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”  ―Woody Allen

Speed reading texts try to sell the practice “scientifically” by offering the following techniques:

  • Eliminate subvocalization (stop pronouncing words in your head)
  • Streamline eye movements (remove eye pauses to read faster)

Two problems:

  • Subvocalization can’t actually be eliminated
  • Streamlining eye movements reduces comprehension

For more on this topic, see this excellent article by Skeptoid.

There’s a lot of “anecdotal evidence” that now been debunked:

  • John F. Kennedy reading 1000+ words per minute
    • This was a misquote by a reporter
  • Legends of speed reading champions
    • People who didn’t read the text scored equally well on speed reading tests

Sorry, speed reading doesn’t work.

Here’s what to do instead.

What are you reading for?

I will admit, I had the speed reading bug. I wanted to learn fast, and I thought the best way to do it was to read more. It took me many months (and a lot of wasted pages) to figure out that it is not the volume of words but the volume of ideas that matter.

The problem with speed reading is that it uses words per minute (WPM) as a metric. Anyone who has tried to read a real book knows that this is bullshit. Try speed reading Plato. You will race through pages at 800 wpm, only to discover that you have absolutely no clue what the hell you spent the last hour looking at. Real writing often involves taking a single page and consuming it slowly, word by word.

The two types of reading

I do two types of reading: reading for information and reading for ideas.

The latter is much more useful in the long term —I want to develop mental models that can continue to support me in 5, 20, or 50 years. Reading for information is often time-sensitive and less useful in the long term.

Yes, I can spend my time reading “pop science” books meant for ordinary audiences…but the information density is so low. An entire 300-page book may only have a single quality idea. Compare this with Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic or Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit —every other sentence in these books had me reaching for my pen.

Instead of using wpm as a positive indicator, try using it as a contrarian one. If your wpm is too high, perhaps the book or paper you are reading is too simple. Time to find something more stimulating, more worth your time.

Remember, it is never the volume, but the signal that we decision-makers are interested in.

“Magic dust” approaches like speed-reading are rarely as appealing as they first appear.

How to Construct a Monthly Plan

monthly plan

Some of you have asked how I tackle goal-setting.

Today also happens to be the first of the month—the day that I do my monthly plan.

So here’s a look at the process.

Why make a monthly plan?

There are two key benefits to a monthly plan:

  • It forces you to think carefully about what you want to do that month (and, consequently, what you want from the next quarter, the next year and the decade).
  • It’s a black and white indicator of performance—either you achieve your goal or you don’t.

Below are general steps to take when making a plan.

1. Review and Reflect

Before I draft my plan, I do the following:

  • Take another look at quarterly and yearly goals
  • Review the last month

This review helps you (a) keep future goals in mind when designing your monthly goal and (b) avoid mistakes made during your last month.

My goals:

  • Yearly Goal (Ends September 2017): Publish a book and sell 5000 copies in the first week.
  • Quarterly Goal (Ends this month): Grow email following to 10,000 readers.

Although not obvious, my quarterly goal is intimately tied to my yearly goal—I did a quick feasibility analysis, and I want to have an email list of 100k+ when my book comes out.

Then a review of last month:

  • What went well? The blog got traction much faster than I was expecting, with excellent performances on Medium and popular publications like the Observer.
  • What went poorly? I am increasingly distracted by emails, interview offers, pitches, etc. This is taking away from writing time.

Now, with the above in mind, we can:

  • Set a monthly goal that is in line with our quarterly goal.
  • Draft a plan to avoid major pitfalls from last month.

2. Set the Monthly Objective

Because this is the last month of this quarter (Q4), the objective is very simple: reach 10k email subscribers.

The harder part is taking the objective and converting it into “high-probability” actions…

3. Do the Deep Thinking (And Select Core Actions)

This is the deep thinking part of the plan. Here, we take our overarching goal (10k subscribers) and convert it into an action plan for the month.

The Open Circle currently has about 6000 readers, so we need to bring 4000 new people onboard to reach our goal.

Unfortunately, I can’t wake up in the morning, brush my teeth and then sit down to “get email subscribers”.

What drives email signups?

There are two:

  • Get blog traffic
  • Increase the conversion rate of our website

Let’s convert these into actions:

  • Make good content and share it (therefore growing traffic to the site)
  • Give people a good reason to join and make it easily visible (making it more likely for people to sign up)

Now, some final thinking:

  • To reach my goal of 10k subscribers, I need 4000 people to signup for the month
  • At a signup rate of 10%, that means I need to have 40,000 new visitors to the site this month
  • A single “home run” blog post can bring 30k-50k people to the site

In other words, I only need a single home run this month to reach my goal.

This then converts to the following immediate actions:

  • Made modifications that bring conversions up to 10% ASAP
  • Publish two posts a week on the quality of your other home run posts (the past ones also took 2-3 days to write)
    • This gives me ~8 chances to get a single home run this month

4. Make it Memorable

Okay, that was a lot of thinking.

Now, let’s convert that into something short and memorable we can use each morning to prime our thinking.

Sebastian Marshall recommends the use of a “mantra”—a short, memorable phrase that embodies your monthly objective.

My mantra for last month was “GO PRO”. The point was to phase freelancing out of my life so that I could spend more time on the blog.

For this month, the most significant to me is proving to myself that I can constantly generate good content.

The mantra for this month: BECOME PROOF

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That’s all for the monthly review.

The key takeaways:

  • Make the objective measurable (there’s no “half pregnant”)
  • Take core KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and make those measurable as well (traffic, conversions, etc.)
  • Convert objective to immediate actions that can be taken.

Remember, the few hours it takes to do this kind of planning each month can save days worth of missteps down the line.