The (Un)Importance of Optimization
Over the past two years or so I have spent a good chunk of my time railing against the majority of what most make money online “experts” advise. Generally speaking, doing so has worked in my favor.
For example, it was only when I turned my primary focus onto building a service-based business (and away from passive income endeavors) that I was able to leave work behind. Furthermore, I decided to put my full efforts into building a freelance blogging business when most freelance writing “experts” claim there is little money in blogging for pay. That worked out pretty well too.
I created a successful blog in the make money online niche when just about anyone was ready to tell me that it is already far too crowded to prosper. Not only that, but I managed to do so without bullshitting a single human being (which is all too rare).
With the above in mind, in today’s post I want to focus on one particular action (or inaction, more specifically) that I feel has benefitted me (and my audience) more than most. As you might expect, it goes completely against what you are typically told to do.
The (Un)Importance of Optimization
Optimization is a buzzword in the blogosphere. If you’re not optimizing, you’re not making the most of the opportunities available to you.
Optimization can take many forms. There is Search Engine Optimization (SEO), sales copy optimization, conversion optimization, and so on. But they all share one key characteristic: squeezing more out of what you already have.
By practicing SEO you intend to drive a greater volume of traffic to existing content. By optimizing your sales copy you intend to generate more sales from the same number of leads. By converting say a sign up form, you intend to gain a higher ratio of subscribers from the same number of visitors to your blog.
In my opinion there are two things that are fundamentally “wrong” about optimization:
- It rarely benefits the end user a great deal
- It can distract you from more important matters
Let me explain to you what I mean with some examples.
How Optimization Has Benefitted A-List Bloggers (Or Not)
The idea for this post first came to me when I was watching an interview with Steve Kamb on Fizzle.
For those of you who don’t know, Steve is the founder of Nerd Fitness — an enormous health and fitness blog/community with monthly visits in excess of one million. He also happens to be one of the true good guys in the blogosphere — someone who is still happy to reply to emails from readers (with no apparent expectation of potential reward) despite the astronomical growth in his blog’s popularity over the past few years.
What surprised me in the interview was the lack of focus Steve had on optimization. He admitted that he knew next to nothing about SEO and that he had only recently brought someone on board to work on split testing. This is the same guy who makes a very healthy income from a well-respected blog in a highly competitive niche.
Watching the interview brought me back to a guest post I read on Think Traffic over two years ago. It was entitled What Happens When Gizmodo Unleashes a Flood of 42,000+ People on Your Blog and was written by (you guessed it) Steve Kamb. In that post, Steve revealed how an article he wrote on Nerd Fitness was syndicated by Gizmodo (which is an enormous blog for those of you who don’t know), which resulted in a huge burst of traffic to his site.
At the time Nerd Fitness was attracting around the same number of visitors as Leaving Work Behind does at the moment and was about two years old (sounds like I’m about ready to get syndicated by Gizmodo, right? ;-)).
Upon reflection Steve knew that he should have done more to convert the traffic, but he wasn’t big on optimization and missed out on an opportunity. Yet, just over two years later, his blog has gone from attracting ~800 visitors per day to perhaps ~30,000. He has managed to prosper without an overarching obsession with optimization. It is no small coincidence that he also happens to produce quality content on a consistent basis.
I’ve known about Steve’s relative lack of concern with optimization for a long time but I only recently learned my lesson from his story.
My Obsession With Optimization
I have spent a large part of my time as a blogger obsessed with optimization. In fact, my obsession only came to an end relatively recently.
I had spent over a month in search of someone to work on the copy of the sales page for my freelance blogging guide. I felt that the existing copy didn’t fit my “voice” or reflect the Leaving Work Behind brand well (I hadn’t written it), plus I thought it could convert better. However, I didn’t want to work on the page myself as I don’t consider myself to be a talented copywriter.
Then I had a small epiphany: I didn’t need a copywriter. I realized that when it comes to growing the Leaving Work Behind brand and doing my best to help people, I was the best person to write the sales page — whether or not it resulted in a higher conversion rate.
Once I had given myself the freedom to create my sales page copy on the basis of how well it informed the user and reflected my brand, writing it became a piece of cake. Although I haven’t finished with the sales page yet, I think it is far better than it was. Most importantly, I think it better serves people who are potentially interested in my freelance blogging guide than it did before. And incidentally, it converts better than it did before. I consider that a natural side-effect of working hard to best serve your visitors.
This led to a number of optimization-related obsessions crumbling to dust about me. No more fretting over SEO. No more making decisions based upon whether I feel something will “convert” better. Instead, my sole focus is on making Leaving Work Behind better for the people who visit it. And believe me, approaching my blog from that direction is wonderfully invigorating.
While my course of action may not result in me leveraging the potential of the blog to its fullest, I spend zero time agonizing over the vagaries of optimization and more time working to help people. That is more rewarding than a higher conversion rate could ever be and leaves me with a clear conscience. Furthermore, I expect it to benefit the blog in the long run.
You Don’t Need Optimization to Succeed (But It Can Help)
I am not here to tell you that you shouldn’t optimize your website. But I am saying that you shouldn’t allow it to distract from the most important thing: serving your visitor/reader/subscriber/customer.
If more bloggers were less obsessed with getting their AdWords perfectly placed or their sales page perfectly optimized and more obsessed with creating something of true value, people would have a whole lot more quality content to surf through around the blogosphere.
This was one of the driving factors behind the decision I made to reduce the number of posts I publish here on Leaving Work Behind. These days, I don’t publish a post because an editorial calendar tells me to — I publish a post because I feel I have something of value to say. Something that can benefit other people.
In short, I don’t let thoughts of optimization cloud my judgment. I do what I do because I think it is best for this blog in terms of how it can serve my readers. Everything else falls in line behind that.
From a more practical perspective, I’ll point to the evidence that the a-list bloggers do not get to their giddy heights by focusing primarily on optimization. The Steve Kambs of this world succeed because they have an overruling desire to create something of true value. That’s what enables them to build blogs that attract readers in their hundreds of thousands (and even millions). By contrast, optimization is a bit-part player.
How this Relates to Leaving Work Behind
New readers of this blog may not know this yet, but the act of leaving work behind means so much more than just quitting your job and creating a successful online business.
Ultimately, it’s about being happy. The further I travel in my journey the more I appreciate how little wealth (beyond what we need to put food in our mouths and a roof over our heads) matters when compared to happiness. I work to be happy and wealthy, but only if the act of obtaining wealth does not affect my happiness.
I don’t pretend to be a selfless blogger. I don’t think true selflessness is actually possible (but that’s a philosophical debate for another time). This blog exists for two reasons:
- To make money
- To help other people
The benefit to me of the first reason is clear. But the second reason benefits me too — it makes me happy to help people.
There are few things more rewarding than the emails I get from people thanking me for helping them. I am delighted to help people because it is rewarding. To do this and make money from it is a blessing I try very hard not to take for granted. And that has nothing to do with optimization.