How One Writer Turned His Blog Into a $12 Million Business

Matt Lane from Interview with Brian Clark of at Dreamforce ‘12

These days, Copyblogger is more than just a blog. With over 252,000 monthly organic hits and nearly 4,000 posts in its archives, it’s the internet’s premiere educational resource for content marketers, ranking number one on Google for search terms like “writing tips,” “how to read,” “learn copywriting,” “how to write well,” and even “analogy or metaphor.”

In 2016, it generated over $12 million a year in revenue, prompting Forbes to call it an “empire.” Though they haven’t publicly released their income recently, estimates that the site now brings in over $33 million a year — nearly tripling in size in just three years. That’s all coming from two sources: its premium $495/year copywriting course Copyblogger Pro and a suite of software products.

With numbers like those, you might conclude that Copyblogger was built by a corporate think tank. But it actually began as a one-man blog run by a former lawyer named Brian Clark. Clark, a die-hard internet marketing enthusiast, started the site in January 2006 as a way to connect with other marketers.

His first post, a reflection on the psychology of blogging, was modestly titled “SOLD.” At just 250 words, there’s nothing about it that hints at multimillion-dollar potential. Yet over the last 15 years, he’s built the site into one of the most widely read blogs in the industry, with fans clamoring to buy its writing and marketing courses.

Most blogs don’t become multimillion-dollar businesses. So how did Clark turn Copyblogger into an industry pillar? Here are five strategies that made it blossom.

1. Teach By Doing

Copyblogger is compelling because it’s a live demonstration of the concepts it teaches. It employs all the strategies it recommends on the site itself. For example, according to Clark, one general rule for writing good headlines is to use eight words or less. Dig through the archives and you’ll find that the vast majority of his headlines follow that rule.

In a post titled “Don’t Read This or the Kitty Gets It!,” Clark arrives at the conclusion that “[e]very element of copy has just one purpose — to get the first sentence read.” In that same article, he puts that principle to work by opening with an irresistible sentence: “Poor Fluffy. I asked you not to do this, and you’ve gone and broken the rules.”

Clark credits “teaching by doing” as the secret sauce to his blog’s success. By putting every concept he teaches in action, readers can see why the strategies are so valuable in real-time. It’s no surprise we keep coming back for more.

2. Invest in First Impressions

Copyblogger was started with $1,000, the majority of which went to website design. Why? Because Clark is a staunch believer in strong first impressions.

In today’s environment, you would be laughed off the stage for spending start-up capital on design. There are far more constructive things to put that money towards, like audience acquisition. But when Clark first started blogging in 2006, most websites had ugly layouts. Investing in a professional look with inviting colors allowed him to establish instant trust with new visitors. This, in turn, had a compounding effect on the blog’s popularity.

Nevertheless, the first impression principle still applies here in 2020. If your blog is ugly, you risk losing a portion of your audience. Optimizing appearance is about maximizing reader retention. In simple terms, it pays to look good. Just don’t spend most of your money on it — WordPress themes are cheap now, and you should have no problem making your blog look great for less than $50.

3. Headlines, Headlines, Headlines

One of Copyblogger’s greatest strengths is its headlines. Scroll through the archives and you’ll quickly find that Clark crafts compelling titles at an elite level. A few that jump out include “‘Kids Eat Free’ and Other Irresistible Offers,” “The Number One Rule of Niche Marketing” and “7 Reasons Why List Posts Will Always Work.” Not surprising from the guy who wrote a post titled “How to Write Headlines That Work.”

A few recurring strategies you’ll notice:

These methods spark interest and intrigue in the mind of readers. And when you click through, the content delivers on the headline’s promise. The lesson: forget the clickbait. Just preview the most interesting parts of your article in your headline. Master this and you’ll have no trouble getting readers to click.

4. Build for Your Audience

When it comes to monetization, Copyblogger has been wildly successful because Clark has a nose for listening to his audience. “There was this theory I had when I started Copyblogger that the audience would tell me what they needed, because I really had no clue of what that would be, at the beginning,” he told Mixergy. “I was just going to listen.”

That listening led to the blog’s first products: software tools that made it easier for amateur bloggers to customize their websites. Eventually, it evolved into a whole suite of WordPress-oriented applications, including the Genesis Theme Framework, Premise landing page builder, and Scribe SEO tool (all of which now live under the Rainmaker brand).

By tuning in to his audience’s needs, Clark was able to design exactly what they wanted, resulting in explosive sales. Building for your audience is key no matter which corner of entrepreneurship you’re in, and Clark demonstrates that here on an elite level.

5. “Don’t Sell… Teach”

In late 2016, Clark wrote a post titled “Don’t Sell… Teach” where he explains that the best way to get sales isn’t to push your product, but instead to show prospective customers exactly how to get the job done. Copyblogger personifies this — spend ten minutes on the site and you’ll leave a significantly better writer than when you started.

This strategy is echoed by great entrepreneurs in every field. Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say that the best way to attract clients is to give your knowledge away for free.

The reason it works is simple: giving your knowledge away establishes your site as a go-to resource while simultaneously building brand awareness. And because most people who learn from your content will eventually realize they’d rather just pay you to do the job, the more knowledge you distribute, the more clients you’ll land.

In the Internet Age, Content Is Everything

Clark’s success can be boiled down to a simple maxim: make your content compelling. He understands exactly how to both whet the reader’s appetite and get them to stick around. This makes his writing irresistible reads.

Are you an aspiring blogger? If Copyblogger teaches us anything, it’s to invest energy into optimizing your content. Create commanding headlines around ideas that teach your audience exactly what they want to know, and maybe you too can hit $33 million in revenue somewhere down the line.

In the meantime, let’s see where Clark takes Copyblogger next.

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