Transcript: The Secrets to Building a More Strategic, Valuable Blog (with Mike Stelzner)

January 29, 2015

AMY PORTERFIELD: Well hello there, welcome to another edition of the Online Marketing Made Easy Podcast. I’m thrilled that you’re here today and I’m excited because we have a returning guest. I always love to have returning guests on the show because that means we get to dive even deeper and usually go behind the scenes. 

That’s exactly what we’re going to do today. My guest today is Mike Stelzner, founder of Social Media Examiner, the world’s largest online social media magazine and the host of the top-rated podcast, Social Media Marketing. 

As I mentioned the first time I interviewed Mike, my relationship with Mike started years and years ago. When I was still working with Tony Robbins we hired Mike to write a white paper for one of Tony’s online campaigns. At the time Mike was still doing his white paper business and Social Media Examiner did not even exist. So I was the liaison between Tony’s edits and Mike’s revisions. 

Tony always has tons and tons of edits. It doesn’t matter how great the paper was that Mike created, that’s just Tony’s nature. So there were a lot of intense phone calls back and forth with Tony and with Mike and Mike and I became really good friends in the process. So when I left the Tony Robbins position Mike was just starting Social Media Examiner and he brought me on board as a consultant to write some articles and to help build his Facebook Page. 

It hadn’t even existed yet so Mike and I, together, created it from scratch and I learned a lot about Facebook in that whole process. So Mike has been a friend and mentor for many years. 

For today’s episode I really spent some time thinking about the most valuable insight Mike could share with us that would be the most helpful to your business growth. 

What I came up with was this: Most of you that are listening are bloggers, or at least you plan to blog in your business at some point. 

One area where Mike excels the most is blogging. If you’re anything like me you appreciate a really good behind-the-scenes view of how things work. So  in  this episode I asked Mike to take me behind the scenes with him and share his blogging process. 

Keep in mind that Mike has a very large company. Wait until you hear about how many people are actually involved with the creation of one single blog post. It’s going to blow your mind. But most of us don’t have big companies and big budgets. 

So, as you listen to Mike’s process keep an open mind and start to think of ways you can apply his big strategies on a smaller level to increase your efficiency and the value overall of your content creation. There are a lot of great things in here that you can take away and apply to your business. 

One more thing before we jump in, a quick word about our sponsor. This episode is brought to you by Lead Pages, the only tool I use daily to grow my email list. Lead Pages is the easiest landing-page generator I’ve ever used. I love it because there’s no coding or design skill needed. 

If you want to come behind the scenes with me and see which three landing pages have skyrocketed my email list and watch me actually set up a lead page in less than ten minutes go to  to download my mini training video. It’s totally free. I’ll see you there! 

I won’t make you wait any longer. Let’s go ahead and jump behind the scenes with Mike Stelzner. 

Amy: Mike, thanks so much for being here with me today. I really appreciate it. 

Mike: My absolute pleasure, Amy. 

Amy: Well, I’m glad to have you on the show yet again because this time we’re kind of mixing things up and talking all about your highly, wildly successful blog. I’m excited because we get to go behind the scenes with you, but, before we get into breaking it all down, give me some stats. 

Tell me how this blog has grown over the past few years and some metrics so that people can see how successful it’s been. 

Mike: Well, since it’s a New Year, I started looking back at last year. We had 15 million people visit Social Media Examiner last year, 15 million unique people. 

Amy: Wow. 

Mike: Isn’t that crazy? 

Amy: Yeah, that’s crazy! 

Mike: So that’s the really big metric. We email 325,000 people every single day and that’s also a very significant metric. I think those are probably the two biggest metrics. We publish one to two articles every day, Monday through Saturday, and they are all original and are all long, rich content, typically 1,500 words. The content is typically a how-to type of article. 

We have a Saturday news wrap up where we talk about all of the important news and research that’s going on in the world of social media. On Friday we publish the Social Media Marketing Podcast. So that’s just kind of the high level of what we do and we just had our five-year birthday last October. 

Amy: Five years. That is so crazy. 

Mike: Do you remember what it was like in the beginning? 

Amy: I do. I mentioned in the intro where I really got my start was with you when I left Tony Robbins. I remember sitting at a table talking to you about this idea you had and now it is just so huge just from that time sitting at the table where you had the idea that you decided to run with. Look at it now. It’s crazy. 

Mike: Crazy. 

Amy: It just proves what you can do in such a short period of time when you are fully dedicated to it. 

Mike: Absolutely. 

Amy: So, with that, let’s break it down. I first want to talk about content. Specifically, what is your process for choosing content because, if you’re coming out with a blog post every day you’ve got to be churning out really great, different blog posts on a very regular basis. So, what’s your process there? 

Mike: When you say, “choosing content,” do you mean how do we go about deciding what to publish? 

Amy: Exactly. 

Mike: This is interesting. We don’t just kind of put our finger into our mouth and hold it up into the sky to see which way the wind is blowing. In reality, what we do is run very sophisticated surveys. 

As of the recording of this call we are in the middle of producing our 2015 survey where we ask a ton of questions of our audience, things like: Which social networks do you plan on investing more time in in 2015? Which ones do you want to learn more about? We literally get thousands and thousands of people that fill out this survey data and we use that survey data to decide what our editorial calendar is going to be for the entire year. 

It doesn’t mean we know for the next 12 months precisely what we will be writing about but we do know topically, for example, that we are going to keep writing about Facebook because it’s really, really important to our audience. 

By asking them what they want to know more about that’s the first part of the process. Then, as far as people, most people that write for Social Media Examiner do it for free because they want to be in front of our audience. We’ve got this massive list of people that are very talented that want to write for us. We reach out to them sometimes when something happens. 

We’ve also got a short list of really talented writer that are on our paid staff side. For example, Andrea Hall is one of those people. Whenever Facebook comes out with something kind of crazy she is the first person we bring on board to write an article about whatever just happened with Facebook. 

The process really starts with research. Then we go from there. The other thing we do, Amy, is track all sorts of little metrics every week. Just yesterday we published 

something on Google Analytics and it was something to do with quick tips on doing more with Google Analytics. 

That article is extremely popular. That is a sign for us that we should probably consider doing more Google Analytics articles. I will tell you very early in the journey it was all about page use and the number of social shares. What we would do is looked at what had the most tweets and most page views and that was what we wrote more about. 

Somewhere along the line, about two years ago, we questioned whether it really was all about page views. The answer was, “No.” Because be don’t monetize by display advertising. Instead, for us, it’s about growing our email newsletter list. We are hoping to get to more than 450,000 email subscribers by the end of 2015. 

So we started tracking conversions and started taking a look at which articles bring in the most conversions. Once we began doing that we began looking at patterns. We then, for example, began seeing that articles on LinkedIn tended to bring in the most conversions for us compared to other articles. What does that do? It informs us down the road to produce more content on LinkedIn. 

Amy: So Mike, when you say, “conversions,” give me some specifics about that. What are people opting in to? 

Mike: When you visit Social Media Examiner the hope is that somebody will read our great content and want more of it. What we try to do is get more people onto your email newsletter list, which is the main list that we’ve got that has the 325,000 people. 

One of the things that we use as an incentive is our industry report. As I mentioned earlier, we do this big survey each year to help decide what content we want to publish and then we turn that content into a 40-page, 100-graphics report about the state of the industry. 

We give that report away for about ten days and we then lock it up behind a subscription form. But then we take that report and we use it all over the website. We use it in pop-up boxes to say, “don’t miss another article and get our free industry report.” We use it on the home page, side bars, everywhere. 

Amy: That makes sense. And I want to go back to this email that you send daily. I know when some people hear that they are thinking, “holy cow, you’re sending an email every single day.” A lot of us that have small businesses, which is who is 

listening, they have small businesses, small budgets, and small teams. They are thinking they could never email every day. 

Because you are emailing every day, what does that email look like? Do you have some tips that you use or things you have learned to make sure people are actually opening the email and clicking on those links? 

Mike: That’s a great question, why do we email every day? Well, let me start there. We email every day because if you look at the Google Analytics on your website you will see that the average person on most people’s website visit 1.something times and that’s it. What I mean by that is maybe 1.2 or 1.6. If you are lucky it’s two times. What does that mean? 

It means that most people that come to your blog come and never come back. You want to do everything in your power to get them to come back and a lot of times when someone comes to great content they might want more of it. The idea is to get them onto the email newsletter. The hope and lure with our newsletter is that every day we are simply emailing them a little 70-word blurb that includes the day’s articles. 

On Mondays and Tuesdays we publish two articles so there will be two little blurbs in the email that will have a headline, a 70-word summary of the article, and we literally cut it off with a … so they will click more and go right to the blog. 

The reason people want to be on the list is they want to keep up to date on all of the things we are publishing. We want them on the list because every day we have a new article come out thousands of people on our list are going to read that article and, if they like it, they are going to share it and give it some sort of a social boost. 

Another thing that’s important is it helps develop a loyal following so that when you do have something to sell, in our case it’s events and conferences, those are the people that will ultimately participate. Or, if you have a survey to do those are the people that are going to take the survey. Or, if you have a podcast, those are the people that will listen to the podcast. 

I am a strong believer that what matters the most, one of the most important things, is to have people feeding every single day at your trough. What I mean by that is if your content is food and you produce a lot of it people will come every single day and they will love it and they will evangelize for you. Even if they never buy a product that you have to sell they become someone who is willing to share that content and it 

becomes this kind of self-perpetuating pie that just keeps growing and growing and growing every year. 

I might have gone off on a tangent, Amy, did I answer your question? 

Amy: Yes, you did. And that’s actually a great way to look at it where, of course, every one’s not going to buy our programs, products, and services. But, if we can also nurture those people that love to share our free content that’s extremely valuable, especially in these times. I’m glad you brought that up. You definitely nailed it for sure. 

So, I’ve got another question for you. We are breaking down this process. We talked about content, we talked about how you are actually getting those conversions, and we talked about your guest bloggers. I know a little bit of the inside. It’s been a few years, but I used to guest blog post pretty regularly and you have a very specific process. 

My question is, what does that look like behind the scenes because all of your articles are really well done. Because of that, how many people are touching one blog post before it actually goes live? Can you tell me about that? 

Mike: We put over $1,000 in internal development on every single article that is submitted from people just like you Amy. 

Amy: What? Holy cow! Okay, tell me more about that. 

Mike: We have a really big team behind the scenes that runs like a traditional magazine. There are probably seven different people that touch every article that comes from even the most sophisticated of writers. 

Just to give you some perspective of how it works, we’ve got our director of editorial, Cindy King. Her job is essentially the first stage in the process. She asks people that we already have a relationship with to either pitch her ideas or she pitches them ideas. So there is that whole process of coming to an agreement on what the article is going to be about. 

The next topic, obviously, is the writing of the article. Once the article comes in to us and is written someone else has to review the article and make sure the article is actually meeting the promise of what it originally intended. It is at that point that we kind of make a decision to either accept, reject, or send back the article for revisions. 

Generally speaking, we operate so fast that we cannot send articles back for revision so, typically, if they need revisions they are done in house. Then, that goes to a developmental editor. We have two developmental editors. Their job is to take these articles and take them through what we call a beautification process. 

It’s kind of like going through a car wash. 

Amy: I love this. 

Mike: By the time the car comes out of the car wash it is going to be beautiful. What they do is, literally, everything from looking at the grammar, style, the way the person has described things. If there is something missing like factual data they actually go out there and find factual data to support whatever the claims are. They check all of the links and then, once they get it to the point where they love it, it goes to another editor in the next step. 

That editor’s job is to deal with some of the initial visuals in the article. They will take a look at some of the visuals that were submitted by the author and find other visuals to support the article. Then it goes to yet another editor who is a professional copy editor. Her job is to actually take the article and make sure nothing was missed from the developmental editor and do some final checks, check the links. 

It goes to yet another editor who is a WordPress layout editor. That person brings all of the content into WordPress. We then have a technical editor that makes sure there is no nefarious code or any of that kind of stuff. We check to make sure there is no overly promotional stuff. We make sure there is nothing link to affiliate links and then it goes to yet another editor, believe it or not. That person’s job is to do a high-level review and kind of get the article ready to come to me. 

The article then comes to me and I write the headline and the opening to the article. It then goes to another person who schedules the article and notifies our entire social team and the newsletter team to get everything prepped. While that is happening it goes to yet another person, Amy, who is a designer who creates special images for the articles. 

You would think that’s the end of it, right? But wait, there’s more. 

Amy: How can there be more? 

Mike:  There is literally more. Some of the articles go into our new show called the Social Media Examiner Show. It goes back to another editor whose specialty is to make an abridged version of that article that is kind of like an abridged book that is ready for a voice talent to speak that article. 

She edits that article down to 1,500 words or less and makes sure everything translates into the spoken word. She knows how to deal with all of the idiosyncrasies of spoken because, obviously, a lot of our articles have a lot of visuals. Then it goes to another company that goes ahead with a voice talent to record the entire thing and sew the entire thing together. They basically get it uploaded for the Social Media Examiner Show. 

That is the process we take our articles through. 

Amy: That whole idea of the Social Media Show is an amazing idea in terms of repurposing content and delivering it in a different way. So this is something brand new that you are just rolling out? 

Mike: Yeah, by the time this show goes live it will be a four-day-a-week show. 

Amy: Awesome. I’ll make sure I link to it in the show notes because that’s going to be fantastic. 

I actually had no idea that one blog post went through so many people. I thought maybe you would say three or four people. So when I hear that my heart starts beating fast because, as you know, I have a really small team. I have one admin and one content marketing manager and she is new as a content development manager. A lot of my audience doesn’t even have that, they are just starting out. 

If you were going to give me advice in terms of creating a really rich, valuable blog, out of all of the stuff you talked about, I don’t have a team that could do all of that, where should I be putting my main focus? 

Mike: I think a copy editor would be a good first step. A copy editor’s job is just to make sure the English language is perfect. I have always had a copy editor for everything I’ve ever written. You can literally Google copy editor, they are the people that edit books. 

Typically, they are looking for grammar mistakes, typographical mistakes, logic issues. I would start with that kind of editor. If you feel that you are so good that you don’t need something like that you are kidding yourself. 

Amy: I was going to say, I would never feel that way. 

Mike: Some people do feel that way. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t care how good you are, the painter is always blind to their mistakes. You know, if you’ve ever painted a wall in your house and you step back and look at it it will look perfect until someone walks in the room and tells you that you missed a spot. It is exactly how it is with writing. 

The second thing I would do if you have time and budget is to hire a graphic designer to create a Facebook open-graph-optimized image or a Twitter open-graph- optimized image and, it is ideally both, that will look beautiful when someone shares that article on Facebook or Twitter. 

Amy: Okay, let’s talk about that more because my next question was going right into the images. We’re going to come back to that because a lot of people are going to have questions about the open graph so we will get there in a moment. But, you recently changed your image strategy. The look and feel of your images has definitely changed over the last few months, six months or so, tell me about that. 

Mike: About nine months ago, when the My Kids’ Adventures project was still around, I began tracking very carefully how Facebook was changing. Do you remember, Amy, how Facebook was giving a lot of real estate to blog posts that had a really big image, that was rectangular instead of just those little square images they showed on the side? 

Right along the same time Twitter Cards began becoming more popular. They are about the same shape and size. So, one of the things we learned from My Kids’ Adventures is we began to see a direct correlation between the number of in-bound links we got from Facebook and Twitter and whether or not we had a nice visual image to go with them. 

Eventually I went out and found myself a real talented designer, we actually have multiple designers now because we’ve got too much  content,  that  were  creating these images for us and a first impression is a big deal. A lot of times people will reshare these links with the images just because they are  beautiful,  sometimes, without even clicking on the article and that is free advertising. 

I think it is really important that you do that. For what it is worth, I will give you a link, I don’t have it handy, but we’ve got an article that we wrote that talks about the ideal size for Twitter and Facebook. With one image and creating white space in the right areas you can create an image that will look great on the Twitter Card and in the Facebook open graph and I will be happy to give you that link if you remind me after we are done interviewing and you can put that in your show notes. 

Amy: Perfect, I’ll do that because I think that is so very important. I just want to clarify when we talk about images we are talking about what I call a feature blog image. It’s the image that actually has the title of the blog post. So you use a lot of images throughout your blog post to show examples of what you are actually talking about but this image is that image that tells people instantly what the blog post is all about. I will definitely link to the article. 

You are definitely well versed in this area so talk a little bit about the whole idea of the open graph. What are you talking about there? 

Mike: The Facebook open graph is the data that you as a publisher of blog content tell Facebook all about your blog posts. The Facebook open graph data is what Facebook uses to decide what to display in the feed. It’s everything from the words that show up, the headline, the words, whether or not you have a Facebook Page that people ought to follow if they are not already following. All of this data can be embedded in the Facebook open graph and we’ve got a bazillion articles on our website if anyone wants to search Facebook open graph. 

The easiest plug in to use is the SEO plug in. It’s called The SEO plug in, I forget the guy’s name, I think Yost. We do not use that plug in because we use more sophisticated plug ins but, with that plug in you can very easily assign both a Twitter Card image and a Facebook open-graph image in your blog post in one swoop. That data is just embedded in the blog post and Twitter knows what to do with it and Facebook knows what to do with it. 

The thing is, most people don’t do that. Because they don’t do that they are not getting the kind of exposure on the social networks and are not getting the kind of traffic to their website. 

Amy: Especially when it comes to Facebook, when you have a blog post and someone takes the URL and puts it on Facebook and the title and description get pulled in to that Facebook post and the image gets pulled in but it’s a little thumbnail, what Facebook has said is that post will not get as much traction in the newsfeed as a post where the full image gets pulled through, like Mike’s examples, and I’ll use some examples in the show notes. 

You really want to pay attention to what the post looks like once your URL is pasted in a Facebook post. That really matters and that’s what Mike is talking about. I’ll make sure there is a lot of good support in the show notes so you really get it. But I can’t stress enough this is really, really important. If you’re going to put that much effort into a blog post you’ve got to especially make sure it’s showing up well on Facebook and Twitter. 

I’m glad you touched on that. 

Mike: Just one quick little thing, do not think that if you just put the right size image into a blog post that Facebook will pick it. I used to think that. If you tell Facebook, “this is the image,” it will never give users a choice. It will always be that image. Do you understand what I am saying? 

Amy: Yes. That’s so important. Okay. 

Mike: And that’s very important when someone pushes the Like button. Because when someone pushes the Like button they don’t get to choose that image, it just automatically goes into the feed. So you want to make sure it’s always the right image and that’s where having this open graph data appropriately done is important. 

Amy: I’m so glad you stressed that. I definitely agree. 

Okay, I’m interrupting this interview to jump in for just a minute. After I recorded the interview with Mike I realized that it would be extremely helpful if I made you a step- by-step cheat sheet for this Facebook open graph process so you can take action on it right away. 

To get my free cheat sheet go to or you can just text 44download to 38470. 

Let’s go ahead and jump back in. 

I really wanted to talk to you about images. It’s good to know you  have  a  few designers and you have this new look and feel. You have really just put a bigger focus on the images, which I think is a smart decision all around. I want to talk to you a little bit about social media because once a blog post goes up, I know you have a process in terms of what happens on social media, can you talk to me a little bit about that? 

Mike: Yes. We schedule using Social Oomph, the same tool that you used to work with way back in the day. 

Amy: Oh my gosh! I did not know you still used that. That’s awesome. 

Mike: Yeah, we use Social Oomph to schedule our blog posts on Twitter. Then we manually post them on Facebook and Google+ and all of the other social networks, Pintrest, the whole shebang. Then we repost the day’s blog post multiple times on Twitter in different ways just to kind of give it another opportunity to be in front of people. 

In addition we use what’s called UTM tracking codes on everything we do. I don’t know if you are familiar with what that is. 

Amy: Slightly, will you explain it a little? 

Mike: In Google Analytics you can assign campaign-level triggers to any particular thing you do. So, for example, if we put something on our Facebook wall versus putting something on Twitter we can tell exactly how much traffic has come to that blog post from those audiences. We can also tell in aggregate how much traffic in Google Analytics is coming from Twitter versus Facebook versus our campaign. 

This allows us to segment what percentage of our social traffic is coming from our activities versus organic activity. Does that make sense? So, you’ve got everyday people who are going to share and you can’t control that. But then you’ve got the things that you are doing and you want to know whether or not that is moving the needle. So using UTMs (you can Google UTM or go to our site and type in UTM) as a little extended code that goes on the end of your URL and compressing that with allows us to essentially do a lot more tracking and analytics and it is really powerful stuff inside of Google Analytics. 

Amy: It really is. And we use UTM for a lot of the webinars that we do in terms of how we share them on social media. We’ve been able to track it, which is so valuable. But I have a question for you on that, what have you found in terms of the different social media sites? I’m going to guess that Facebook is sending the most traffic with social media to your blog? 

Mike: Yes, but that was always the case. We always knew that because you can go into Google Analytics and see right now what percentage of your traffic is coming from Facebook and Twitter and so on and so forth. But what we didn’t know, Amy, until we started doing this is we didn’t know, of the traffic coming from Facebook, what percentage was coming from our Facebook Page. Do you understand what I’m saying? 

We can actually track that now. So we can say this percentage of the Facebook traffic actually came from our Facebook Page. That is something we never could do before. Or, what percentage of the traffic coming from Twitter is directly a result of our tweets, not other people retweeting it. That’s where the power comes in because we can track on a weekly basis and even on a daily basis whether the activities that we’re doing are actually driving traffic to our website. 

Amy: So powerful. When you know that kind of information you know where to spend your time. I’m really glad you brought that up. Again, I’ll make sure that there is information in the show notes. There is so much great value here. 

Okay, so here’s the thing, I could talk to you for hours and hours about social media and everything I want to know. But, obviously we have to respect your time. So, I’ve got to bring up the fact that you have an event coming up. This is an event that I always tell people is the best social media event out there. 

Will you tell people a little bit about it because I know it’s in San Diego where we both live. I think a lot of my listeners will be interested. 

Mike: I didn’t know you live in San Diego. I’m just kidding. 

Amy: Oh stop it. 

Mike: Social Media Marketing World is coming up in March. It is in San Diego on the waterfront and Amy you are probably in a better position to explain it than I am because I’m obviously very biased, but I think it’s the conference you go to if you want to rub shoulders with people just like you who are trying to figure out social media marketing. 

Amy: It’s true. And here’s why I love the event, you really spend time on the speakers. You find speakers that are quality. We do a lot of work to get prepared for it and I actually respect that. People are showing up and really giving great content. At the same time you have a huge social aspect where people get to network and have fun and do things together throughout the entire event. So there’s a really good mix of networking and learning. 

I think that’s why people gravitate toward this event every year. Is this the second or third time? 

Mike: This is the third year and our opening night party is on a Naval aircraft carrier which is one of those experiences you will never experience if you haven’t been on an aircraft carrier. We do have 2,500 marketers coming from more than 40 countries and it keeps getting bigger and keeps getting better. We have over 100 sessions to choose from. 

This year we are including the recordings for all the sessions for anybody who attends so if you can’t get into your session because it’s packed out we’ve got all of the recordings for you as well. 

Amy: That’s awesome. I think that’s going to be really valuable as well. I’ll make sure to include a link so that people can go check out the event and get all of the details and I can’t even thank you enough, Mike. I really, really wanted to get you on the show to break down this blog and I learned things. I thought I knew about all of this and I didn’t. So I really appreciate you sharing all of this information. 

Mike: Amy, it’s been my absolute pleasure. 

Amy: You have a great day. Take care. 

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look  at  Mike’s blogging process. Can you believe how many people are involved with every single blog post? Crazy, right? 

As I mentioned earlier, your company likely isn’t as big as Mike’s. It might be, but if you’re anything like my business, it’s pretty small. But there are so many great insights throughout this interview that you can apply to your business on a smaller scale. 

One such example is the idea of hiring a copy editor. This could really impact the quality and efficiency of your content creation. All the resources and links we talked about today on the show can be found at and remember that special Facebook open graph download freebie I talked about earlier? Well, just one more reminder, you can find it at 44download or text 44download to 38470. 

I am really looking forward to talking to you next time. I hope you have a fantastic week. 

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