Are You Prepared For Blogging’s Dark Side?


You often hear celebrities say they hope their kids don’t grow up to be like them. That they hope, with all their might, that their kids choose normal careers and stay away from the harsh realities that sometimes come as a result of being known, putting yourself out there, and letting people feel they have a right to an opinion on how you live your life. Sometimes, I feel the same way about blogging.

I get a lot of emails from blogging newbies and up-and-comers asking what it takes to establish an audience. While becoming “Internet famous” may not pay the bills, when you see people turning it into book deals and free trips, it still sounds pretty sexy. If I had a dollar for every person who told me they’d love to have a “cushy” or “pretend” job like mine, I wouldn’t need a free trip. I could afford to go myself. And bring all my friends. All my Internet friends, even.

The truth is blogging is awesome. And making a career out of it has damn near been a fairytale. But it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. It’s not all group hugs and solidarity. There’s another side to being a blogger. And while you shouldn’t let it deter you, you should realize that it exists. This way you enter stronger and with a skin thick enough to keep you safe.

What makes up the other side of blogging, the dark side? Here’s a short list.

Content Theft

Pretty much immediately after you publish your work, others will steal it, scrape it and make excuses for why it’s okay for them to use it. And you need to come up with a plan for what you’re going to do about that (other than punching them in the nose). You need to create clear guidelines for what appropriate use is and what is not, and decide how you’re going to handle those that break it. If you’re not okay with someone slapping your full 1,100 blog post on their site, you need to be vigilant from the start about having that content removed. Otherwise, people will see it as a sign that it’s okay.
I have a history of being pretty lax with people who steal my words, but that’s going to change. I’m about done waking up to examples like this.

If you don’t know how to protect your content online, I recommend you go do some reading at SEOmoz where Sarah Bird (she’s a lawyer, you know) has created some fantastic resources.


The minute you achieve any kind of success in the blogging world (and sometimes even before then) you will be awarded with trolls. These people exist solely to disrupt your community and get an emotional response out of you, whether that be swear words, rage or big fat baby tears. Part of being a blogger means having thick enough skin to accept that. If you can’t find the humor when people make personal attacks and insult you, then, again, you’re too sensitive to be on the Internet. And while it may sound pretty easy to not let a perfect stranger ruin your day, it’s actually a lot harder than you’d think. I’m not embarrassed to admit I spent the first year or so of my Bruce Clay blogging career crying under my desk while Susan slipped me a combination of Red Vines and tissues. Luckily, life and experience has made me a lot tougher. Now I read stuff like this and find it 90 percent hilarious, 10 percent horrendous that their grammar is so poor.

[Just a sampling from the past 24 hours, mind you.]

Harsh Truths

So, not everyone who writes that you’re an idiot is a troll. Sometimes they’re right and you WERE an idiot. Or sometimes you’ll write something divisive and have to live with the consequences for a day/week/month/eternity while people form their own opinion over it and over you. Sometimes you’ll write something logical, and an otherwise intelligent person will have an emotional reaction and take you strongly to task and kick your dog. Over time, these things can really take a toll on your blogging and your spirit. While it may seem like its all glitz and glamor watching the A-listers be adored, there are also the times when they’re not. When putting yourself and your beliefs out there, day after day, can be a hard process and one that keeps you eternally vulnerable. But without the sour, you’d never appreciate the sweet. Good bloggers accept their war wounds, take the higher ground, and soldier on to the next post.

[Not all of it was undeserved, of course. I spent much of the Summer of 2008 being a butthead.]

Spam Emails

The minute you have a perceived audience, people will line up to try and profit off it. You’ll be asked to review books, include links, interview boring CEOs, talk about average products, and pimp your blog out like it’s a common street walker. One of the hardest things you’ll have to deal with is that other people will often not respect your audience, your blog or sometimes even you. However, they will try to make money off it. They will try to turn your blog into their own personal marketing machine. And it’s up to you to protect it. You are responsible for keeping your community clean and helping to grow it. And sometimes that means dealing with a lot of people who want nothing but to waste your time and flood your community with crap.

Always Being “On”

Bloggers live on the front lines. You don’t get to hide out when you’re having a bad day. When you’re feeling the backlash of the community, you can’t simply put your head into client work and hide out like other people can. You don’t get that luxury because the community IS your job. It’s your job to give them something fresh every day, it’s your job to handle their crises as they come up. It’s your job to be the public face of your company or brand. That means you don’t get too many off days. You’re expected to be front and center and you’re expected to be happy about it. No case of the Mondays for you when you have an audience waiting. Yes, sometimes being a blogger feels a big like being a trained monkey. Though monkeys get paid more. ;)

While it may seem like all fun and games, there’s a dark side to blogging that you want to prepare yourself for before you decide to jump in. Is the investment and occasional abuse worth it? Absolutely! Being able to connect with people, to learn from others, and to create a community around something you’re passionate about it is one of the greatest feelings in the world. It can change your company, your brand, and, sometimes, even your life. Swim in the waters, just don’t forget your life vest on shore. It can get rocky out there.

Your Comments

  • Ross Hudgens

    Thanks for this, Lisa. I got my first real troll last night and to be honest it threw me off for three hours, making me unable to do anything productive. It’s good to hear that’s it just part of the gig, and should be taken with a grain of salt. If anything, it should be taken as a compliment. Now, for the thick skin part.

    Or maybe the scared turning-off-the-comments part.

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s probably the worst part. Aside from just hurt feelings, you end up wasting time being angry over it or planning some clever response that, in the end, doesn’t help you any or make you money. That time is just taken from you and gives people power they don’t deserve.

    • Mark Dykeman

      Holy crap, it’s a living, breathing example.

  • Michael Dorausch

    While trolls are no fun, those comments could make for some great content. Don’t give in to the dark side Lisa!

  • SEOidiot

    No come on over to the darkside Lisa it’s more fun over here.

  • Perry

    Hi Lisa,

    I’ve been following your blog posts for a little while and this is my favorite so far. Perhaps because it’s one I can relate with so well :)

    After my recent, mini-viral marketing success about a discussion of guns in National Parks, I received hundreds of comments, mostly from trolls lambasting me.

    It was entertaining at first and I appreciated the free content, but it definitely is draining after a while.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Perry! It’s definitely draining. It’s hard to read hate comment after hate comment and not let it affect you. But you can’t let it sink too deep or it will start to change how you blog and how you speak with people. And then you let the bad people win. And that’s not okay. :)

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    Well yeah I suspected it wasn’t all roses when I started blogging, but the fact I don’t technically make a living out of it is a good help. You’re right though, it’s hard to do it if you’re not psychologically ready for it.
    I would like to take the chance to announce here my first troll, who made me like, totally proud, and surely made my day.
    And about trolls, been playing World of Warcraft since 2005 and been following user forums somewhat actively since then, I am totally immune to any kind of troll for the past, present, future and distant future :D

  • Joe Hall

    Sometimes I am really proud of my thick skin I have grown over the last few years, and other times I am scared at what I have become because of it.

  • David

    I can see you doing well on the darkside, but where is the challenge? I get more pissed off when people hide behind anonymous comments or fake emails when they are having a go at something you said or blogged.

    I think its bullshit when people personally attack someone for their view as there have been many a times where I have made a comment that wasn’t entirely true but I wasn’t thrown under a bus over it. I learned everything from a generous and often forgiving industry who have turned from random comments/twitter followers into friends and but I guess its only going to be a matter of time before someone’s comment hits that sore spot and I reach for the delete button but until that happens I think it does help build you stronger as a blogger/marketer.

    If we can look to your success and respect that even the darkest circles in the industry have for you I say soldier on it wouldn’t be the same without your open view on how we can mess things up and well typically go off the tracks at times.

  • DanielthePoet

    First impression out of the gate was: “Raven SEO is the dark side of blogging???” I’ll go read the post now. :)

  • Mitch Bartlett

    I see your tweets where you devote a ton of time to content scrapers. I think it’s a battle that doesn’t have to be fought on many levels. If I see a big site that gets a lot of traffic stealing my stuff, then I start to fight. But the small-time scrapers that don’t have an audience aren’t worth perusing. They generally fade in the end, and Google is pretty damn good at figuring out who posted what first.

    Blocking or redirecting RSS feed scrapers doesn’t take long though if they are using that method. I do what this guy did.

    • Lisa Barone

      I think I’ve tweeted 3-4 times about content scrapers, most within the past two weeks. :) It’s something I’ve pretty much ignored in the past, but I feel like people are getting more aggressive with it, so I’m starting to notice more and, in suit, mention it more.

      I know Michael Gray’s a big fan of taking advantage of RSS scrapers. I recommend people take a look at his post.

      Thanks for the additional reading!

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    LOL I got one last night on my blog. According to this particular person, I’ve got a nice site. He then went on however to say “too bad you’re one of the biggest douchebags i know of online.” :-) I find the dichotomy of feelings he has are just awesome! I almost even felt compelled to allow the comment through, given how he must have struggled with that range of emotion.

    • Lisa Barone

      I have to say, there are times I really want to approve troll comments just for my own amusement or people they’re so bad I think people would actually like them. But in the end, I weigh the negative consequences it could have on the community and I have to decide against it. At Bruce Clay, I used to print them out and put them on my wall. That was good times. :)

  • Sean Dolan

    Lisa, your post hit home with me, and I’d like to share my person experience with the dark side of online communities.

    While trying to help homeless get off the street, we found our attempts to ‘humanize’ and make homeless more approachable back-firing in the worst way. Women from the chat room began falling “in love” with the homeless we were trying to help, taking them to their homes, distracting them from rehab, creating their own hate sites against us, filing lawsuits, police reports, and claiming we physically abused those we were helping. Once you achieve success and money (even zero-prof money) – people want to take it from you.

    During a national radio interview, and directly after discussing ‘trolls’ with the host, one of them called in *screaming* such nonsense, the host had to hang up on them. From death threats, to suing us, to suing the rehab center who treated the homeless, to posting my home address, to me, finding my two story home on fire beyond repair (yes really), there are sick people out there.

    Sounds like an army of disgruntled people huh? Nope, just 3 people. 3 PEOPLE!

    We wasted SO much TIME trying to accommodate and pacify 3 trolls, which only gave them the attention they wanted, which made them hungry for more. Reasoning with trolls is like putting out a fire with gasoline.

    So, my advice is that the very minute it’s clear that someone is *using* you, and not *contributing* to your cause, you draw the line and IGNORE them. They’ll never stop, it will only get worse, and it’s not worth your time unless you can fix stupid (you can’t).

    • Lisa Barone

      So, my advice is that the very minute it’s clear that someone is *using* you, and not *contributing* to your cause, you draw the line and IGNORE them.

      Couldn’t have said it better. As long as you humor the troll, they’ll continue to troll.

      Thanks for the personal anecdote!

  • Suzanne Vara


    Yup the harsh realities of blogging. I get annoyed with the trolls when I shojld not give them any time whatsoever (even if that is brain time). The more popular people become the more they become on the radar for abuse. I over think it admittedly as I try and find reason how someone can sit there and type such venomous crap and be proud of it. I do not get too many as I am not popular but a few jabs here and there have come my way. I do not get upset or full of hate or anger from the words but the action more. I kind of fear those people as if they are so willing to put it online what would they say to your face or do they have that superhero fight in them behind the scenes and a coward F2F?

    Trolls will always exist and ignoring them by letting their words go in one ear and out the other is the tough skin you speak of. I guess we live in an online world where the more you are attacked, the more successful you are. Rolls eyes and wonders who gave them the right?


  • Casey Stevens

    Great piece Lisa,

    I’ve been ‘working’ online since 2005 but only started blogging and putting myself out there in the past year.

    Thus far I haven’t had any trolls but honestly I think it’s because I’m not 100% myself, and I lean towards being safe and not rocking the imaginary boat.

    I think I need to grow a pair, but being female that looks unlikely so I’ll just work at not giving a shit instead :-)

  • Cameron Gawley

    Great article btw! I believe that scraping content is crazy and those people should be dealt with, but reblogging through content curation is actually a good way for people to leverage existing content as long as they properly cite and provide attribution to the original author and post (including link back to original article). We are launching a new platform for content curation at Blogworld that will help change the game I believe.
    I am curious your thoughts on reblogging through proper attribution? Also thoughts on reblogging entire posts vs snippets of content (250 words etc)?

  • Doc Sheldon

    Lisa, I almost wish I’d known you in the summer of ’08. Hard to imagine you a butthead, but intriguing, I admit. You do make some good points, I’m sure. Unfortunately, my prominence in the blogging community has yet to attract any trolls worthy of mention. With a little luck, and some hard work, though, I almost look forward to that “Stalin” feeling.
    I do have to agree with Sean’s philosophy… don’t feed the trolls. It just gives ’em what they’re lookin’ for!

  • Janet

    This is a really great post for newbie bloggers. So great in fact, I just copied the entire thing verbatim and posted it with my name to my entire network!
    Seriously though I give up on the content thieves. I installed Tynt’s script ( ) that inserts a link to my site whenever anybody copies and pastes or grabs my feed and I chalk it up to inbound links and brand recognition. Coryright laws are not going to phase ’em.
    As for the trolls…NEVER feed the trolls.
    ( :

  • Adam

    This is essential reading for anyone who’s thinking of getting serious about their blogging. Nice work.

  • Anthony Piwarun

    Nice post Lisa, this is good reading for anyone that wants to get into blogging. Trolls suck.

  • Puneet

    Hi Lisa its my first comment on your blog.

    I must say what you mentioned in ‘Content Theft’ para has happened with me n no. of times

    Specially this – people “make excuses for why it’s okay for them to use it”
    Such people are so adamant that refused to remove content taken from my blog and even more they blatantly refuse to put even a backlink. Shameless creatures.

  • Scott Golembiewski

    Why couldn’t I have a last name like Bird. Damn you Sarah, and the thousand other Sarah Bird’s out there. J/K, I love every Sarah I’ve ever met, and certainly Sarah’s that work at SEOmoz.

    Look at my last name, and you better damn believe I just bought my domain name because I could afford to wait. More like I could just now afford to buy it because it was $.99 with the Godaddy deal right now.

    I love my last name, you can’t say it and I love the look on your face when you have to spell it. And I watch as you run out of room when you write it. (Go-lem-b-you-ski). I’m sorry for this, it’s just I never get to be myself so I have to go on other more popular blogs to do it. :)

  • James Gentes

    Great post, Lisa. I haven’t been covering the dark side of blogging with small business owners that I setup blogs for. It’s definitely important, although it sounds like these issues surface – or at least become more problematic – after you’ve reached a certain size of audience.

    Do you have a general sense for how many subscribers / followers you believe the dark side prefers before coming out in full force?

  • Amber

    I haven’t had any trolls yet, but it has only been two years. Plus my blog’s a personal one, and people seem to be more interested in ones that either list every single thing the author is doing at every single moment in life, or blogs that have one main focus. Most of my frequent readers are friends, and friends of friends, and friends of people I met over forums and stuff. Hopefully I never have to deal with something like that. I’m kind of sensitive! being 17, and almost constantly PMSing will do that to you, though.

    • Doc Sheldon

      Don’t spend too much time worrying about it, Amber. As your blog gains popularity, it’s an inevitability that a troll or two will stop by to rain on your parade.
      Sometimes, such comments can actually help spur your readers to engage more, if handled properly. Other times, you just need to “take out the trash” before they ruin things for everybody.
      There’s some good tips here for handling trolls and spammers.