[ NOTE: There is a updated version of this post with 10 more tips, please click here. ]
In response to some emails and comments on this blog this post attempts to share what I think it takes to create a moderately successful blog.
My learnings come from living the experience that Occam’s Razor has been for me even though I have not been a blogger long enough to share ground breaking tips. But in an attempt to continue the sharing process here is my list of tips and insights about how to be a successful blogger (and remember I am a novice at this).
Obviously these are my reflections on the type of blog I am trying to create.
Tips / Insights Summary:
- Nobody cares about you, they care about what you can do for them
- Have a personality, reflect your core beliefs, be honest, have fun
- Blogging is a very serious time commitment
- Pick a subject matter you are passionate about and that you are good at
- Respect the intelligence of your audience
- Blogs need constant promotion, participation and evangelism
- Being “digg’ed” is great exposure but traffic builds gradually over time, one person at a time
- Have goals, whatever you want them to be
- Be nice, save your hidden agendas for other uses
- Nobody will read my blog
And here is more context and detail behind each tip / insight:
# 10 Nobody will read my blog (or do we really need another blog!): I have to admit this was exactly the reason I did not get into this until someone like Andy shared his wisdom and changed my mind. The worry is there are too many blogs already and I don't have a chance of making it beyond these readers: Mom, Dad, Sister, Wife, Kids. :).
While it is true that there are way more blogs than you can imagine there is always space for one more. You are unique (repeat after me “I am special”! : ) and you have a special point of view that no one does and with roughly six plus billion people in the world, a billion of them on the web, there is a constituency waiting to hear you (and if you follow some of the tips below they’ll even find you).
# 9 Be nice, save your hidden agendas for other uses: A different post on a different topic put it like this: “Don’t be a jerk”. Same thing applies to your blogging life. If you are trying to create a long term relationship with your visitors then it is good to be nice.
A theme in this post is that blogging is a social experience. You want to have relationships with your readers that are positive and mutually beneficial. Bad mouthing people / companies / things is not a great way to achieve that. Be respectful to your readers and to people in the ecosystem. It is possible to be “not nice” and get a temporary boost from being “controversial” but it is guaranteed not to last and you’ll be left with a reputation to manage (much longer than the traffic boost lasted).
This does not mean you don’t dissent or provide an alternative point of view. By all means please do that. But there is a right way of doing it (stay on the message, be objective, provide supporting points) and there is a wrong way of doing it.
Here is another important reason to “be nice”. Everything you say on the web is a part of the public record. Your life is just one quick google query away. Your words will be in easy reach of future friends, employers, girlfriends / boyfriends, grandchildren and so on.
# 8 Have goals, whatever you want them to be: For me personally goals are important because they are a motivating factor and give me something to shoot for. But having Goals is important more because in order to come up with a goal you have to know what you are solving for. Natural questions arise like” “what is the purpose”, “why am I doing this”, “who is my audience”, “why should that be a goal” etc.
The process of creating a goal will help distill important thoughts and create a focus. Then having a goal will ensure you stay on track and do the best you can to achieve your goal. This sounds complex but it is very important and something I recommend both for small things like blogs and big things like your professional life and businesses.
# 7 Being “digg’ed” is great exposure but traffic builds gradually over time, one person at a time. Plan for that: There is a misnomer out there that you get “digg’ed” and you are all set. And we do all we can to get “digg’ed”. In reality building an audience is very hard work and it really is adding one reader at a time and that is really what you should plan for and that is what you should execute against.
One of my posts got to the home page of digg.com and it was amazing. 40+ comments, roughly 12k visitors to the site in eight hours. Then it slowly went down from there. Yet traffic and RSS subscriptions “post digg” ended up just a bit higher.
Building readership is tough and it really is the process of finding the right traffic and adding traffic to your site one correct person at a time. This means doing a lot of # 6, this also means there is no magic bullet.
# 6 Blogs need constant promotion, participation and evangelism: Sadly this is not a world where the axiom “build it and they will come” applies fully. If you want to have a popular blog you need to be a evangelist of the blog, you need to be something of a humble self promoter. Not everyone is comfortable with this, and that’s ok. Find your own niche. But if you want to build an audience then you’ll have to evangelize and find new ways of doing it. Everything from adding your blog to your email tag line to adding it to the various directories or having it in your presentations or cultivating links etc.
Except perhaps for the top blogs the thing to realize is that this process is constant. There is no such thing as you have a blog, it got really popular in one month, you sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. You have to be out there and evangelize (and I am deliberately using the word evangelize).
It is also important to know that evangelism is built on a foundation of great content. Getting links will get you transient traffic but there is no substitute to great content. That is the first tough nut to crack, then comes evangelizing.
(A small additional tip here: A great way to evangelize is to participate in the ecosystem blogs. Read other blogs on related topics and contribute interesting and unique comments to those blogs. Not just comments like “this is a great post” but add something to the conversation. Great way to give something back and to have yourself out there.)
# 5 Respect the intelligence of your audience: One of the most popular myths out there is that if you blog then your articles have to be short and pithy and simple because people don’t have time to read deep stuff and you want a diverse audience. This could not be more wrong. If you need proof look at the length of this blog post : ), or any others that I have done.
I am deeply impressed with the intelligence of my audience (you all great people out there). I can do long posts, often on what I think are complicated concepts, and you not only get it but through your comments and feedback you are teaching me and you are pushing me to push the envelope (I lay awake at night thinking what is the next great thing I can share so you have also given me insomnia!).
If you blog respect the intelligence of your audience, try to communicate at their level (which is most certainly higher than yours) and keep a open mind as a blogger and soak up the learning experience.
(A very small additional tip here: Comments rock. I know there is a debate about this out there but I love comments, I love reading what you have to say, you help stretch my thinking, it is the only way I know I am adding value to the blogosphere. Embrace comments of all types – and please keep them coming.)
# 4 Pick a subject matter you are passionate about and that you are good at: According to Technorati there are currently 70 plus million blogs out there (and hundreds of thousands added each day). There is a blog on every topic on the face of this earth. So for you to stand out, or more importantly stick with it for any amount of time, it is a lot of work.
A key criteria for success is to blog about what you are passionate about. This would mean you’ll probably add content to this great blogosphere that is unique, it would mean that you’ll find a niche that you’ll flourish within, it would mean that you’ll stick with it, it would mean that you’ll be able to do #3. : )
# 3 Blogging is a very serious time commitment: I have to admit I was blindsided because I did not realize this. If you want to build a good blog, want lots of content consumption and add value to the conversation then it is a lot of work.
I only do two posts a week (late Sunday night and Wednesday night). Yet according to my wife (who keeps track of my life better than I can) I am putting atleast 15 – 20 hours a week into this. The breakdown is six or eight hours in writing and refining the posts themselves and around the same time in replying emails from readers or replying to comments on the blog or doing web analysis of my blog data or reading and participating in the ecosystem.
So if you want to be a semi-serious just-a-little-bit-popular blogger do quick check on 1) time availability in your life 2) your willingness to give up on a small number of things you love (like watching Jon Stewart or Iron Chef).
(A small additional tip here: If you want a regular audience try to post regularly and if you can stick to a schedule. You can post every ten minutes or every ten days. Having a schedule is a great way to “train” your audience of when to expect new content and for them to plan on when to come visit your blog for fresh content. It is all about the customer. :)
# 2 Have a personality, reflect your core beliefs, be honest, have fun: The ultimate comment I have received for this blog is from a friend who read the early posts and remarked “the blog is you, it has your personality”. Blogging is one medium where it is hard to “fake it”, you can but it is hard and why do it in the first place.
Blogging is very much a social medium and people want to connect with you the person. So be yourself, give the blog your own brand identity, be open and honest and bring your whole self to the table and have the blog reflect you. Without it you can’t have fun, and if you are not actually having fun this is a very hard gig to pull off.
# 1 Nobody cares about you, they care about what you can do for them: In a medium that is all about you, personal expression and free thoughts and online diary and what not, this is an important lesson I have learned. Perhaps it only applies to “professional” blogs or those that are trying to build an audience (vs. those that are more for personal purposes).
People read blogs for entertainment, for learning, to satiate their guilty pleasures : ), to kill time, to break stories, to stock up on the hottest trends, and on and on. The common thread in all these is they want something out of it for themselves. If you blog, and would like to build readership, see if your blog meets this rule. Before you hit the Publish button for a new post do a quick check if the post is just all for you or there is something in there that someone else will care about.
We all have less time than we need, there is a stunning amount of content out there, building readership is hard. Do you have something of value to offer? (Oh and it does not have to be something serious, you could have a enormously popular blog because people can’t have enough of Paris Hilton.)
Agree with the tips? Is there anything obvious that is missing? Would you like to share insights / tips / “tricks” that have worked for you? Please share via comments.
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