In the time that I have been blogging, I have noticed that there are a few things that “successful” blogs have in common. And I am defining “success” in every way — monetary terms, absolute traffic, but more importantly, in robust and continued growth. With 2007 here and many New Years Resolutions on the cusp, I thought we would start things off with what I believe are 5 things that are necessary to grow one’s blog.
1. Putting in the Time and Commitment.
One of the things that I didn’t fully appreciate is what a time commitment blogging is. I’m not including all the time it takes to literally set up a WordPress installation, or taking the time to tweak your theme just right, or even answering the buckets of email you may (or may not) have. What I am talking about is the time it takes to actually write.
If you’re a gifted writer, all the best to you. Skip the rest of this tip. For the rest of us who were not born with a pencil in their mouths, it literally takes time to write something really meaty, interesting, and worthy of your blog. The stuff that makes people fascinated and can’t wait to want more. It takes time to research stuff you don’t know about, to find a block of uninterrupted time to actually sit down and write the blasted piece, and then actually get it out in a form that you feel comfortable with.
And for people who have a semblance of a life — husband/wife, kids, a job, other Responsibilities — it can actually come as a bit of a shock, because in the blogging world no one really talks about how long it takes to actually create something you’re proud of.
For the literal minded (who have not yet started to blog), what this means is that at a post a day, it might require one extra hour of your life to produce that single post alone. Are you going to take that hour away from television time? Time with your family? Time to sleep? For most folks, their days are packed to the gills doing Stuff; taking the time to commit to blogging will often mean taking time away form something else.
What can make it doubly hard is in ADDITION to writing regularly (which is what we all should be aiming for), is that when one starts out, one must make the commitment to blog consistently for a stretch of time. Its insufficient to blog regularly for a few days, then stop for a few weeks. Put yourself in your readers shoes; how fast would you drop a blog if they stopped writing for weeks at a time? Needless to say, if you’ve been convinced blogging is Work, then one of the first hurdles one needs to overcome is the notion that blogging is for the short term. In fact, to grow your blog, you need to write for the intermediate-to-long term to see some kind of return on your time.
Beginning bloggers ought to plan to blog for at least a few months consistently before throwing the towel in. And there are some fairly concrete reasons for doing so as well. Having a body of work allows Google and other Search Engines time to find you (and get out of the Sandbox); it allows you to build a body of work that “proves” to your readers your in it for the long term; a body of work will also “prove” to your readers you know what you’re talking about; the time will also allow you to market your blog (see below) to create other streams of traffic back to your site.
At the end of the day, the reality of blogging, is that to be successful, you’ve got to write regularly and consistently, and you’ve got to find the time to do it.
For some it might mean being more efficient with their time, both with blogging, and the time around blogging; and for others it might mean reprioritizing their evening’s actvities. But no matter what you do, if you can’t do what it takes to give yourself the time to produce something on a regular basis, your blog will start to flag — and it certainly won’t grow.
The blogosphere is growing at a prodigious rate; every blog has a great deal of competition for your reader’s feed reader, and ultimately their attention. They deserve your best — and it takes time to create your best. Finding the time to do it, and do it consistently, is one of the greatest challenges most bloggers will face.
2. Willing to Market The Blog
Even if you’re willing to put in the time and energy to blog, and blog consistently, it will do you no good if you’re not willing to market your blog. There’s no question that blogging in the oblivion of anonymity can be hard; but you are deluding yourself if you’re stuck in the “if I build it, they will come” mentality. There’s no question that Google or other Search Engines might find you, but to grow your blog at any kind of velocity will require you to not only write for your blog, but spend some (more) time promoting it. There is no shortage of articles on this (and I will be contributing to Darren’s own body of work in the next few days), but to create a successful blog, you’ve got to willing to put the effort into making sure people know about your blog.
And I find the most basic strategies are actually the best. Sure, there’s all kinds of other methods, such as blog carnivals, getting your blog Dugg and so on, but if blogging is about conversations, you’ve got to be willing to participate in those conversations yourself. Get involved in the comments section of other bloggers. Respond on your own blog. Link like mad to other bloggers and their posts. Putting in the time to do these basic kinds of “marketing” methods for your blog can pay huge dividends, as all blogging communities are in a state of flux, with older bloggers leaving, and newer bloggers joining in the conversation. And that next one just might be you!
3. Be Interesting
“Interesting” doesn’t mean being something your not. Nor does it mean trying to be “funny” or “clever”. Interesting, is relative, and is relative in particular, to your readers. If you’re writing about a given topic, hopefully you’ll know something about the people who are similarly interested; these are the people who you should be writing for. The content you write should be fresh, unique, passionate and relevant. And it can take many forms (variety, as they say is the spice of blogs). Interviews, lists, news, it goes on. If you’re writing about the same old stuff every day, in the same way every day, or, echoing what everyone else is saying, then stop. Because you need to give people a reason to read your blog once they’ve actually heard about your blog.
4. Realize Its Not About You (its About Them)
Blogging has a reputation amongst the mainstream media and many of the uneducated masses that it is STILL the providence of self indulgent teenagers who are create vanity puff pieces for themselves and their three friends. They’re confusing it with MySpace. Although blogging may have its roots in that kind of mentality, its come a long way. And certainly the kind of blogging you want to do is not about you at all. Its about Them. I’ve alluded to it plenty of times in this very article, but blogs that are successful, popular, and growing are not ones centered around their authors. They are centered around news and information that is interesting to their readership.
But what does this also mean? It means ask yourself and Them, how you can make yourself better to serve their interests. It means, changing your content to make it wildly interesting to Them. It means ask yourself if the next Big Change your going to do on your blog will cheese them off or encourage more feed signups.
It also definitely means being accessible, and getting into the conversations that you generate. Once your blog is up and going, turn your comments on, and try and reply to as many as you possibly can. Sometimes the ensuing discussion is even more important than the actual post that spawned it. And if you’re growing your blog, you may leave an indelible mark on other bloggers who are commenting on your site, creating more fans for yourself.
Blogs that are fascinating, regular reads, that are also are reader-centered do best when they are also focused like a laser. And I mean “focused” and consistent in every single way. Focused in their identity and writing style, focused in their content, and focused in their intent to serve their reader. Blogs that are wishy-washy, who don’t know who they are, who change their kind of writing “voice” repeatedly, who vascillate on their opinions, who introduce nonsensical and unrelated topics are blogs that will find it difficult to succeed.
It is possible to be so fascinating about everything that it requires no focus. But blogs like those that have succeeded tend to be blogs that have been around for a long time. The blogging environment that baby blogs are born into today is a chokingly competitive one. Whether its celebrity, business, law, or crocheting, to earn continual growth requires that every day, in every way, people know what to expect from your blog.
The other benefit of focus, is that irrespective of your actual authority, people will inherently trust, and believe you to be a thought leader in a given area, if you consistently blog on a particular area of interest for a long enough period of time in an intelligent enough way. Thought leadership is important, because when people will look for opinion makers, they’ll turn to you. When they’ll want partners they’ll turn to you. When the mainstream media is interested in a quote, they’ll turn to you. And when other bloggers need guest bloggers, they might turn to you too.
Heck, look at me. A doctor blogging about blogging on one of the biggest blogs in the blogosphere. Who would have thunk it? :)
* Tony Hung is the guest blogger for the week. He blogs at Deep Jive Interests