This post on mimicry as a blogging strategy is by Aseem Kishore from Online-Tech-Tips.com.
First, to set the tone for the rest of this post, I would like to start with a definition of mimicry from AccessExcellence.org that I want the reader to keep in mind as they read on:
Mimicry is one of several anti-predatory devices found in nature. Specifically it is a situation in which one species called the mimic resembles in color, form, and/or behavior another species called the model. In so doing, the mimic acquires some survival advantage.
There are many examples in nature where you will see mimicry, one notable example being the Monarch and Viceroy butterflies, where one mimics the looks of the other butterfly because it is known to taste horrible and therefore avoids being eaten by predators.
image by pieceoflace
So what does this have to do with blogging, you may be wondering?
The Natural Selection Phenomenon in Blogging
According to Wikipedia,
Natural selection is the process by which favorable heritable traits become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavorable heritable traits become less common.
Blogging and their associated authors, the bloggers, also fit into the cycle of natural selection, albeit in a completely different manner. Problogger is an example of a blog with highly favorable traits that allow it to prosper, but there are many blogs out there in the blogosphere that end up having the same fate as the unfavorable species: extinction.
This may sound harsh, but it’s simply a truth. With over 120,000 weblogs created worldwide each day, according to Technorati, many will fall prey to behaviors and actions (or inactions) that eventually lead to the death of their blog. However, having started a technology blog only a year back with absolutely no knowledge of blogging and in a already highly competitive niche, I have managed to increase my traffic to over 10,000 visitors and 15,000 page views a day from Google alone and earn over $100 a day from AdSense.
I am by no means saying this to show off, but to let every reader and blogger know that it is COMPLETELY possible to start from scratch and become a respected, well-trafficked blog, my case being one example. From my own experience, I have learned that there are a couple of things in the last year that made the difference between my blog becoming a success or becoming just another statistic.
Mimicry – What about it?
So let me go ahead and tie up my metaphor before I go into hard and fast ideas that you can use to enhance your blog’s reach. One thing that I noticed myself doing just recently and over the last year after reflecting on it, is the fact that most of my actions surrounding my blog (finding ideas for content, writing, site optimizing, marketing, guest posting) were already done by others and I simply read about it and followed suite.
A good deal of the success of the blog has to do with the fact it simply mimics many of the “traits” of other successful bloggers. Note that in the definition of mimic above, it does not mean copying. When you mimic, you begin to understand the characteristics that a blog needs in order to survive like what kind of audience you are catering to, what kind of content will people find interesting, how to effectively market your blog, how much time you should be spending on specific tasks, etc that enable you to compete with bigger blogs. It does not mean you plagiarize or spin the same content, spam social media sites, or engage in other nefarious behavior.
Traits To Mimic
So what are the actual traits then that a successful blogger has whether they know it or not? The next part of my post will focus on explaining the traits and giving concrete examples of steps you can take to make your blog more successful. It is not necessary to have all of these traits, but the more traits you can internalize, the better your chances are at surviving. So let’s get down to the details.
Passion and Motivation
The first thing I realized about every successful blogger that I read about online was that they were very passionate. Passionate about their content, passionate about their readers, passionate about their work. It is the passion that gets you through the tough times when you don’t feel like writing or when Google drops your traffic every once in a while for no reason. It is the passion that makes you read more about how to optimize your site, on how to write better content, and on how to market your blog. It is passion that makes you reach out to other bloggers for guidance and help and that conveys a sense of excitement and genuineness in your posts.
Without passion, it is hard to motivate yourself. Yes, there is always money, but money cannot be the main reason for blogging, at least in the beginning. If you find yourself writing about topics that don’t truly make you excited or interested, then you are missing an important trait of success. Whatever topic wakes you up when you’re sleepy or brings a smile to your face when you think about it, should be the topic you create a blog about. I have seen successful blogs on esoteric topics like IKEA furniture and nursing homes. If you have a passion, write about it and readers will come.
When I sit down to write a post, I usually already have 30 to 40 topics that I can choose from. Why? Because while I’m not writing, I’m constantly browsing around finding new computer tips or cool websites to write about. It’s just part of my daily routine and not a forced activity. If I didn’t enjoy looking for cool new technology on the web, I would have a hard time writing a computer tips blog!
Remember your topic does not have to be completely new or have to be very popular, it just has to be done in an interesting way. For me, it’s very tough to write about anything other than computers because I don’t really have the knowledge nor the insight to write in-depth and useful content. Notice that none of the “traits” are called “Writing Content” or “Content Creation”, etc because when you have a passion, the content is already taken care of.
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
- What topics do I never get tired of reading, listening to, or watching?
- If I’ve already started a blog, do I enjoy writing the material or am I feeling obligated?
- Does my blog have a clear focus or am I writing about a wide variety of topics?
During my first two months blogging, I wrote almost 180 posts. Did I get a lot of traffic? No. Actually, close to zero. I was quite dismayed by this, but since I really enjoyed writing about technology, I kept going. However, I needed to do something differently or this was going to end up more like a personal journal than a professional blog.
That’s when I read somewhere about blogging goals. For some reason, this had never occurred to me nor did it seem like it was going to help much. But I decided to go ahead and give it a shot anyway. This was probably the best thing I had ever done. Setting goals is a trait that you want to learn very fast. If you don’t have goals, you can’t really judge your success or failure. Being in limbo brings more frustration and eventual resignation.
Here are the goals that I had set for myself after those first two months:
In 3 months time, try to get more than 250 unique visitors a day and at least 50 subscribers.
Simple enough goal, right? Well, after setting the goal, I asked myself why are these 180 posts not getting me very much traffic? I sat down and read over my old posts as if I was a casual reader of my blog. This was an eye opener. For one thing, my posts were simply boring. I mostly wrote about stuff I found funny, such as a comic strip making fun of Microsoft or a video with Conan O’Brien in India! Something to look at once, but not the kind of material that most people would care about (except my dear wife who visited nonetheless).
This brought me to the thought of trying to find out which material is actually being read online in the technology niche. Searching for technology blogs eventually led me to some of people I now look up to, such as Amit Agrawal of DigitalInspiration. Reading his blog made me understand the type of content that makes people want to read more. It had tons of very useful, practical, and easily digestible computer tips! I think I spent a good 4 to 5 hours on his blog the first time I visited it. Impressive.
This made me ask myself what kind of audience am I catering too? Currently, it was really no one. I hadn’t thought about it before. But after reviewing my previous work and that of others, I knew I needed to change the type of content on the site and the style of writing. My goal now was to write content that was interesting and yet still enjoyable for me.
One lesson I have learned over the last year has been to create goals that I can control directly in terms of “reachability”. Many bloggers suggest creating goals that have specific numbers, like 1000 readers by December, or 500 unique visitors in three months, but these are not within DIRECT control. You want to create goals that are direct like “Work one hour each day on blog optimization” or “Spend two hours at the beginning of the week finding ideas for content“. Now instead of sitting down and trying to find something to write about quickly and then coming up with a mediocre post, I have topics ready to go before writing that I know about, understand and can explain in a friendly manner.
Goals helps give your blog focus and a unique style. It helps you define your audience and helps you find out what you write about best. Once you have your own style, there will be an audience out there who will be interested.
- Look at other blogs in your niche and see what is working and why. Mimic those characteristics.
- Find the audience your blog is targeting and focus on that audience.
- Create hard and fast goals that are within your control.
Consistency & Persistence
During my first two months of blogging, I wrote 180 posts as I mentioned before. But if you browse my archives, you’ll notice that I sometimes wrote 10 posts in one day and other days I wrote nothing. This type of posting causes two problems. First, it’s very annoying for readers because one day they have to browse 10 articles (which they may not have time for) and another day there’s nothing new to read. Secondly, posting so many in one day reduced the quality of the posts dramatically and also tired me out. The next day I didn’t have the energy to write.
As you’ve probably heard a hundred times “Content is King”! I personally believe that this is true. Yes you have to do marketing, but in the end, if you have really good content, your blog will be read because others will market it for you. Eventually, I settled at two posts a day, which allows me to write a good quantity of posts, but at the same time maintain my standard of quality for each post.
For me, posting less often and writing more per post helped me greatly because I could cover topics in depth, giving detailed computer tips with pictures and even videos, if necessary. My posts eventually became longer and run anywhere in length from 500 to 1000 words. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to length and adding fluff just for quantity’s sake will actually hurt you more in the end. Write however much it takes to cover a topic thoroughly.
Also, in terms of consistency, tighten up the topics that you write about. Even though my blog is about computer tips, that can span a large range of topics including Windows tips, software tips, etc. Yet I also write about cool websites on my blog, which could be considered off topic. However, every time I write about a cool website, I always make sure that it is a website that provides something beneficial as to be considered a personal computing tip. I would, for example, write about a website that allows you to backup your computer online for free, but I would not write about a website that helps you find contribution amounts to political candidates from your area, as it in no way relates to computer tips.
In summary, find the ideal number of posts for yourself that gives your site the best quality posts you can write. Even if it means once a week, you’ll find your traffic will increase more with better content and consistency.
Lastly, consistency also could be interpreted as persistence, another trait that will take you a LONG way as a blogger. I feel that if I had not been persistent, I would have definitely failed. Why? Let me list of the obstacles and failures that occurred over the last year:
- Less than 100 visitors a day after writing 180 posts (demoralizing)
- Left town during which hosting site crashed and blog was down for 3 days. Took more than a month to recover back to original traffic levels.
- After successfully being Dugg twice on Digg, I was blackmailed by some creeps and banned from Digg.
Several times I had considered giving up to be honest, but the enjoyment I got from writing kept me going. I persisted on and kept posting daily. It was hard, but it has paid off nicely.
- Find a good posting routine that allows you to write high quality posts
- Don’t focus on quantity over quality
- Focus on a core topic and don’t stray very much or, if you do, relate back to your main topic
- When things go wrong or don’t look that great, just keep going and they will get better.
Marketing, whether done for you by readers because your content is simply irrestible or done by yourself, is probably just as important as your content. I have read many bloggers state that they have not used the conventional methods to promote their blogs like being Dugg or Stumbled and yet have attained high traffic levels. However, I would have to disagree. They may not actively engage in marketing the blog themselves, but their readers definitely are and that’s why they have so many RSS readers and links back. Someone is doing the marketing. Effective marketing is a trait that you will find in every successful blog.
There’s really no such thing as “Write great content and you’ll somehow start getting lots of traffic from search engines”. Either you actively promote your site and get traffic or the small number of people who do find your site from the search engines in the beginning get the word out for you. The Google bot does not analyze your new blog post and say “This is fabulous content, people will love it!” It only looks at links, keywords, and other technical data, it cannot actually “understand” your post. Hence why spam blogs are able to rank well with ridiculous content posted.
If you can market your blog effectively and eventually have it done for you by your readers, you’ve done what Problogger has been able to do. So enough talk, what are some practical steps you can take to market your blog effectively?
- If you’re just starting off, what helped me get my blog off the ground was writing high quality posts for article directories. The key thing here is to write only for one or two of the top directories (EZine, SiteProNews, etc) and never post the same content on your blog nor in multiple directories, just pick one directory for each article. This helped my blog get some initial readers and links.
- I also submitted my blog URL to several high quality blog directories, most of which didn’t help THAT MUCH except for DMOZ and Yahoo Directory, however they still helped get me above 1,000 visitors a day. Be very careful when choosing directories as you do not want spammy incoming links. Once you are accepted into DMOZ, which can take up to 6 months+, traffic increases quite a bit.
- One major reason for the increase in traffic to my blog has been because Google simply trusts it more due to the links I have from other trusted niche sites. I have been able to get these links by writing quality guest posts on several different blogs, including a few that are in the Technorati Top 100. I never thought that would be possible, but if you really sit down and spend time analyzing a blog and their content, you will be surprised how many large established blogs are willing to accept guest posts from new voices. Of course, do this once your blog has been up for quite a bit of time and your traffic is decent.
- One strategy that also brought me some extra traffic and made me some new friends was to link out to other blogs. I am always watching which sites link to my blog and usually end up visiting just to see what the site is about. If I end up really liking it, I might decide to link to one of their posts that I found interesting, and vice versa. It’s also a great way to network with other bloggers and help each other out. It’s amazing what I’ve learned just by shooting an email to someone telling them that I admire their blog (honestly) and how many have responded saying that if I had any questions, they would be glad to help. Social networking sites like FaceBook are also are a great way to meet other bloggers, share ideas, and promote each other.
- Share your post with others using social bookmarking sites like SU and Mixx to get the word out. You’ve probably read so much about marketing on social media sites that it’s really not necessary to mention it more, but it’s something to take advantage of, just remember to be subtle. Use the services as a normal user instead of as a self-promoting mad person (there is no need to send a shout to everyone and their mothers for EVERY article you submit). I have found that plain old email, chatting with friends, and word of mouth are also very effective.
- Marketing also includes other critical elements of a blog, including the design and SEO optimization. I think it is a key trait of major blogs to have an excellent and appealing design. A clear and minimalist layout seems to work best, but there are lots of exceptions. In the end, you just want something that does not look like MySpace. When I moved from Blogger to WordPress, I received several comments from readers blessing the change and actually enjoying the site more simply because it looked better (though it needs a major change now). Your blog is a reflection of you, so if you like looking nice in front of humans, your site should look good too!
- SEO optimization has also played a key role in the marketing of my blog. It’s not marketing to humans, it’s marketing to search engine bots! There are several practical steps you can take to make your site more SEO friendly. I’ll go through these quickly. First, optimize blog post titles by either moving your blog name to the back end of the title or not using your blog name at all. Secondly, use permalinks for your blog posts. Thirdly, use the Meta Description tag in all of your posts and make sure to put the major keywords in the first sentence or first paragraph. I also use Meta Keywords, but that’s a personal choice. Fourthly, submit a Sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools. Fifthly, add related posts to the bottom of each post. Lastly, use Google Adwords External Keyword Tool before writing EACH post to find the best keywords to use in your title and post body.
Even though blogging is not a full-time job for me yet, I feel that it has been the most rewarding out of all the activities I have done till now. Becoming a full-time blogger will give me freedom and the chance to do something that I truly enjoy.
This, I believe, can be accomplished by anyone if I can do it. I’m not brilliant nor talented and not even that great of a writer, but I slowly learned from the real pioneers like Darren, Amit and many others that all it takes is a deep interest, persistence, consistency, and action to do well as a blogger.
As a bonus, there is one final trait that can make or break your blogging career and that is Well-Roundedness. I’m not sure if that’s a word, but it is exactly what I needed. After reading this thesis I just wrote, go spend time with your wife or kids, go out to dinner, watch a movie, spend time with friends, etc! Don’t become a blog addict as that will surely lead to blogger burnout!
I wish everyone the best of luck and know that it can be done even if you know NOTHING about blogging! Best of luck!