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Is Writing Great Content Enough to Build a Successful Blog?

Content
At times you could be forgiven for thinking it is – if you read a lot of blogs on ‘how to blog’ that is.

One of the first thing that most of us who write about blogging advise those starting out is to work on writing useful and unique content.

Certainly at the core of most great blogs is useful and unique content that draws readers in and generates links from other blogs, builds the profile and reputation of the blog – however sometimes great content is simply not enough.

The reality is that many bloggers write excellent content – however not all of them break through the clutter and rise to the top of their niche.

This is frustrating – there’s no two ways about it.

I’ve felt the frustration myself and hear the frustration of others on a daily basis via emails and IMs from bloggers wanting to know how to take their blogging to the next level.

  • How do I find readers?
  • How do I get my first “break”?
  • How did you get your first incoming links to my great content if nobody is reading it?

These are the type of questions I see more and more.

Do you want the “right” answer or the “real” answer?

As I sit down to answer some of these questions on how to build a successful blog I’m increasingly feeling that there are certain answers which are “right” and some more that are “real”.

The “Right” Answers

“Write unique and useful content for your readers.” – this has been one of the catch cries at ProBlogger over the last couple of years as I’ve attempted to show bloggers how to build quality blogs. It’s a principle that I strongly believe in – it’s something that does work and I don’t know too many successful bloggers who wouldn’t agree with it and/or apply it. It is ‘right’.

Other “right” answers include things like:

  • Interact with your readers – the more you interact with readers in a genuine way the more likely they are to stay around and spread the word about you.
  • Use Quality Titles – a lot is written about the effectiveness of quality post titles at getting attention and drawing in readers to your blog. In my mind there is little doubt about how important it is to invest time into smart title generation.
  • Promote yourself - while some of us feel a little awkward about self promotion – there’s little doubt in my mind that it is a necessary part of launching a new blog. While it’s also important to let your readers spread the news about you – without some self promotion you may never find those first readers to help you spread the virus.
  • Know and Use basic SEO principles – it is well worth learning the basic principles on how search engines index and rank online content. While some bloggers become a little obsessed by SEO – setting up your blog smartly and keeping some of the basics in mind as you write is a common sense way of building a blog that will bring in significant SE traffic over the long term.
  • Inviting Design – I don’t believe that to be successful a blog needs to have professional designs that cost mega-bucks. However inviting design that communicates what a blog is about, that enables good navigation and that draws readers into the content can really take a blog to the next level.

In my mind – these sorts of tips (and there are many more of them) are “right“. They make sense – they work (to varying degrees) and many bloggers talk about them as keys to successful blogs – because they are.

Much has been written about these “right” answers. ProBlogger’s archives are full of them.

However there’s a problem – as “right” as these tips are – they are quite often not enough for many bloggers.

In fact I’ve talked to many bloggers who have done all the right stuff (they’ve executed everything mentioned above perfectly) yet they still fail to find readers, build community and reach their goals.

The “Real” Answers

In addition to the “right” answers above – I’ve been pondering some other keys to successful blogs that I don’t see many of us writing about. The reason they don’t get spoken about much is that they are hard to define, they are subjective and some might even say that they’re things that might apply to some but not others.

However I think some of it is worth saying – as difficult as it might be to put them into words (just don’t expect a list of tips that you can go away and apply to get these things):

Mojo

MojoAustin Powers has it and so do many successful bloggers. What is it? Well I could define it using a dictionary (magic or some powerful force) – but mojo is one of those indefinable characteristics that some bloggers just seem to have which others don’t. It’s a quality that some bloggers have that intrigues, invites and inspires readers – not because they write grammatically perfect posts, not because they are the smartest people going around – but just because they do.

Perhaps finding your mojo is similar to “finding your voice” or “injecting your personality” into your writing or just “being yourself” – to be honest I’m not sure where it comes from – but for many successful bloggers, they’ve got mojo!

Luck

LuckI’ve written about being lucky on a couple of occasions previously and both times the response from readership was positive. I even tried to talk about “how to be lucky” once (I do like to try to define the undefinable) – however sometimes no matter what you do Lady Luck just comes calling in the most unexpected times and places.

Meeting the right person at the right time to collaborate with – picking up a scoop ahead of the competition – overhearing something in a conversation that triggers a thought process that people respond to – starting your blog on the day before something happens that draws attention to your niche – getting that link from an A-lister out of the blue… the list of ways you can get lucky as a blogger could go on.

Trust

TrustTrust is one of those things that you can do things to build with your readers (and with other bloggers) but in some ways it is something that is not manufacturable or definable (you can’t come up with a list of 10 ways to absolutely guarantee it – as much as I’d like that).

Building Trust with readership takes time, it means putting actions behind your words and it means being a person of authenticity and character – in such a way that others both see and connect with it.

Expertise and Authority

ExpertiseI almost put expertise in the “right” answers list because on some levels it is something you can work on and to some degree define. However expertise can also be slippery thing to nail down also because it’s one of those things where there is a sliding scale and which readers can respond differently to. For example here at ProBlogger I don’t see myself as “the” expert or authority on the topic making money from blogs.

I do have expertise in some areas of blogging (or at least 5-6 years of experience) – but in other areas (like blog design or coding) I’m definitely no expert. However – I attempt to write this blog in a way that is transparent about what I do and don’t know about or have experiences in and for some reason the gaps in my expertise don’t seem to matter to readers.

I do think it’s important that you know something about your topic that you can share and help others with – however, what’s probably more important is the way you convey that expertise.

What seems to happen with some bloggers is that they become perceived as experts and authorities on their topics (whether they feel that they deserve it or not).

Charisma

I find that many successful bloggers seem to have an ability to draw people to them – to connect with their readers and to connect their readers with one another.

Community is one of those trigger points that people are gathering around online at the moment – and they often gather around a key person (or people) that have the gift of connecting with others.

While it’s possible to work on your relational skills the reason I put this in the “real answers” list is because it’s something that many bloggers seem to have without really trying. Everywhere they go they just seem to draw others around them. As I see it these bloggers seem to be able to do the following things:

  • draw people around them (perhaps this is the “mojo” I’m talking about above)
  • connect those people with one another to form community
  • empower that community and it’s members to be self sustaining and not reliant upon that person
  • continue to inspire and champion that community – but not need to continually drive it in a hands on way

These people are often humble and don’t let their egos get caught up in the community they develop. They know when to stand back and let others continue what they start.

What Would You Add?

Mojo, Luck, Trust, Expertise, Charisma – these are just some of the more slippery and hard to define characteristics that I find many successful bloggers have. On some levels they can be ‘worked on’ – but in many cases bloggers just seem to have them.

What other characteristics would you add – either to my ‘right’ or ‘real’ answers?

PS: Can I finish this post by saying that I feel a little weird about publishing it? I actually wrote this 12 months ago and have been coming back to it again and again over that time.

My hesitation comes mainly from this….

I don’t want people to get frustrated by not having some of these more indefinable characteristics.

I don’t think that lacking them disqualifies you from blogging well at all – but wanted to put ‘out there’ that sometimes it’s not just about doing all the ‘right’ things that we blogging advice givers might teach.

All I really want to add is that in my experience a lot of these qualities come with time. Out of experience comes relationships, experience, expertise, finding your voice etc. If you’re still finding your way – hang in there friends.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Ryan McLean says:

    As a ‘real’ answer (which I mentioned before) you need generosity. When people are generous linking to you then you can make it big time. This inspired a post on my blog about giving generosity to get generosity back (to help you make it big time).
    Here’s the link everyone
    http://www.smarterwealth.net/2008/08/generosity/

  2. Samson says:

    So, successful blogging isn’t just a matter of doing things right. It’s a matter of right and real sprinkled with some mojo.

    I’m guessing this is going to take longer than I thought.

  3. Hamdani says:

    I think the main issue address here is “Blogger : Made or born with it”. I personally don;t believe i luck. In my opinion luck is creating your own opportunity and adding all the necessary ingredient to it.

    The rest, with persistence and perseverance all will came in due time.

  4. This is great stuff…. definitely worth bookmarking. It’s hard to find a voice and no matter how good your content is, you need people to read it. Love your suggestions…

  5. IronBlogger says:

    I personally think luck is a big part of everyones life. Everyone who has been famous or who has made it big, has had a pretty decent amount of luck.

    Just like Darren says, luck just happened to be on his side as well as the good content that he provides his readers time after time.

  6. L-Jay says:

    Just what I needed to hear :-) Ta. Bin thinking about my character type and whether that plays a part in the blogosphere…

    This is what I’ve figured out so far:
    Your ‘character’ or personality type plays a large factor in creating a fan base (readership). Like characters in the movies – you have a hero type, a heroine type, a sick-kick type, an antagonist type, girl-next-door type, action figure type, devils advocate type, cheerleader type, jock type, spy type, reject type… the list goes on. Certain character types attract certain fan groups. Actors ‘craft’ their careers to only play a certain type of role to target a certain audience. (Some even intentionally get type-cast.)

    There are certain character types in blogging too. Some types are more popular than others and naturally attract a greater ‘puter-fan base. (I think the leader type, the trendy type and the tech-geek type do very well in the blogosphere.) It’s smart to look at what type of ‘puter-character you are (or what ‘voice’ you use) and then target areas on the web where your fan-type might hang out.

    The worlds a stage – even the blogging world.

    …just some thoughts.

  7. David Walker says:

    This is something I need to improve on my own blog. I think my writing is up to scratch but it needs to have a bit more mojo. I am working hard on building trust and of course a little bit of luck would be welcomed!

  8. Kathy says:

    One key factor for me is showing appreciation to my readers. I would be nothing without them. It’s natural for people to want to feel included and listened to. I respond to ever single comment on my blog in as personal a way as possible. It shows my readers how much I appreciate their visits and it seems to keep them coming back.

    I could knock myself out learning more about SEO, but I find I don’t need to. Once I grab a reader, chances are I’ll keep them. Building loyalty through community has worked wonders for me.

  9. You have rightly written the real contents for making a successful blog. If contents is all then blogs based purely on gossip would never be so popular. You have to give people what they want and suddenly it becomes the right thing or the real thing. Its just like many of the hollywood movies.

  10. Neil Duckett says:

    Personality in your blogging goes a long long way. I want to know who’s doing the writing … that’s just me but i think it’s many others too. Whether it’s a detailed about page or personalised touch in the site and posts, it matters a great deal and success come to those who are willing to ‘put themselves out there’ a little more than those hiding behind a pseudonym.

  11. I am certainly no authority on this subject but like others, wish I were.

    Let me add: PASSION

    My wife and I were discussing Pavarotti and Paul Potts the other night and what we came up with, to decribe what is similar about them is, “they are passionate about what they do; passionate about the music and they have injected that mix into their perforamance.”

    In the case of the redoubtable and delightful Paul Potts, we all know he and the Maestro are streets apart in skills, training and experience, and yet the sheers guts and passion of this young guy lifts him up – a whole league.

    I suggest passion could help bloggers. It seems appropriate in many, many situations but is often forgone.

  12. Pangeran says:

    This post touch deep inside my heart…
    I agree with all the “real” answer.

    As always, we need luck, mojo, etc… Even in our real life.
    Not just blogging.

    Even we take blogging as business, it same as it in the real world…

    Luck…

    With luck, we will success…

    But as luck without effort is also pointless…

    My heart says,(Wow, this involved feeling?) If we want to success, we must have all the “right” answer characteristic plus the “real” answer characteristic…

    But sadly for those who have done well in the “right” answer, they never finds luck…

  13. Angel Cuala says:

    I have been hoping that one day you tackle this topic and I am glad you finally created one, Darren. Unfortunately, finding Mojo is the hardest part of blogging as blog promotion is like reaching for the stars and the moon especially if your niche is not really not popular, like marriage and parenting.

    Although I am really passionate about them, I find it hard to increase my regular readers.

    However, I can say that SEO is helping me somehow as some of my posts are landing on top of Google Search. My commentators admits that they are learning from them and somehow, I can write well enough.

    Anyways, I am still finding ways to find my space in this field and joining forums is my major concern now and it looks like it is working for me.

    But if it is not, I will find another strategy because I believe that all of us has a reserved space. All we need to do is discover it.

    I also believe that before we find your Lady Luck we must build a certain charisma. You may not notice it but you have tons of them, Darren. With your style in blogging and you seem like knowing what your readers like to hear from you, your posts are magnetic.

  14. alousse says:

    think you, I am having one of those weeks.

    http://alousse.blogspot.com

  15. Nards says:

    I truly believe that being in the right place at the right time, the “it” factor, combined with a little bit of the mysterious “boom-chaca-laca-laca” equals pure gold. Loving what you do is quite possibly, one of the biggest factors. – Nards

  16. Darren,

    I find that being in the right place at the right time is a great way to initially build readership. Posts that are just awesome will linger on the internet and continue to send readers your way. That’s where the power of great writing comes in. Hands down, great writing will give you street credit in your niche. Nice Post.

  17. I think the most successful bloggers are those have a great combination of everything.

    Do they have great content? Yes
    Is their design good? Yes
    Are they knowledgeable? Yes
    Is their Mojo working? Yes
    Do you trust them? Yes
    Have they been lucky? At some point, sure.

    There isn’t a formula to explain why success happens in the blogging world. In the end you I think all you can do is your best. Are you pushing yourself close to 100% of your potential? If you’re at 40% can you really expect to make it? Can you be heard over the millions of blogs if you stay comfortable at 60% of your potential?

    An enjoyable read, though!

  18. Having great “mojo”, as you put it, is synonymous with having great content.

    The hard part for some of us part-timers is that we eke out just enough time to write a potentially dazzling post every day but run headlong against the time-pressures the professions we write about require.

    I still think someone should build a business model that helps bloggers expand and monetize their blogs while allowing them to maintain their editorial and financial independence.

    How about a post on that, Darren?

  19. Kim says:

    It has been our belief that quality content will in the end serve our site, but clearly, it is not the be all and end all of a blog’s success. Building a community is a lot of hard work on many fronts. Will keep in mind the key tips presented here!

  20. LosingWeight says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. The secrets to a succesfull blog aren’t really that hard or difficult. Interesting topics and intreguing writing are key. Mix that with the mojo, luck and you’ve got the foundation for something good.

  21. Sean says:

    Thank You Darren! As a relatively new blogger I’ve spent numerous hours trying to figure out how to make my blog “take-off”. The real answer is I need to find my ‘mojo’ baby.

  22. Yeah content is always the king, it always good to start with great content, but then you need more than just that!
    With amazing content you put out on a regular basis, reader keep coming back and subscribers keeps subscribing to your blog when there are so many other blogs out there to subscribe to.

  23. Robert Bean says:

    I would think that having a sense of humor, not only in your writing and content, but in your views of putting a blog together would be a great asset. It’s a way of not only making others smile, but of also keeping oneself from getting an inflated ego about things.

    While some blogs may comment on very serious things, having a sense of humor about it can help to keep tension down.

  24. I loved this post! You hit the nail on the head for me “Getting it”.

    Recently, I made a new friend in Katja over at
    http://skimbaco.blogspot.com/ because she was one of the winners your contest to receive a ticket to the Blog World Expo . She reeled me in because of her quirky way as well as her warm and inviting personality that comes across so well in her posts. She now has a loyal reader in me on that alone!

    You should have published this post long ago. I have often wondered why one of my older blogs does well and I know now because it is exactly the “I think I know her and like her “.thing.

  25. Kristi says:

    I don’t think there needs to be any hesitation in writing this for fear of discouraging others. The advice, especially the “real” answers, is very useful. I am sure there are a lot of bloggers out there are very knowledgeable about their subject matter, can do all of the technical work as far as SEO, and can register for numerous networks to get the word out. But if they don’t have that certain thing, be it the mojo or charisma, to get readers to like reading their posts, then they are likely to be frustrated by the lack of attention their blog gets.

    As far as the luck of meeting the right person or having an A lister link you, I think the best way to increase that chance is to get out there, socialize, network, comment, etc. The more of a presence you have in the blogging world, the better your chances of getting that lucky boost.

  26. Doug C. says:

    The majority of positive feedback I get are compliments on how unique my blog design is. I have always felt that a strong brand is important, whether it be a logo, a layout, or you (yes, you can be a brand as well).

    People are visually driven creatures so it’s important to create a visual impact. Of course, if a blog has this impact but lacks inviting content then the brand will fizzle.

    Draw them in, keep them there, and prosper.

    And yes, it does take time.

  27. Brad Hart says:

    There are most definitely differences between the right and the real answer. The content needs to useful to someone, be it a reader or an advertiser for it to be worth publishing. Even if it will only draw 1 hit a week, month or year after you published then it is worth publishing in my book. I have a friend who publishes his daily del.icio.us bookmarks and stumbleupon finds. He started doing this just to have them in one place and then because it was easier to point his friends to them. This is just a sub blog of his main one. He never dreamed it would start seeing lots of organic google hits. Is the content great? not really unless you like his brand of humor, but the blog now makes money all on its own. I qualify this as a successful blog because it makes money, not a lot of money, about a quarter a day. It is a lot compared to the effort put into it and the actual purpose of the blog though.

  28. Katherine says:

    I think that writing great content is a good base to build your blog on. But the other factors such as SEO, promotion, and interacting with readers are also extremely important. Well said!

  29. T Edwards says:

    i would definitely add “tenacity”. I look at so many successful and BIGTIME bloggers and I have to always force myself to remember that nearly all of them started out just like me: watching the little stats go through 7 visitors then 20, and then back down to 4. I will keep plugging away at it and try to develop those traits that I’m admittedly lacking.

    T

  30. Melody Platz says:

    Can women have Mojo?

    I’m just curious.

  31. One more important trait to add to the list:
    Courage.

  32. Jess says:

    To Melody…Of Course women can have mojo!!!!

    Check out Dooce.com (who Darren made me aware of in a previous post) for la femme mojo..

    Or the site Bust.com

    For more proof of female mojo you may want to listen to a song called “sisters are doing it for themselves” By Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox

    As for more traits of a successful blogger… I think :

    Perserverance (This is so important)
    Flexibility
    The ability to analyse and critique yourself and..
    To Take Risks
    A sense of Humour (at least some of the time)
    The ability to have good vision (as in to predict the future of where your blog is going)
    Intuitiveness
    Creativity
    Self motivation
    Time management skills
    Communication skills
    A point of Difference (this is something that I hear time and time again from music industry people..what’s your point of difference…what makes your work different to anyone else)

    And that’s all I can think of right this very moment…But I’m sure the list goes on and on…

    Jess

  33. regarding luck: “the harder I work the luckier I get”

    Sorry but it is from Donald Trump. great quote though.

  34. Doug C. says:

    Melody, I think that would be called Fojo [grin].

  35. IronBlogger says:

    Oh god! I lost my Mojo :p.

    Austin Powers has some of the best mojo that is currently available on the market.

    Hell, if I was to learn about making money from him I would love it :p.

  36. Nathaniel says:

    Great article, I’m definately filing this info in my brain. I think it has implications beyond that of just blogging and can relate to just about anything, including marketing and info-product authoring.

    I would also like to suggest that Passion is also very important. If you are passionate, if you really care, if you’re excited about a topic, then it shows and it’s easier for others to become excited about the topic as well. For instance, if you write a blog post with the frame of mind that you’re telling people this because you just feel like you have to. Like you just called up your brother: “Dude, you won’t believe this, I just had the coolest idea…”

    Also, keep in mind that just as passion can really help, apathy will destroy you. Just like your audience can “sense” if you’re excited about a topic, they can tell if you don’t care, of if you’re doing it for traffic, or have any other motive other than to inform, teach, or simply share some amazing information that simply cannot be contained.

    Don’t forget the importance of descriptive, inviting, and intriguing headlines. It’s not just the content that’s important, people usually see the headline first, if it’s no good, they’ll be much more likely to just skip over you from the search engines.

  37. Keral Patel says:

    Luck does helps but only when you are working.

    Here is my saying normally to my friends over here.

    Working for $0 for 365 days gives you $0 per year.
    Working for just $1 for 365 days gives you $365 per year ;)

    So work is needed even if it is less. Something somewhere somehow will click if luck if favoring you too.

  38. You have to be a psychopath, especially in a very conservative niche like finance. It works for me.

  39. Sandra Kellog wrote about it lately but i think what you wrote is much better.

  40. Andrew says:

    I am a new blogger and found that the contents here are fascinating. Will use this article to make my blog better and get more visitors

  41. gcameo says:

    I’m new to blogging(only a week old). wanting to be a good blogger, i found a good template on day one.

    on day two i set up where i will get content from. I already had in mind target readers

    Now i’m trying to promote the blog. i had never heard of SEO or such things.

    I tried to find my blog by typing in the url on google, but couldnt find it. I made a post to ask why in the google forum and i typed my url there. When i tried to find my blog on google yesterday, i couldnt find it, but the url appeared from the post in the google forum. Since then i have seen the trick.

    Post your url in ppls comments. Now i turn up on google quite well

    http://www.eventsincontext.com/

  42. SEO Tips 4 U says:

    Great article. I feel that great content should be part of the foundation for a great blog. However, in the world today, the most important aspect to success in almost any endeavor is “marketing” and this is true for blogs. You must be seen and heard.

    The old saying of “if a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound?” wholes true today. Yes, the tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest; but if no one is around at the time, the the sound goes unnoticed.

    You need people to read the blog. The content only helps a blog when people read the content; so great content is not needed for a successful blog; but it can really help.

  43. Reason says:

    I’d say you were reluctant to post this because it deals with a ‘make or break’ issue – talent. A lot of people, especially those in a position of encouraging others for a living, like you, might be averse to invoke the angel of talent because the perceived lack of it is so final. If a blogger is having a rough time, and they might be if they’re avidly reading the “how do i get popular” posts, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up when the specter of talent is raised. It can be easy to say “I don’t have any” and drop out of the race.

    Talent is real, and the mojo that manifests as a result pushes bloggers to the top. Hard work beats luck (and talent) 7 days a week, however. That’s the next post you should write – encouragement that tenacity is most important virtue.

  44. This is a great post Darren and honest. It’s really hard to say those things and might frustrate other bloggers. It’s like saying to us that “Successful bloggers are inborn”. I think what is important is how you love what you do. Let me give this inspiring quote:

    “The biggest mistake people make in life is not making a living at doing what they most enjoy.” – Malcolm S. Forbes (1919-1990)

  45. Prasanna S says:

    Rightly said, it needs something out of box to be a successful blogger, merely having good content and design may not help although its a second nature of a professional blog.

  46. Darren, Others being constant I think luck is most important factor which makes the difference. I know marketing is as important as content but luck is something which is the ultimate thing that can happen to anyone. Apart from it number of quality posting also shows some effect’s though content then decided whether the visitor will come again or not. Rest everything you have written is simply superb.

  47. Brutus says:

    Several have mentioned “passion” as an additional answer. I think passion is so important. A person with passion believes in his cause, believes in his ability and believes that he can help others. Such an attitude will come through in his writing.

    Passion also suggest that the blogger will keep writing regardless of the traffic simply because he believes his message is so important. That sort of dedication will soon pay big dividends.

  48. Chris Lang says:

    I identify with the “first break” reference.

    While I have broke five stories that will change the way the internet is used everyone of the is overlooked. I would like to ask you for an upcoming blog article about getting other major bloggers like TechCrunch, Cnet and Lifehacker to pick up you story.

    I will be the first to say that my writing is less that great and I more of a programmer than a writer. But five articles that should have had major blogger interest have been completely shunned.

    Got any recommendations for me anyone?

  49. gretzer says:

    I stick with pareto. 80% of my time i spend on writing quality content, 20% is for promotion, though your post makes me wonder, whether i should spend more time on working on my style and charisma.

  50. Eric says:

    I would add to your list:

    Persistence – you can’t win the race if you don’t stay in it. It’s easy to get discouraged when things go wrong. In order to be successful you have to make a commitment that you won’t give up no matter what. That doesn’t mean you have to be the best. It just means you have to keep trying, and continue to learn and improve as well as you can.

    Diplomacy – I think that an overly harsh, cruel, hateful writing style turns off readers.

    Enjoy yourself – If you have fun writing your blog, others will probably enjoy it too.