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The Secret to Blog Popularity

This guest post is by Ankesh Kothari of SuccessNexus.com.

Psychologist Antonius Cillessen of the University of Connecticut wondered how kids became popular. So he started researching social behaviors and peer relations of early adolescent kids in American schools. And he found something very interesting.

He found that every school had a bunch of very friendly kids who are socially accepted and liked by everyone. But they are never considered popular.

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The kids who are considered popular are often just as friendly as these universally liked kids, but with one difference. The popular kids draw a boundary around themselves, and exclude a few “outcasts” from their circle.

Professor Antonius found that you can’t become popular unless you learn to exclude. He stumbled onto a truth that Chinese philosopher Confucius had described years earlier:

“Build small community and thousands will want to join.” – Confucius

It’s a truth high-end clubs have realized too. The harsher they are in excluding people from entering their premises, the more popular they get. Facebook grew when Friendster and other social sites didn’t. Why? because of their initial exclusivity—they only allowed folks with a .edu email address to sign up.

Apple. Rolex. Rivendell bikes. All of them are insanely popular because they focus on only one type of an audience and exclude others.

If you want to make your blog popular, you too have to learn to exclude. You shouldn’t cater to everyone. Only by creating exclusivity can you get the crowds to clamor for what you offer.

Creating exclusivity

  1. Decide who your ideal reader is. What is their one characteristic that you value above everything else? What are their peculiarities. What do they love? What do they hate? (Or if not hate, what are they indifferent towards?)
  2. Draw a boundary around yourself based on what your ideal reader loves and hates. Exclude writing posts on certain topics and catering to a certain group of people.
  3. Let the world know (from your about page or your sidebar) who you are excluding and why.

I used this process to create a sense of exclusivity around my own blog. The first thing I did when I started out was to focus on who my ideal readers would be. I zeroed in on people who would take action without making excuses, and who have achieved some success already and are hungry for more.

I know that if I can help my readers’ blogs grow, my site will grow automatically. And so I only wanted to focus on readers who are willing and able to put in the work to take action and grow their blogs.

That’s why I focused on excluding two types of audiences that are slow or inconsistent in taking action:

  1. Beginners: people who just don’t have the skillset or the resources yet to implement things and take action.
  2. Hot news chasers: folks who get excited by every shiny new thing that comes out and waste their time jumping from one thing to the next.

On the About page of my blog, I clearly mention that the above the kinds of audiences are not welcome.

The added benefit of this declaration is that it polarizes my audience to my liking. The beginners and hot news chasers go somewhere else. Meanwhile, the action-takers realize that there won’t be a lot of fluff on my blog, and subscribe in higher numbers.

Action points

  • How can you become popular? Simple: don’t serve everyone.
  • Target the right people. Don’t write for everyone.
  • Mention on your about page: which topics you will never cover, and which people you will never cater to.
  • Be choosy and selective, and your fame and influence will grow.

Have you tried this approach on your blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments.

Ankesh Kothari is the founder of SuccessNexus.com—an affiliate management application for blogs and forums. He also runs the Advanced Internet Marketing Strategy blog—which you should not visit if you’ve just started blogging or didn’t find value in this post.

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Comments

  1. You’re preaching to the choir with this one Mr. Problogger.

    I loved it. That is all!

    • Sam says:

      I loved it too. He can explain complex solutions in simple ways.

    • When you think about it, blogs are really kind of egotistical. You have to think pretty highly of yourself to assume other people want to hear what you have to say day after day.

  2. Jeffrey Kang says:

    Ah I see. The key to blog popularity is exclusivity and staying on topic or on-niche if you will. Of course, it helps to have done some solid keyword research.

    • I will exclude those people who don’t know to laugh,who cares to categories all thing all the time,who takes blogging always seriously.Ha ha,I love to write about everything that makes blogging simple and beauty,I love to cater for everybody who has nothing.I love to write for newbies as they are most confused people at the beginning.

      Anyway thanks for this post,nor I can’t discover my category or can’t make my exclusion list.Have a great day.

  3. Annie Sisk says:

    I’m all for carefully defining your targeted reader/ideal client, and for nicheing your business, but this kind of “exclusivity” is both incredibly transparent and inherently dangerous. I can’t agree it’s a good idea at all.

    • Same here. I mean, isn’t that kind of counter-intuitive to Problogger who wants to help EVERYONE out there? Exclusivity is a dangerous method to use in the blogosphere.

      • Chris says:

        It’s exclusively helping bloggers….. not just anybody. Some people follow blogs, some people write them. This is helping the latter! So thanks.

    • Thanks Annie for your comment.

      Not sure how it is inherently dangerous – but yes, it is transparent. Thats the idea. Most people define their ideal reader. But do nothing to let them know. Which is where most of the advantage is lost.

      The velvet rope works. The clubs that don’t like the idea of excluding anyone from their premises – they always seem to be doing worse. So its my opinion that not excluding is inherently dangerous than excluding.

  4. Vago Damitio says:

    Great post Ankesh. It’s something that we probably all know from watching The Social Network, but I love the way you bring it around to our blogs and then give specific action points to implement the strategy. I think this is where a lot of bloggers have failed, I’m one of them. With Vagobond.com I started to earn some money and then when the money kept coming in, I gradually found myself catering to the affiliates and the advertisers and before I knew it, my loyal readers started finding somewhere else to be loyal too. They liked (and like again) Vagobond because I’m a bit of an asshole that tells it like it is. Not this version of travel that says ‘Travel is wonderful, you should travel, in fact you should buy your tickets here’ but instead posts like ‘Paris is a Whore’ which was, by the way, talking about the city not the socialite.

    When I realized that I was catering to everyone at the expense of those I truly valued (and who valued me) I began the process of cleaning house of the insipid and the non-polarizing. It’s a work in progress, but already, I’m starting to see old friends return and making some new ones too. It’s a club for people who realize that out of 24 hours of travel, 20 of them probably aren’t as good as being at home.

    Thanks again for a great post. ~Vago

    • Thanks Vago :)

      I think this is a brilliant insight:
      “It’s a club for people who realize that out of 24 hours of travel, 20 of them probably aren’t as good as being at home.”

      Best of luck to you in telling it how it is. And sharpening your personality instead of dulling it to meet the lowest common denominator.

  5. I’m sorry – normally I dont comment unless I have some possitiv saying. But this post is bullshit.

    • Thanks. Could you please elaborate as to how it rubbed you the wrong way?

    • It did not rub me the wrong way at all, I just think it was totally out of order – and leading people the wrong way around. People do not want to join exclusivity communities any more. There is so much more to offer out there. And if it gets to complicated to get in, people will find other sources. You can link it to night clubs in Europe. Many clubs try to make members only, and after a few month then will eventually open op for the crowd – and if they are lucky, a few will visit the club afterwards. But the club will never be a success. This is just my personal point of view, and you can disagree or not. But I think people should take your advise with caution.

  6. Thanks for an excellent article. This might be the key to resolving the biggest problem I currently face on my Madison real estate blog “Lake & City Views”, the fact that the vast majority of commenters are Realtors rather than buyers and sellers of real estate.

  7. SLee says:

    I told my wife that the secret to popularity is, per this article, to exclude people. Her response: “Duh.” Apparently this strategy is already known by some of the cool kids. Not being one of them, I’m curious to see how this will impact my blog’s popularity.

  8. Marko Polo says:

    I think this is a great point. ‘Excluding people’ is a term that shouldn’t be used too rigorously though, It’s more – who does this blog cater for? Rather than who can I tell not to read this. Not trying to please anybody helps, you’ll never please everybody, so pleasing yourself is a good start!

  9. patrick says:

    Fantastic strategy! Exclusion is definitely an element that will help increase blog popularity.

    Website’s that focus on every little topic often end up not being able to provide much value because they are too fragmented.

    By having a strong focus on a certain group of topics and sticking to it while excluding those that won’t create the value you seek will create a much stronger following of devoted readers and loyal customers.

  10. Jenni says:

    This is a very interesting concept and really makes sense. Thanks for sharing!

  11. PsychicJim says:

    Nice point of view on the strategy of inclusion/exclusion.
    It reminds me of the Member ship Site Business Model.

  12. InfoMention says:

    I guess this is only half of the grand picture. In long run no community will servive with “exclusiveness”. It may be a strategy to start with but if one wants to be global they have to drop it later on. Facebook would die if they remain “exclusive”. Apple would not last if they exclude people with windows liking and so on. Your idea of exclusiveness make some sense only when the service or product you are selling has a mass appeal. If you are already serving only bunch of “special” people then “exclusivity” has no meaning at all. I personally feel that there is no thumb rule for making a blog popular. However one is free to try anything with some “educated guess” in order to get success.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      I don’t think mass appeal is at odds with exclusivity. The entire world wants to drive a Ferrari because it is exclusive.

      Facebook has a whole team to “exclude” spammers and pushy marketers. If they didn’t have features in place to keep the extremely pushy marketers away – they wouldn’t be doing as well.

      The point is not to exclude the majority of the world and only focus on a small core group. The point is to exclude people to make your own blog better for the ones you do include.

  13. Great post. It is just one more benefit of having a focused niche! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Sam Mangum says:

    This post could be extremely dangerous to the person who doesn’t comprehend the entire picture behind building a successful online business. In my opinion, being exclusive is a very good idea, however when you put it in the words of “you can’t read this site if…” could either extremely word well for you, or it would kill your business/blog quicker than it started.

    It is a good post if you understand the big picture. The big picture is once you have reached success, you then open your blog up to new communities and embark on new visitors and audience members. I completely understand it but I hope others understand it as well.
    (at least it starts a great conversation) lol

    • :) Thanks Sam

      Actually – you can’t read this site line in the bio is a gimmick. A bit of reverse psychology. My experience has been that it doesn’t turn anyone off. Just makes them more curious to click.

      But you make a good point: not to go over board.

  15. Janet says:

    well no wonder i wasn’t popular. I accepted the HS losers in my social circle. :/

  16. Someone else called exclusivity the “red velvet rope.” While I agree with you that the strategy works, I’m not crazy about the implementation. I won’t be spelling out in my About page who I don’t write for, as that would inadvertently let in the ones who need things explained to them.

    Here’s what I’m wondering: If I comment on blogs/blog topics that I personally choose not to write about, e.g. parenting/theology/what have you, am I misleading readers who then visit my blog expecting it to be along those lines? Should I extend my red velvet rope around my comments as well? I’d hate to do that, as my interests do encompass a much wider field. I just don’t have the passion to blog about those topics.

    • Not really. Commenting is like conversing.

      You can and should comment on topics that you have something to add to. Even if you never write about those topics on your blog.

  17. Jim Wagner says:

    This is absolute genius. Great insight. And another reason to be genuine, authentic and never try to please everyone with what you say and write.

  18. MARY says:

    Guess I would rather be friendly and likeable then popular-

  19. Marie Noelle says:

    That’s interesting! I’ve never even thought about why the popular ones in high school were popular but it’s true, they were excluding some people and I guess that could be done in the blogging world as well… I’ll definitively think about it, even if I’m sure I would feel bad to exclude people… (let’s all be friend!!!)

  20. It does open a can of worms by reading this article. Excluding people might not always work in favor of the writer, it can mean some negative feeling all around the blog, creating a sort of criticism in the air. The reason for exclusion can be a deciding factor on whether your blog gets “excluded” from the world of blogging. I am not sure if this is a right approach. But then, these are my thoughts.

  21. I love the idea of mentioning people you won’t service. It’s true: not every blog is for everybody. Making it clear from the beginning what you cover and what you don’t eliminates a lot of haters and draws in a lot of great people.

  22. Small is the new big? That popped into my hairless melon – but I think it does apply. When we had our Real estate search unlocked for all to use without needing to register, we did not get a huge number of appointments. When we started to lock everyone out and require people to register to use our search system – our appointments went up 65%… Go figure.. Sometimes, it pays to be a bit “untouchable”. Especially when you have a better product or service…

  23. Hi Ankesh,

    I took a similar approach to my FB sites recently.

    I prevented any of my fans from posting on my Fan Page. They are there for my viewpoint anyway. That’s why they are fans. I noted a jump in Likes quite quickly. Become more exclusive, become more desirable. Of course, you need to back this up with something that makes people want what you have to offer. Put up fences to entry, offer little value, and you have fewer readers or fans.

    As for my blog I don’t so much exclude people. I simply tell them what I am about, and what to expect for my blog. As for my home based opp I tell them exactly what it is, and isn’t. This clarity helps send people who don’t believe in the concept on their way, and attracts interested parties to me.

    Thanks for sharing your insight.

    Ryan

  24. That was a good point discussed. Focusing on everyone would end up as focusing on none.

  25. That’s right, buddy. Targeting your readers is the best way on how to build popularity.

    I remembered what Donald Trump said in his famous book, Trump University: Marketing 101
    “If you think everyone is your customer, then no one is your customer”.

    Position you target readers, and you will find success :)

    • I agree with your quote. But there is a big difference in knowing your targeted market and tailoring your service to them and in excluding all the others you believe not to be part of the game.
      to be successful you need to know your audience but let people decide if they want to be part of that group. In other words: Target the right niche but allow people to adjust to that group to fit in and join.

  26. Daniel says:

    At first I thought ” Where is this article heading”? After having a good read, this approach makes sense. By this I mean that, most people are probably already being a little exclusive, though, have not really payed much attention to it. Something Bloggers are told constantly, is to go after your ” target Audience”.
    This would involve some degree of refining, with regards to everything they do to gain visitors, and to build their own community(Tribe).

  27. Anu says:

    Ah.. okay. But that’s like applying a filter to everything you want to say to focus on your “ideal reader”. Isn’t it like losing a part of who you are just to be popular? After all, a blog reflects who you are in a lot of ways. I mean you will modify your opinions on something just to match them with those of your ideal reader. Like Ryan Biddulph said, I think one should simply & honestly mention what one is about without really excluding anyone. Interested parties will come in and those who don’t believe in what you say or dislike what you write will stay away automatically.

    • Thanks Anu.

      As the saying goes: “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”

      The point is to not to exclude every other topic under the sun and become boring. The point is to exclude certain things that adversely affect you. Make a stand.

  28. sibin says:

    I think blog communities will improve our blogs popularity.There are lot of sites available to promote our blogs…

  29. Hey Ankesh,

    I like your thoughts on how to grow a community. I see that you have two main points: targeting the right niche of people and excluding others.

    Targeting the right niche to serve and truly be of value to I can totally agree with. You need to be clear about what the main focus for your blog is before you start. Know whom you write for and get all the data possible about that group before you start. Then sit down and create the kind of value your targeted group asks for. This will take you a long way to success.

    But, and I’m sorry about that, I can’t see excluding others as a practical blogging strategy. You are right that you should state what your blog is about, what you are trying to accomplish and whom you are trying to help (even how you mean to do so) somewhere on your blog / website. But than you need to let the reader decide if they want to be part of it or not.

    Even if i’m among the “cool kids” allowed on a platform I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I’m only here because I’m allowed to – not because I’m wanted and cared for. As a customer, client or reader I’d get lost instantly and find myself a place where I’m as welcome as anyone else.
    Filtering your community can be done by choosing your topic, the way you present your info.
    Good examples of such a positive and inviting approach are Problogger or MichaelHyatt.com who’s blog I’m returning to almost daily at moment.

    The strategy I propose is inviting anyone willing to listen to you and interested in your topic to be part of your community. This might be the longer road to take but the outcome is a lot more consistent.

    • Thanks Philipp.

      I don’t see that we disagree by a lot.

      I certainly don’t mean you physically block someone from visiting your website. The way you exclude people on a blog is as you said: you state what your blog is about.

      The only addition I make is: you should also state what your blog isn’t about.

      • Then it might just be a misunderstanding. To me telling straight out what you blog about (and what you don’t blog about) is not really “excluding”. This is only informative. I thought you meant that you’d literally exclude people from your blog – in a way not let them access the info etc.

        I’m with Stephen below. having used the word “focus” would’ve been more clear and probably more to the point – on the other hand not as effective.

        Don’t get me wrong. I appreciated your article as it is thought provoking.

  30. This is interesting for sure and it has to do with human psychology. People want what they can’t have because it has a higher perceived value that something that is readily available.

    I’m not sure exclusion is an accurate term, however, as that makes one think of directly excluding people rather than passively as you described. I would suggest maybe the word focus is more relevant – in that you focus on one type of person. I understand that focus doesn’t have the shock value of “exclude”… so maybe it was a tactical decision on your part.

    Anyways, I enjoyed this! Thanks.

    • Thanks Stephen. Good point.

      You draw a circle. Everything outside the circle is excluded. Everything inside the circle – thats what you focus on.

      So keeping aside the language semantics – the main point is – draw the circle.

  31. sokun says:

    For me the secret to blog popularity has a lot to do with luck and also what you’re like in real life. If you’re popular in real life then you should be when blogging too.

    • I have to disagree. The wonderful thing about blogging is it gives us all (even the unpopular kids) an even playing field. Jocks and nerds have the same potential…except we nerds might know how to write more effectively…and we have better computer skills, but other than that, we all have the same potential.

      Seriously, though, in my humble opinion, finding your topic and keeping your posts SEO friendly without abandoning that topic are king. Of course, I tip my hat to the author and realize that creating a kind of exclusivity may be an effective means of growing a solid base of readers, but I also have to point out that maintaining your exclusivity for too long is an effective way to make your blog stagnant (green, fuzzy algea and all!).

      For example, in the author’s case, when a beginner sees that his site is not intended for them, they may walk away and never come back. The problem is that they are his future target audience. So, when you are dealing with this type of situation, you have to walk the fine line between excluding them now and inviting them back later. That’s that pretty tough line to stay on.

      Just my opinion, though. :)

  32. Hey Ankesh thank you very much for the blog post that you have written here. I think there is even more to be said about this topic, but for the people that are just starting out, it’s perfect!

  33. jezza101 says:

    Nice idea, but as always, no one approach fits all.

    Wikipedia is of course the obvious example.

    A site that has promoted open access since day one – you don’t even need a login to access or edit. Didn’t hold their growth back!

    Scarcity has been used to manipulate in marketing since year dot (it’s not a secret, is it?) and can be affective. As can other techniques.

    • Wikipedia excludes too.
      It excludes peoples entries if they don’t provide citation.
      It excludes or deletes pages whose only purpose is to praise something or abuse something without merit.
      And because it excludes such sort of behavior – it is a better place.

  34. Chris Kahler says:

    I do agree with this general point of this. It can be altered a little too, your actions are simply guidelines that many who may disagree have yet to understand.

    For example, a lot of copywriting acutally benefits from this reverse psychology of exclusivity, using phrases like “Don’t Read This If You Are A Loser At Making Money”.. that was just an example, but you get the point.

    The fact is true that we want to be included where we aren’t allowed for some reason. I wouldn’t go as far as to tell visitors they aren’t welcomed though, you can always let them in IF they decide to catch up to your standards and are interested in becoming the experts YOU want them to be.

    The trick is to define your true audience, tell everyone who is and who isn’t, then whip up some resources to provide the ones who are not your typical people that can help to get them to that point.

    Everyone begins somewhere, and even if you can’t teach them to a point where they ARE your perfect audience, you could at least point them in the correct direction and let time plus their own eagerness eventually draw them back to you for your more advanced teachings.

    But, all in all for those who do understand the point of your post, it is a very useful way of segregating your audience, which marketers who are competent do understand. Not everyone is the same and not every person will assist your blog’s growth the same. Your actions are a good place to start, and others here should realize that they can be altered to fit their personal style.

    Take care,
    Chris

  35. So my question is: is your blog popular by following this approach? These ideas you mentioned, in my opinion, have a 5-15% – no more, in making your blog popular! There are a lot of other ways and a better approach to follow and consider in your blog in order to attract more readers! A more practical than theoretical ways.

  36. Todd says:

    Awesome post. I’ve also found that your content help to put you in a position. If the content is right, then you could be in an authority in that small group (positioning).

  37. Glynis Jolly says:

    Ankesh,
    This was an interesting post. It hadn’t dawned on me to actually ‘verbalize’ my boundaries. Interesting concept.

  38. Tom Ewer says:

    I like this article. One thing is true in life – you can never cater to everyone. If you are trying to create blog that is open to all, then it will be awfully generic and probably interesting to no one.

  39. Amit says:

    Great post to buddy & awesome tips you mentioned in this post. I love it thnx so much for sharing this with all of us. Keep Rocking!!

    Thnx
    Amit

  40. Jason says:

    Be choosy, don’t write for everyone, cover certain topics. So in other words, write a niche blog.

  41. Rita says:

    I write for consumers, focusing on baby boomers. For many years, I wrote for senior consumers. These are broad categories.

    Rita, blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  42. Bon Crowder says:

    Thank you so much! I’ve been inclined to keep all readers (homeschoolers, parents, teachers and tutors) to make it “open to everyone.” But I’ve been feeling awkward about this since the beginning.

    You’ve just gave me permission to isolate. I’m really geared toward parents – both homeschoolers and afterschoolers. So I’m just going to SAY THAT!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m free!

  43. Leonie says:

    Great post! Interesting connection to teenage popularity… Ability to exclude = popularity. It’s so true… Along the same lines as the idea that if you want to be successful be comfortable with not making everyone happy. :)