Today I want to suggest an exercise that has the potential to improve your blogging profoundly if you build it into your daily routine.
Look at another blog
Here’s what I do every day
I choose a blog and then spend 5-10 minutes reviewing it. My aim is not to ‘consume’ it as a reader…. but rather to review it with the view of learning about blogging.
What I’ve found is that my spending 5-10 minutes every day looking at another blog in this way that I learn so much! In fact I’ve learned so much over the last few months that last week in my team meetings I’ve introduced the idea of us doing this as a group – each week we’ll review a blog to see what we can learn.
The objective is not to do these reviews to copy what others are doing – but rather I find in looking at other blogs I often find inspiration and insight for my own blogs. The learnings cover a wide range of areas – from design, to product ideas, to content, to increasing engagement, to use of social media, to marketing etc.
Let me dive a little deeper into how I do it:
Choosing a Blog to Review
I review a blog every week day so over a year I’m potentially reviewing 260 blogs so I don’t have a single criteria for choosing which blog I’ll review.
When I started doing this a few months ago I started doing it mainly with photography blogs (those in my own niche) but I’ve since moved outside my niche too. While it is great to know what competitors in your niche are doing there’s a much to learn by going beyond it too.
Not only do I mix up the niche but I’m also trying to mix up the size of the blog. There’s a lot to learn from the biggest blogs who have lots of readers, staff, developers, professional designs etc – but you can learn a lot from medium and smaller blogs too.
Also I like to keep my eye open for those blogs that are up and coming – those that seem to burst onto the scene quickly – because these blogs are often doing something new or innovative.
Lastly I like to try to mix up the style of blogs. While I mainly focus upon creating ‘how to’ content blogs I also regularly review blogs that focus more upon ‘news’, ‘reviews’, ‘personal’, ‘opinion’, ‘entertainment’ etc.
So if you’re just starting to do daily reviews – do start with blogs in your niche – but mix it up too, and you’ll discover a lot that you can apply in your own blogging.
Tips on Conducting Your Review
I don’t have a set routine for reviewing the blogs that I look at, but there are a number of things that I tend to do.
I usually start by viewing the blog on my desktop computer which has a nice, wide, 27-inch display. However I also try to view the blog on my iPad and phone which is often quite illuminating from a design viewpoint.
I generally will start by reviewing the front page of the blog and pay particular attention to my first impression and feelings about the site (first impressions are often lasting ones), but will always dig around deeper into the site and review ‘posts’ (both recent and those in the archives) and also any ‘pages’ (about page, advertising page, contact page, etc).
Questions to Ask As You Review
There are a variety of areas that you can review when looking at another blog. I tend to break things down into the following areas and find myself asking questions like those that follow.
Note: I don’t ask all of these questions every time I do a review – but I hope by presenting them you’ll get a feel for what directions you can explore.
- what voice/s are they writing in?
- what is their posting frequency?
- how long are the posts that they write?
- what type of posts are they majoring on (information, inspiration, engagement, news, opinion, etc)?
- what style and medium of posts are they using (lists, imagery, video, podcasts, etc)?
- what blend of original vs curated content are they using?
- what topics/categories are they majoring on?
- what type of headlines/titles formulas do they use?
- do they use multiple authors/guest posters or a single writer?
- how do they engage readers?
- what calls to action do they use and what is being responded to?
- what type of posts get the most comments, shares, likes?
- do they use tools like polls, surveys, quizzes or other engagement triggers?
- what social media sites are they using and how they using them for engagement/community building?
- do they have a newsletter – how do they incentivise signups? What type of content do they send?
- how much do the writers of the blog engage in comments?
- do they have a dedicated community area? (forum, membership etc)?
- do they have ‘discussion’ posts or ‘assignments’ or ‘projects/challenges’ that give readers something to DO?
- where do they seem to be putting most of their energy in terms of generating readership (social, guest posting, media etc)?
- which social media sites are they primarily using for outreach and what are they doing their?
- what type of content seems to be being shared the most on their site?
- how do they try to ‘hook’ new readers once they’ve arrived (newsletter, social, RSS etc)?
- what type of reader is this blog attracting?
- how does the blog rank on Alexa? What does Alexa say about sources of traffic, type of reader that the blog has?
- how are they monetizing?
- if advertising, what advertisers are they working with directly?
- are they using an ad network like AdSense?
- how many ads are they showing per page?
- where are they positioning ads on their pages?
- what size ads do they offer advertisers?
- do they have an advertiser page? Do they publish their rates, traffic or other interesting information on it? Do they have a media kit? What is their main selling point to advertisers?
- if selling products – what type of products seem tot be selling the most?
- what can you learn from the way they market their products?
- what affiliate programs/products are they promoting?
- do they offer premium paid content or community areas on their blog?
- do they have a disclaimer/privacy page? What can you learn from it about how they monetize?
- what layout do they use?
- what navigation/menu items do they have?
- what first impressions does their design give? What is the first thing they seem to be calling people to DO when arriving?
- have they used a designer or blog template for their blog?
- how do they communicate what their blog is about (do they have a tag line)?
- how are they using their front page? Is it a traditional blog format, portal or something else?
- what do they have in their sidebar?
- do they have a ‘hello bar’ at the top of their site? What are they using it for?
- what do they put in ‘hot zones’ on the blog (above the fold), below posts, etc?
- what type of blogging tool do they seem to use?
- what can you observe about their approach to SEO?
- what kind of commenting technology do they use?
- what widgets and tools do they have that make the reader experience more interesting?
- how do they use images in posts?
- what’s their logo like?
- what colours are they using in their design?
- how do they highlight ‘social proof’ in their design?
- do they have an app?
- is their design responsive to mobile/tablets?
- do they use any techniques to increase page views?
- do they have an email newsletter?
- if so – how are they driving people to signup? Popups, forms, hello bar etc?
- are they incentivising signups with something free?
- signup for the newsletter and watch what kinds of emails they send. Is it an auto responder or more timely broadcasts?
- what social media accounts do they promote on their blog?
- how are they promoting their social media accounts?
- are there social media mediums that they are ignoring?
- which type of social media seems most active/important to them?
- where are they getting most engagement?
- how often are they updating their accounts? what times of day seem to get most engagement?
- what techniques are they using on social that seem to get most engagement and build community?
- what techniques are they using on social to drive traffic?
- what techniques are they using with social to monetize?
- what feedback is this blog getting from readers on social? What are they known for (both positive and negative)?
Other Questions to Ponder
- are there opportunities to network or partner with this blog/blogger?
- do they accept guest posts – could you write with them?
- do they have products that you could promote as an affiliate?
- do you have a product that they could promote as an affiliate?
- if they are in your niche – what ‘gaps’ in their content could you be filling in your own blog?
- what are they doing poorly that might provide you with an opportunity to have a competitive advantage?
- what are they doing well that you’re not doing to the best of your ability?
What would you add?
The above list is not something I systematically work through for every blog that I look at – rather it is the type of questions I find myself asking as I review a blog and might be useful as a starting point for you to work from.
I’m sure there are other areas you could dig into further and I’d love to hear your suggestions in comments below.
Learn From The Actions of Others
Let me finish by coming back to the motivation for doing blog reviews like this.
What I’m NOT suggesting is that you review other blogs to simply steal other peoples ideas and replicate what they do.
What I AM suggesting is that you will learn a heap by looking at how others blog.
It might sounds odd coming from a guy writing a blog about blogging but I think you’ll actually learn as much – if not more – by doing the above exercise each day than by filling your RSS reader full of blog tips blogs. There’s only so much theory you need to hear – much more can be learned by watching people practice their craft.
A side note about Blogs about Blogging: The reality is that most ‘blog tips blogs’ are written by bloggers whose most successful blog is a ‘blog tips blog’. While this doesn’t discount them as people to listen to, it’s worth keeping in mind as you ponder their teaching and calls to purchase what they sell.
It also strikes me that the vast majority of successful bloggers going around are quietly going about building amazing blogs and not broadcasting their tips and learnings. Their focus is building their blogs – not teaching others how to blog. While it’d be great to get inside their heads the great thing is that almost everything they do is live on their blogs for all to see – hence the opportunity in spending time learning by watching what they do.
My Challenge to You
For the next week, review a blog every day. It need not include every question above – but put aside 10 or so minutes each day over the next week to look at another blog and see what you can learn.
I dare you! It could just be the most valuable 70 minutes of blogging learning you ever have!
If you take the challenge, I’d love to hear in comments below what you learn!