The 4 Pillars of Writing Exceptional Blogs

A+The following guest post has been submitted by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits.

Too often it seems that we bloggers get caught up in worrying about monetizing our blogs, or the design of the blog, or SEO techniques — but although it may sound trite, the major focus of our time should be on our writing.

I’m often asked how I got 12,000 readers for my blog, Zen Habits, and made it into the Technorati Top 500 in 5 months — other bloggers seem think I have some secret that I can impart upon them, but I don’t.

I follow the same advice given here on ProBlogger, and by many of the other top blogs: create valuable content and good writing, and the readers will come. Content is king, as they say, and that should be the focus of all your efforts.

I write about this topic more on NorthxEast, a new blog with great weekly articles for bloggers, but the key is to focus on your readers and give them what they want.

Why Not Much Else Matters

Are there other things that matter in creating a successful blog? Sure there are, but they don’t matter nearly as much as some people think they do. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • Design – While the look of your site may be attractive and very usable, you won’t attract any readers from design alone. You need to attract them with good content … and then hope your design doesn’t scare them away. But content is really what matters here. If the design isn’t great, but the content is insanely useful, they’ll come, and they’ll stay.
  • SEO – While I agree that SEO techniques can help, what matters most in SEO is getting links. If you don’t get a bunch of links, all the SEO optimization in the world won’t do you a bit of good. SEO really makes the biggest difference when the page in question has a bunch of links coming to it — SEO doesn’t change the ranking of a page with 1 inbound link. So how do you get those quality links? Great content, and nothing else.
  • Social media – Digg, Delicious, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Netscape … these kinds of sites can help your traffic tremendously. And sure, it helps to have friends and be active on these sites. But all of that doesn’t matter a lick if you don’t write a knock-out post.
  • Monetizing – All the monetizing in the world won’t get you a dime unless you get traffic, and that traffic won’t come until you start creating a destination site, with amazing content that attracts the readers and keeps them reading. In fact, a site with ads that aren’t optimized can make more money than a site with optimized ads if the traffic is much higher from great content.

Am I saying that none of this stuff matters? Again, these things are useful, but they are not nearly as important as the content.

Which leaves us with the question: how do you write great content? It’s actually very simple in concept, but takes a lot of practice to perfect. I’m still trying to perfect these things myself, but in general, there are four pillars of exceptional blogwriting:

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How To Write Excellent Blog Content – What We Wish We Knew

Writing-ContentThis post is part of the ‘What we wish I knew when I first started Blogging’ Series. Below I’ll share readers comments on the topic of Writing Good Blog Content as well as some of my own thoughts.

One of the most key aspects of any successful blog is the ability to create content that keeps drawing people back to your blog. I’ve written so many posts on this topic and know that ‘excellent blog content’ means something different on every blog – as a result I won’t pretend that what I write in this post will be a definitive guide to writing great blog content.

However I can tell you five things that I wish I knew in my early days of blogging about writing content (with a few links for further reading).

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier about Writing Content for a Blog

  1. The Power of Titles – the title has the ability make or break a blog post. It impacts how (and if) it’s found in search engines and social bookmarking sites, it influences whether people visit your blog in News Readers, it affects whether people leave a comment and is vital in whether people actually read what you have to say. Read more about using Titles Effectively on Blogs.
  2. The Viral Nature of Lists – a single well written list post can launch a blog to great heights in the blogosphere. While the prolific nature of lists in the blogosphere can also mean your lists get ignored, I find that when writing the same content as a list that you write as an essay like article the list will almost always get more attention. Read more about why lists are great for getting traffic to your blog.
  3. The Importance of Being Original - perhaps the best lesson that I ever learned as a bloggers was that people are drawn to others who speak their mind, who have something unique to say and who say it in a creative and fresh way. Say what everyone else is saying in the same way that everyone else is saying it and you’re almost guaranteed of being largely ignored. Read more about how to avoid joining the echo chamber and saying something original.
  4. The Value of Well Formated Content – people don’t read content on line in the same way that they read content in other mediums. Online readers tend to scan content. As a result if you place visual cues in your posts that draw the eye to important points you’ll find people stick with you longer into your posts. Read more on How to make your content Scannable
  5. The Impact of a Good Image - another simple technique for providing an additional point of interest in your posts is to provide something visual. I don’t use images in every post on this blog but find that when I do that those clicking through on the post in my feed reader increases. Images have the power to communicate in ways that words cannot – use them. Read more on Using images to make your posts POP in RSS feeds.

Reader Comments on Writing Excellent Blog Content

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Seasonal Traffic and How to Capture It for Your Blog

Don’t Miss Seasonal Opportunities on Your Blog for Spectacular Traffic. Read to the bottom of this post for an example of how I’ve used the same content three times in 18 months to generate 50,000 page views on one post.

One of the skills that I encourage bloggers to develop is to think ahead about what events might be coming up that will impact the niche that you’re writing about.

The web is a fairly rhythmic place and every year there are waves of activity across search engines and other websites that are quite predictable.

For example:

  • In November and December every year millions of people go online searching for gifts in the lead up to Christmas.
  • At Superbowl time people go online looking for the ads that were featured during the game.
  • Every Thanksgiving the numbers of searches for Turkey recipes go through the roof
  • During the Olympic games (every 2 years for Winter and Summer games) people go online searching for results and medal tallies.
  • At the end of American Idol’s season (and other localized versions) people head online searching for results, inside gossip and related information
  • Everytime a blockbuster movie is released people hit the seach engines looking for reviews

The list could go on… and on.

One tool for looking at what people are searching for at any given point in time is Google’s Hot Trends page which shows the latest popular searches.

However as bloggers wanting to capitalize on these mini frenzies of online activity around different topics a tool like Google Trends is limited in how useful it is. The problem with it is that it gives information on what people are searching for today and not what they’ll be searching for in a few weeks or months time.

You see, with 4th of July upon us, one of the keywords people are searching for online today is ‘fireworks’. It comes up 17 times in the top 100 list as I’m writing this (update – a few hours later fireworks appear in 38 of the top 100 terms). The term spikes on July 4 and at the end of the year (just before New Years) every year. Here’s Google’s Trends graph on the term ‘fireworks’ (click to enlarge in a new window).


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How to Keep Momentum Going on Your Blog with a ‘Points System’

Jason left a comment a couple of weeks ago on my previous post asking how many posts readers have posted on their blogs in a week that caught my attention.

In his comment Jason talks about a ‘points system’ which he’s developed for helping him to keep his blog achieving the momentum that he wants it to.

His daily goal is 50 points and different tasks get him different amounts of posts. I’ll let him explain (note – I’ve slightly reformatted his comments):

“I work full-time on the side as well. The way I get things done is by using a point system.

Some days I don’t feel like writing, some days I don’t feel like commenting, some days I don’t feel like networking, or whatever… I have to reach at least 50 points per day.

  • 10 points for a long blog post
  • 5 for a short one
  • 2 points for a comment on a blog I’ve commented on before
  • 5 points for commenting on a site I’ve never commented on before
  • 1 point per comment on my own blog
  • 10 points for installing a new module/plug-in, etc.

Works well for me. I think I may have created the system, or sub-consciously remember reading about such a thing somewhere.

I just know that the point system keeps production going while I also work a full-time job.”

What a great idea. I’m sure some readers will find it a little too complicated for their free flowing style – but if you’re in a dry patch and need a little self discipline, or like Jason have limited time to throw into your blog I think that this is a great plan.

I’m sure there are plenty of other tasks one could put on such a list. Here’s some off the top of my head (feel free to add more):

  • 2 points for emailing another blogger with a link to a relevant post
  • 3 points for an IM conversation with a blogger in your niche
  • 2 points for answering a reader’s question via email

What would you add?

My Weekend Blog Strategy

In my last post I asked ‘What do you do with your blog on the weekend?

Having asked the question I thought I’d give a quick answer myself to shed a little light on one strategy (of many) that I’ve been using.

I ask questions

You’ve probably noticed it if you’re regular reader of any of my blogs – but over the last few months I’ve decided to make the weekends less about me producing content and more about the community discussing an issue.

I don’t do it every weekend – but posing a question for readers to ponder seems to be working for me. There’s a few reasons (7) that I like it:

1. It Lengthens the Window for Conversation – here at ProBlogger I’m on a 2-4 posts per day posting schedule. The downside of posting more than once a day is that stories get pushed down the page reasonably quickly. This means that the conversation that is happening on a post has a real window where it happens before quickly dying off. Posting a question on the weekend gives a conversation space to happen and lengthens the window that it can happen in. When I post a reader question like this I try not to post anything else for at least 12-24 hours. The result it lots of participation.

2. Readers are in a Different Mindset on the Weekend – I know for myself that the weekend leaves me in a different frame of mind. I do things slower, I’m more interested in connecting with people, I’m more relaxed and willing to have conversation etc. This means conversational posts have a better chance on the weekend. Instead of just getting quick and blunt comments I notice comments left on the weekend are often longer and more thought through (of course there are always exceptions).

3. Increased Reader Community and Participation - I am becoming more and more convinced that when a reader participates regularly on a blog that they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and belonging to that blog. This means they’re more likely to comment again and keep on visiting. This is what I’m wanting to put more and more time into on my blogs – building communities around topics rather than just building my own perceived expertise. I want to build a community that is known for it’s expertise. The best way to build a true community is to give people a space to share, connect and learn together. Taking this approach on the weekend allows me to step back a little and the community to step up to the plate and show what it knows.

4. Increased Blog Stickiness - Visitor numbers tend to drop on my blogs (and they do for most websites and blogs that don’t have a specific weekend focus – such as sports blogs) however I’ve noticed that the page views per visitor tend to increase a little on the weekends. This might be partly as a result of readers being a little more willing to surf more pages as they have more time – but I also think it’s because of my reader questions and the way that that means more page views. For starters, just leaving a comment means at least two page views – but secondly, these discussions draw people back later in the weekend to see what others have written.

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How to Write Home Run Posts

HomerunThe following guest post was submitted by John Wesley who blogs at (feed) about motivation, productivity, and self improvement.

The Importance of Home Run Posts

Most of you are probably familiar with the Pareto Principal, also known as the 80/20 rule. The rule states that 80% of results come from 20% of causes. In blogging this rule is even more extreme (probably 95/5) because of social media. A great post that goes viral, makes the front page of Digg, and is picked up by a top blogger, will easily receive 20 times more traffic, back links, and RSS subscribers than a post that’s merely very good.

Home run posts grow your blog rapidly so it’s important to do everything you can to take a post from good to great. This goes against the popular opinion that short frequent posts are the best strategy. This might work well for blogs that already have a sizable readership, but if you’re just starting out you’ll need to do more to make an impact. This means providing significant value.

What Makes a Home Run Post?

Home run posts come in all shapes and sizes but they tend to share a few important qualities.
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8.9 Posts Per Week – Too Many? Not Enough?

Over the weekend I asked ProBlogger readers to tell us how many posts they’d written on each of their blogs last week.

142 comments were left referring to a total of 181 blogs. Here are a few of the figures:

  • The average number of posts that bloggers posted to each blog was 8.9 for the week.
  • The most common response was 5 posts for the week (27 blogs had this number of posts – or 15%).
  • 50% of blogs had 6 or less posts posted to them (and 50% had 7 or more posts over the week – or 1 post per day)

Here’s how things look when we graph them. The bottom axis is the number of posts written and the left axis is how many blogs had this many posts.

Note: I’ve excluded a couple of the responses because they didn’t give enough detail on a blog by blog basis.

An observation
My initial reaction to the figures was that it fit pretty closely with what I’d expected. The average blogger is able to get around 1 post out per day (or at least per weekday).

However my curious little mind automatically wonders what would happen if we did a similar survey on a list of more prominent and successful blogs? On previous occasions I’ve spent time surfing through the Technorati Top 100 to find out how often they post per day. On one occasion I found that the top 50 posted around 20 times per day (140 times per week) and on another found that the top 10 posted an average of 30 posts per day (210 times per week).

If someone’s got time to do a more recent survey of how many times they post I’d love to see it – but I suspect that the graph would look quite different to the one above – with a much higher average and a shape that had a higher proportion of blogs at the right hand end of the graph.

What is the optimal number of posts per week?

By no means am I suggesting that post frequency is the key to successful blogging. There are many factors that come into play when we analyze successful blogs.

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The Most Important Tip For Better Writing

Glen Stansberry is the author of the blog LifeDev (feed). Check out LifeDev for other tips about productivity and life improvement.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Becoming a better writer is the best thing you can do to improve your blog’s readership and traffic. Not how many buttons you have for easy submission to social services, not detailed SEO optimization, and certainly not gimmicky headlines that are created to tempt potential readers into reading your article. All of these things do have some effect on getting people to your blog, but if they don’t like what they’re reading, they’re sure-as-shootin’ not going to come back. It’s all about the content.

Good writers have an advantage on traffic because their readers come back every time they write a new article. Many blog readers are also bloggers, so they in turn link to the posts. The more links a blog has, the higher its posts rank in search engines, and the blog receives even more traffic. Not only that, compelling content gives readers a reason to submit to social sites like Digg and (regardless of whether or not you have those handy buttons).

So how does one define a good writer? At the very least a decent writer can construct sentences that show at least a 3rd grade reading level. (While this is a rather facetious statement, I have come across a couple blogs that don’t meet this standard. Hopefully the authors really were 2nd graders.)
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Blogging Tips: Writing Purposeful Content

The following is a guest post by and an excerpt from her popular book, Blogging Tips, Tips Bloggers Won’t Tell You About Blogging.

Writing with keyword-rich content helps your blog be found and readers to fully understand what you are writing about. Write consistent and purposeful content.

The more inline your content is with your blog’s purpose, the more concentrated your use of keywords will be throughout the entire blog, not just on a per-post basis. The more diverse your blog’s content, the more diffused your keyword usage will be across all of your blog.

Make a plan for your content. Make lists of the topics you will write about in keeping with your blog’s purpose. Stick to those subjects as much as possible to build your blog’s reputation as the place to come for answers on those subjects.

What Are The Benefits Of A Focused Blog?

  • Content is synonymous with the subject.
  • Links are synonymous with the subject.
  • It builds a reputation.
  • It builds authority.
  • It becomes a destination.
  • It becomes a source.

Your Blog’s Content Labels Your Blog

If your blog tells more stories about your life than reports on the news and world around you, then it’s a personal journal or memoir. If your blog reports and comments on politics, it’s a political blog. If it has more reviews of products and services than other content, it’s a review blog. If it has more photographs than text, it’s a photoblog. If it has more music than text and pictures, then it’s a music blog. If it has more video than music, text, and pictures, then it’s a video blog, vid-blog or v-blog. If your blog has more ads than content, it’s in the business of blogging.

The majority of the content on your blog indicates the purpose of your blog. When labeling your blog, take a serious look at its content. As your blog evolves, the value of your blog comes from the content you build over time.

Readers Thrive On Consistency And Continuity

If you create an expectation of content on your blog, readers return expecting to find similar content. If you switch one week from blogging about grooming pets to blogging about grooming horses, you have set an expectation that your blog is about grooming animals. If you switch from grooming dogs to racing cars, readers are thrown off and their expectations aren’t met. The odds are they will not return for more.

It used to be said that predictability was boring. In blogging, predictability builds return customers. They know you are the expert on this subject and that you are the source for information. Meet their expectations when they return.

Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on and the , and is the author of Blogging Tips, Tips Bloggers Won’t Tell You About Blogging.