Five Principles to Better Blogging

It’s been about a year since I started doing various online experiments with blogging. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve come to believe is true about blogging after this year of field work, testing and throwing stuff at walls to see what sticks.

First principle: You get out what you put in.

Blogging really is a situation where you need to be actively generating new content at least three times a week, as well as commenting on others’ blogs and cultivating and seeking out new contacts and connections.  If you can’t do this regularly, on a regular schedule that readers come to expect, you will have to accept your traffic is going to be weak and your page counts low.

Relationships between sites and authors are also much more immediately useful and helpful to your hit counts than search engines. Gaining affiliates is critical – and it’s important that the affiliates are in the same psychological vein of content as yourself.  People will be interested in your content if you’re interested in theirs – and if you connect with a site that covers the same topic you do, you both win because audiences may migrate between sites.

Second principle: You can’t predict what’s going to fly.

People may be able to argue this one, but my experience  is that what makes a post go viral is really random chance.  You can SEO-sculpt, keyword stuff and massage your content to tweak search engine results all day long, but at the end of the day nobody really knows how to make viral happen.

Those that do claim to are lying, dishonest, or using methods that are lying or dishonest to force a meme unnaturally.

What people on the Internet will find worthy of talking about, interesting, funny, or sharable is a mystery and utterly dependent on both context and the whims of the moment.  As we’ve seen with cases like Rebecca Black, sometimes the reason you become successful isn’t even to do with how good your content is.

Third principle: Blogging is not about you.

Let me clarify – it is highly unlikely (unless one of your posts goes viral; see principle the second) that anyone apart from maybe family and close friends is going to be terribly interested in the details of your personal life. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing about yourself in a blog, and there’s nothing wrong with using a blog as a personal journal. If that’s a critical or important route to creativity for you, I’m not knocking it at all! But for the most part, personal blogs are different beasts from blogs designed (or intended, at least) to be read by a massive number  of people.

For people who want to attract an audience the content needs to be useful to the reader. Period. Eliminate “I” language as much as possible and shift to neutral third or use “you” or “we” instead.  It’s helpful to ask yourself, “What do my readers get out of this, and why should they care?” If you can’t answer that question in some way, the post is probably a bad idea and should be shelved or redesigned so that it can answer that question.

Fourth principle: Posts and topics have a natural shelf life.

Two of my posts went semi-viral last year, and what was interesting is that for both posts, traffic rose rapidly into the stratosphere for about three days and then dropped like a rock immediately after. Other posts on the site were not really noticed, even when they were linked directly in the text of the viral post.

This suggests that people don’t really bounce around a lot between posts on one site after being lured there by a hot meme – unless you make it super, super easy for them to do so. It’s been a real challenge to make that work both on Blogger and on WordPress, because the tools at the free level don’t really support it. People seem to click on whatever they’re linked to and then move on to whatever the next topic of interest is – which is often not on your site.

That’s not to say that older posts have no life at all- you shouldn’t delete them after a month! But with all the content out there, and so many people generating it, there is a very clear ‘wave’ effect to blogging; either you’re right on top of your topic – or you’re already behind it.

Fifth principle: Keep everything in your blog on-topic for that blog.

I did a lot of stream-switching this last year, and although I regret the endless confusion it no doubt caused my readership, I accept the damage as growth and learning pains. But you don’t have to make this mistake.

Basically, keep it simple: one topic for one blog. If you want to become a destination site for your favorite topic, you need to keep everything in that blog aligned with that same topic and never waver from it. It just becomes too confusing for everyone whenyou’re writing about your favorite designer shoes on Monday and the top 5 things you should never do while blogging on Tuesday. It diffuses your online identity and makes it impossible for people to really get a handle on what your blog is actually about.  It also makes it harder for you to develop a distinctive blogging voice for that topic.

The flip side of this is that it’s really okay to have more than one blog. You probably have six or seven different interests; you don’t have to compress writing about all of them into one space. Consider grouping your interests by obvious broader categories- for example, putting all of your music, TV and movie interest in one blog, and your political views in another.

Don’t let readers get confused. Don’t let them not know where they go to find the content they’re interested in. Cross link material between blogs only if it’s relevant to the topic of both.

Keeping these points in mind will help you develop a stronger blogging voice and start you on the road to establishing your own unique presence on the web.

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2 Comments

  1. Good article, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about with my own year and a half at the blogging helm. I’m pretty awful with principle #1, that’s no secret. I also bend #5 a bit. #2 is oh so true, sometimes you think you’ve got a winner and it’s unnoticed, other times something you thought was a fun little filler is what people latch onto. I’ll try and use all these tips to improve my technique.

    Sometimes I wonder what a “successful” blog really means. Is it how many hits you receive? How many comments you get? How many followers you have? If you’ve only reached a handful of people, or simply reached some personal level of satisfaction or catharsis through writing, and maybe even made a new friend or two in the process, isn’t that still a success? Knowing what I want or expect to get back from blogging has proven deceptively difficult for me. How we respond to our subjective successes and failures can teach us a lot about ourselves (that sometimes we didn’t want to know). Thousands of hits a day is great, who wouldn’t want that right? But if I start needing that to be happy or to fuel my self-image, what kind of person am I becoming…? I’ll cut myself off here before I get too introspective.

    Basically, it just goes back to what your scope of practice is. Your first principle is a great rule of thumb. If you can’t do the regular updates and the proper networking, don’t expect the mega hits. It requires that serious extra mile. Know what you’re blogging… and know why you’re blogging, and everything falls better into place. Though it’s funny how many times I ask those same questions and answer them differently… evolution of the blog, evolution of the blogger.

  2. “Knowing what I want or expect to get back from blogging has proven deceptively difficult for me. How we respond to our subjective successes and failures can teach us a lot about ourselves (that sometimes we didn’t want to know). Thousands of hits a day is great, who wouldn’t want that right? But if I start needing that to be happy or to fuel my self-image, what kind of person am I becoming…?”

    Same here, same here, #20. It’s why my online presence keeps bouncing around – it’s a reflection of my changing thought processes and reaching different conclusions about what I want to do online, what I consider ‘success’, and why I’m doing something in the first place – am I even writing about (topic x) for the right reasons?

    But I’m giving myself permission to make these ‘mistakes’, and heck, it’s only the internet, after all! 😀

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