If you’ve been blogging for a while, you probably have certain blogging ‘habits’ and tips that you swear by. This article is a collection of such tips, designed to help you build a better blog.
Warning! You may have read some of these before – heck, all of these will be familiar to you. There’s a very good reason – they work extremely well for the bloggers who swear by them and while it’s hard to get bloggers to agree on what the important tip of them all is, they will agree that IF you take out XX days and implement each of these tips ONE day at a time, your blog will be be kicking ass in your niche, in your blogging community and in the search engine results by the end of it.
So let’s get started.
1. Mine your search engine referrals
Your search logs are a gold mine. They tell you what people are looking for. And since you most probably maintain a blog with the intention of growing an audience, your search logs give you a priceless view of what your audience wants. Your task is to feed your audience what they want.
Spend at least twenty minutes each day analyzing your search logs for new and exciting topics that you haven’t thought of before. Your search results allow you to reverse engineer the thoughts of your target audience.
2. Duplicate other people’s success
Start paying attention to the successful blogs (and not just those in your niche). Read the premier blogs and look at their headlines, their posting frequency, their tendency to post easy-to-digest lists, article series, exhaustive how-to guides – in short, observe and figure out what type of content succeeds, and then adapt it to your own blog.
3. Duplicate your own success
As you blog, you’ll discover your strengths and your weaknesses. Capitalize on your success by finding your voice and sticking to it.
There’s a temptation to feel like you’ve always got to do something new and original. Most of the great things in life are variations on pre-existing themes. There’s nothing wrong with sticking with what works. The important thing here is to not run away from you own success – instead, learn from it and repeat with variations as necessary.
4. Learn how to Position your Blog
More and more blogs are competing for attention. Most are instantly forgettable, simply echos of every other blog in their niche. One or two stand out and stick in your mind. Great content is one reason, necessary as great content is it might still be not enough. People have only so much time and attention to share, if they already have three excellent gadget blogs on their OPML why should they add yours?
Learn how to differentiate your blog and make your content unique.
5. Outsource Your Blogging Chores
As your blog grows you’ll find that you are short of time and that you can’t do everything that you want to by yourself. Short of cloning yourself, the right thing to do at this point is to outsource certain aspects of your blog. What you decide to outsource (blogging, design, promotion, administration, etc) depends on you – the key is to help you free up more time you can scale your blog and make it more successful.
And you don’t always have to pay for this – it’s possible to get your readers (the community you’ve built around your blog) to help out in many things from article contributions to design upgrades to administrative tasks.
6. Learn how to Make your Blog Sticky
Getting visitors isn’t enough – otherwise the nice buzz your blog traffic got on the first day from the $30 you spent on BlogExplosion would have made a lot of difference to your blog’s success. You want your visitors to stick. If your blog is the beneficiary of a massive traffic surge (say through hot current issue for which you rank well in the search engines or a post of yours that got Stumbled or Dugg by a lot of people), you need to be able to convert a good percentage of those visitors into regular readers.
So learn how to make your blog sticky – and these two articles will tell you everything you need to know about blog stickiness:
10 Ways to Make Your Blog Sticky
Convert One-off Visitors into Regular Readers
7. Master the Art of Linkbaiting
There’s a reason why bloggers evetually turn to linkbaiting (the art of writing content that generates links) – when done right (and promoted right) this is the most time-effective method to:
a) promote your blog
b) create good content
c) establish blog authority
d) gain new readers
Read the pioneering article on linkbaiting, and make a commitment to write at least one linkbait for your blog this week.
8. Start Guest Blogging
The one blog promotion strategy that I’ve always seen under-used is guest blogging.
There are no downsides to it – guest blogging can, off the top of my head, help you build links, attract new readers to your blog, position you as an expert in your niche, acquire consulting gigs and help build close relationships with fellow bloggers.
Usually we hold back from guest blogging either because we’re lazy or because we’re hung up on our own egos to go anywhere else and write. In some cases the later can be a good thing in a person who is talented and motivated enough to build a #1 blog, but usually it’s a case of limiting your blog promotion options and being too pig-headed to take advantage of what’s on offer.
9. Sweat the Details
Many bloggers have become successful by getting 80% things right and ignoring or not worrying about the other 20%. That’s not what I’m talking about. The same bloggers, when they’re doing the important 80%, put their 120% in it. They work hard at it, they go the extra mile and their efforts speak to you when you read their articles or visit their blogs.
Sweat the details – there’s no harm in spending time perfecting what you’re doing right – it will only improve your blog’s brand and give people more reasons to come back and even to link to you.
10. Establish a Blogging Rhythm
If you take time out to analyse what the successful blogs and bloggers are doing online, one thing that will stand out is the various blog posting rhythms that you will find.
And yes, the posting rhythm actually means something – it’s a clear indication of how the blog relates to its audience. If you can understand what different posting rhythms accomplish, you can match the right posting frequency with your blog objectives and write accordingly.
Overall, it’s a good idea to set your posting frequency before you start your blog and stick to it unless there is a drastic change in plans.
11. Develop a Blog Exit Strategy
Where do you see yourself and your blog in 2 years?
This isn’t about setting goals for yourself – it’s about knowing what you want to achieve with your blog, and planning for your exit if circumstances require you to do so.
Your reasons for leaving / ending a blog could be positive or negative – the idea is to be prepared so when the time arrives, you are prepared to hand the blog over to someone else, sell it off or further ‘automate’ it so that it takes less of your time.
Done right, you could stand to make good money from your blog in a couple of years. This doesn’t mean you should plan to ‘quit’ from the start – however, the beauty of preparing for exit is that once it focuses you to develop a business model that is efficient, has optimal monetization and is capable of running without you being involved in day-to-day decisions
12. Be Technically Efficient
You don’t need to be a CSS / PHP guru, and you don’t need to know SEO like the back of your hand. You should, however, know the basics of everything from blog design to image editing to blog promotion to using traffic analysis tools – it’s a job requirement for being a competent pro blogger.
Later on (or even from the start) you can outsource sections of your blog management – but you still need to be able to understand what’s going on in order to improve / manage your blog.
13. Create Intelligent Blog Ads
Two of the most under-rated articles in Performancing history are Chris G’s 2-part series on creating intelligent blog ads.
The basic idea is this – you should treat different visitors differently, and therefore you should be treating first-time readers, visitors hitting old posts in your archives through search engines, regular readers, visitors from Digg, registered users and visitors from other websites differently (well, you may not have that many divisions, but you get the point).
Once you extend this to advertising, a lot of things change. Regular readers don’t click on your AdSense, so why waste impressions on them? Search engine users hitting your archives are the most likely candidates for clicking on your AdSense, so why not optimise things so that they say more AdSense than usual?
In addition, you should also be able to treat visitors differently (in terms of what ads to show them) based on their geographical location and the time of the year (different ads around Christmas than in June, for example).
It’s possible to automate most of this using cookies, search referrer strings and detecting the geographical location of your visitors.
Learn more about creating intelligent articles here:
How To: Create Intelligent Blog Ads
How To: Create Intelligent Blog Ads – Part 2
14. Crush Your Own Expectations
Usually when I tell people to ‘lower’ their expectations from blogging, they call it conservatism and still go on expecting to be an overnight success. It doesn’t work like that – it’s bloody hard work, and even then the only thing you know is that it won’t be quite what you had imagined.
It takes a lot of patience, it won’t happen overnight and you certainly won’t help yourself by throwing your laptop out of your window when no one comments on your articles after the first week of blogging (although you should probably look again at what you’re doing to promote your articles).
If you’re a beginner blogger, it would pay to read Deb’s article titled: Before you Begin Blogging.
15. Learn How to Write Magnetic Headlines
Headlines are the most important aspect of blogging both from a reader standpoint and an SEO standpoint. Brian Clark has written the authoritative guide to headline writing, and if you haven’t read it yet, let me just say that you should easily be able to double your readership and search traffic just by following his suggestions.
16. Learn to Write Scannable Content
This is perhaps the one article that will make the biggest immediate difference. Visual display is to blogging like curb-appeal is to real estate. Bloggers should be constantly thinking about the curb-appeal of each article. It really makes a difference.
Writing for the Internet is far different to what we’re used to in college or in the offline world – you have to keep things simple, understand that people will ‘scan’ most of the time so you also have to break up your content into easily digestable chunks (visually as well as structurally) and provide plenty of visual cues to guide readers from start to finish.
Make sure you read Darren’s article on scannable content and implement this TODAY in your blogging practices.
17. Establish Yourself as an Expert
Developing your personal brand as that of an expert will give not only give your blog legitimacy in the eyes of many readers but it will also help you get much closer to being #1 in your niche. If you’re starting out, adopt a long-term vision for becoming an expert blogger. If you’ve been blogging for a while, rejig your efforts and focus on being recognised as an authority.
How to do this?
Better bloggers have already written about this – make sure you read the following two articles and then implement their advice in your blogging.
18. When Stuck, Change Your Context
If you’re stuck (with blogger’s block, for example), or if you just find that you lack the motivation to start work, change things around. Move to a different location (get out of your study and work somewhere else for a couple of hours), take a break, or start working on something else. Sometimes changing your location works, sometimes you just need to work on something lighter to get your creative juices flowing.
19. Always have a Backup Plan
You should always have a backup plan – whether it’s for a project, an income source, a writer, an idea….have more than just one thing lined up.
A corollary of this would be to ‘be prepared’, but you don’t always have to prepared for everything (especially for times when you can just ‘wing it’).
As I wrote extensively in “Will the Google Bashers Please Shut Up?”, things will always go wrong. Google will dump your site. Someone will hack your blog. AdSense could ban you. Your $10k check could never arrive.
Whatever it is, don’t risk everything – be prepared and cover your ass.
20. Fire, Aim, Deal
The usual quote is ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’, meaning that you should get out of the blocks quickly and not worry too much about getting things right.
However, I think we tend to take too much time in the ‘ready’ phase. Online, news spreads almost instantaneously. It is a far more viral medium than, say, spreading ideas person to person (unless you’re a rock star performing in front of a million people, in which case send me a couple of tickets, will ya?) and you need to move very fast.
An idea adequately executed today is better than a plan perfectly executed tomorrow. Being first, and being first in people’s minds, is crucial if you want to capture mindshare.
So shoot first, make course corrections later, and don’t worry too much about whether you’re prepared or not – as long as you know what you’re talking about, you’re liable to improve as you go along.
It’s likely that there will be times when things will go wrong – however, we tend to worry too much when there is very little under our own control. So stop worrying, learn to move fast and deal with the problems that crop up as they happen, IF they’re worth dealing with.
In any case, most people won’t notice if you screw up and if they do notice (and it’s a big boo-boo), you can fix it on the way. This approach will take care of 90% of the times you hesitate because of the fear of things not working or making a mistake.
21. Make Yourself Big
Some bloggers suffer from a lack of self-confidence when they start out and it shows in their blogging. They’re not sure of themselves, they’re not confident in what they say and the readers pick up on it and automatically assume that this person doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Make yourself big – exude confidence in your words and your blog design (that’s all your readers will see most of the time, so you need to make it count). Fake it if you have to, but do not portray a picture of self-doubt and uncertainty through your blog.
Humility has its place and I believe that to be successful you have to be humble, but there’s a difference between being arrogant and being confident. For a live lesson in being confident without being brash (assuming you don’t want the rock star personality, because that takes a bit of arrogance), read Chris Garrett.
22. Record All Your Ideas
Always keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas as they come to you. You never know when inspiration will strike, and in most cases you’ll lose that great idea if you don’t write it down immediately.
It doesn’t matter if you key in the ideas in your cellphone, write them in a notepad file on your PC, carry a pen and pad with you at all times or use a voice recorder to gather your thoughts for end-of-day processing – whatever you do, make sure every idea that comes to your mind gets noted.
23. Give Before You Get
Most people don’t understand the natural value of this ‘law’ (it works wonders if you adopt it as a law in your daily life), so let’s look at it from the perspective of how people ‘tick’.
If you’ve read “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini” (highly recommended), you’ll know that ‘Reciprocity’ is one of the six key ways to influence people (the others are: Commitment / Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority and Scarcity). When you give first, you create a subconscious debt on the other person’s conscience which they will feel the need to repay or risk suffering from guilt. It’s how we are socially wired.
How do we use this in blogging? By giving first (providing value to your readers) and giving a lot (don’t assume that you can ‘ask’ them for something after just one week’s of good blogging). And what are you ‘asking them’? Their trust, their loyalty and their support. You won’t ask for it explicitly, but once you’ve given a lot to your readers you will notice that your readers will start giving back – in terms of comments, praise, feedback, mentions on other blogs and forums, respect, and if you’re selling something, money too.
Backup, backup, backup. If you’re making any decent money at all (heck – even if you aren’t), you MUST have a plan to backup your data.
Imagine what would happen if you were to lose your blog’s database (and the hundreds of images you’ve uploaded to it) right now? Chances are you don’t have a decent backup solution to fall back on.
You can use WordPress to email you daily backups of your database and you can configure your webhost to make daily backups of all your files in case something goes wrong. I believe in plenty of redundancy, so have a 3rd-party solution doing the backups as well as yourself and your webhost.
The backup policy applies to all your login / password information as well as any offline information that you need to keep handy. Putting them all together will make for easy access so I would definitely recommend that and you can protect yourself against a major screw up by backing everything up and storing it in a safe place.
25. Manage Your Time
Time mismanagement is perhaps the biggest thing holding bloggers back. Checking your email, stats, blog comments, feeds – all the time, throughout the day – is not only a waste of time at that moment (you’ll still make the same money whether you check it 5 times a day or once a day) but it also distracts you from the work you could be doing at that time (blogging, promoting, managing, etc).
Have you ever had a day when at the end of it, you realise that all of it was spent reading and replying to emails, dealing with blog comments, reading news in the feed reader and checking stats?
Don’t get stuck in wasteful habits and time loops – do whatever you have to in order to wean yourself from stats (uninstalling that AdSense Notifier plugin for Firefox), from email (Do you have your inbox open 24/7? Sticky a note on your laptop / monitor to ‘close’ the window whenever you see that note) and from feed reading (I ditched feed reading completely and now just visit the sites themselves).
26. Remix Old Content
There comes a time when you run out of new ideas (new for your blog, that is) to talk about in your niche – this happens to everyone sooner or later and is nothing to worry about. What’s far more important is what you do afterwards. Some bloggers get distracted and branch out to parallel topics, which is sometimes a good idea but can also dilute your readership who are still coming to you for news about subject A.
My preference is to take the same ideas and remix them according to specific situations (or new developments). For example, if you’ve written about how to get comments to your blog, in the second iteration you could give more tips, or you could dicuss new plugins that make it easier for readers to comment, or you could take a specific niche, discuss it’s problems and give specific advice on how to attract comments in that niche, OR you could discuss the different levels of a success for a blog and share how ‘comment attraction’ works on these levels.
As long as you’re adding a unique angle, it doesn’t matter if the idea is old or new.
27. Get help
Blogging may sound like a solo flight, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Learn to get help (like we discussed above, you’ll have to ‘give’ first) – whether you ask your community to help with growing your blog or you’re asking your fellow bloggers to help promote your new project OR you’re just asking friends for ideas and advice.
It always helps to get a fresh perspective on things, even if at the end of the day you’re going to do things your way
Bonus: 28. Separate Writing from Editing
Writing and Editing are 2 different beasts. Writing involves a creative process and requires you to take everything you have inside your head and funnel it out into words. Editing on the other hands requires you to be critical, to prune, to cut down.
The two are fundamentally opposing tasks, so don’t do them at the same time. Write first, then let your article / blog post be (unless it’s breaking news and you have to break it, like, right now) and come back to it a while later to edit.
Your blog posts will be more professional, your writing will be more polished and your readers will appreciate the time you put into the blog for them.
Bonus: Further Reading
While compiling this list, I came across several excellent articles that deserve a mention – and every single one of them will help you improve your blog.
This list is by no means complete. Hopefully you can add a blogging tip or trick of your own to supplement – in that case, fire away in the comments. I’ll be upgrading the best tips from the comments into this list and linking out to the contributors as well.