There are plenty of opinions out there about what makes a blog good and what it takes to have a successful one. At the recent BlogWorld & New Media Expo, that was obviously a consistent theme. WebProNews interviewed a lot of people at that show, and several gave their advice on this matter. Here is a discussion with ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse.
Content and Focus
"The key thing is to know what you want out of it, fist of all, and know what your audience wants out of it," says Garrett. "If you really, really tap into what your audience is passionate about, then you’re going to be successful."
"There’s so many people that start out, and they don’t really know what they’re doing, which is fine, but if you’re meandering around to different topics, you don’t really have a focus, you’ll never attract a proper target audience…you’re not really going to get anywhere," he adds.
That is one point of view. Hanselman seems to have a slightly different take on things. He agrees that it requires focus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t discuss various topics.
"A lot of people have a sense that their blog sucks…They have low blog self esteem, and they look at all the professional bloggers…and they say, ‘wow, their blogs are so amazing.’ I think the thing I want to get across to people is that what those blogs have (that perhaps your blog might not) is a sense of focus. Why am I blogging?" says Hanselman. "Is it a diary? Who is my audience? Am I just talking and hoping people will show up? It’s not a matter of if you blog it they will come. That’s not how it works. Maybe for Perez Hilton, but for no one else does that work."
"It requires focus," he reiterates. "It requires a true, authentic voice. I work for Microsoft, and I use my personal blog to indirectly promote Microsoft things, but I also have, you know, square foot gardening, my kids, and diabetes and other things that I’m passionate about. And while that might seem to have a bit of a scattered focus, there is a focus there. It’s a focus on those things that I’m passionate about. Even though it’s not just a tech blog or just a diabetes blog, I do blog consciously. I blog with focus. I don’t put anything up there without thinking about it, and I think that if you’re doing that then you’re doing better than a lot of people."
Community and Tempo
You probably don’t have to be told that a good blog requires good content. What you may not be giving as much attention to, however, is the community aspect. "Content is the product you’re delivering, but…people say ‘content is king’ and I say a king is just a guy in a funny hat," says Garrett. "Without his army behind him – without all his ministers and his public saying he’s the king, all he is is a guy in a funny hat with some ego issues."
"I actually say the customer is king," he adds. "The reader is king. You’ve got to serve an audience…you can get some stuff back, but you’ve got to be generous to an audience…you’ve got to give them exactly what they want in a way that that they’re really engaged with, and that’s got to be content, but it’s got to be content about their needs rather than your needs."
That may include giving them something when they need it. "Don’t say every day, because no one does anything every day," says Hanselman. "If you say ‘I will dedicate myself to blogging every day,’ and blogging is not your job, you will fail. So set a reasonable goal. You work out three times a week? Blog three times a week."
This is not bad advice, but you also want to consider whether or not you have anything interesting to say. You probably don’t want to blog just because of a schedule. You need to have something interesting or useful to say. Hopefully though, you can come up with three interesting conversation pieces in a week’s time. Otherwise, blogging is probably not going to be your strong suit.
Community also means keeping a clean discussion. I don’t mean free of profanity, but free of junk, because that will not only turn readers off, it will impede the logical progression of the conversation, and blogging isn’t a one way street. It’s a discussion. It’s a discussion that you started, but a discussion nonetheless.
Hanselman likens blog comment spam to the "broken window theory" – "the idea that if you park a car on the street (a beautiful car…maybe it’s in a bad neighborhood), it will sit there for weeks," he explains. "Break one window and that car will be flipped over and on fire in a few days. The same thing applies with blogs and blog spam. Nothing is sadder than going and finding a garden that’s filled with weeds. Tackling comment spam is really important…trackback spam – making sure you’re using Akismet or one of the WordPress plugins for spam. Even if you don’t have a WordPress blog you can do that."
Making the blog itself presentable also helps. "Make it look tidy. Make it look fine. There’s a host of themes out there…make it look clean, make it look fresh, keep it updated, says Hanselman. Design is only one aspect of making it presentable though. A lack of updates is not very presentable. "I would say the number one thing that people don’t do on a blog is they don’t keep a tempo," he says. "Nothing is sadder than showing up at someone’s blog and having the last post that they wrote say, ‘I’m rededicating myself to blogging.’ [from] October 2009. Stay focused. Pick a tempo."
You’ve got to have people to keep that tempo for. Chances are, you won’t have too many if you don’t do some promoting. "You’ve got to promote it," says Garrett. "As important as content is, on its own , it’s nothing." The biggest way to fuel this, as Garrett presents it, is just networking. While that means utilizing forums and the social networks, it also means networking with people in the physical world – face to face conversation. Go to conferences and other events. "You can’t force it," he says. "You just have to give yourself the opportunity for things to come along, and you just try to do your best to be awesome."
That brings to mind some advice from Unmarketing’s Scott Stratten, who says, "People spread awesome. People spread great stuff. Nobody looks at a post and goes, ‘that was a pretty bad post, but it was really keyword rich, so let me pass it along."
"People usually start gaining traction when they’ve got a thousand regular subscribers, but they start making decent money when they have five thousand or above," says Garrett. I usually suggest you have six months of income put away before you give up the day job, but it could be that you just have to put away that ‘Plan B.’" That means just making a decision and focusing on blogging.