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How to Build a Somewhat Successful Blog: 16 Lessons I Have Learned

This blog has almost 4000 subscribers via RSS and email and a few thousand visitors a day.

It’s the 4176:th most popular blog according to Technorati.

It has over 150 posts and over 800 comments from readers.

After a year of blogging I’m pretty satisfied with the results.

And over these last 12 months I’ve learned a thing or 16 about blogging.

Some of these 16 lessons may be of use for you even if you are not a blogger. You can probably apply them to many other areas in life such as your business or relationships.

I will not delve into the money-aspect of this blog.

You can find good resources elsewhere if you want monthly breakdowns of visitors and money earned.

They may give you an insight into how you can monetize your blog and also how much you can earn.

Two such blogs are Genius Types and John Chow.com.

1. Provide value.

This is the most important factor in creating a successful blog. You have to provide some value to your readers for them to want to read your blog and come back for more. What is providing value? It´s the content you create. Or a service you provide. For me it has been writing articles with practical tips that you can use to improve your life. For a videogame-blogger it may be to write in-depth reviews of new games. For a celebgossip-blogger it may be to have the latest scoop about Britney.

You create something that has value to your reader. And the more value you create the more people will notice your site, recommend it to friends and link to it. And you will get more and more new and regular readers. How do you know what has value? Well, put yourself in the shoes of your reader. What do you think s/he would really like to read about? What could help him or her in some way in life? The more value a post can give to your reader the more popular it is likely to be.

However, I don´t think you can just create value in some form and stop at that. It’s the most important factor in creating a popular blog. It’s however not the only important one.

2. Market your blog.

When you first start out blogging no-one except your family and friends may know about your blog. How do you get attention and those first visitors?

I found that commenting on blogs or forums in your niche was an OK way to get a few visitors. A better way to get a small trickle of visitors is to submit your articles to one or eleven blogcarnivals.

Some other methods of the top of my head are to just email other bigger bloggers in your niche and tell them about your blog and your best articles. Or to submit – or let a friend submit – your best material to a social bookmarking site like Digg or Stumbleupon.

You can’t sit around just hoping people will find your blog. You have to create good content and then you have to tell people about that content. However, if you have a new blog you may want to create some content – like 5-10 good and valuable posts – before you really start promoting it. An almost empty blog may leave a leaving visitor with a bad first impression.

3. Learn from more experienced people.

This is so key – in any area of life really – and can really help you to improve quickly and avoid wasting time. I recommend not only subscribing to the two excellent resources called Problogger (about blogging) and Copyblogger (about communicating better and more persuasively). I also recommend delving into the archives of these two blogs.

When I started blogging I spent two or three weeks reading lots and lots from the massive archives of Problogger. I learned a lot about blogging, marketing, monetization and what you should and should not do. Before I started this blog I knew very little about blogging. After those weeks I at least had a basic education that was very helpful. If you are thinking about creating your own blog or have just started one I recommend reading the big series Blogging Tips for Beginners over at Problogger.

4. Optimize.

Like with any other area in life it’s important that you learn from your own past and mistakes and from others. And that you then improve and optimize your blog, business or diet. Don’t forget about this part, think about what worked well the last few months and what did not. Think about what you learned about headlines, social bookmarking and color-schemes. Then experiment and try to optimize the different parts of your blog.

5. Be patient.

We often tend to miscalculate how much time is required to reach the desired result. Don’t buy into myths about quick success. Don’t buy into your own calculations or fears too much either. Study other bloggers and learn how their audience have grown. Create reasonable expectations. Be patient and keep on creating, marketing and optimizing your blog.

6. First impressions matter.

The most important part of your article is your headline. A bad or boring headline will not entice a whole lot of people to click and start reading. A good one will. Copyblogger have written some useful articles on how to create better headlines. Have a look at 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work and How to Write Magnetic Headlines. John at Pick the Brain did a case-study about the importance of a good headline here.

The second most important part of your article is the first few sentences. This is something I still need to improve quite a bit in my articles. Here’s a Copyblogger article about 5 good ways to start your post.

7. Formatting is pretty and important.

Instead of just dumping your text as one big blob into a post use such things as subheadings, lists and white space. It makes your content so much more attractive and increases readability.

8. People aren’t just angry or hostile online. Quite the opposite.

Out of all the feedback I have received very little was hostile, angry or nasty. So don’t let your fears about what people may say stop you from posting or starting your own blog.

9. Don’t think about what everyone else may think.

After your first big wave of new regulars has arrived you may start to experience a sort of stage fright. You may think “Oh, now I have a hundred regular readers, a hundred Joes and Marys waiting for some new content”. And then you start second-guessing yourself and worry that someone will be upset, mock you or that you will somehow screw up big time.

I try not to think too much about how many readers there may be. Or what they will think. When I write I either think about it as discussion that I have with myself or something I am writing to just one reader. Or I just focus on the fun and excitement of the article I am writing and nothing more. Feeding your own fears will not help anyone.

10. Making posting a choice, not a must.

People won’t disappear just because you don´t post for a few days. If you need a break take it. The world will not collapse, but you and your motivation may if you push yourself too hard.

11. Future posting is your friend.

In WordPress you can set the date and time for a post to appear on your blog. So if you are going on a vacation for a week you can write a few posts and then spread the posts out over the week. WordPress will take care of the posting while you are skiing in the alps or floating on in the Mediterranean.

12. Don’t spend too much time checking statistics or other blogs.

I spent the first few months of blogging with reading a lot of other blogs and checking my blog-statistics many times each day. I learned a lot but also procrastinated a lot. Today I try to limit how often I check my RSS-reader, email and statistics to twice a day. This tip was helpful for achieving that. I’ll probably limit this even more. There are a many great blogs to read but at this point I’m just feeling bored with a lot of things online. It’s just more fun to do other things.

13. Blog consistently.

If I could go back and change one thing then I would probably have blogged more consistently. When I did that readers, subscribers, comments and emails increased pretty quickly. When I blogged inconsistently everything moved slower or not at all.

14. Expect a slump after a few months.

When you first start blogging everything is new, fresh and wonderful. You have no problems coming up with interesting topics to write about. But after a few months – maybe three – you may experience a slump. You are running out of apparent ideas for posts. Your enthusiasm may not be soaring anymore. What do you do? Well, you can blog a bit erratically for a while like I did.

A better choice may however be to find new ideas. I wrote about a good exercise you can use to find ideas for new posts in One Simple Way Get a Great Idea. You may also want to check out 8 Ways to Spark Your Creativity and this excellent post about finding post ideas over at North x East.

15. Don’t clutter your blog.

You don´t have go minimalist to the max but a cluttered blog makes it hard for the reader to find what to focus on. Experiment and try new ideas out. But also think about what widgets and all of that other stuff you really need. Do they add value for your readers or are they just hanging out in your sidebar? Declutter the unnecessary parts and make your blog look more attractive and focused for your readers.

16. When you get a big traffic spike, be prepared.

If one of your posts hit the front page of Digg or Del.icio.us, be prepared. The traffic wave will probably not earn you that much extra money if your blog is monetized. But it can earn you a whole bunch of new and regular readers. Be sure to make it easy to subscribe either via RSS or email. You can for instance use a sentence like the one below with links to your RSS and email-subscription form.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sophie June 14, 2010, 9:17 pm

    Thanks for the great tips here. I’ve only just started out, so like you said it’s all exciting for the time being. But, the success you’ve had is definitely motivating enough to keep me positive!

  • Matt July 5, 2010, 2:03 am

    This is a very helpful resource. I’m actually in the process of re-launching a site I’ve owned for the past several years. I’ve spent a significant amount of my time in college doing school work, and now that I’m looking at a lighter year ahead of me, I’ve relaunched my site on a new url and everything.

    Too bad we have to do the work on this whole niche thing… now, maybe if I wrote some software to generate the niche for people automagically….. hmm….

  • Madeleine Louise July 26, 2010, 1:07 pm

    excellent tips, as a fashion blogger i even found them useful, just reinforcing the basics i already knew.

    Madeleine Louise
    wekilledcouture . com

  • Jen July 31, 2010, 2:43 am

    Great tips! I found Facebook to be a great tool!

  • Stacy McQueen August 1, 2010, 6:40 pm

    We plan to follow all of your advice and will let you know how it works out. How cool would it be if Seeking Shangri Raw (what happens when two flabby spiritually numb snarky women go raw for 90 days?) became huge because of the info you provided?

    Thank you so much for writing this!

  • Madeline August 12, 2010, 4:43 am

    Great tips, I hope they work for my blog! Check it out at http://justsomepetpeeves.wordpress.com

  • Clicker August 14, 2010, 1:43 pm

    Great man… my blog is earning some visitors.. thanx
    just check out mine @ http://bit.ly/andrjN

  • Mitchell Dillman August 31, 2010, 1:30 am

    Hey Henrik,

    Awesome stuff buddy, Great blog!

    I’m just out and about looking for good tips on how to build a successful blog and “Whammo” here they are…Right on, thanks.

    See you soon,

    Mitchell Dillman
    “The Internetworking Online Carpenter”

    P.S. Do me a favor, stop by http://mitchelldillman.com and give me some feedback. I can use all the help I can get… 😉

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