in Blogging

How Not to Blog: Self-Defeating Behavior

I like to write. I enjoy keeping my web sites, and Get Rich Slowly is foremost among these. To maintain so many sites requires a certain level of discipline. Over the past few months I’ve observed a set of behaviors — in myself and in others — behaviors that are counterproductive to blogging. These include:

  • Checking stats compulsively. Is it really important to know how many people have come to your site in the fifteen minutes since you last checked? Yes, you’ve made $5 via Adsense today. So what? The most important thing you can do is to stop obsessing over site statistics and start creating content.
  • Checking others’ stats compulsively. Worse than checking your own stats is checking your competition’s stats. Yes, The Mega Money Blog has more hits than you today. Yes, the Kingdom of Personal Finance got linked from Time Magazine. So what? If you spent more time writing and less time fretting, you’d have your day in the sun, too.
  • Posting for the sake of posting. Don’t have anything to say? Then don’t say anything.
  • Wandering off-topic. If you run a personal blog, then anything goes. But if your topic is subject-specific, you run into danger when you wander off-topic. Your readers come for information about a very specific subject, and unless you’re a terrificly witty writer, they’re not interested in your thoughts on sports, politics, or modern dance. Stay focused.
  • Over-monetizing. I recently met with a man who runs a huge internet site, an internet site with which you are probably familiar. He makes a lot of money from the web. He gave me some advice on site design. “One thing I like about your site already,” he told me, “is that it doesn’t seem desperate.” He explained that many sites, especially personal finance sites, are so heavily and obviously monetized that it’s a turn-off, both for himself and for others. “I don’t mind if you try to make a buck,” he said, “but don’t beat me over the head with it.” His site that’s generating so much money for him? The ads are minimal. And there’s even an easy way to view the site ad-free. Ramit Sethi has the most successful personal finance blog by nearly every measure. It has no ads. Zero. Nada. Zilch. And yet he’s able to make money off it anyhow. For Ramit the blog is the ad, and he’s the product.
  • Layout that sucks. To some extent, you’re bound by the limits of your blogging software and by your design skill. Even so, there’s a lot of room to tinker. While you develop your design, think like a reader. What’s most important to the average person visiting your site? If you’ve made it difficult to find your search box, your archives, or your subscription information, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Just last night I visited five sites looking for info on a book I was reviewing. The search box for each site was buried so that I had to hunt for it. This is dumb. I know you want revenue, but you’re going to get more revenue by having more readers, and you’re going to get more readers if you make the ads subservient to the stuff the readers want. Your site should be easy-to-read and easy-to-use. (And it should look good on all platforms. Whether you like Macs or not, many influential internet folks use them, and if your site looks like crap in Safari, you’re alienating important people.)
  • Fussing with search-engine optimization. Do you know the best way to get search engine traffic? Get linked from other sites. Do you know the best way to get linked from other sites? Write content that people want to share with others, content that makes people go, “Wow. I’m glad I found that.” That’s only SEO trick you need to know.
  • Forgetting to sharpen the saw. Take a break. You can’t do this 24/7/365. Your readers have lives. So do you. Take time off to spend with your family and friends, to read books, to see movies, to walk through your neighborhood. Developing a successful site is a long-term project. It’s not going to happen overnight. Remember to seek renewal away from the computer.
  • Losing your voice. I believe one of the things that helped me become successful with Get Rich Slowly is that I was completely unaware that there was a personal finance blogging community at the start. I hadn’t yet discovered the echo chamber. Sure there are things that will get passed around any blogging community — they’re just too good to pass up. But it’s a bad sign when everything you post is a reaction to something somebody else has written. Be yourself. Write with your own voice.
  • Writing too much. There’s only so much information a reader can digest. If you post too often, you risk losing readers rather than gaining them. How much is too much? It’s tough to say. It depends on the site and the types of articles. Lifehacker and Boing Boing can post 25 items a day because most of the content is summary in nature. They’re mostly aggregation sites. Users can choose to follow the bits that look interesting. Steve Pavlina only posts a few times a week. His articles are much longer than those at most blogs, and to post more often would overwhelm his readers. I think that Darren Rowse at Problogger has a good balance. He posts two or three articles of moderate length each day. If you’re posting five or six long items each day, you’re posting too much.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m perfect and that I have all of these problems licked. I don’t. In fact, each of item is on the list because I’ve struggled with it in the past. The top three are perpetual thorns in my side. They keep me from getting things done.

In short, the best way to build a successful blog is to actually write. Everything else is secondary.

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