Blogging 101, Part II: What makes an awesome blog?

Welcome back!

We’ve already talked about why you should have a blog and whether you’re ready to start one. Up today: What makes an awesome blog?

There are as many ways to produce a good blog as there are bloggers. But when you’re new to the blogosphere, you need concrete goals, right? So here are a few things you can focus on to make your blog successful.

Offer value. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many blogs fail to offer some sort of value to their readers. (Those blogs tend to be lacking readership.) What’s value? In my mind, a valuable blog is either useful or entertaining. Readers return to blogs because they get something from being there. They learn something. Or they laugh. So before starting a blog, ask yourself: What value will my blog offer to readers? Why would a reader not only visit my blog, but come back the next day?

These are questions you can use not only to evaluate an entire blog, but also to make sure each and every post is worth publishing. If a post isn’t useful or doesn’t make me feel some sort of emotion — laugh or cry — re-think it. Maybe it simply needs to be rewritten. Maybe the topic isn’t worth writing about on your blog.

I’m totally down with being proven wrong on this — Does anyone disagree that most quality blogs are useful or entertaining? Can you point us to one that’s not? As one reader brought up in the comments on Part I of this series, the best blogs tend to break rules. So maybe this is a rule that’s waiting to be broken.

Look good. Yes, I’m talking about your blog’s appearance. I only read blogs that are easy to look at — and I’m not alone. Make sure your blog doesn’t look cluttered. Avoid black backgrounds with white or light-colored type. Post photos in appropriate sizes, ones that complement your text, not huge images that take over the entire page. Also don’t have a text-heavy page (hmm… like this one); include images and color to balance out links and copy. And here’s the big one: break your text into easy-to-read, short paragraphs with white space between them. Readers like white space!

The most important part of your blog is your content. But it will be a lot easier to convince people to read that content if your space looks clean and well put-together.

Use awesome titles for posts. This ties into the value and purpose of your blog. When you create a title, let your readers know what they’ll gain from the post. Like newspaper headlines, blog post titles are the reader’s first hint about whether they should read the post. So make them good.

In my experience, titles that show the post is a how-to or a list tend to get lots of clicks. Examples: “How to use social media to look for a job” or “Five reasons you should buy Lexi’s book.” Okay, so that last one isn’t a post yet. But it will be someday.

Well-written titles also help with SEO, for those of you who know what that is. If you don’t, well, that’s for another day.

Get personal. Readers return to blogs not only for the value they offer, but because they feel a personal connection to the blogger. Let readers connect with you. Give them something to grasp.

Take Penelope Trunk’s blog, for example. I read it because I enjoy her career advice. But I’m equally as eager to hear the latest about her relationship with the farmer. I feel like I know Penelope even though I’ve never met her in person, and that makes me care about what she writes. (Penelope also offers a guide to starting a blog and her own post on what makes a blog successful.)

But you don’t have to blog about your love life like Penelope does (although it would probably help). Throw in some personal details. Tell us a story — an interesting one please, not what your dog ate for breakfast or how cute your grandchildren look in their Christmas outfits. Actually, I take that back. If you want to write about your grandchildren, go ahead, but make sure you present it in an interesting way, a way that provides value. Show us how what you’re writing about relates to your life, and we’ll understand how it relates to ours, too.

Most importantly, use a personal tone. A blog shouldn’t read like an office newsletter. We should be able to hear your voice. Let your personality shine not only through your content, but also through your words.

Engage readers. Remember that blogging is a two-way street. Talk with your readers, not at them. Encourage readers to leave comments by asking questions and raising issues that prompt discussion. And when they leave comments, respond to them. Visit their blogs. Create relationships with your readers. I’ve met some awesome people through this blog!

Write well. If you don’t do this naturally, ask someone to edit for you. Because just like it’s important for your blog to look good, it’s vital that you write coherently, with correct grammar. Yeah, I write e-mails to friends in all lowercase letters. But I’m careful on this blog to try and use proper punctuation, because it’s the little details that make it look professional.

To keep my copy clean, I write most of my posts ahead of time, then leave them in my drafts folder. That gives me a chance to re-read and edit them before sending them out into the blogophere. Very rarely do I write a post and publish it right away. Blogs need editing just like our other writing projects.

Have a quality About Me page. Why? Because half of the reason you’re writing the blog is to network. If it’s not easy for readers to find out who you are and contact you, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. This topic warrants its own post.

Follow the leader. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Look at blogs that have thousands of subscribers, like Penelope’s — 46,000 subscribers! — and Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which has 35,000 subscribers. (See my Q&A with Gretchen.) Why do people read these blogs? Because they offer valuable information, knowledge readers can use, among the other things on the above checklist.

What other awesome blogs do you read?

What can you add to this list? If you’ve started a blog in the last year or so, what’s worked for you? What hasn’t? What are you planning to do to take your blog to the next level?

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11 Responses

  1. I totally agree with everything you said!

  2. Good advice – I like the distinction between being personal and oversharing (or sharing boring information). I agree about the lists – my “one list a week” posts this year have gotten lots of traffic!

  3. So much great information. I’m in the process of getting my blog back on track. It’s been floundering for some time (though work and health issues have been to blame for the most part).

    Thanks for this!
    Jen

  4. Really great tips! The appearance thing is actually bigger than most people may realize.

    I’d also say starting out to make sure you respond to your comments and that you also stop by their blogs. This is about building a community of people and one person doesn’t really make a community!

    Man, though if you got popular and had 45K subscribers I can’t even imagine!

  5. As usual, great, sound advice. While all these factors are important, I often think the last point you bring up is the most important. I’ll visit blogs from time to time if I find them entertaining or useful. I’ll go back everyday if I feel a real connection, if I have a real feeling for the person on the other side.

  6. Great tips. I’d like to say I’m striving for all of these! I think engaging readers is the toughest part. I need to stop hounding friends and loved ones to “follow” my blog, and naturally create opportunities for readers to engage. To be continued….

  7. You also asked about other awesome blogs we read. I just found two about traveling with kids, so I thought it related to your traveling blog. The caveat is that I’m still checking them out, but on their face they seem cool. They are http://www.zachaboard.blogspot.com/ and http://mylittlenomads.com/.

  8. […] Grant gives us parts II and III of her Blogging 101 series. Part II – What makes an awesome blog?   And part III – A 5 step guide to getting […]

  9. very intresting read, may i ask you where did you get the idea for this article?

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