There are a lot of articles out there about how to be a better blogger, and they'll give you some useful tips like "write some posts ahead of time and save them" and some not-so-helpful tips like "write good posts." But in this article I'm going to tell you what I think makes for being a successful blogger.
As promised, I need to qualify that. By successful, I don't just mean "has a big readership" or "makes money off of ads." Successful means different things to different people. But for our purposes here, I'm defining "successful" as well-trafficked and well-respected in the (blogging) community.
1. Give and take
Read other blogs and websites, and reference or link them when you can. Not only does this give you more credibility as someone who is well-read and involved in what you're talking about, but it gives you the chance to possibly build a relationship with fellow bloggers. Not only is it ok, but sometimes it's a great idea to link to an interesting post on another blog and give your readers some of your thoughts on it. Your readers will be grateful to find another good website and your colleague may be glad, as well. I know I always am!
Just as we all love to see our own names in writing and hear our names spoken (don't try to deny it), bloggers love to see their posts mentioned. Most likely they will remember that you tried to give them a boost.
Bolded and with an exclamation point. Not only should you be participating (commenting) at other websites, but you should especially be involved in the dialogue going on at your own blog. If you have comments enabled, you should be replying to comments, end of story. It feels good to receive a comment, but it also feels good to receive a reply. If you're not going to engage your readers, how can you expect them to engage you?
Personally if I comment at another blog two or three times in a row without receiving a reply, I quit commenting (and sometimes reading).
3. Post often
This one is probably pretty self explanatory. I think most bloggers who stop posting for weeks or months do so because they have either given up or don't have time to write. But just realize that if you stop posting for weeks or months, you will lose readers, and you will have to work to get them back. Last year when I went home to America in November my posting rate fell off significantly. As you'd expect, I lost readers.
4. Build and maintain your site
I've become convinced that in some ways blogging is like high school. For one thing, looks matter. Sure, there are some good blogs that look kind of plain, but they have the personality to make up for it. Conversely I've seen a lot of nice-looking blogs with content that is plain uninteresting. Some of those same blogs don't even update very often. And yet they get a lot of views. The good-looking blogs can get away with a lot. Now if only I had the cash for a professional makeover...
Along the same vein, I've seen way too many websites with unattended sidebars and blogrolls. I do check out the blogroll links of websites I like. It's disappointing and lowers my opinion of said websites just a tad when only half the blogs are still up and running. Sometimes I'll click on a link only to find it broken or to be taken to a blog that hasn't been updated in two years. Personally, with few exceptions I'll delete a blog from my list if it hasn't been updated in more than a couple months. They can get back on, but they have to be active!
Your links and sidebars are part of your blog. If you have pride in your website, you should maintain it.
5. Focus on quality
When your post is an article, make sure it's neat and well-presented. Spread out your content and make it easy to read. Try to avoid huge blocks of text, and be careful about rushing your writing. Avoid grammatical and spelling mistakes (I'm guilty of often pushing the "publish" button too quickly, myself)!
6. Be visual
|See? Don't you feel relieved by this picture?|
Along with #5, it always helps to have at least one picture to break up the monotony. It can be kind of a put-off to see nothing but a sea of words! Use pictures you've taken yourself or something online. Just be sure not to steal someone else's property. Wikimedia Commons is a nice resource for pictures of all sorts of things.
7. Develop "your thing"
Every good blog needs a distinguishing characteristic. This could be exceptional quality, a unique voice, a theme of some kind, or just a special atmosphere that you create. Your blog's personality, if you will. To take a couple of examples:
Chris, at his blog, Confessions of a Badboy in Japan uses an almost in-your-face blend of unapologetically telling things how he sees them, and exploring some of the more mature themes about experience in Japan that most blogs avoid.
For a different flavor, there's Kirk's Jamaipanese - a blog that explores both life in Jamaica and a burning interest in Japanese culture.
Both of these blogs have found "their thing." They have distinct personalities, and I gather that's one reason why their readers like them.
8. Pay it forward
I don't believe in karma, but I do believe that ultimately what goes around comes around. I've talked a lot about plugging fellow bloggers and being a part of the community. Let me stress that I don't mean you should ingratiate yourself to others so that they will help you get more readers. But what I'm saying does include cooperation and empathy.
I've been on both sides of the fence. Not too long ago I emailed both Kirk and Loco, asking for some blogging advice. I received thoughtful replies from both, and Loco tried to plug me, as well. I've also gotten much-appreciated support and feedback from Orchid.
We've also been referenced by other websites on occasion. Let me tell you, I never forget when someone has plugged or promoted JADJ, and I look for chances to get them back in the future. People remember this kind of thing, so don't be stingy!
For those of us who have been around a little while, it can be hard to remember exactly what it was like starting up. I can imagine it must be even harder for the "A-Listers." But just imagine, when you were just a fledgling startup, how much would it have meant to you to get a link from one of the "big guys," and maybe gain a few extra views. A lot.
I'm not saying you should be linking willy-nilly or to websites with little or not good content. But just try to be aware that you could make a big difference for someone with great ability or ideas who just can't attract many readers on his or her own.
9. Use the tools available to you
I resisted for as long as I could, but after a while I realized that by not using resources like Twitter and Facebook, I was depriving myself of valuable ways not only to get JADJ out there, but to consume more media about Japan and discover other worthwhile websites and blogs about Japan. Twitter is a great tool for finding information and learning about any topic, provided you're following the right people.
As for how to effectively promote, I'll have to get back to you on that. I still haven't discovered the secret of how to get people to retweet my posts. But I've seen other bloggers' posts retweeted to hell - that means those links are circulated to hundreds of readers.
While this is by no means a comprehensive article on "how to be a successful blogger," I hope you'll consider my advice. There is no secret or straight and clear path to becoming successful, but there are certainly things you can do to help yourself and others on the way.
What do you think is most important? Is there anything you would add?