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Eleven Tips to Create a Great Blog

Posted by on Oct 3, 2011 | 8 Comments

So you want to create a kick-ass blog?  Good for you.  Bloggers play an increasingly important role in our society.  We’re the journalists of a new generation.  The internet has done a wonderful job of democratizing information.  No longer do you have to jump through the traditional hoops that prevented the masses from having a voice.  There are no gatekeepers on the Interwebs.  There’s no need for a journalism degree or even training as a professional writer.

Of course, this removal of minimal requirements has a serious caveat: there is absolutely no quality control.  The information available on the internet ranges from spectacular to abysmal.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It creates a situation where the populous determines what prospers and what fails.  Creating a kick-ass blog will help assure you’re in the first group.

Here are a few things you can do to help assure your blog will get noticed:

1. Write about stuff that will be interesting to a group of people.  Interesting blogs get read.  More importantly, they are shared.  This creates traffic.  I use a pretty simple method to make sure I’m writing about interesting things.  I think of one specific individual, then write the post as if I am writing specifically for them.  This is the reason my posts almost always proceed a conversation I have, forum topic I contributed to, or an article I’ve read.  Note- don’t make the mistake of trying to write for everybody.  Pick a relatively small audience; write the stuff they want to read.

2. Don’t be a one-trick pony.  There are several themes that often appear in running-related blogs- product reviews, educational posts, give-aways, opinion pieces, race reports, etc.  All are good because they serve a specific purpose.  Reviews are good for driving traffic based on search engine traffic.  Give-aways can bring in new readers.  Opinion pieces encourage interaction via comments.  Educational pieces appeal to newbies.  If you use one of these too much, you cheapen the blog.  Variety is a good thing.

3. Express your opinion.  Don’t be afraid to occasionally ruffle feathers.  Controversy is interesting.  I received a lot of flak for my “anti-barefoot coach certification” posts.  I thought the idea was stupid and expressed my opinion.  It stimulated some good discussion.  Bryon Powell of irunfar.com recently called out a specific race director because he sucks.  That makes me want to read more of Bryon’s stuff.

4. Network like Hell.  Build relationships with other bloggers, corporations, organizations, and your followers.  Get to know them personally.  Not only is this rewarding, it helps you understand your role in their universe.  This will ultimately help give you a more relevant voice.  For running, I go to great lengths to talk to as many people as I can from every facet of the running industry.

5. Stay away from negative people that do not share your vision.  There are a ton of people that think the “Awesome Blogger” gig is stupid.  Fuck ‘em.  Understand that many people will oppose you because they have to justify their life decisions.  My best advice is to simply ignore them.  Of course, this may be someone very close to you like a spouse.  My recommendation- explain that this is your dream, your calling.  If they still object, that’s their problem.  In that case, divorce may be the only option.  :-)

6. Savor obscurity.  This idea comes from Hugh MacLeod’s excellent book “Ignore Everybody.”  Every blogger (or artist) NEEDS to read this book.  Anyway, the more popular your blog gets, the more pressures you have from all sides.  In the beginning, you can do anything without consequence.  As your blog increases in popularity, so does the consequences of your actions.  Apparently my anti-barefoot coach post was quite upsetting to the folks at Terra Plana (who recently developed such a program.)  I felt bad because they’re an awesome company that is doing great things for our community.  I just don’t like the certification idea.  Merit can be bought, passion can’t.  Still, my opinions unintentionally tarnished them in the eyes of a few.  After the initial post, I wrote another explaining my admiration for all that they do.  A few years ago, that second post wouldn’t have been necessary… nobody would have noticed.

7. Success comes slowly and requires many hours.  I’ve been blogging about barefoot running since 2006.  I endured four years of incredibly slow growth.  I’ve spent thousands of hours building this site and writing my book.  Most of that time was spent learning the lessons I’m sharing now.  The very nature of blogging is gradual growth.  You slowly accumulate more followers.  Of course, they tend to snowball.  The more followers you have, the more they share.  The more they share, the faster you grow.  Still, it can be discouraging in the beginning.  Keep at it.  Those that persevere are those that succeed.

8. The best way to get anything is to not need it.  This holds true for pretty much anything and everything.  Shelly and I paid off all our debt and simplified our lives so we needed less money to survive.  The result: we get frequent opportunities to make more money.  We got rid of the vast majority of our material possessions.  The result:  We now get tons of offers from people wanting to give us stuff to review.  I stopped trying to build traffic to my site.  The result: traffic increased dramatically.  The same works with social approval, attention, and love.  It is as if the universe senses desperation and acts accordingly.

9. Develop a set of principles, then allow those principles to guide what you’re willing to do and not do.  As you grow, people and companies will ask you to do a variety of things.  You may be comfortable with some requests.  Others… not so much.  I’ve had companies offer me money in exchange for positive reviews.  I’ve had companies demand I change negative reviews.  There have been a few other examples of people offering things that would violate some of my basic principles.  Having a definitive set of ideals has helped me make difficult decisions.

10. As you grow, you will lose touch with your roots.  The more popular your blog becomes, the more time it consumes.  The more time it consumes, the less time you have to interact with others.  Most of us in the barefoot running blogosphere started by posting on forums.  That led to blogging.  As the blogging grew, we had less time to contribute to the forums.  This seems to be an inevitable occurrence.  I tired to fight it, but quickly started feeling burned out.  The workload was too great.  Understand that growth has consequences.

11. Don’t follow my advice.  Don’t automatically do what others do.  Don’t stand out from the crowd- avoid crowds altogether (another MacLeod idea.)  The methods I used to create this blog worked pretty well for me, but aren’t necessarily universal.  Do your own experimentation.  Not only will you likely find a better way, you’ll end up with something decidedly different than everything else out there.

Hope these tips help.  Bloggers- do you have any other tips you’d like to share?  Leave them in the comments!

Good luck!

Also, Check out The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy’s post on the same topic: http://www.maplegrovebarefootguy.com/2011/10/mgbg-guide-to-creating-blog-that-doesnt.html?m=1

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8 Comments

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    [...] Be a Dumbass Client Lessons from Romania Eleven Tips to Create a Great Blog Just Give 1% (More) Shoe Review – Olympic Weightlifting Shoes Stages of CrossFit 40 Years of [...]

  2. Sally Hulbert
    October 5, 2011

    Thanks Jason! Yay Trish!! I think we start to blog because we have a need to express what we are passionate about.Any positive results that come from that are just icing on the cake. we would all love to make a living with our passions-believe me -I am trying. Jason you are so lucky you have the opportunity to do that!!

  3. Marcus
    October 4, 2011

    Jason, you’re absolutely correct I think.

    I’ve only been blogging for a couple of years but I’ve noticed that the harder I “try” to get traffic, the worse things become. Then occasionally I write something that resonates with me, and I think it’s just me, but it resonates with others as well.

    Overall, I’ve become a little more organic with it. I write what seems interesting and lo and behold, people read.

    Great post and thanks for all of the energy you’ve put into this.

  4. OreMan
    October 4, 2011

    Tip number 12: Write in English!

    This is probably left out because it is quite obvious to you all. If you choose to write in some very small language like I do, the task of gaining a large audience gets a lot more challenging.. ;)

  5. Mike
    October 4, 2011

    Great post today Jason! I have been really thinking about this exact topic a lot lately since I am a new blogger. There are some real nuggets in your post and I appreciate you taking the time to write this. Great post and a super informative blog.

  6. Alex
    October 3, 2011

    Mine is a lightly-read blog, tangentially about coffee. It’s a niche within a niche. But whatever success I’ve had is due to the fact that, playing on rule 1, I write about stuff I’m interested in. I’d no doubt have a “bigger” blog if I reviewed every product or pasted up every PR statement. But for me, that wouldn’t be nearly as fun. And that should be at the root of any endeavor. You have to enjoy producing the content before anyone will enjoy reading it.

  7. The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy
    October 3, 2011

    I always preface advice like this with the question, “what do you want a kickass blog for?”. I think folks get caught up in the act of making their blog better that they forget why they are blogging in the first place. Having a popular blog is not a goal in and of itself.

    For example, my primary goal is to spread the word on the barefoot movement. Increased popularity helps me do that. A secondary goal with my blog is to work in the outdoor industry. So I use my increased exposure to meet industry people, get freelance gigs, and learn the business.

    But do I care that my blog is popular? Not really. But it helps.

  8. Trish Reeves
    October 3, 2011

    this post comes at a good time for me. I originally started a blog because I love to write, and I wanted to use it for writing samples and then grow from there into the book I want to write someday. But then the running thing sort of took over. I still write about non-running topics ever so often (which many of you guys don’t do – probably a smart move), because I think my voice just isn’t homogeneous. I changed my blog name to reflect the barefoot lifestyle I believe in, but I still didn’t feel it needed to be only about one thing. But then I met you all and I started to get sucked in to the world of the really popular running blogger. I wanted to be popular too – get free things to write reviews about, inspire beginner runners, etc. etc. I started to feel bad about my blog – it’s not as successful as everyone else’s and blah blah blah. But. Then the other day I realized – I don’t really have to care. I started this blog for me. In order to hone my writing skills and find my voice. If in the meantime I happen to gain a few followers and some attention from cool people, then great. But I’m not going to sweat it if I don’t. And then I read this and I realized that I don’t know if I really want/need to spend thousands of hours schmoozing with company reps, or make a living from my barefoot life. Running is my hobby…writing is my hobby. Once it becomes work it ceases to be a hobby. In other words, I intend to follow rule #8 to the word. So thank you for waking me up a little.