23 Rules of Thumb for Effective Blogging

I’ll be speaking at Connected Marketing Week tomorrow in a session called “Small Voices, Big Results” at 1pm. Specifically, I’ll be discussing blogging rules that I’ve seen work over the years.Since I started blogging publicly in 2007, I’ve learned a lot about blogging and blogging culture. Along with things I’ve learned about myself and my own style there are some universal rules to follow to be a successful blogger, no matter who you are or what you’re writing about. Today I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned and start a discussion. If you’ve got any additional bits of advice you would have given yourself when you first started blogging, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear them. I don’t pretend to be an expert. I’m always learning like the rest of you.

Here are my 23 Rules of Thumb for Effective Blogging…

Rule #1: No one cares about you.

Every time you sit down to write, remind yourself that there are a trillion other websites out there competing for attention. Then remind yourself how little time you have these days to spend reading the news, books, all your friends’ Tweets and Facebook status messages and blog posts. Got it? In that moment, ask yourself honestly whether you’d spend time reading a 10,000 word blog post about your cat.

People invest their time reading posts that educate and enlighten, or organize complex information, or bust myths or provide pointers to great resources. Internet users have evolved into ultra-savvy scanners when it comes to web content, and they’re insanely good at figuring out whether there’s something in it for them in under 10 seconds. If they don’t get the immediate impression that what you’ve written is useful or entertaining, they’ll leave and go somewhere else. Web time is “me time” for readers. So write stuff that other people will find useful, and save the stories about your cat for your mom.

Rule #2: Avoid Self Promotion At All Costs.

We all want to get noticed for what we’re doing. It feels great when people read your stuff, and give you recognition for your penmanship and your ideas. But nothing turns people off more quickly than when you try and tell them how much of a mind-grenade you think your latest post is.  The moments when you’re the most excited about something you’ve created are when you need to be most thoughtful about how you get the word out. Sharing links to your stuff via social media is fine, but no one likes the guy that emails every person he knows with a message full of exclamation points asking them to share his content with all their friends. You won’t be able to completely avoid self promotion, just keep it to an absolute minimum and be tactful and tasteful about it when you do.

Rule #3: Write The Way You Speak.

Writing for the web isn’t like writing an essay or a dissertation. That goes for business blogging as well. Always write the way that you speak. Let your personality and unique voice come out in your writing, and be conversational. Swear if you like if it’s how you talk with your friends. Just be yourself. Your readers value authenticity. They want to know you’re a real person just like them. If you sound like an academic reading a dissertation, it’ll turn people off. Besides, if you can’t explain things simply, you probably don’t understand them well enough to be writing about them anyway. So put down the thesaurus and write with the voice that your friends and family are used to.

Rule #4: Don’t Flaunt Your Ego. Be Vulnerable, Admit Mistakes, and Discuss Your Failures as Well As Your Successes.

No one out there expects perfection of you, and no one likes a self-important know-it-all. Be human. Show us your underbelly.  It’s endearing.

Rule #5: Know Your DNA

The medium you chose could have a big impact on your success. Some people aren’t great writers and hate writing. Others love it. Some are super comfortable on camera and would be better suited for video blogging, others not so much. Pick the medium that best suits your abilities and comfort level. If you’re trying out video blogging for the first time, I suggest using free tools to test how your audience is responding to your videos in real time.

Rule #6: Reveal Thy Curiosity and Thy Passion

Write about stuff you’re genuinely interested in and passionate about. I say this for two reasons. The first is obvious; If you don’t, blogging is going to feel like a chore and you’ll burn out quickly. Sitting down at the keyboard to write has got to be fun if you’re going to sustain the habit long enough for you to be successful. And trust me, unless you’re already a huge celebrity, it takes a while.

Second…and this is really the whole essence of what makes this blogging thing worth it…Ready? What makes readers want to connect and build a relationship with you is when they feel your energy and genuine enthusiasm for the topics they love. I cannot emphasize this point enough: Blogging is about creating conversations and building relationships. The magic happens when your writing resonates with people on an intellectual and an emotional level that makes them feel like they’ve suddenly found someone that likes what they like, that feels the way they feel and that they want to talk to. Life-long friendships are built this way, one person at at time. So are readerships.

Rule #7: The More You Create, The More You Connect With Others

See rules 3, 4, 5 and 6. Rinse and repeat.

Rule #8: You Don’t Have To Write Every Single Day

Do. Not. Let. Blogging. Stress. You. Out.

I have heard so many top bloggers say you have to post every day to be successful.  OK, yeah, if you want a readership in the hundreds of thousands a month and you want to turn your blog into a full-time career, yeah, you do. But let’s get real. 99.7% of us don’t have time for that. We have businesses to run, families to take care of, and day to day stuff we need to accomplish just to keep our heads above water.

Writing a blog takes time away from your other activities and can become a heavy burden and source of intense stress if you get hung up on the idea that you’ve got to be super blogger in order to be successful. So forget about posting every day and just post when you can. You can have plenty of  fun and make big things happen for yourself writing just one or two really good posts a week – the trick is to decide on a schedule that’s realistic and works for you and just keep at it.

Rule #9: Blog For Humility, Perspective and Growth

Rule #10: Take A Long Term Approach, Own Your Name, Build Your Own Long-Tail

When I started blogging 2 years ago, a Google search for my name got 11 hits. The information was thin – just my name on a few pages from my high school’s newspaper that had been posted online, a link to my Facebook account and some candid photos that a friend put on Kodak’s slide share of me driving a beat up Nissan Sunny. That same search today will yield over 114,000 hits thanks to blogging and social media. Because my social profiles are active and my blog is regularly updated, my best and most recent content has risen to the top of search engines – and it’s stuff I’m proud of. Taking control of your search results is important because Google results are your resume (whether you like that fact or not). Search is the first place people go to find out about you, and that’s especially true for employers. Most importantly, though, putting yourself out there in an open, transparent way builds reputation and authority, establishes credibility and gives you access to people and resources. If you want to read more about the impact of having your own personal long tail, Seth Godin has a great post titled Luckiest Guy that’s instructive.

Rule #11: Don’t Niche Yourself Too Early.

Embrace the fact that the process will change you. Blogging is a long journey with lots of unexpected twists and turns. As you continue to write and interact with others, your opinions and perspectives will change and you’ll develop new interests and old ones will fade. Over time you’ll find your unique authentic voice and get a great sense of what type of topics you really want to write about over and over again. Even if you’re not good at blogging yet, if you stick with it, you’ll get good at it, and you’ll find yourself along the way.

Rule #12: Don’t waste your time worrying about typos on your blog. Just post.

Rule #13: Don’t Be Afraid of Your Friends, Family Or Co-Workers.

Fear that your friends, family, co-workers and potential employers will read your blog and judge you harshly can cripple and demotivate you. I would be lying if I told you that I haven’t had moments of intense insecurity as a blogger. Doing this takes confidence and courage. The good news is that with time, insecurity about sharing your ideas and experiences publicly wanes and eventually fades away. Not everything you write is going to be great, but that’s not the point. What matters is the growth, humility and perspective you get from continuously showing up at your keyboard and sharing ideas.

Rule #14: Don’t Worry About Finding The Perfect Domain Name And Title For Your Blog. Just Use Your Name.

The number one hangup that seems to stop novice bloggers in their tracks is that they feel that before they get started, they need an awesome blog name. Here’s a reality check: Other bloggers don’t care. In fact, no one cares about gimmicks on the social web – they only want you to be transparent and authentic and produce great content. A funky name or a gimmicky title can actually hurt you in the long run. If your content is good and spreads online, people will get to know you and search for your name in Google. Having your name in the title of your blog and in the URL of the site address will help you own your name in search results and get found on the web.

Using your name as the title of your blog also takes some of the pressure off you to stay on topic. Believe me, if you go with reallyspecificthing.com you will immediately regret it when you suddenly decide to change directions, or develop new interests etc. Yourname.com, on the other hand is timeless and will keep racking up Google juice as long as you are producing content.

Rule #15: Acknowledge and Respond To Your Readers, Especially The Ones That Comment Frequently.

Don’t ignore your readers. If someone takes the time to read something you wrote and start a conversation with a thoughtful comment, respond if you can. Doing this one little thing says “Thank you for reading and for making a contribution. I’m here. I’m listening.” It’s just as important for first time commenters to get this type of acknowledgment as it is for people that comment a lot (i.e. your biggest fans). It keeps people coming back and encourages them to build a relationship with you. The bottom line is, if you press the “publish” button, you’re starting a conversation, not delivering a sermon.

Rule #16: Master The Zen Art of Comment Curation

Don’t be afraid of the spammers, the haters and the hoi polloi showing up at your blog and messing with your Chi. The comments other people leave on your blog are like letters to an editor. They belong to you and you have total control over whether they are displayed or not. Allow people to respectfully disagree, but feel free to delete anything hurtful, inappropriate or that you think detracts from the quality of the conversation. Seriously. Insist that people be cool, behave themselves and add value. Other commenters will appreciate it and your blog will be better for it.

Rule #17: Comment on the Utterances of Other Bloggers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy

Join the conversation on other peoples blogs often. Leave insightful, thoughtful comments without promoting yourself or your blog (see Rule #2). Showing genuine interest in the ideas, thoughts and feelings of others is a fundamental element of relationship building on the web. Dont’ worry about tooting your own horn. If you’re friendly, smart and add value to the content of other people’s sites, they’ll come and find you.

Rule #18: Learn How To Say Thank You On The Social Web In Ways That Have Impact And Meaning To Others.

Rule #19: This Is Blogging, Not NASCAR

When you’re just starting out it might seem like the more buttons, widgets, ads and share icons you have decorating your blog, the better. Avoid the impulse to treat your blog like a sponsored stock car. Too much visual clutter is irritating for your readers, and, whether you like it or not, it can ruin your credibility with other bloggers who see the bells and whistles as unnecessary distractions. Edit down to just the essential tools you think your readers want to see, and always make sure your primary content is the start of the show.

Rule #20: Don’t Act Like A Used Car Salesman.

In retrospect, this should probably be higher up on the list. I thought it might make more sense here closer to the bad NASCAR joke. Also, I apologize if you are actually a used car salesman.

Rule #21: Reality check: You’re not going to make money from your blog

Rule #22: If something you’re about to publish gives you pause, hold off on clicking submit.

Nothing you don’t publish will ever come back to bite you.

Rule #23: Always Write Your Titles Last

Arguably, the title of a blog post can make or break someone’s decision to spend time reading what you’ve written. Enticing people to actually read what you’ve written is half the battle. Brian Clarke is the master of this. He’s got an entire blog devoted to how to write for the web. Highly recommended.

29 Comments

  1. Great list Steffan. Nicely put together.

    1. Thanks Nate. You know what rule #24 should be? The second you publish, you will have an “ah-ha” moment about what your post is missing.

  2. I had to laugh at #17. Sometimes, linking to a post feels like throwing an apple of discord among my peeps.

    1. Noted. And. Ditto. Part of the fun and the process, though, no?

      1. Yep, this crowd likes to be kept on its toes.

      2. That reminded me… my blog is …. [redacted]. ;P

  3. Rule # 24, read Steffan Antonas' blog. Great list Steffan.

    I think another potential tip could be pulled directly from your introduction – use your work material as blog material. No reason to re-invent the wheel. This list that you've put together is not only great value to your client, but also to the blogosphere. The best part is you haven't had to do twice the work.

    I've worked for authors in the past, and it's surprising to me that they'll have a blog without incorporating any of their past written material. There's no shame in pulling a chapter out of your book and using it as a post. If it's good material, it's good material.

    # 25 – Re-syndicate

    1. Zach – Great points. I used this blog post as a brainstorming session to
      collect my thoughts and to get feedback (so thank you for providing your
      thoughts). Once it's made the rounds, I'll polish up the good parts and
      reuse them in my presentation. The feedback aspect is huge. It's one of the
      things I love most about blogging – smart people show up, vet your writing
      and give you a different perspective and new ideas. Putting content out
      there for people to judge is actually a great way to learn. Thanks for
      reading.

  4. Wow – this is really solid Steffan. Thanks for putting this together. Any tips on how to come back gracefully after a posting drought?

    1. Here's something that works for me – keep a moleskin notebook with you all
      the time. When you have a few hours free, open it up, re-read the post ideas
      you have written down, throw on some headphones with some great music and
      just start writing. Also, never ever waste time “apologizing” to your
      readers for not posting. It wastes your energy and no one cares. Just post
      like you've been writing every day.

  5. Rule # 24, read Steffan Antonas' blog. Great list Steffan.

    I think another potential tip could be pulled directly from your introduction – use your work material as blog material. No reason to re-invent the wheel. This list that you've put together is not only great value to your client, but also to the blogosphere. The best part is you haven't had to do twice the work.

    I've worked for authors in the past, and it's surprising to me that they'll have a blog without incorporating any of their past written material. There's no shame in pulling a chapter out of your book and using it as a post. If it's good material, it's good material.

    # 25 – Re-syndicate

  6. Wow – this is really solid Steffan. Thanks for putting this together. Any tips on how to come back gracefully after a posting drought?

  7. Zach – Great points. I used this blog post as a brainstorming session to
    collect my thoughts and to get feedback (so thank you for providing your
    thoughts). Once it's made the rounds, I'll polish up the good parts and
    reuse them in my presentation. The feedback aspect is huge. It's one of the
    things I love most about blogging – smart people show up, vet your writing
    and give you a different perspective and new ideas. Putting content out
    there for people to judge is actually a great way to learn. Thanks for
    reading.

  8. Here's something that works for me – keep a moleskin notebook with you all
    the time. When you have a few hours free, open it up, re-read the post ideas
    you have written down, throw on some headphones with some great music and
    just start writing. Also, never ever waste time “apologizing” to your
    readers for not posting. It wastes your energy and no one cares. Just post
    like you've been writing every day.

  9. All excellent points Steffan, but I particularly like the “create and connect” concept, as the more you express of yourself, the more likely you are to touch someone and create a dialog that enriches both lives. I've found that every post I write inspires at least one more, and that means more connections are waiting for me just around the corner!

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  11. Thanks for the rules. I will follow your suggestion and apply in my blogging.

    But I am not sure if you know it or not that your apture topbar increase your bog load time.

    1. I am aware of the load time issue. Thanks for the heads up.

  12. Great list Steffan:

    I'd add the following:
    #24 Spend time on creating a headline that will capture readers attention and get them to read your post. Your blog post headline is the first and perhaps the only impression you'll make on a potential reader. Craft it wisely.

    #25 Add a provocative picture to your post. Search Flickr photos for open commons images to use.

    #26 Don't forget using SEO strategies to get more readers to your blog. Keywords are critical. I believe that you should be writing to be helpful first, then think about the keywords. I've read some posts that are not helpful at all but full of keywords to garner traffic.

    Nice job Steffan!

    1. Good ones Jeff!. Brian Clark (Copyblogger) is the king of #24. He's got some
      great posts on how to write good copy.

  13. Great list Steffan:

    I'd add the following:
    #24 Spend time on creating a headline that will capture readers attention and get them to read your post. Your blog post headline is the first and perhaps the only impression you'll make on a potential reader. Craft it wisely.

    #25 Add a provocative picture to your post. Search Flickr photos for open commons images to use.

    #26 Don't forget using SEO strategies to get more readers to your blog. Keywords are critical. I believe that you should be writing to be helpful first, then think about the keywords. I've read some posts that are not helpful at all but full of keywords to garner traffic.

    Nice job Steffan!

  14. Great list Steffan:

    I'd add the following:
    #24 Spend time on creating a headline that will capture readers attention and get them to read your post. Your blog post headline is the first and perhaps the only impression you'll make on a potential reader. Craft it wisely.

    #25 Add a provocative picture to your post. Search Flickr photos for open commons images to use.

    #26 Don't forget using SEO strategies to get more readers to your blog. Keywords are critical. I believe that you should be writing to be helpful first, then think about the keywords. I've read some posts that are not helpful at all but full of keywords to garner traffic.

    Nice job Steffan!

  15. Excellently written post Steffan! I definitely agree with your comment that you ALWAYS think of something else to add after you publish. This is what I call food for the next post =-) I think we often forget that it's okay to break our posts into 2 or even 3 different posts for different days. Also, great recommendation to Brian Clarke, so much great content there!

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