Build a Brand and a Following
Leverage Genuine Passion and Expertise
Successful bloggers are motivated not by fame and fortune, but by a genuine love of the subjects they cover. Those who are instead motivated by a desire for quick, painless, passive income are doomed to failure.
When contemplating subjects to cover, consider your unique passions and areas of expertise. What sets you apart as a person? What do you spend your free time doing? What subjects spark your interest and engagement in a conversation? What do you find yourself returning to again and again when doing random online research?
It is important that you draw from your own passion and expertise because:
- Content you create about your favorite subject is going to be more exciting, detailed, interesting, and well-researched than anything else you might publish
- Content that draws from personal experience is more likely to be original; if you write outside your wheelhouse, you will be forced to recycle content that already exists
- Audiences want to hear from people who practice what they preach: entrepreneurial bloggers with tons of experience starting businesses, food bloggers who are always experimenting in the kitchen, and craft bloggers who are always developing new projects
- Online audiences are very good at sniffing out disingenuous content
- You will not be likely to stick with your work long enough to become successful if you aren't genuinely passionate about it
Resist the temptation to write about trendy subjects about which you know little (plenty of other people will chase after those topics on your behalf).
Go Off the Beaten Track
In addition to riffing on their passions and areas of expertise, top bloggers specialize in non-flooded niches and fight to gain first-mover advantages. Though some segments are very popular, such as entrepreneurship and business, new entrants who rise to the top typically address those segments from a fresh angle, carving out yet-untapped audiences and covering new and emerging aspects of the business creation process.
Once you know what you would love to cover in a blog, video series, and podcast, see how other people are covering the general subject and find out a way to bring fresh perspectives and unique value to the table. Look for emerging trends and facets of that subject that have not yet been addressed.
Some ways in which you can tap into under-served audiences as a blogger include:
- Covering a novel side of a subject, such as by covering a new trend sweeping an industry about which existing bloggers have written little
- Covering the subject in a different media format, such as by creating a podcast on a subject about which there are only blogs.
- Covering the subject in a new style, perhaps by interviewing top experts in the field rather than providing personal conjecture and analysis
Establish a Robust Network
Behind every famous blogger lies a strong network of other well-known content creators. By working with other writers, video creators, and podcasters within your field, you can significantly expand your reach and offer more value to your existing audience.
Be confident in your goals and abilities. Don't let yourself become intimidated by other, better-known bloggers (most are incredibly-open, nice people!). Invite experts and leaders in your field to make an appearance on your blog, show, or podcast. Ask for interviews. The world will not fall apart when you get turned down, and when people accept your offer, you garner not only more high quality content from your blog, but also the potential of having one of your favorite colleagues promote your work amongst his or her followers.
In addition to inviting others to appear on your blog, make a point of guest pitching guest posts to well-known blogs and digital publications. The more you submit, the better. Once you have a good track record for submitting high-quality guest posts, submit several pitches at the same time, then submit your final posts at as close to the same time as possible. When readers suddenly see your name everywhere, they'll be far more likely to remember your name and visit your blog.
Under Promise, Over Deliver
The growth of your brand and following is contingent on your ability to drive word-of-mouth promotion. Nothing inspires others to promote your work quite like the delivery of unexpected utility, quality, and richness. It therefore pays to under-promise and over deliver.
You will be far more likely to surprise and delight others by covering an easy subject that audiences think is difficult to comprehend. Should audiences, for example, think that building networked household gadgets is difficult, when in fact the process is rather straightforward, they will assume that you were the one who magically made the process easy.
Given how important it is that you over deliver, avoid covering difficult subjects that people assume to be easy. While it is possible to build an audience by helping people understand a complex concept, doing so requires top notch communication skills and a super-human ability to maintain visitors' attention through their first (and usually deadly) wave of disappointment.
Create Successful, Valuable, Alluring Content
Optimize Your Work for Search Engines
Good SEO lies at the foundation of most successful online content. For the most part, search engine optimization requires little more than a willingness to create properly-tagged, unique, high quality content that is pleasant for online audiences to consume. To make sure you have the basics down, visit out introductory guide to SEO.
Publish at Regular Intervals
A key element that distinguishes bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters from other types of online content creators is their regular publication schedules. Should you fail to consistently publish content on pre-determined days and at pre-determined times, you may find trouble building up an audience.
Most bloggers ensure regular publication by building up a buffer zone of content that would enable them to regularly publish for weeks on end, even should some unexpected life event prevent them from creating new content for a prolonged period of time. You will have a far easier time maintaining this buffer zone should you create it well before you launch your online venture. It will also be easier to regularly build upon your buffer zone if you develop a habit of creating more pieces of content each week than you end up using. If, for example, you publish three times a week but create four posts, videos, or podcasts every week, you will be able to constantly strengthen your stockpile.
Should you buffer zone ever grow to become so large that you could automatically publish content for months on end without having to create something new, publish some of your excess content as guest posts for other blogs, bonus posts on your own digital properties, or exclusive content that is only available to a paying class of readers. Don't give up your habit of producing more content every week or month than you ultimately publish in that interval; having extra content will always come in handy (that is, so long as it is of high quality and not incredibly time sensitive).
Treat Readers Consistently
Should your work be open to discussion via comments, forums, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, etc., you should establish policies addressing when and how you will engage, as well as when and how you will address certain types of commenter behavior (such as inflammatory remarks, crude language, etc.). For more guidance on consistent and optimal reader response protocol, see our guide to establishing a comment moderation policy.
Understand Your Target Audience
Before your blog, vlog, or podcast even launches, you should be able to confidently discuss:
- Your target audience's interests
- Your target audience's needs
- Your target audience's pain points
- Your target audience's favorite means of consuming information
- Your target audience's favorite digital media outlets (blog, podcasts, video series, etc.)
Though it is possible to launch an eventually-successful blog without fully understanding your target audience's characteristics, needs, and behavior, the period of time before that blog becomes successful will be significantly longer (as essentially, their creators learn about their target audience, then adapt to their needs, as they go along). The few bloggers out there who earn profits from their content at record speeds know their target audiences down cold well before they are out of the starting gate.
To gain an in-depth understanding of your target audience, visit the top online destinations addressing a niche that is as similar as possible to that which you want to cover. Look at social media stats and comments associated with posts on those sites to discover what types of content garner the most interest. Create saved searches related to top keywords on Twitter to monitor live discourse on your subject. Set up Google Alerts related to those same keywords to get updates on coverage of your niche in blogs, on major news sites, and across various online discussion venues. Follow top influencers within the niche on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram. Get to know as many members of your target audience on a personal basis as possible by commenting on their work, interacting with them via social media sites, forums, and comment threads, and corresponding with them via email.
Provide the Perfect Reader Experience
Because content creation requires so much work, it is all too easy to focus more on getting something published than on creating an optimal reader experience, but the latter consideration must always be your first priority. Many popular bloggers got their start not by carefully targeting audiences, but by creating useful resources for themselves only. Because their collective notes and insights were useful to others as well, large (often unexpected) audiences naturally followed.
While we do not recommend developing a blog without a target audience in mind, we do recommend creating a resource that you, personally, would want to use. Always keep your viewers in mind. Consider what they want from your work and deliver it in the most efficient, pleasant means possible. Consider how they consume their work (e.g. via social media, mobile devices, newsletters) and optimize your content for those preferred channels.
Increasingly, optimal reader experiences are those which are presented across a wide variety of platforms. Bloggers who make their content available in multiple formats (as books, videos, podcasts, and posts) are typically rewarded with larger audiences and more pervasive personal brands.
One of the simplest means by which you can create a great experience for your audience is by being succinct. Be mindful and respectful of the time readers are essentially giving to you by reading your content.. Cut out anything that does not directly contribute to the value promised in a given post, episode, or podcast. It does not matter if something is witty, funny, or interesting. If it is irrelevant, it goes.
Learn to Love the List (and Other Popular Title Formats)
In search results and social media feeds alike, people love list articles (e.g. "50 Food Hacks" or "10 Style Tips for Summer"). Leverage audiences' list lust by incorporating the format into your work, be it written, filmed, or recorded.
Other consistently-successful title types include:
- Those revealing "secrets" to something: Such as "20 Secrets Hospital Administrators Don't Want You to Know"
- Those busting common myths: Such as "10 Productivity Myths Perpetuated by Pop Science Blogs"
- Those revealing "embarrassing" information: "Five Embarrassing Mistakes Made by Young Couples"
Audiences will also be more likely to share articles that make them look good amongst their followers. Bear this in mind as you contemplate subjects to cover and titles to choose.
Ask Better Questions
Avoid addressing stale subjects by asking intelligent questions. While doing so is ten times more difficult then browsing through others' content for inspiration and answering a well-covered question for the umpteenth time with a slightly different angle, smart questioning is well worth the cognitive effort required.
Should you, for example, maintain a diet and fitness blog, stop answering questions such as:
- How can I lose weight?
- What are the best diet methods?
- What exercises should I do?
- What foods and practices should I avoid?
- How can I stick to a healthy diet?
Start asking questions like:
- How do we know this new, trendy diet actually works?
- How trustworthy are studies indicating the value of a certain food, exercise, or vitamin?
- How can we determine which solutions are best targeted at a single individual?
- What factors could we be ignoring when considering diets and exercise plans?
- Is gym attendance and "scheduled" exercise a viable long-term health solution?
The originality and value of your content will increase with every new thoughtful, critical question you ask.
Build a Profitable Business
Start With a Business Model
If you want to become a full-time blogger, your goal should be to build a business, not a blog. Bloggers do not make money simply by creating content (especially given how low and unpredictable ad revenue has become). Instead, bloggers make money through sponsorships, products, services, and events.
Before developing a concept for your blog, choose one or two proven business models that leverages your personal strengths and would work well with your desired target audience. Only after you have a business model in mind should you begin to dig in to the nitty gritty of your blog's design, post format, and promotion strategy.
Choose a Subject that is More Likely to Drive Sales
Though it is essential to create content around a subject you love and know well, it is also essential that you choose a subject that caters to a profitable business model (that is, if you want to make money). A huge audience means nothing if you want to make money, but nobody feels like spending any on the things you offer.
A simple way to determine whether you have the potential to sell something is to ask yourself whether it is a vitamin or a pain pill. Vitamins are nice to have. They might improve your health. They can make you feel a proud for taking care of yourself. But unlike pain pills, vitamins are easy to "forget" to buy. Those who could benefit from vitamins have no glaringly apparent incentive to take them, whereas those who could benefit from pain pills do.
Are audiences constantly reminded of their need for a solution you provide, or would they be more likely to see it as something that would be "nice to have?" Should the former scenario be the case, you are in a good position to make money from your blog. Should, however, audiences just see your products and services as cool, but not urgently-necessary solutions, you may have trouble generating income.
Develop Solutions with Your Audience
Products and services with significant potential are are perfectly suited to meet customers' needs. By working closely with your target audience to develop paid offerings related to your blog, vlog, or podcast, you can significantly increase the odds that those offerings sell.
Start by sniffing out your audience's pain points. Doing so isn't necessarily easy, as many people aren't aware of the root causes behind their struggles and discomforts. Once you have an idea of major problems you might solve, draw up a couple of proposed solutions and discuss them with your followers. This will kick off an iterative process that, in the end, yields a refined product that meets your target audience's needs in just the manner they prefer.
One sizable benefit that accompanies this product development process is that much of your audience will develop genuine interest and feelings of investment in the solutions you develop. Some bloggers are even able to fund the entire creation of a new product from pre-sales because their readers are so enthusiastic about the solution they collaboratively helped to create. Willingness to work intimately with followers may also boost their willingness to share your blog, products, and services with others.
Create a Scalable Business
Whether you decide to monetize your blog by turning it into a business, nonprofit, or full-blown publication, you should be prepared to bring it to scale. You may encounter difficulty making significant amounts of income should you not be ready to serve significantly higher numbers customers, clients, and readers.
If you decide to turn your blog into a business, be prepared to hire additional staff members or develop products that can be sold to massive numbers of people without personal intervention. Should you run it as a nonprofit, consider what must be done to attract bigger donors and higher numbers of contributions. If your blog is designed to serve as widely-read digital publications, be prepared to hire editors, recruit staff writers, and create an organized process whereby freelance writers and volunteer contributors can publish work through the site.
Batch Recurring Tasks
You will have a far easier time consistently creating high volumes of quality content if you batch the process. Regularly-scheduled sessions devoted entirely to one task enable you to:
- Focus on one thing and one thing only (thereby boosting efficiency and getting more out of your time)
- Really get into a groove with your work
- Consistently turn out work
- Avoid an unending guilt about not getting work done
- Avoid last-minute scrambles to meet deadlines
Maximize Your Most Productive Time
Content creation is the bread and butter of blogging, vlogging, and podcasting, yet alas, it takes up huge amounts of time. The same goes with product and service development, another essential aspect of a blogger's career. You must therefore find ways to minimize time spent on less-crucial and irreplaceable tasks, such as emails, scheduling, bookkeeping, and errands.
Bloggers commonly maximize their productive time by:
- Killing all unnecessary email subscriptions
- Using scheduling apps like ScheduleOnce to organize meetings with minimal correspondence
- Hiring personal assistants to manage scheduling, emails, and errands
- Hiring CPAs to manage bookkeeping tasks
Use Your Audience for Inspiration
Audiences can be tapped for content as well as product inspiration. When looking for new ideas of subjects to cover, go to them first (rather than spending hours searching around for something new to address). When starting a series on a new subject, ask your readers, viewers, and listeners what facets of that subject they would like you to cover. Regularly encourage followers to submit recommendations. Read through your the comments people leave on the content you publish and address their suggestions and insights (while attributing them) in future content. In addition to saving time, you will ultimately create more content that your audience members want to consume and demonstrate how much you care about their opinions.
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