Guest post by Jason Cohen.
In case you needed proof of the efficacy of this formula, know that the post was re-tweeted 700 times and Chris currently enjoys an RSS readership north of 57,000.
Thing is though, I do almost the opposite of his formula. Such as (like, the Iraq, and, such as):
- Chris: “I try to blog almost every day … first, and foremost, my assumption is that frequency matters.”
Me: I post once a week, occasionally twice, sometimes less.
- Chris: “Decide what the post should do for you: [list of possible goals] I start each post with a plan of what I want it to do.”
Me: I try to convey something I find interesting and useful, something I didn’t know before my own successes and failures. I have no other “purpose;” rarely is there a call to action. I hope folks will share posts they like and subscribe if they want more, but even that doesn’t have a defined goal.
- Chris: “I start with a headline … I then find a picture on Flickr … [then I write it]”
Me: Posts start with a concept, but rarely is my headline still correct by the end of the writing. Pictures or cartoons come last of all, designed to reinforce and enhance the writing rather than define the subject of the content.
- Chris: “I make sure that post is brief, unless I want bookmarks, and then I make it much longer.”
Me: My posts are like Fight Club bouts: They go on as long as they have to. And my natural style is to write longer articles. (Read: I like to hear myself bloviate; Or: I’m not good enough to be pithy; Or if you’re feeling generous: I have a lot to say.)
You could point out that I have a paltry 17,000 RSS subscribers instead of his magnificent 57,000 and that this post will be probably be re-tweeted a measly 100 times instead of 700, therefore Chris wins. But aren’t my numbers impressive enough to be called a “success?” Both formulas appear to work.
So who’s right? And how do you pick which formula to copy for yourself?
It’s logical to select Chris’s formula, particularly since it’s nearly identical to that professed by the other power-house how-to blogging sites like Problogger (133,000 subscribers) and Copyblogger (129,000 subscribers). Who could argue with such empirical success? Not me.
And yet, of those hundreds of thousands of adherents, how many enjoy similar levels of RSS devotion and Twitter-powered adulation? Or even an order of magnitude less like me? Almost none. So is it truly a formula, as in “formula for success?” I don’t think so.
Besides, for every successful site following the “frequent, brief, goal-oriented” formula, there’s another – like mine — that is the opposite (“infrequent, lengthy, purposeless”) with plenty of success as well. But that doesn’t make my style a formula either.
In fact, the only conclusion you can draw is that, like building a startup worth millions, creating a popular blog cannot be accomplished by following a formula. Or rather, there isn’t a single formula which produces success, or even dramatically increases your chance at success over other so-called formulas. (Formulae?)
So instead of following rules about post length, post frequency, writing style, whether bullets points and choppy sentences are good or evil, whether it’s OK to curse, or how many link-sharing icons you promote, none of which seem to actually correlate with the success of a blog, I suggest you ask yourself this:
What easiest for me?
If you don’t have more than 200 words to say, don’t fluff it up. If you love spinning out protracted sentences sewn loosely together with armies of semicolons, do it. If you have a visceral need to provide three specific examples immediately following an a sweeping generalization marked by a large, red font, follow your rhythm.
After all, one thing successful blogs do have in common is that the writing matches the personality and quirks of the author. So embrace your quirks!
When you reinforce your natural behavior instead of cramming yourself into someone else’s box, you’ll automatically write better, write more, communicate better, and be happier doing it. It maximizes your ability to create something awesome.
Indeed, there’s one thing Chris mentions almost as an aside which is echoed in all blogging advice you get anywhere, including from me:
“If you’re not creating great stuff, then people move on.”
I would add:
If you’re not creating great stuff, people won’t subscribe in the first place, and they won’t re-tweet you or otherwise spread your links, and anyway, what are you doing?
As I’ve detailed at length, I believe content + luck = blogging success. Everything else is style. Everything else you can take or leave. Everything else you should mold to your own abilities and preferences and goals.
Less time reading advice, more time doing!
(Except reading my advice, of course! Remember, my ego is inexorably tied to the re-tweet and RSS count. Don’t think for a minute I’m being sarcastic either…)
This post was originally posted on September 20, 2010 on Jason’s blog, A Smart Bear.
Jason Cohen founded Smart Bear Software, maker of Code Collaborator, a tool for peer code review and recent winner of the Jolt Award. He took Smart Bear from start to multiple millions in revenue and 50 percent profit margin without debt or VC, then sold it for cash. He is also a founding member of ITWatchdogs, another bootstrapped startup which became profitable and was sold. He’s also a mentor at Capital Factory (like TechStars or Y-Combinator in Austin). And he’s the author of Best Kept Secrets of Peer Code Review, the most popular book (35,000 copies) on modern, lightweight methods for doing peer code review effectively without everyone hating life. He blogs at “a smart bear.” Email him: jason (at) asmartbear (dot) com.