The Hard Way

I had a rather illuminating discussion today on Twitter between a number of different people, with its genesis in this article by Zac Szewczyk. Zac’s article speaks about his struggle over the years to create a successful blog that could attract readers and get some degree of attention. The discussion went in many directions but made me think about this issue a bit more deeply. It’s an issue I’ve continously struggled with for the entire time I’ve been running VintageZen, how can I get people to read my stuff?

Now, first off, I think everyone would agree that any good blogger’s first and foremost priority is to write great posts. Without that, you can “market” yourself as much as possible, but you’re not going to really go anywhere, or at least no where you’d want to be. Yet, anyone that actually goes to the bother of creating their own blog on the internet also has some desire for others to read those great posts. Otherwise, they’d simply keep a journal and never publish their writings for the world to see.

So, what does a blogger do after writing their posts to actually get readers? That’s the tricky part. If you do absolutely nothing after posting to your blog (assuming you are just starting out), you will get absolutely no one reading your blog. One has to do something beyond simply posting to get readers, some minimum amount of interaction that will put you on the radar of other human beings. It gets tricky because some people go too far in this area, but some don’t go far enough.

While you can Google how to create a successful blog and find thousands of articles, I’ve read a fair number and most are utter and complete garbage. Many focus on SEO gaming or posting every day or all kinds of other “tricks” that will supposedly bring people to your site. Yet, while some of these things might work, I doubt any of them will help create a quality and lasting blog that has a loyal and interested readership. That is the kind of blog I want to maintain, not one that people might be scammed into clicking on and never want to come back.

So without using all the thousands of tricks out there, what is the best way to bring readers to one’s blog and create that loyal following?

Community.

That is the biggest revelation I’ve had in the past year. You must search out and find the community that has the type of people you want as readers of your blog. It’s probably very obvious but I think many bloggers starting out completely miss this. For VintageZen, a more tech focussed blog, I found my community on Twitter amongst the Apple/tech geeks. If you had a different type of blog, say a knitting blog, you’d need to find out where people that love knitting reside on the internet, maybe message boards or Pinterest or wherever.

But just as important as finding that community is becoming an active and contributing member. This is where I initially stumbled. After rededicating myself to VintageZen last year, I began tweeting links of my articles to some bigger names in the tech sphere, hoping to get noticed. While this tactic actually worked on occasion, and my articles got linked by some big names, it didn’t create a strong and loyal following on my site. Usually it just created a spike in page views for a few days. It felt nice and stoked my ego for a bit, but I quickly realized that if no one linked to my next article, it got barely any readers.

The problem was that even though I had found the right community that would be interested in my blog, I wasn’t really interacting with the community, and basically just spamming the big names. After I realized this, I cut down on sending out links and instead started interacting with interesting people, people that weren’t the big names. I began to take part in discussions, comment on other people’s work, and generally focus on others above myself. I still would share my work sometimes, but it became secondary to actually being a member of the community.

The surprising thing is by actually focusing less on making my blog successful, and more on being part of a community, my blog has started to become more successful than it ever has before. However, this approach to creating a successful blog has a major stumbling block that might scare many away – time. Even after you become an active member of a community and post great articles, it still will take a long time to become a big name. After a year, my blog has gained many readers, but still is far, far away from the top tech blogs out there. If you are serious about having a successful blog, you need to be in it for the long run, a few years at the minimum.

Thus, you can pretty much narrow down the keys to a successful blog into three steps:

  1. Write great content on a consistent basis.

  2. Become an active and contributing member of the community your blog most connects with.

  3. Keep it up for a number of years.

Doing these three steps is the hard way to creating a successful blog, but the fact is there is no easy way. It’s almost unheard of to have a blogger achieve success overnight. You can easily have a single post go viral and become an overnight success, but a successful blog takes work and time, there’s no getting around that. Even the most successful bloggers out there right now, like John Gruber or Jason Kottke, took many years before they were successful enough to quit their jobs and blog full time. You truly have to be writing about something you love, or else it will not only show, but you’ll never be able to maintain your blog for years on end. This is probably not what most people want to hear, but it’s just the way things are.

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One thought on “The Hard Way

  1. Linus, excellent post, and in my opinion, dead-on as far as organically and slowly growing a more honest follower base. It is ironic, and still true, even in the virtual world and blogosphere that relationships matter and community building is important.

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