One of my oldest friends asked me for some advice on writing a blog and attracting a following. He asked me because I’ve been blogging for decades and have written hundreds of posts, the most popular of which get thousands of hits. It made me think, here’s how I think you should write a blog that people will want to read.

NB lots of people bang on about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) but if you write good content in a readable way then it ought to hit the search engines fine. Well written and thought provoking content presented well will beat keyword stuffing any day of the week.

1. Pick a subject and be insightful

By this I mean write about something you really know and care about. A topic you think about and can make insightful or thought provoking commentary on. I believe that this is what will get people to come back and read more of your writing and link to your posts. It also helps you sustain the effort.

Another aspect of this is that you probably ought to stick to a core topic and keep the vast majority of your posts within that topic. People will keep coming back if they like what you write, but specialist blogs have more authority than general ones. So it also helps if you can establish credentials for knowing what you are writing about, referencing helps that.

2. Have a regular cycle

You need to be writing blog posts on a regular basis, this doesn’t mean you should churn out any old rubbish to the deadline, you still need to meet rule 1. However what you do need to do is make sure that you have a number of posts before you start, and avoid any large holes in the publishing schedule.

Before you start publishing write about half a dozen posts. Judge for yourself how hard you find that and how long it takes you.   Set your schedule based on the time you can commit, then use the schedule function on your blogging software to put out your first posts. This gives you content, sets a pattern, and gives you time to write more.

3. Write for online reading

Blogs, and all other online content, need to be written in a different style from academic papers, or novels or newspapers. Typically they are shorter (I aim for 300-800 words, sometimes the subject needs more, sometimes less). My blog has 169k words across 338 posts, so the average is about 500 words.

You also need to break up the text a bit, and highlight important bits you want to attract the eye.

  • People tend to skim read online, and only read an article when they’ve decided it is useful.
  • Often they won’t read the whole page.
  • Use headings, bullets and bold & italics to provide an easy to scan article.

Also make sure you have a hook in the title and first paragraph (like journalism, catchy headlines, summary in para 1, detail in the rest).

4. Give to the Competition

a. comment on other blogs

Seriously, if you want to get the word out comment on blogs that cover the same topic, use your URL in the user link field (most comment forms ask for a URL). Don’t spam their comments with ‘Read my blog’. Instead offer insightful comments on their posts, agree, expand or simply ask good questions and follow up on replies. Being a good commenter is one of the best adverts you can get. The intrigued will click on the link and discover you too.

b. link to relevant posts

Also, use the ‘related posts’ features and spread some link love around. I use Zemanta here for this, and I am sure that there are other similar plugins that do the same. The more you do it to other people the more likely they are to return the favour. Also many blogs automatically show linkbacks at the bottom of articles, so you get a link where it is most relevant.

c. guest blog

Offer guest posts to other similar bloggers, this shares traffic, shows some endorsement of your ideas, and gets you access to a wider audience. As you get bigger, return the favour.

d. follow similar blogs

This relates to a, b & c above as well as point 1. If you want to be insightful, and think more about your subject then being widely read helps. So reading what others say and knowing what the other related blogs are is a useful thing. Knowledge advances by being shared, and you should be building on the work of others, and referencing it, when you write your own original material. That said, don’t link to the people that you find just re-paste content of others. They’re not adding value.

5. Share your posts

Unless you are advertising and need the eyeballs, then you ought to be automatically sharing your posts to your social media friends. It’s on the web so you’ve already made it public. Get your blogging software to send a tweet when you publish or update your post, put it on facebook, google+ and anywhere else you have a profile. This lets the people that have chosen to pay attention to you on other streams read your blog. Chances are they follow you elsewhere for the same reason that people would want to read your blog (if not get some separate accounts for the blog so that people have a choice of channel for how they imbibe your insights). It also makes it easier for them to share your insights with their friends and followers.

6. Keep on blogging

Once you start keep going, don’t rename it, don’t change subject, don’t stop writing. It takes time to build followers.

What do you think?

Have I got this about right or do you think I may have missed some things?

Leave a comment.