When I’m in a healthy blogging mindset, I write long posts every few days. I’ve tried short and newsy in the past, but have realized I’m no Seth Godin. If I’m going to say something important and useful, I need plenty of words to do so. That’s the style that works for me, but it won’t work for everyone.
By studying some of the bloggers I admire I’ve realized that there are five dominant content ‘strategies’ they use, and that each one is very different from the others. This is good news, because it means that there is (mostly) no right or wrong way to do content. I’ll talk more about that ‘mostly’ caveat later.
Despite the many differences, the similarities are more telling. I think I’ve been able to work-out some factors that are must-haves for your content. Without them, you simply can’t grow your blog into a niche leader.
The 5 Content Strategies I Identified…
1. Long, Deep and Less
Practitioners: Yaro Starak, Steve Pavlina (et al.)
Description: Long, +1,000 word posts that are very comprehensive. Rather than drip-feeding ideas about one topic over a series of posts the author consolidates them into ‘uber-posts’. They’re unlikely to post these more than twice a week.
Pros: This type of content tends to attract links, comments and fare well on social media because it puts a lot of value in one place. Since there is more in each post, readers are more likely to come across something that makes them think. Writing great content in this format consistently is one well-worn path to a popular blog.
Cons: It’s difficult to keep producing this kind of content consistently. Sometimes you won’t have time to write long posts and other times you’ll wrestle with that ancient fiend – writer’s block. To do this style well, you need to write posts in advance and be doggedly consistent. Though this type of content has been a natural fit for me I’ve often been tripped up by a lack of consistency. Some bloggers – bloggers that I envy – are like content producing machines and will never go for too long without posting, even over the course of several years.
Tip: Make sure your posts are long because you are packing them full of good stuff, not just because you’ve taken a long time to say something that warrants far fewer words.
2. Every Day, Without Fail
Practitioners: J. D. Roth, Darren Rowse (et al.)
Description: These bloggers have to be admired for their tenacity. They will not accept anything less than a new post every day. You’ll often find that bloggers who can master this habit are destined for big things.
Pros: One basic principle of SEO is that if you publish lots of content the search-engines have a lot to index. If you write 500 articles that get 2 search visits per day, you will be getting a base level of 1,000 visitors per day from search. The simplest thing you can do to increase your traffic is write more.
Cons: It can be stressful to keep up this habit when you have to go away for several weeks, or if you get sick. It’s not easy to store up dozens of posts as a safety net, though I recommend it. If you’re determined to have your blog updated every day you’ll need to make connections with people who are happy to guest-post for you on short notice.
Tip: If you don’t have a writing routine in place you wont be able to keep this momentum for long. Make a time each day where you will write and don’t let anything stop you. Choose an hour or two when you tend to be alone, or else you’ll be frequently distracted. Early in the morning or late at night are good times for this.
3. A Lot of a Little
Practitioners: John Gruber, Jason Kottke (et al.)
Description: This blogging style involves creating a prolific number of short, poignant posts – sometimes more than ten per day. These posts are usually a mix of wisdom and links with commentary.
Pros: Readers have cause to check your blog multiple times per day for updates, and most of the time they’ll be rewarded with at least one new post. If you’re posting a lot it’s also not a big deal if your readers don’t like some of your posts, so this gives you more freedom to explore a broader range of topics.
Cons: If a particular post’s main job is to point readers elsewhere, it’s not likely to get many inbound links or social media votes. Finding the material for numerous posts can also be very time consuming, and tricky if you don’t have the time to spend hours in your feed reader each day.
Tip: Writing short posts does not excuse you from the hard task of writing words that are unique and interesting. Add your own commentary to links and news. Make your personality – heck, your ego – the daisy-chain between every post.
4. Maybe There’s a Little I in Team…
Practitioners: Brian Clark, Michael Arrington – maybe not at the moment? (et al.)
Description: Bloggers who double as editors, sharing their blog with other writers they’ve invited (and sometimes paid) to contribute. The main blogger will usually write more frequently than anyone else.
Pros: This gives the blogger time to focus on other projects (usually money-making projects) while much of their blog content is outsourced. Some bloggers are able to do this without paying a dollar because there are so many people eager to write a guest-post for them – an example of this model is TwiTip.com.
Cons: This will dilute your personal brand as the blog becomes less ‘yours’. Readers may miss the days when your contributions were more frequent. Also, for most of us, this will cost money.
Tip: Even with a team you should still write often. Readers are interested in your blog’s topic, yes, but they’re mainly interested in you.
5. Social Media Mayhem
Practitioners: Jacob Gube, Leo Babauta (et al.)
Description: Every headline is optimized for social media and most posts are in list format. Headlines with numbers in them are not uncommon. These bloggers are fantastic at writing posts that make social media users want to share them.
Pros: Traffic, and lots of it. Bloggers who can write for social media will often see their subscribers and traffic grow very quickly.
Cons: This kind of content can be impersonal. Because it needs to be free of context to appeal to social media users (who will usually visit an article and then navigate away to the next one) it’s difficult to establish a rapport. Because what works and doesn’t work on social media is largely determined by following existing formulas, it can also become repetitive.
Tip: Don’t post social media optimized content all the time. Post for social media sometimes, and other times, post just for the readers you already have. They’re the ones who send those votes your way, and they do it because they like you. Help them to like you more.
What They Teach Us
At first glance, not much. There are many different ways to provide value to people, and no one method seems superior to the other. The blogging habits of people like Jason Kottke, Steve Pavlina and Brian Clark couldn’t be more different.
In some ways, though, this helps to illuminate the few similarities shared between every single one of these five content strategies.
For your blog to gather more traffic and subscribers, you must be posting regularly. Whether it’s 3 times a week or 20 times a day, you have to give people a reason to check your blog often. If you post once a week, people will check your blog once a week. If you stop posting for a month, some people might forget to check on you at all.
Consistency has been my own Achilles’ Heel as a blogger. While I consider myself an expert in some areas consistency is one where I’m still learning. I can’t yet provide advice on how to blog consistently but I can say that it is extremely important. It’s also worth noting that I’ve never seen a blog grow while content stagnated. No amount of marketing will work if your content is musty and stale.
Tip: Make it your goal to update your blog 3 times a week (or two times a week if your posts are really long). If you’re not already doing this and finding it hard to collect new readers, this is probably why.
Aside from writing a lot, top bloggers have been writing in one place for a long time. Links add up quicker than they disappear, so it follows that any consistently updated blog will grow a little (or a lot) more as each month passes. The process, in its essence, is a waiting game – though you can’t wait idly and quietly. Like picking a smart route on a road-trip, your actions can get you there faster.
Settling on a natural fit
Though I’ve experimented with the ‘lots of a little’ method in the past, I’m not really good at anything except longer, less frequent posts. This is the way I write and how my brain works.
The bloggers I mentioned above are all posting content in a way that is a natural fit for them. If you’re not motivated to write it might be because you’re not letting yourself write in a way that comes naturally. Experiment with different styles of content (if you write long, try short, and vice versa) and different voices. Pick the non-fiction writer you like most and imitate them in your writing. Trust me – it will still sound like you, because it’s not them writing, but it might sound like a better you. Do this until you don’t have to anymore.
It’s Work, Not Art
The things I found in common between the five content strategies were not hidden secrets or master skills. Instead, they’re habits that we can all practice but most people find difficult to do. Anyone can write a lot of content for a long time in a way that is a natural fit for them, and every person currently running a popular blog seems to do this. You might not be doing it yet, but you’re capable of doing it, and you can start straight away.
I wish you the best of luck 🙂