Everything you’ll learn about blogging or running a successful website, you’ll learn from someone else: either by reading how-to articles, observing the mistakes and successes of others, or by observing your readers and how they react to your blog.
The second element — learning by example — has the potential to impart more knowledge and important lessons than (potentially) any other source. In this post, I want to share seven lessons I’ve learned from best-selling author Tim Ferriss (author of The Four-Hour Work Week) and his blog, and how you can use them to your own benefit.
Whether you’re a fan of the blog’s author or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s a blog which has grown entirely through a strategy of content that’s value-packed for its target audience. It’s also a good opportunity to see The Matrix model in practice.
Reverse-engineer your blog from central goals. While I don’t claim the ability to read the author’s mind, the central goals of the blog appear to be 1) convert blog readers into book buyers and 2) raise the author’s profile.
Every part of the blog contributes to one of those key goals. The content functions as a taster for the book’s contents. The advertisement for the book takes up prime real-estate on the page and nothing else is advertised. The book is also regularly mentioned within posts, to remind readers that the product and blog are inextricably linked.
In terms of raising profile, each headline and post is written to maximize social media and link appeal.
This is a really important lesson: work out what you want from your blog, and make sure there is not one word, image or widget devoted to anything that doesn’t support what you want to achieve. It’s the quickest way to actually reach your goals.
Practice The Matrix model and let readers assume. I’ve previously written on why the assumptions readers make about your site matter more than the reality. The blog doesn’t display its subscriber count — probably because the average number of comments on each post is high (usually between 30 – 150).
It’s possible that the comments section is simply made up of sycophants and the subscriber count is quite low. I highly doubt it, but we can’t see the statistics below the surface, so how can we know for sure? Regardless of the reality (whatever it may be), the assumptions are likely to be favorable.
The high comment count alone lets us assume that the blog is incredibly popular, which then makes us think: maybe the posts here are worth reading?
The lesson to take away is this: show-off the elements which make your blog look popular and hide those that don’t. Let readers make assumptions about the reality.
Post less to be (and get) more. One thing you’ll notice about the blog is that every post is a feature article. Asides, news and requests — usually worthy of their own post on most blogs — are tacked-on to the end of feature articles. The rationale behind the practice is this: asides will never get as many comments as feature articles. They’ll also push feature articles further down the page. The comment count can be kept high (and attention diverted to what’s important) by adding the information to feature articles.
Something else you’ll notice is that the blog only updates once or twice a week. This gives each post more time to gather comments and propagate via social media. It also allows for plenty of value to be concentrated in single posts.
Audience + value-packed content = links and social media votes. Once you have a loyal readership, content matters more than any other variable. If you can create value-packed and well-targeted content, social media success and links are only one step away. Each post is long and full of lessons and detail which (mostly) support the central theme of the blog: you can live and work better. This means that social media visitors who like the post are good candidates to become readers rather than just a hollow surge of traffic.
Take away this lesson: once you have an audience, they’ll spread the word on your behalf. You just need to give them something worth talking about. In the beginning, you have to do a lot of the talking about yourself.
Put your best content on a pedestal. The ten most popular posts on the blog are held high in the sidebar. The heading ‘Popular Posts’ is visible above the fold. Your popular posts are those that really clicked with your target audience. They’ve been tested by the masses and proven to work. When someone you’re trying to reach visits your blog for the first time, it’s essential that you serve up a menu of your best posts, all relevant to them.
I suspect that blogs which do this have a much higher conversion rate of new visitors to loyal readers (and a lower bounce-rate), but it’s one of those things that’s statistically difficult to measure.
Create a comment-culture on your blog. We all want more comments. If you want something, sometimes the route which seems too obvious to work is actually the answer.
One of the reasons the Four-Hour Work Week blog consistently gets a lot of comments is because the author actively encourages them. Asking readers what they think, responding to their input, holding comment-competitions and using comments as case studies (or answering questions in posts) are all simple things you can do to create a comment-culture on your blog: where readers feel as if it’s not only OK to comment, but that it will be worth their time and that you’re interested in what they’ve got to say. Participating in comments at your own blog is another highly effective way to build a comment culture.
Emphasize what’s important. Key points and sub-headings are bolded. Tim’s book is advertised in what’s probably the most prominent location on the site. Popular Posts are almost right at the top of the sidebar.
The core of simplicity is about highlighting what’s important and removing or de-emphasizing the rest. You can make every post you write better by emphasizing key points in bold. You can make your blog design more effective by emphasizing the elements which most contribute to your goals.