Bloggers Watch and Learn 289

Learning to blog well is no different to learning any skill, from painting to playing football.

When learning about blogging, we spend much of our time reading lessons on how to blog well, much like an aspiring painter will read books and attend lessons on various types of painting. However, a crucial aspect of learning any skill effectively is to study those who are already highly accomplished in the skill you’re trying to learn. Painters may study the work of Van Gogh, and aspiring footballers might study videos of Ronaldinho or Messi. But who, or what, do bloggers study?

One of the most valuable sources of blogging knowledge is to study and observe those who do it well: bloggers who write posts that get Dugg all the time, bloggers who have tripled their RSS count in the last six months, bloggers with a kick-butt personal brand, bloggers who produce top-quality content like some kind of content producing automaton, and so on.

You should be studying these bloggers even if the things they blog about are of no interest to you. Learn from bloggers who have already achieved, or are on track to achieve, the goals you’ve set for yourself, even if you are not part of their target audience.

Learning by watching

I’m an avid subscriber of three blogs that I’m not interested in. At least, not in the same way that I’m interested in most of the blogs in my feed reader. I subscribe to Get Rich Slowly, but I consciously do not practice frugality in my own life, don’t live in the U.S.A. (much of the information is US-centric) and I’m not in debt… yet. And still, I’m still excited when a GRS post hits my feed reader. Let me explain why:

  • The blog has close to 60,000 subscribers and employs roughly the same content model I use–long and in-depth posts, albeit much more frequently. I study the blog to observe how J.D., the blogger behind GRS, makes this content model work so effectively to grow the blog’s subscriber base.
  • I observe the way the content unfolds over time. How does the blogger balance frequent posting with the production of fresh ideas?
  • I admire J.D.’s writing style, and consider how I can bring that clarity to my own posts.
  • I try to observe the way J.D. has created a community of active commenters at the blog.
  • I look at GRS posts that have done will on social media and ask, what made this work? What can I learn from this?

Despite being disinterested in this type of personal finance, each post is a lesson for me. It’s not a problem that I don’t read the blog for the financial tips and advice, as I’m not part of the target audience. The impressive subscriber count shows that the blog is exceptionally good at catering to its target audience.

Another blog I’m subscribed to for similar reasons is Zen Habits. I think Leo Babauta is to blogging what Van Gogh is to painting–a true master! However, I don’t generally enjoy reading personal development blogs, and don’t use the blog’s content in the way it was intended to be used. Instead, I track the blog for the following reasons:

  • To observe how Leo’s content strategy has influenced the growth of Zen Habits’ subscriber base.
  • To learn how a super-strong personal brand is built.
  • To examine how the blog has been able to have phenomenal success on Digg, in particular.
  • To learn how a passionate readership and comment-culture is constructed.

The story is similar with Coding Horror, a software programming blog I greatly admire despite having next to no knowledge of the subject matter! I read the blog to observe the way posts are given beautiful texture with the use of formatting and images–a method I’ve observed to be very effective when it comes to maintaining reader interest throughout a long post, and also in the realm of social media.

Immerse yourself

The practice of learning can be loosely divided into three areas: listening (or reading), practicing, and studying. Many bloggers do not actively practice this third aspect of learning. You might listen to the recommendations of blogging experts and practice blogging regularly, but do you actively study other blogs and bloggers that have achieved the kinds of goals you’ve set for yourself? This kind of learning is as practical as it gets: it deals in real-life action and examples rather than abstract lessons.

Get started as soon as possible, in the following ways:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the most successful blogs in the world, even when their subject matter is of no interest to you. Start here: even though its accuracy is questionable, it includes many of the key players. Think about the following: content strategy (what kind of posts, how often), target audience (who it’s for, who it’s not for), branding (what do you know about it?), what aspects of its success would you like to emulate?
  2. Familiarize yourself with blogs that have already achieved goals you aspire to (i.e. 50,000 subscribers), with a roughly similar content style. How did they do it? Once again, it’s not important that you be part of the blog’s target audience. In fact, this can often help you gain objective distance and study the blogger’s strategy with fewer distractions and biases.

Immersion is an essential aspect of skilful blogging, just as it is essential when learning any skill. If you want to master the art of writing content that is optimized for social media, you need to immerse yourself in this kind of content. If you want to become a world-class blogger, immerse yourself in the work of world-class bloggers. Never stop watching and learning.