People are always asking me for inside tips on blogging. Turns out, I'm a pretty good person to ask because I had no idea what I was doing when I got started and had to figure it out as I went.
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To say it's been challenging is a ridiculous understatement. But you know, nothing worth doing is ever easy and this is no exception. After six years, here's what I've found matters most, in descending order of priority:
Unique and relevant content. In the online world, content is king. There's just no way around it. You need to have expertise, insights, or a point of view that people simply can't find anywhere else--or at least not in too many other places. Give a lot of thought to how to position yourself--your brand--and then deliver on that promise day in, day out. And don't BS. You might get a lot of followers, but they'll be low quality and won't help you in the long run.
Location, location, location. Just as in retail, location is everything. It's all about traffic. If you can get on a site or several sites that have a lot of traffic and some editorial support, that's huge. If you've got to host it yourself, then try to guest blog for media outlets to draw people to your site. Otherwise, it comes down to promoting the heck out of your blog through your social media connections and SEO. It's a huge challenge: the competition is enormous.
Engaging anecdotes. Storytelling is hot these days, with good reason. People fall in love with engaging, moving, dramatic, funny, or inspiring stories. That's what they remember, what they share with others. Don't be afraid to get personal. The more emotion you can bring to your writing, the better. Also humor and satire are great if you can pull it off.
Learn how to write. Not formally, but you've got to at least know the basics of grammar and composition. You also have to be able to string a few paragraphs together without jumping all over the place and generally frustrating and confusing your readers. Personally, I think you should keep it simple. Short sentences and paragraphs are generally more readable.
Connect with your audience. In marketing, communication, and business in general, it's critical to know your audience. In this case, it's a little different since you're never really sure who you're going to attract or why. Experiment, pay attention to feedback, and when you feel you've connected with an audience, go with whatever works. So much of this is trial and error you wouldn't believe.
Be relevant. Whatever your topic, it helps if you can find a way to weave in some newsy or topical stuff that people are talking about and can relate to. A side benefit is that it will help with your Google ranking if you use the right keywords in your headline and first paragraph and link to one or two other quality sites.
Clickable headlines. If your headlines don't get people's attention, they won't click through. Don't be afraid to be direct and hit right between the eyes. Just be careful: A headline is like a promise of what people will find if they click. You don't want to disappoint and lose credibility. You may lose readers who will never come back.
Commit to it. There's no way around this one, either. You've got to spend the time, write frequently--at least twice a week and no fluff--and really commit to the blog and engaging with your audience in the comments and social media. I know you're not going to want to hear this, but the truth is it takes years to gain traction and a following. It helps a lot of you love to write. If not, you're in for a tough time.
Link to your other posts (and other quality sources). Obviously you've got to know the SEO rules of the day. They change every time Google changes its algorithms. That said, if you link to some of your other relevant posts--either "in line" or at the end--that will improve your page views and help keep people around.
This column originally appeared on Inc.com.
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