Five Lessons Learned Blogging

What I’ve occasionally written in the past still holds—even though my readership continues to grow, it is relatively small. That’s not easy to pull off, the secret is to start with a really small readership. There are millions of bloggers in better position than me to teach others how to build a readership. Instead of a roadmap to the blog big-time, these are the modest reflections of a small-time blogger after five years and 712 posts.

1. Visuals matter. Clutter hurts, interesting high resolution pictures help. I don’t apply this insight. When it comes to “visuals”, I’d assign PressingPause a “D”. A “C” for the “WordPress in a box” template and an “F” for pictures. For pete’s sake, I’m using a default WordPress picture of a pinecone in my header. Every “D” student excels in excuses. Mine? I gave someone in my family my camera and I’ve been real slow to replace it. I’ll try to do better.

2. Good content matters even more. Ask big-time bloggers the key to their success and they’ll almost always say good content. Which means lesson one isn’t a panacea. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your layout is if your content sucks. And vice-versa, some bloggers, like John Gruber, provide such great content that excellent visuals are unnecessary. Same with Bill McBride. Minimalist templates, few if any pictures, and millions of visitors monthly.

3. Sex sells. I learned this when I included a picture of two bikini-clad snowboarders in a post that became my all-time most read. I’ve since deleted the post because it was skewing my statistics. Although the Huffington Post isn’t a blog, it’s an online newspaper that mostly rebundles hard news from traditional papers, it knows this lesson especially well. A large part of its success can be found halfway down the righthand column. It unapologetically applies the “sex sells” lesson. Here are some of the righthand column headlines from Wednesday, February 13, 2012.

  • What I have Risked for the Best Sex of My Life.
  • Listen: Graphic Jodi Arias Sex Tape Played to Jury.
  • ‘Naughty’ Librarian.
  • Beckham’s Bum.
  • Beyonce Tries the ‘Boob Window Thing.
  • Eva’s Biggest Turn On.

This stuff works! Right now I’m wondering if Eva’s biggest turn on is Beckham’s bum or Beyonce’s boob window. The use of ‘boob window’ is a significant turning point in HuffPost’s short history. To this point they’ve used “side boob” almost exclusively. “Under boob” headlines are also starting to appear. “Over boob” can’t be too far behind.

4. Passion matters. In writing as in sports, the arts, teaching, damn near everything. I was reminded of this watching Mumford and Sons on the Grammy’s. Give this example from a Colorado “Red Rocks” concert a listen. Total effort. Mesmerizing.

People appear more interested in what I have to say when I’m fired up. Angry even. But the anger can’t be finessed, it has to be authentic. And remember my recent post about being tired? These days it takes a lot more to get me to throw a punch. I would like to write angry more often, but it can’t be forced. I can’t get angry twice a week, or even weekly. So that’s a challenge.

Related to this, my most widely read, most opinionated pieces are the result of my subconscience working overtime. An acquaintance of mine, a very successful writer, once shared a memorable writing insight with me. He said if your writing project isn’t the first thing you think about when you wake up it’s not working hard enough. Ironically, my most widely read posts are ones that I pound out more quickly than average. Because I’ve been writing them for days, weeks, or months in my head.

5. Vulnerability matters. Maybe not if you’re writing exclusively about technology (Gruber), or real estate (McBride) or Economics (Cowen). Two positive examples of this are Penelope Trunk (extreme at times) and Mr. Money Mustache. This is another insight I haven’t figured out how to apply. The reason being, I don’t know how to be more vulnerable without compromising my family’s and friends’ privacy. That takes precedence. Maybe someday I’ll spill my guts in a semi-autobiographical novel.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

p.s. Be sure to return early next week for a post featuring vulnerability, sex (well, at least allusions to it), and pictures, oh my.

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