Fifteen Ways To Make Your Blog Irresistible

English: Globe and Mail newspaper staff wait f...
Reporters awaiting news of D-Day. Are your readers this eager to read your next post? Image via Wikipedia

I search every day for an hour for new blogs to subscribe to, but, frustratingly, often come up empty-handed. As a career journalist and author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, I read and write for a living, so maybe I’m not the average reader in what I expect, or want, to find.

But all readers have limited time and attention.

These are the things that, for me, make or break a blog:

Is your blog overly personal? However fascinating your nephew or dogs or divorce feel to you, how much do they really interest your readers? What universal feelings or thoughts (fear, humor, embarrassment, sadness, anxiety) can you describe that we can all relate to and easily identify with?

Check your spelling, vocabulary and grammar. Messy copy shows a lack of respect for your readers.

I recently read a blog post using “pallet” instead of palate. Big difference. (Then there’s palette.) Spell-check is not your best friend. A dictionary is.

Is this post really worth sharing? Just because you saw or felt something doesn’t automatically make it interesting to others. Writing about it well to make a larger point does.

You’re being read worldwide — be inclusive. It’s easy to forget that the food, celebrity, neighborhood or issue you’re writing about isn’t necessarily a household word beyond your borders. Help us out with an explanatory link or some context.

Is every comment a big thumbs-up? Are you hoping to curate a lively conversation, (which, of course, doesn’t always happen), or just get a lot of “likes”? The best blogs aren’t about being popular, but compelling. Don’t be generic!

Are you playing it too safe? If, even behind a pseudonym, you’re not really saying something thoughtful and provocative, why bother?

Are you (even occasionally) funny? We all need a good laugh.

Move us! How do you want us to feel after reading a post? Sad? Outraged? Pensive? The determination to connect with us emotionally — and the skill to do so — makes the best blogs so distinctive.

Edit, revise, repeat. Do you bang out your posts in an urgent frenzy to share your views with the world, and hit “publish” right away? If this is your automatic habit, time to re-think. Very few pieces cannot benefit from a cooling-off phase, even a  few hours’ worth. Use every revision to make it tighter and stronger.

Grab us with the first few sentences. In journalism, it’s called the lede and it better be good. Hook ‘us in quickly.

Use paragraphs. A blog that goes onandonandoandonandon without a single line break, or paragraphs, is the written equivalent of the party bore.  Unreadable!

Visuals matter! A sea of text lacks imagination. Some of the best blogs are visual, whether a drawing (like the insanely, and deservedly, popular Hyperbole and a Half), photo or illustration.

Link to other people’s ideas. Share with us your finds: magazines, newspapers, radio stations, shows or podcasts, TED talks, websites, blogs, videos. This blog, {frolic}, is one of my favorites for all the links it offers: here’s a list of some cool magazines, some of which I’d never heard of.

The blog format isn’t sexy enough without great content. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s de facto fabulous. Just because it’s online and you have no editors to censor or control you doesn’t make it better than something in print. (Most editors improve our work, a lot.) It just means there’s no gatekeeper.

“Voice” matters most. You can write about almost anything if your writing voice remains consistent: funny, angry, wry, thoughtful, musing. Write with conviction and authority. Subscribers want to hear you.

32 thoughts on “Fifteen Ways To Make Your Blog Irresistible

  1. Thanks for these tips, Caitlin. I began my blog as my own worst enemy. I would edit, re-write, then edit some more. I felt that every line had to be perfectly put; beautifully conveyed. I privileged the aesthetic over all else. I’m still a careful writer and I place a huge emhasis on well-crafted prose but I think I have let go of some of the restraint which was holding me back at first. I have noticed that my best writing comes when I am indignant or angry or – surprisingly- exceptionally relaxed. Sometimes I sit in front of my laptop with my brow creased and try to conjure up these emotions. I think of the American health system or the financial crisis or professional massages. I end up writing bland posts, which end up littering my drafts folder. I keep them though, just in case I can transform them when overcome by a fit of righteous indignation.

    One of the many reasons I read your blog is that your writing style is lucid as well as careful. That’s something I would like to emulate. I would really appreciate any comments you have on my blog, if you would care sometime to take a browse. All the best for 2012. I hope it’s wonderful for you and your husband.

  2. Thanks, Kate…I’ll check it out.

    The challenge (and I’ve been doing this for a living for 30 years) is being passionate without pedantic or impassioned without ranting. My immediate thought (as an editor) is if you try to write about something as (important!) yet amorphous and enormous as the American health system or the financial crisis — it’s too big! Take one tiny piece of it, highly specific, that has got you crazy — and write about that. It becomes your entry point *into* the larger story, as the larger story is already too familiar and too large for any blogger to do well…unless (?) as a series.

    My very best work, always, comes out of the sort of emotion you also feel when you’re doing your best work as well. It’s almost like speaking in tongues, as though coming through you.

    1. Yes! The specific always works so much better for me too. It’s like pointing to a tiny character crouched in the corner of a painting and allowing the rest of it to be gradually revealed, to be only touched upon. Thanks for articulating this. Sometimes I need words to describe something that I already know on some level!

  3. Exactly. Readers are already so overwhelmed as it is by data all the time that those who clearly say read THIS will get the most grateful readers, I think. I am always hungry for the powerful single anecdote that tells — or at least introduces powerfully — the larger story. They’re not easy to find, but they are out there.

  4. akcielo

    Thank you for this post! I aim to get better everyday. Your insight is great and challenging! Thanks for your visit. I would have not found you had you not stopped by. akcielo

  5. Thanks!

    It may not look like it (!?), but by the time I post most of these, they’ve been rewritten and revised literally dozens of times. I usually have 2-4 posts in the can and keep tinkering with them until I think (hope) they’re ready for prime time.

  6. You are spot on with this post, Caitlin. Content might be king, but compelling content is worth its weight in gold. Just because people *can* blog (and self publish) doesn’t mean they should. However, crap blogs do work in our favour in an odd way. They helps bloggers who can write shine 😀

  7. Thanks, Caitlin. This is a great list, very instructive.

    As a fiction writer one of the things I’ve gotten most out of blogging is the idea that a post – or story – is a gift. And a good gift moves the receiver. The moving is key: the receiver feels something. In the on-line context it is so difficult to move people because they are swamped and bombarded by so much material. Thankfully much of it is rubbish (not Broadsided, mind!) so in this context it’s not that hard to offer something beautiful or soulful or moving.

    Perhaps the tip of yours that I like the most is the importance of taking risks. The best writing comes from a place of risks, not safety. So to the best blog posts.

    The other tip from the list that I like is producing excellent copy: copy that’s been edited and polished and edited and polished and edited and polished some more. Whilst I’m not at all a popular blogger, I do write all my blog posts by hand, as in by pen, then they’re put into Word, where the editing and polishing happens, then they’re put into WordPress, where there’s more editing and polishing. I’ll also go back into old posts and make corrections. After all, my reputation as a writer is at stake. (Plus my blog is archived in-perpetuity by the National Library of Australia – along with hundreds of others – so everything I do is being put on the public record forever!)

    Thanks again for a wonderful list.

    1. I’m honored…I love your blog and how quirky and original it is. It very much has its own flavor…chooks and all! 🙂

      I get the feeling that many bloggers forget there really is an audience out there, people hungry for amazing stories, not just diary entries posted on-line. There is a ton of stuff out there, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the posts I’ve read that truly resonated for me.

      Like Diane, I suspect you are taking extra care because you are a writer by trade. Like me, you have a reputation to protect.

  8. Excellent tips. One of the biggest things I struggle with is providing sufficient context, without overdoing it. Oh and drafting. I’m slack on the discipline side of things as I’m not a writer by profession, but I am conscious of the need for good, compelling copy, and all of the blogs I follow regularly have this in common.

    I shall bookmark this one, and return to it when I am at a loss for whether I’m done with a draft.

    1. Context is tricky…but I figure not everyone everywhere shares the same cultural references unless they are so huge (Lady Gaga…ugh….my first mention of her, and likely my last) one might assume the whole planet knows what you’re talking about. This is why links are so helpful (for me)…they’re basically footnotes, allowing readers to dig deeper if and when they choose to.

      Drafting is really essential. I’d say 95% of my posts go through multiple drafts, and some go through a dozen or so. It isn’t a conscious “God, now I have to do ANOTHER draft”…I line ’em up days or weeks in advance and then polish them when I have time or see something that shifts my thinking or find a link for it…

    1. Thanks.

      I think spontaneous posts are great because inspiration can strike any time. But it doesn’t mean you should post it right away. Very few posts are that fantastic in their initial iteration. Having 3 or 4 (at least) you’re tinkering with also allows for finding other blog posts to link to after you’ve written it.

  9. I snorted. On line!!

    ‘However fascinating your nephew or dogs or divorce feel to you, how much do they really interest your readers?’

    No wonder you commented on mine!!

    Some more truly valid points:
    Writing about it well is an excellent tip.
    Being read world-wide – I tend to forget that new people hit on my blog. When I wrote about Juan Carlos, I forgot to say he was the King of Spain! Classic mistake.
    Thumbs-up? – likes are nice, comments are better.
    Safe and funny? Also great points.
    Actually I will shut up as this is a great post.

    Er what was the problem? In the salon?

    1. Thanks! From a fellow crusty/cynical journo, too…:-)

      The cool thing about a good blog is that it will attract readers from all over the world…but so many blogs forget this fact. I need context! (I write like a journo, here as elsewhere.) is a place to blog as well; an American “blogging community” which has some excellent writers well worth a look. But it also has a toxic stew of weirdos who will attack (in the most personal terms imaginable) anyone they (there are cliques) feel has transgressed. I used to post there a lot, but it’s not my crowd. One man there was so aggressive I went (yes, seriously) to my local police to have him investigated…I did not appreciate being told he would “beat me bloody.”

      1. I did find open salon in the end. I figured I would need to log in and hunt down said thread so just left it alone. I like a small civilised world. I don’t think I need to mix with that sort of crowd 😦

        Everyone needs context, which is why photoblogs without text get up my nose.

        I really need to go back to my very old junior reporter lessons though – ‘don’t forget that people don’t buy the paper every day so they may not know the story you are writing about’ – or something on those lines. Good advice at the time, and still is now.

      2. I think it’s very much NOT your crowd…One of the things I saw immediately there were some ugly class differences (resentment and worse) and a major cultural disconnect — the only other woman there (!?) as outspoken as I was someone who was also: my age, a journalist and Canadian. We had no fear of really speaking our minds, but American women (huge generalization) rarely do, certainly not in public forums. We were pilloried for it.

        I try to balance blogging about some major news stories here in the U.S. with how compelling they might be elsewhere.

  10. Even I occasionally write about American news items, usually on the lines of Planned Parenthood, the proposed shutdown, or just anything that proposes stripping women of their rights. But they go on Clouds.

    As in your earlier point, I will try and make posts relevant to my (main) audience. ie actually because it is happening elsewhere does not mean it may not affect you, the reader.

    One of the reasons I split my blogs was because I couldn’t cope with the different approaches I wanted to take. I must put back my easy explanation on my blogs because it goes: Roughs seas – news in Gib and Spain (and the personal slant), Clouds – rants/thoughts/whatever, Landrovers – the motoring pages, Pippa – the dog pages, Every pic – the story behind the photo. Different people like to read different things. Most read Roughseas and Clouds, although some do dip over to the dogblog 😀

    1. Whew! Much as I admire your market segmentation, I barely have time to bang out 3/week here and make my living as a writer in $$$$$ NY as it is. I could never do more than one blog, certainly not while trying to earn a living at the same time.

      1. I need to work on earning a living – and depending on which market I go for – I need to provide the appropriate background writing. There was some thought to it all. Years ago!

  11. Pingback: How Are You Doing? | Gin & Lemonade

  12. What a wonderful, concise list. It’s fun, and eye-opening, to analyze my own blog through these standards. There are some I do well, others I’ve never thought of. And, although I know it’s a major rule that everyone seems to agree with, I will probably never use visuals. My reasons for this are too numerous for a comment, but I am confident within my heart of my choice.

    I also enjoyed reading through your replies to reader comments. Nice feedback, connection, and further insight. I especially love the idea of links as footnotes.

    Thanks for a great post. If everyone followed these suggestions, there would be a lot more out there that I enjoyed reading.

    1. Thanks!

      I’ve been blogging now for almost three years. More to the point, I search EVERY day for blogs to read, enjoy, comment on and/or subscribe to. I’m amazed at how few have a very strong voice (that isn’t somehow off-putting.)

      I don’t think skipping visuals is a deal-breaker IF your blog posts are so fab the words will keep readers there. Without the visual relief of graphics, posts are too often a HUGE sea of words. People have very little time or attention. You have to grab them within seconds!

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