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Is a Great Blog in the Eyes of the Beholder?

What is a Great Blog? by Sue-Ann Bubacz for kikolani.com graphic of hiker logging for direction

If you’re anything like me, you’ve put tons of heart (time and work) in your quest to create a great blog to showcase your work or business.

In fact, you give your absolute best effort in producing each and every single thing you do in blogging.

You want your work to be top quality and to bring useful information to readers.

Most everyone agrees on this part. But, right after that, the trouble starts.

And in the case of this post, that's where the discussion begins.

What exactly is a Great Blog?

Part of the problem is you are striving to make an impact with your blog.

No matter what your blog topic or subject, style or audience, whether business or personal, there’s a reason you exist.

And, because you want to do it “right,” this journey to the deep may help you find some treasures.

Blogging Secret Treasures

For me, searching for the code–the formula, the secret treasure, the wizard of blogging’s secret potion, the key to this pressing question–has been a little tricky and apparently is NOT just an easy-to-follow recipe.

If it were, I would certainly give you the 12 step answer and call it a day!

Then, of course, everyone and their brother would be a huge success, sporting their very own great blogs, left and right! You know what I mean?

But, there IS a short answer, so here you go:

A great blog is one people read, or use, or participate in—however you want to state it—it has an audience!

An engaged audience, at that.

Because without engagement, it’s just numbers. And numbers aren’t connections or relationships. Or customers. Or customers down the road, either.

So, I think the turning point for creating a great blog hinges on just that: engagement.

And this applies, no matter what your blog offers.

Latest discussions around engagement and how to achieve it, involve any number of terms or topics. From “interactive” to “personalization” to “NewGen” to “custom” to “community” to “UX” (user experience) to “Gen C” (generation connected) and around, up and down, and back again.

But, because what constitutes engagement varies so drastically, as do the viable vehicles and endless possibilities of mixed media that comprise what a blog is, we’ll just table further discussion on engagement as simply, understood.

Let’s also stipulate that engagement may mean any number of outcomes, as simple as getting a new subscriber to as complex as meeting sales goals, and everything in between via your website and blog content.

A Great Blog is an Engaging Blog

So, engagement is a central, guiding factor for any web content and specifically, is the critical core of the content hub that your successful blog strives to be.

As a freelance writer, your website is:

  1. a Publication (i.e. you are a publisher with your site) and
  1. your business storefront (i.e. a place to create business via the Internet)

I like equivocating “blog” with “content hub” because as I just mentioned, a blog may consist of a rich mix of media for the purpose of engaging an audience and is often the most active single “switch” on your website.

What I mean, simply, is that your blog content (more so than most other website content) is continuously active, changing and evolving. It’s the place where visitors to your site are most likely to come back to, hopefully often, and where they can preview your most up-to-date information.

Think of it as a portal to nurture prospects as you build trust, likability and understanding in you, your products/services and business.

Ultimately it anchors inbound marketing efforts, making your content and site, magnetic. It takes quality and work.

So, I guess you can say your blog is a key component of your digital marketing efforts and done right, becomes a key driver for business and a crucial part of an effective and successful marketing mix.

 A Great Blog is a Big Job

So far, the big picture of a great blog includes the following:

  • It has an impact.
  • It has an audience.
  • It initiates engagement.
  • It’s part of your publishing house and a content hub.
  • It is an essential ingredient in your marketing mix on a digital channel, your website.

With so much to accomplish, how can you construct a blog that matters?

It’s a question I ask myself daily. And in truth, I’ve spent long hours, days, and weeks examining, studying, and researching for nearly two years now. And my definitive answer is this:

There’s no single formula to create a great blog.~Sue-Ann

Further, the greatest of blogs are as different as night and day and as unique as any individual—always an original—and to me, that’s what makes the world go ‘round.

And what draws an audience.

Offering a unique perspective does matter, but the bottom line—a great blog is in the eyes of the beholder. In other words, your audience holds the key.

Graphic for Finding the Key to a Great Blog for kikolani by Sue-Ann Bubacz

Your Audience Holds the Key

Did I just tell you the same thing twice? Well, yes. I did.

Here’s the thing. Forget personas and avatars and identifying your target market to the most miniscule detail and just find an audience.

Look, I know this is a slap in the face to just about every single resource out there. I even know, eventually and ultimately, you will narrowly define your prospects or ideal customer to the tiniest appropriate details.

But, for now, especially if you are newer or just trying to build your blog, (or a client’s) you need to experiment, test, and well, maybe even feel your way around a bit.

I say this, so you BEGIN RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

I say this to stop the waste of time spent analyzing and building an explicit avatar, who, in the end, may not be accurate to the real persona profile information extracted from your actual traffic and audience.

In this recent post, Henneke Duistermaat, a writer I admire and respect, admits your actual audience may be entirely different than you think or planned.

Henneke also allows the freeing notion that it’s okay to change and adjust as you go.

But, most significant to me and maybe for you too, is when she states that the best way to write, meaningfully, is to write to only one person.

So pick your favorite reader. When you write for him only, your blog instantly becomes more engaging. You make each reader feel like you’re writing specifically for him.~HennekeD

Blogging this way is the most important and usable method to get your blog going. Write specifically to one person; and, speaking to that person, make sure you do write.

An actual audience, even a borrowed one, (check out this podcast to learn more about this borrowing an audience idea) tells you a whole lot more via reader interaction and response than guessing.

You’ll figure out many insightful things, as you go and, more importantly, you’ll be on your way.

In my experience, doing and testing gets you further than planning and strategizing, especially if you get caught in a pre-launch mode for a long time. If this is you, hit the “Go” button and feel assured that you can always go back to tweak and improve all along the way.

Your Digital Presence Requires You Are Present

Being present means: thought, planning, work, and time.

I don’t know about you, but I’m much more comfortable writing for someone else’s blog or website. They have a clearly defined audience (so you know exactly who you are writing to or for) with a set objective or goal in mind. Simple and straightforward.

On the other hand, starting, creating, and building a blog in your own space may not be as easy or well-defined, at first.

If your blog is as small as mine once was, you can just call your audience, “mom!”

Still, no matter the size, there are things to do. Then to evaluate. And then to refine, to find the perfect formula for your great blog. Don’t forget to add the one special spice no one else has–you!

The Secret: The Formula for a Great Blog Will Be Different for Everyone.

What the World Says

Looking at the research or the current wisdom gives you a place to start.

And this information is useful but, in the end, you will create a unique digital imprint that is solely yours and yours alone.

Each and every blog success story has a toolbox of various things that work for different purposes, but every blog is unique, using a singular set of tools that work best for them.

And what works, changes.

That said, here is an outline of topics and practices I’ve pulled together for you.

They represent a consensus of the most important components for creating a great blog. Use, or at least consider, these basic guidelines to improve your blogging efforts.

Here Ye, Here Ye or EXTRA! EXTRA!

#1.  Headlines may be the most important words you ever write so always start there for effective blog posts.

Study, test and practice the art of the headline because it can be a factor that can make or break you.

Look, if your headlines don’t work, neither will your content, since no one will see it.

Here are a few best resources to keep handy to help you create winning headlines:

First, from my go-to resource for just about anything writing, copywriting, or content marketing, Barry Feldman hones in on how to create and use headlines connecting on an emotional level to move your readers along.

I love how Barry shares what you need to know in his sometimes funny and always straightforward writing approach along with examples, and this page will give you more angles and headline insights from someone who knows.

Next, I give you 47 (yep that’s 47!) examples for “nifty headline formulas from popular blogs,” written in her always enchanting style, by Henneke Duistermaat, in case writing headlines gives you a headache:)

Finally, I just want to throw this thought out there and give you a little backup too, “Headlines in your work don’t end at the headline.” Just saying.

To give you a complete reference here’s “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Irresistible Subheads” published on BoostBlogTraffic (now smartblogger) and written by Gary Korisko.

Subheads, in my book, can be a game changer to help carry your work from the headline’s invitation into and through the body. Here’s a “RADD” subhead take by copyblogger’s Pamela Wilson.

Subheads enable flow and may be a factor in getting readers all the way to the end while adding aesthetic value to the layout.

Overall, your headline needs to be enticing—inviting a reader in—and there are plenty of tips, tricks, and formulas, to help you get it right, but give some thought to your subheads, too.

I can’t stop myself from testing on CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer, often trying out dozens of combinations for a single post, but sometimes I do go against the result.

image CoSchedule Headline Analyzer score for the post 78 by Sue-Ann

Before going to the analyzer, I write at least 20 to 25 ideas for headlines and from there, tweak and revise until I’m satisfied. Sometimes I scrap the whole thing and start with a new angle altogether.

Pay attention to, and improve on, your headlines to attract more readers. That’s about it.

Words, Words, and More Words

#2.  The perfect length of a great blog post is a hotly debated topic, but I don’t think a word count is the most important measure for any kind of content.

I never count words when I write (unless to follow a spec or assignment guideline or for a tweet— lol) but rather, focus on the message, using as many words as it takes.

That is, I write what I think it takes to say what I’m trying to say.

Quality over quantity is the way to go, and editing can help shave your quantity work to be closer to quality. Don’t be afraid to lose 10 inches to make your work better.

There are plenty of high profile examples to support the case for success and desirability for both long and short form content. You should concentrate on what works best for you in your particular niche or application.

I tend to write long form most often for guest blog posts, wanting to contribute a quality piece of work for a hosting blog’s readers. I want to offer an interesting article and great resources, for the most part.

In the meantime, for my freelance writing site, I like to mix up the blog offerings by varying the length, style, and even the types, of content I use.

My blog’s content “mix” is intentional and offers:

  • Surprise for Readers (so feeling of “oh no, same old thing” never crosses their minds)
  • Variety for Readers (an opportunity to cover topics in site’s main categories)
  • Ability to Bring Interesting Information and Value on Multiple Topics (on many levels)
  • Opportunity to Test Formats (including plugins, media embeds, software, apps, etc.)
  • Benefit of Showcasing Writing Work (+ web content skills like WordPress, visuals, etc.)
  • Platform for Testing and Evolving a Creative Content Forum (for biz content writing)
  • Business Growth Opportunity (digital marketing possibilities)

While my experimental mix right now allows for using content of every length, industry data at this time tips the scales to long-form as the preferred format. Take a look at Steve Rayson’s data based blog post for Buzzsumo for a researched word count body of proof.

But I say what this proof proves to me, is that it’s about quality and not quantity, and that’s what your goal needs to be. Quality is also a factor in page authority, building your credibility, and even SEO so you can’t go wrong with that overall objective for your blog writing, above all.

Mechanics Matter

You can argue headlines as well as blog post length are mechanics for successful blogging.

And I say, “yes, but.”

But, headlines are so significant they need a central spotlight, a test score, and a checklist, even.

As for how many words to write—imagine a boxing ring, Seth Godin in this corner weighing in with few select words and a handful of sentences, and in the opposite corner, his opponent Neil Patel, weighing in with thousands of words with visual proof, ready to go at it—it looks like this round rages on in a battle, not soon to end.

#3.  So the mechanics I’m talking about aren’t a matter of discussion or opinions and sure; there are always rule-breakers, but these mechanics are musts for great blogs and include:

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Accurate Facts and Research (cited)
  • Proper Word Usage and Transitions
  • Passive Voice or Tense in Writing
  • Adverb Use or Overuse
  • Language (difficulty and style)

These parts of writing have to be right. Period. For editors. For readers. For clients. For guest posts. For your site. Forever. For always. For good.

There’s no compromise on this kind of blog mechanics. You can be brilliant with out-of-this-world ideas and useful content and still have no readers.

People won’t keep reading if they are tripping over misspells, incorrect word use, or punctuation that makes no sense. They’ll think what you have to say has no quality, because your writing shows no quality.

Read your work aloud, read it backward, edit it 10 times. Make sure you don’t have mistakes that reflect negatively on you and the quality of your work. Did I mention, learn to love editing? By editing, I don’t mean word count, by the way!

Tip: For free help with the mechanics of grammar use the Hemingway app, or Grammarly’s free version, or minimal cost app.

Word Up, Say What?

Mechanics matter and words say it all (ha ha, little funny there) but if you haven’t realized this by now, then listen up, there’s a lot more to a great blog than writing well or any mechanics.

I like this infographic from Michael Brenner for a summation of the “Anatomy of a Perfect Blog,” for a tune-up checklist:

Click To Enlarge

Anatomy of a Blog Post

Via Salesforce

YES! Your blog is a key to your digital business communications and marketing channels, even customer care. Yes, it entails strategizing and planning and evolving to fit your audience.

Just don’t confuse communications with writing, alone, especially in the digital environment.

Instead, power up your words with visual design and enhance and nurture the engaging, interactive environment where you connect with customers, and prospects, alike.

Make it inviting. Make it easy. Make it enticing for visitors to come back.

Now we’re adding things, like aesthetics, to the big job of your blog, and we haven’t even touched on so many others. The contextual intent, starting with the use of visuals and white space in your blog’s content delivery and mix, however, is something to think about and helps users understand you.

Remember, website visitors want to know WIIFM (what’s in it for me) and so the underlying context of offering a helpful, especially useful, educational, entertaining (whatever) hand is another crucial part of the contextual decision-making of your blog.

Often, using your site’s main categories to drive blog content and maintain a focus, helps set up an expectation for what you will deliver and why visitors to your site will want to stop back. It sets up your expertise and reveals the subject matter about why you have a website.

Sure, you can adjust this as you go, but your blog’s focus, niche, or topic(s) needs to be obvious. Content on the site, then, supports the main “thing” so related subjects, materials, and what you offer there, all belong and make sense.

I’ve added an “Odds & Ends” category to my blog—just in case I spaz—understanding the need for a clear focus and singular purpose, but giving myself a little escape bucket, just in case.

On the other hand, I know a whole bunch of bloggers who have multiple sites, focusing on a single subject or interest, where they create, work, or write the day away, without confusing guests.

Stick to the point, that’s the point, for establishing your blog.

Develop your blog by expanding from a single point of clarity.

Understand and consider; then test and evaluate, the many components discussed in this post (and others) to guide you to the key and to unlock the secret.

You’ll find your secret formula only by figuring out the right mix of all the topics here, and then some. But the one-of-a-kind original ingredient to a great blog depends on you.

How and what you use in your mix, in combination with how you incorporate YOU, is the way to find the key to a great blog.

And ultimately, to your audience to behold.

Talk to me. What do you think?

By Sue-Ann Bubacz

I'm a Content Creator for Businesses and I love reading, writing, and learning. I'm also obsessed with producing quality content. In fact, I'll write for your business as if it were my own! Connect with me: on my website or on Twitter