Building a Better Blog: Be Yourself

Look at the top blogs on Technorati and ask yourself how many of them are merely link aggregators or merely report dry fact; the answer is “not many.” Why is this?

Simply put, it is the human aspect of blogging that draws readers. It is exhilirating to find someone who is passionate about a topic and wears it on their sleeve; it draws you back again and again.

Take BoingBoing. It’s basically a collection of cultural oddities and minor phenomena, something that anyone halfway attuned to popular culture could generate. So why did it take off and so many bad imitators did not? The writers were human, and weren’t afraid to be themselves. Regular readers became familiar with Cory Doctorow’s challenges as a writer in mainstream publishing and how they often connected to greater cultural issues. The humor of Xeni and Cory (and the rest) shines through as well, making them seem like human beings, people I’d like to meet and have a beer with. The world feels less empty knowing that there are real people with these interests.

The core of it is that as a blog writer, part of what you’re selling is yourself. People can read about personal finance tips anywhere, so why do they come to The Simple Dollar? It’s the other things that I add to the mix; the eleven secret herbs and spices that I add to the fried chicken.

Still not sure what to do? Here are some ideas.

Use more adjectives, descriptives, and metaphors. What do I mean? Read these three sentences and ask yourself which one draws you in more as a reader:

Here’s a post from The Simple Dollar.

Here’s a post about bad finance writing at The Simple Dollar.

Why is The Simple Dollar riding Robert Kiyosaki like a drunk man on a mechanical bull?

The first one is as dull as unflavored oatmeal and the second is only somewhat better, but the third one grabs your attention by adding more detail through adjectives (drunk, mechanical), descriptives (riding Robert Kiyosaki), and metaphor (like a drunk man on a mechanical bull). The sentence creates an interesting visualization and is much more likely to draw in the reader. Some of you might be snickering, but which one of those three sentences grabbed your attention?

Drop minor details about your daily life. Make offhand references to your hobbies and interests on occasion. Talk about your experiences as a parent, or with the ol’ mother-in-law. Talk about your attempts to write and your successes at making souffle. These humanize you, make you seem like a real person to the reader. If you toss just a dash of it on the site, it will bring out the flavor of your topic – and of you.

Keep a few connected pieces about yourself moving forward. In the background, I make regular references to the fact that my son is growing older. He was less than a year old when I started the site; I mentioned his first birthday in a few posts and now I am mentioning his adventures as he learns to walk. In the future, there will probably be some potty training references. Why? My son is a major part of my life, being a father is a major part of who I am. In this, there is growth and change, and sharing bits of this growth and change with the readers keeps them interested. Many of them have gone through this and it seems familiar; some are going through this as they read it; others aren’t yet, but they can identify with the task of being a father to a toddler having seen a man carrying around his child in public.

Find your own comfort zone. Obviously, there are matters that are inappropriate for blogging, and there are other matters outside of your comfort zone. The key is to find elements of your life that you’re willing to share with the world. I don’t mind letting everyone know that I’m a proud father, that I’m a recovering video game addict, that I really enjoy open-ended computer games like The Sims 2, that Lost is my favorite television show, that I am near obsessive about cooking, that I was very recently a financial train wreck, that I’m a semi-failed writer, and so on. These are topics I’m comfortable with discussing; there are other topics that I have no interest in writing about on here. Figure out what you’re comfortable with and have a clear line that separates your personality from your personal life.

Write some posts in a purely conversational tone at first. I do this with many posts; I just write them as I would say them to a friend, often including obscure or inside jokes, just as I would say them. In later drafts, I might neaten up things or excise some of the inside references, but the core of my voice remains there. Ask yourself how you would tell the story of this post to a friend, and you’re bound to liven it up a bit.

Don’t overdo it. Remember that these are just ideas to add flavor to what you’re already presenting to the world. Don’t make your blog a personal blog; just add little bits of flavor to humanize it every once in a while.

Building a Better Blog is a month-long series at The Simple Dollar, outlining steps you can take to build a long-term healthy blog that will attract readers. Jump back to the previous essay, Reach Out.

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