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What Makes Real Blogging Success?

What makes a successful blog?

What makes a successful blogger?

I have been reflecting on these questions as I start planning out the next stage of my Authority Blogger course. It’s important to me that people get real results, and honestly the only way I can do that is by basing my advice on what has worked for me and other clients, and my getting people to take action.

It Takes a Long Time to Be an Overnight Success

Most of the bloggers you know who write about blogging didn’t start off with that. I recall Chris Brogan saying it took him 11 years to be an overnight success. Darren blogged for a while about spirituality. Brian was a lawyer until he took a blow to his noggin. My experience has not been all high-fives either. In fact, most of it was pretty unglamorous. It did, however, teach me a lot.

My first “blog” was around the mid-90’s. It was a science fiction website, where I would write fanboy postings about Star Trek and Doctor Who. I know, sexy, right?

After that I moved on to writing about another ultra-sexy topic. Programming. Oh yeah! This was where I started getting financial rewards in terms of selling services, paid writing gigs, books, the whole deal. As well as the benefits increasing, that was also where I went through my toughening up process. Developers might look like meek nerds but believe me they can craft a cutting remark 😉

IT Geek, to Programming Geek, to New Media Geek

Lesson: Nobody is delivered into the world fully equipped, and it is not always a smooth path. It is hard work and like most things, most people will fail.

Success is Great, Failing is Good

Of course fast-forward a bit and I did a whole bunch of marketing consulting, copywriting and freelance blogging. Some highs and lows, like anybody. Everything from writing about drug-rehab and having friends and family concerned about my health (they were a client! never touched the stuff!) through to a couple of imploded SaS startups. There were many prideful moments, and also many that were followed by a fall.

Not every blogger is going to make a full time income. Of course not. Most people do not intend to, and of those that do, only a minority will put in the effort. Even with best intentions and lots of energy exhausted we can still fail. This is no different to starting a business, launching a career, or higher education. Failure rates are high everywhere.

Lesson: Put in the effort and don’t expect plain sailing. We learn a great deal from our mistakes, especially if we work out how to prevent them in future. Our successes can be educational, providing we learn how we achieved them and why what we did worked.

The Difference Between Successful Blogs and Obscurity

This might be a tough message to hear. We want to create. Craft compelling writing. And it is about that, but we also need people to do stuff or think differently because of our content.

We have to encourage people to subscribe, share, and maybe buy.

Lesson: Successful blogs are about persuasion. You might not have a financial outcome, but you do want to create a result. Leave the reader with an idea, an action, a next-step, and so on.

Content Follows Purpose

Therefore it might sound strange to read me say this but I don’t consider myself a blogger. Not in the way most people would describe it.

Do I blog? Yes, but as a means to an end. I am a marketer and a teacher. Do I call myself a “whiteboard artist” or “telephone user”?

When I am writing for a client blog, I am a freelance writer. If I am building awareness of my product, I am marketing. To get people to be interested in buying, I am a salesman.

This is my website where I encourage people to opt-in to have my content delivered via email and RSS. Of course I like helping people with my free advice, but I also have to put food on the table by people paying me. Therefore this is not just a blog, but a relationship and reputation builder.

My goals with all of this stuff have always been greater freedom and security for my family and myself. This is at the back of my mind as I work. My means to that end is helping and advising the maximum number of people to get closer to their own goals. It is fulfilling and rewarding to see people make progress without the financial benefits, but being paid to achieve that is wonderful.

You have to put your audience first. This stops outside criticism hurting so much, and means you will always be on the right track. Intentions count for a lot. Think long term, rather than aiming for a quick win. The reason I think what I do continues to be valuable and worthwhile over this period of time is because I want people to succeed with my stuff. I’ll only recommend stuff I have full faith in because of a personal experience or relationship, and the stuff I create myself I try my best to make it as good as it can be.

Lesson: What is the purpose behind your blogging?

You must answer this, then build your approach around that outcome.

Turn Your Blog Around With These 10 Quick Tips

  1. Start with your end-goal in mind, what change/action/outcome do you want to bring about?
  2. Craft your content to work towards a satisfying conclusion.
  3. You must answer WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me?”) on behalf of the audience. Avoid “So What?”.
  4. What is the big point you want to deliver?
  5. Headlines matter – 80% will read headline, but only 20% will read the rest.
  6. Compelling headlines are Specific. Beneficial. Intriguing. Unusual.
  7. Add emotion and urgency to get more clicks.
  8. Openings should Tease, Question, Shock, or otherwise pull the reader in.
  9. Anecdotes and stories deliver information subconsciously, but must stay on point.
  10. Your reader is King. Focus on them, what can you do for your audience?


I guess bottom line is this. We get obsessed with the activity of blogging, and we look at the surface of others who blog. Success comes from digging under the hood and working towards an intention and a purpose.

What have I missed? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments ….


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  1. Great point Chris!

    I think defining the main purpose of the blog, main goal is the hardest part people are faced with. Majority hear about “make money blogging” and assume it IS the goal.

    My personal experience that I always shared was – when I started to blog about something I love and know and provided information people needed – that is when I started to earn.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Yeah, I think so many people focus on their own needs (make money) versus what they are going to offer people (content/entertainment/experience/assistance). We get it right when the two needs intersect!

  2. Hi Chris,

    I am very curious about your point 1

    1. Start with your end-goal in mind, what change/action/outcome do you want to bring about?

    I am just starting a new blog and am finding as I write my target and focus changes. So what started out perhaps as a way to showcase what I have done, is becoming something where I try and find information and resources to help others (information I was searching for myself).

    Have you had this happen before or do you always start with a very definite focus?


    • Not always. I have a personal blog, for example, and that is just a brain dump and a way to keep family and friends updated.. That will be even more important in a few weeks. It’s good to find your feet. Get used to things and discover your audience. Just don’t expect it to be a big, consistent hit in record time if you meander a bit and don’t have a clear path 🙂

  3. Yup … first step is being clear about why you are blogging. If that’s not clear then the rest can just end up confused.

    I’ve been personal blogging for nearly 4 years and loved it … no pressure … no schedules … no SEO. I wrote because I loved it and over 60,000 people have read my mad musings.

    Now I have a 3 week old blog that I am using to build an online business that I’m launching next year … whole new ballgame.

    I love doing it because I have very clear goals … which is just as well because there’s a pile of things to learn and do to make it all work … and earn a living.

    The blog is only one part of my overall communication and business strategy.

    It’s completely different from having my personal blog … and still really compelling.

    • Exactly. My personal blog didn’t even have an RSS button or categories for the longest time. Something that would have been daft on this business site. Different blogs, different goals 🙂

  4. I always find it very encouraging to hear how long overnight success takes, but I have one problem I can’t seem to figure out.

    On one hand, we know it’s not good to invest time and work in a blog for months then abandon it to start something shiny and new just when the going is getting a little tough. On the other hand, sometimes we’ve made a mistake (however educational it was) and need to get off that wrong road and onto a good one. I still can’t figure out how to know which is which!

    • It is fine to course-correct. I would only abandon a project if there were no signs things are working at all. Normally online projects are more like changing gear or switching tracks than turning a super tanker 🙂

  5. If 80% will read the headline and %20 read the rest, does it really matter if people read your headline?

    The question is, how to create headlines that increase the conversion of people reading headlines into readers of the rest of your post…..

    • Here is how it works:
      1) People need to see your headline, so your content must be worth sharing
      2) Enough people who see your headline must think it is worth clicking, so you need to show a benefit and enough curiosity etc
      3) Your opening must draw people into the meat of the content
      4) At the end of the article the reader must feel it was good enough to have spent their time and attention on, good enough to take your most wanted action and share (see #1)

      All the pieces are interlinked and you can’t get by without 🙂

      • I’ve just copied that great advice into my Masters of Online Business file Chris.

        I’m pulling together all the great advice from about 10 top blogs to help me focus on good practice as I build my new business … it’s all about learning and action.

        Thanks again.

  6. Chris,
    Your first tip reminds me of Covey’s 7 habits, “begin with the end in mind”. Nice timely reminder of a classic.

    I’ve been a big fan of reverse engineering everything in business for while now, it works! I think it’s often easy to smash away at something and forget what the desired outcome was/is.

    So, how will this sentence look in years to come? “From new media geek, to [insert potential future geek category) geek”


  7. Chris,

    The first part of your article chimes with a Blog Post I have outlined to be written in the next month or so. The title of that blog post will be:

    How To Be An Overnight Success – By Putting In Years Of Hard Work And Preparation

    If you analyze anyone who ‘comes from nowhere’ to be a success you will almost always find years of learning, struggle and preparation.

    Some examples: Tiger Woods, won a major golf tournament at aged 18 or 19. Started learning to play golf at 9 months believe it or not (his Dad built a putter he could use from a high chair).

    The Beatles: thousands of hours of practice playing in Hamburg strip clubs (read the story in OUTLIERS, very intersting).

    David Beckham: thousands of hours practicing both before he became successful – and afterwards. Always the last to go home from practice. Etc.

    I could go on – but won’t, as I actually want to save the info for my blog post! But the point is valid for every discipline outside of the world of Reality TV (which is the only place where you can become an overnight success with no preparation or hard work).

    Good post.


  8. Chris, so many reasons I love this post. Thank you for your admission that you are not a “blogger.” This subtle difference is often not clearly stated in advice about blogging. It is where we lose many who want to blog as a means to an end rather than the end goal. The advice about blogging so often takes the approach that everyone wants to be a paid celebriblogger rather than tapping into other motivations that blogging serves. Your advice was spot on and truly helpful to people like me in the midst of the success-failure-now what cycle! Thank you Chris, today’s post was truly a gift.

    • I’m glad you liked it 🙂

      There are benefits in the process of blogging, I get that, and I have personal sites purely for the pleasure, but really most of my blogging is part of business.

      It’s dangerous when people say/think “all bloggers …” because there are as many types as there are bloggers 🙂

  9. Hi Chris, I truly agree with you on every point especially on the issue of purpose. And when you said “start with your end-goal in mind,” I actually nodded my head in agreement.

    Many bloggers simply regard themselves as bloggers without really identifying the purpose behind their blogging activities. Over the past two years I’ve been blogging I’ve always asked myself what do I want to achieve at the end of the day? Of course I jumped into the blogging bandwagon because I saw the potentials in it. But with my internet marketing background I knew I wasn’t just going to give away content for nothing!:)

    Anyway, after much thought I simply re-worked the blog and put everything in a new url. This is barely two weeks now but right now I’ve been able to figure out my ‘end result’ and I’m working towards that right now.

    For me a real successful blog is the one that is able to deliver what the owner has in mind!

    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Chris – great post about blogging success. But, I still am confused about how people find your blog? I know, an elementary question. Do you have to do email marketing and offer something, in order to build a following? I suppose if you write about Hollywood stars, people will find you on the Internet, but if your blog is about business strategies, cooking or parenting, how do you bring people to your posts and get them to subscribe?

    • People find your blog through interacting in twitter, forums, other blogs comments, the people you meet, through people linking to your articles, people sharing with their friends …

  11. Awesome, awesome post, Chris. As a relatively new blogger, it is particularly heartening to read “it takes a long time to be an overnight success.”

    Figuring out the focus, I’m finding, is really important. Over the course of the last two years, I’ve been all over the map – writing about my dogs (hey, they’re fun!), cooking, and PR/social media (the field in which I work). What I’ve found is that while I still have some leeway about what I write (it IS my own blog, after all), focusing it more and more on the business of PR is important. First, because that’s what I do, second, because that’s what other people in the field want to hear about and third, because that’s what I want other people to hire me to do.

    I’ve also found that consistency is important and yes, I know a lot of bloggers say blog when you want to. I think that’s all well and good, but if you’re trying to build up an audience, they will expect – especially those who subscribe, and I never want to lose those people because they obviously think I have something of value to offer them – helpful content or opinion on a regular basis. I recently started using a posts calendar plugin, and it helps me immensely to jot down a few words about what I think that post will be, see them on a calendar, and thus know to start filling in the blanks. Keeps me accountable.

    It’s quite a ride.

  12. This was a great explanation of what your end goal is compared to the means to reach that goal.

    I recently had a conversation with one of my subscribers who was considering joining a 30 day blog challenge. With this challenge you have to blog every day for 30 days. If you miss a day or two you can catch up with several posts in one day. This person had tried two challenges before and never made it to the end.

    My question to her – What is the purpose of your blog? Does this challenge meet that purpose?

    She was taken back when I told her that the purpose of my blog was to teach and market.

    Now you have helped me define this even further. I am not a blogger. -Thanks

    • 30 day projects can be good, but only if you know what you want out of it. It is unlikely you will get to the end of one of you don’t know why you are doing it in the first place 🙂

  13. Hi Chris

    Great post, your points have been put across well – certainly puts a few things into perspective.

    I have been blogging for over a year now and the thing I want out of it in the IM Blog above all else is a ‘following’ and ‘influence’.

    I hear stories of some big players making large amounts of money through their blogs, but I dont see how it can be done in one platform (maybe several small blogs in different niches) but I just dont see big money being made with one or two.

    Even with the decent volumes of traffic I now get I very rarely sell anything so if that was ramped up I still cant see huge sales (though we are talking IM niche here)

    So I dont see one blog by itself earning much – I see it more as a pathway to the world so people know you are real in order that they may purchase something from you further down the road.

    This resonates with me because I only really purchase from people whos Blogs I read and therefore trust as a matter of instinct – so certainly in the IM niche I hope to achieve the same.



  14. Great list! I’d add #11: Give the reader the opportunity to learn more.

    It makes me crazy when someone posts about something fascinating and doesn’t provide a link to anything that goes farther than the post did. I end up Googling for hours to find what the writer probably used as a resource in the first place.

    This is probably why I make a point of including links to the original studies I write about. That and being a research geek. 🙂

  15. Well said Chris.

    The 10 Quick Tips was an excellent way to end the article – gave us something to think on and use.

    Oh wait… isn’t that one of the things you taught in the article? LOL

  16. Chris, I’m in the crafting stage of a new blog. Your post has helped me ask myself some important questions.

    Thanks for the education and provocative ideas.

  17. Hey chris,

    Well written. I can see that success for ya’ll has not come easy and you had to work for it. Work Hard. As for my I have been blogging for the last three years and it has thought me a lot. Now I have dropped everything about blogging that I started three years ago and starting afresh. We are well planned and organized and are working towards success. We measure sucess in terms of the traffic we receive. Thanks to bloggers like yourself we learn alot.

  18. I love the take aways at the end. I know in the past I lost sight of my purpose. Every time I bring my purpose back into focus my blogging is crisper and more enjoyable.

    I’ve been working on my titles and they are getting better. I feel that with each post I’m doing a better job of bringing my “right people” in.

  19. Your blog is really easy to navigate around-I have been on here for over half hour which is not like me to stay that long on a site-I really enjoyed your post on What Makes Real Blogging Success,especially the comment “Success is Great, Failing is Good” I can really relate to that-Thank you

  20. Hey I had that book – ASP.NET. At that time, it was a great language to get database-driven websites up and running quickly.

  21. Your article was a ‘breathe of fresh air.’
    I have almost (or already have) abandoned blogging, and somehow you have convinced me to take on it one more time.

    Many thanks Chris!


  22. Reader is king … well put.

  23. I completely agree with this, especially “It Takes a Long Time to Be an Overnight Success”

  24. Sometimes I find the ‘How to Blog’ gets mixed up in the ‘Why I Blog’ for new bloggers (self included). Although I’ve been writing for years, I keep finding new tangents and blog projects to start. This may be a distraction as it prevents me from going deep into the blog with consistent posting.

    Perhaps I should focus more on the Reader and produce more content for their ‘Why Should I read’ and ‘What They will get out of reading this blog’ instead of finding and initiating new Blog Theme Ideas.

    Thanks for helping me get focused Chris

  25. I love what you said about headlines. In the age of RSS readers and twitter I would estimate that for every hundred people that read the title of your post only one or two actually click the link and read the full post. So crafting effective headlines is absolutely crucial.

    Also before you can be successful you have to define what success is. What is your end goal? What is it that you’re trying to accomplish?

    Nick, The Traffic Guy

  26. Another good tip that I have heard from many smart people is to blog keeping a single person in mind. Actually, come to think of it this is a great writing tip and not only restricted to online blogging

  27. Great way of looking at blogging. i always questioned why people call themselves “public speakers” when they don’t call themselves faxers or emailers. Yo have framed it nicely as well.

  28. The hard work stories always give me comfort over the “where the heck did this guy come from?”

    It’s been nearly 2 years that I started blogging and I’ve changed my approach a lot to a more slow and steady pace rather than trying to make a splash with each and every post.

    I also like to check the archives of the “overnight successes” and finding that they beat the “no comments yet” of early posts by pursuing what they loved, working hard and refusing to give up.

  29. Chris..those tips are dead on..the beginner blogger just don’t know the hard work us bloggers have done just to be recognized by an online community.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  30. Great post!!

    Really useful for me as I am still just starting out with my blog. This post pretty much reinforced what I have been told already but i is allways good to go through everything again.

    Definitely giving value to your readers is the most important thing you can do on your blog. I always try to give as much value as I can in every post and sometimes I feel I am giving too much! But that can’t to bad can it??


  31. Fantastic post Chris! This is my first time on your blog and I am really digging the writing style and content you provide.

    “Therefore this is not just a blog, but a relationship and reputation builder.”

    That is the way I am trying to think of my blog now too! Sounds like I am on the right track.

    Also, here is a quote I’ve been sharing with a lot of people lately. I think you will agree:

    “Success is the lurking place of failure.” – Lao Tzu

    Thanks for the information and tips – I’ll be sure to come by here again sometime soon!

  32. Ok so I write and I write. Each time I finish and cue up the post for some future date, I circle back to it a few more times to evaluate it. The headline, the content in general, grammar, length, et al. Some I think are great others I think are pretty darn good. I never think ‘wow, that sucked.’ Thankfully great feedback like this Chris has helped me define my yardstick, so when I’m examining the quality of a given post, it’s through your eyes, using your measurement criteria – time-tested and proven. Thank you. Onward. The thing that I have found that resonates most with my readers (if I mind my analytics) is emotion in storytelling. When I tell a story, steeped in emotional anecdotes about my travels or those of others, my readership jumps. People want to connect with me. They just won’t do all the heavy lifting for me. I need to give them the emotional hook. Why on earth do we all continue to drink up love songs a million love songs later? Readers are dying to be compelled by us. We just need to – well – compel ’em. Thank you for a terrific read.

  33. Very informative, thanks for the article!
    I have often wondered about blogging myself, the pros and cons of it and how things should be. If you do start blogging, doing it because you want to rather than as a job, as blogging without the passion is doomed to failure.
    One thing i do know thanks to articles like this and others is that the audience is the key part. You are writing things to keep them interested and which attract them to you in the first place, not the other way around. Ensure that what you write is interesting, or will keep your readers interest or they will leave. Sadly, do you know what will remain interesting? Like you have said, we will rise and fall with our mistakes…

  34. Thanks for some really useful tips. I am very new to writing blog posts, having just set up my own blog in October 2010. I’m particularly impressed how you ended your post with ‘What have I missed? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments ….’ I think this is so clever and I am going to start expressing a similar call to action at the end of all of my posts – hopefully it will increase the amount of comments being left. Thanks for the tips once again… I shall put your advice into action and let you know how I get on.

  35. #8 “Openings should Tease, Question, Shock, or otherwise pull the reader if mine has success with articles which are against with general public thinking. He loves to shock audience and it seems that is on the good option to have.

  36. #8 is so true. I used to keep 2 blogs about the same topic, one was more “normal” and the other was written in a more “shocking” manner. I gave both the same amount of time and dedication and I got more visits on the latter. It really works, although we shouldn’t over-sensationalize either.