It’s a well-known fact that, no matter how you look at it or what blogging service(s) you examine, that the majority of created blogs aren’t active. In fact, most don’t seem to make it to their second birthday and surprisingly few make it to their first.
The blogging world is a landscape littered with fallen soldiers, abandoned ideas and forgotten dreams. Even I, someone I who prides themselves on building sites that last, has had to abandon more sites than I’ve kept.
This problem of blog abandonment and blogging loss has been exactly what this column is about, finding the reasons good blogs die off and warning bloggers about how to avoid the pitfalls. However, this week we are taking a step back and looking at it from the reverse, examining the keys that are required to make a blog successful, not the problems that can cause it to fail.
With that in mind, over the years I’ve noticed a million different ways for a good site to die, including no reason at all sometimes, but there have definitely been a handful of keys that every site needs to have, with almost no exception.
So, if you’re starting up a new blog or just wondering how to make sure an existing one sees its next anniversary, here are the keys that separate the sites that thrive from the sites that die.
1. A Good Niche (or Hook)
Ask yourself a simple question: What is your site about and what does it bring that is unique to the Web? If your site is just repeating what other, more established and successful, blogs are doing it is simply going to get eaten by the competition.
You should be able to tell others what your site is about in one to two short sentences and do it without referencing any other sites. If that need that’s fulfilled isn’t unique, at least reasonably so, don’t expect your visitors to see much merit in sticking around, especially if others fill your need better.
If you do something original, even slightly so, you’ll likely find that you’re not only able to build an audience, but your site has a direction and a goal, two powerful factors that keep you working at it and building something that is consistent and great.
2. Consistent, High-Quality Posting
Now that your site has a direction, it needs content and lots of it. The dirty truth is that most bloggers see the majority of their traffic from search engines, which in turn direct visitors to their individual posts, not to their home page. So, to build a site that gets the numbers you need to thrive, you need a lot of good, search engine-friendly content that brings in and keeps your visitors.
To do this, you need to be posting on your site regularly, at least once a week and probably much more. Every day, or every weekday is a good schedule though others two well with 2-3 times per week.
The main thing is to work to produce good content for your site and build up an archive that not only keeps the search engines happy, but gives your visitors a good reason to stick around.
3. A Solid, Professional and Unique Theme
We recently talked about the importance of blog design in greater detail but, to reiterate, your design is, literally, the first thing your new visitors see and it is how they make their first judgments about your site.
It’s also a crucial part of your marketing and how you brand your site to separate it from others. If your blog looks ugly or stock, people aren’t going to take it seriously, no matter how great your content is, and they most likely won’t be back.
Though great content can survive a bad theme, it shouldn’t have to and great content will always do better with a good design to match.
As such, if you have a good theme, your site will definitely go farther than it would with something less appealing and less original.
4. Good, Non-Spammy Promotion
Though the search engines will likely be your primary driver of traffic, you can’t depend on them solely. Many sites get destroyed when Google reshuffles their rankings as they don’t have a fallback method of drawing new traffic.
Even more important though is that building other means of traffic means more people will likely link to your site and that, in turn, means more search engine power for your site. In short, having backup means of drawing new visitors will actually strengthen your search engine position.
There’s no real set standard on what this promotion method should be other than it shouldn’t be spammy. No link buying, no social networking spam, no unsolicited bulk email, etc. Whether you use face-to-face marketing, advertising, true networking or something else, it’s a matter of finding the technique that is right for your site and your audience.
In this area, no two sites are exactly alike.
5. Means to Keep Visitors Around
Once you’ve got your site, your content and your promotion in place, you need to find a way to keep in touch with your visitors and keep them coming back. Without this, it’s like trying to fill up a bathtub with the drain open, you’ll be pouring new visitors on top only to watch them come right out the other side, never to return.
Previously this was as simple as putting up an RSS button and maybe a RSS-to-email newsletter. Today, however, this inolves Twitter, Facebook and other social media integration as well.
The idea of this is to make your site’s content and updates available where your visitors already are so they don’t have to go out of their way to get your updates. They just have to want them. This keeps them in contact with your site and, more importantly, keeps the coming back.
6. A Business Model (or Other Goal)
Finally, building a great site that’s well-trafficked and well-loved is meaningless if it doesn’t accomplish anything. Most great sites have some kind of goal in mind and the quicker the site works toward that goal the better and stronger it usually is.
Is the goal to make money? You need to have a business model and implement it as soon as possible. Is it to impact a political issue? You need to have a way to turn your visitors into actual change, whether it’s donations, letter writing or something else. Is it to help people in some way? You need to provide a means for visitors to get exactly the help you want them to get beyond just your writing.
If your site is just a flight of fancy, it’s easy to slack off or quit when the going gets a bit tough. But if you have a deeper motivation, it’s almost impossible to quit, at least on a whim.
Having a goal makes you work harder and that shows with everything else your site does.
To be clear, a site can grow, thrive and do great things without one or more of these keys. However, doing so is like running uphill, a constant struggle that will slow you down.
If you want to ensure that your site does well and is around for at least a few years, or long enough to achieve its goals, you need to give it every chance to survive and that means removing any resistance to success and longevity.
On that front, these are some of the key elements to remember, especially when setting up a new site.
However, there’s nothing stopping you from looking at an existing site and seeing if it does all of these things. If you’re feeling down on your blog or wondering why its languishing, it might be time for a reboot and, on that front, these keys can be a great place to start.