What makes a successful blog?

My colleague Steven Streight, Web Usability Analyst, Content Writer, and Blogologist is working on a book about Web Usability and Credibility and sent me a couple of very interesting questions to ponder: “Why did you decide to start a blog?” and “What makes a blog successful?” I answered both, and include them here for discussion.
When his book is published, I’m pleased to say that I’ll be in good company too: he’s also sent the same set of questions to Mark Cuban, Cory Doctorow, Chris Brandon, Debbie Weil and Richard Edelman, among many other high profile bloggers.

Why did you decide to start a blog?

For me, the compelling reason for a blog was that I was tired of updating my sites by hand and wasting all my time fiddling with HTML. Modern weblog tools are remarkably sophisticated and capable content management systems that allow me to focus on content, not presentation.
By spending my time thinking about what I’m writing rather than how I’m writing it and how I’m going to get it published, I’ve been able to refine my weblogs over time to find the synergistic intersection between my professional interests and those of my industry space. For example, my first and busiest blog, The Intuitive Life Business Weblog, has evolved from being a general discussion venue to one more focused on business and management, with discussions ranging from industry and company analysis to marketing, public relations and the future of business communications.
My tech and business Q&A site Ask Dave Taylor is another example of how blogs offer the opportunity to focus on content, not form. Too much of my time was spent answering questions from my readers, students, and audience via email, it was a natural step to create a new weblog called Ask Dave Taylor. The site is now a venue where I talk about a remarkably wide ranging set of topics, from the history of communism and what makes a good job interview to how to remove spyware from Windows XP, add filters to a Gmail account, tweak Linux for maximal performance and configure Mac OS X to work with a secure WiFi device.

What makes a blog successful?

I don’t think that there’s one answer: there are popular weblogs that are full of crude vulgarities, embarrassingly personal thoughts and what I personally consider inane and sophomoric discussion, and there are thoughtful and deep weblogs that have absolutely no readership. I look for the latter much more than the former, obviously, and follow about 100 weblogs on a daily basis.
All of that notwithstanding, I believe that successful blogs are those that engage their audience. It’s not about the length or frequency of articles, it’s not even about the amount of time the author spends writing each entry, it’s not about grammar or punctuation, it’s just about being interesting and engaging. It’s like channel surfing on television: if a show is boring or tedious, there’s very little that will compel you to stay, but if it’s interesting, you might well find yourself sufficiently engaged that you become a fan and watch it with growing frequency.
Articles that link to other sites help weave the blog web, but for me that’s not a particularly important criterion for a successful blog. Instead, having a venue for the public to respond to articles through the comment mechanism is a critical ingredient, in my opinion: the variety of opinions connected directly to the original article are often even more compelling than the original message. I also like to see the author of the original article engage their community in discussion by adding comments and responding to criticisms or questions within the interplay of the comments themselves.
Finally, I also think that weblogs where the author is conscious of their audience and addresses them directly are more successful too: don’t just write about something, ask your readers what they think about the topic.
Ultimately, weblogs are a communications tool, not a technology or set of software applications, and those bloggers that are good communicators, that write about interesting topics in engaging ways, are going to be successful bloggers too.
Added experimental self-categorization tag:

7 comments on “What makes a successful blog?

  1. I think when even the Best and Brightest Bloggers pause for a moment, and ponder why they originally started blogging, it will help them improve their blog, touching base with the originating intention.
    Many of us get sidetracked into various debates, hyped functionalities, spurious add-ons, or tangential issues. I know I have at times.
    I was thinking about Seth Godin’s advice to Be Remarkable, have an Astonishing Product. So I started posting my own original Paint Shop Pro 7 digital art to enhance my blog articles. Then I stopped doing it, fearing the search engine spiders wouldn’t like them.
    But now, I’ve returned to adding art to my blog postings, because they make my blogs more pleasant, attractive, and interesting.
    Mainly, however, my purpose with the Micro Survey (of just two questions) is to obtain profound, practical insights into blogging.
    Hopefully, current ethical bloggers and would-be bloggers will gain inspiration, amusement maybe, enlightenment, and encouragement.
    Another reason, and why I say “ethical bloggers”, is to launch a massive and decisive counter attack against the new breed of Sleazy Sponsored Link Bloggers, and other Con Artist Huckster Bloggers.
    I refer to those who are now rushing in to use blogs as platforms for spam-like activities, casino gambling and prescription drug site promotions, and other dubious online strategies.
    I want to reinforce and support the Ethical Bloggers and do whatever I can to expose, disrupt, and harm the Sleaze Bag Bloggers.
    Thanks for pointing others to one arm of my project. And for such a comprehensive and intelligent response to the survey.

  2. For a blogger who has recently started this is a useful set of “best practices”. Thanks Dave! If you ever get a chance to visit my blog, please do let me know how I can improve? Things you liked and what you didnt. Its always useful to learn from the “Masters” in this field.
    cheers,
    -desh
    blog: http://www.deshkapoor.org

  3. Thank you for this entry. I started a blog just recently to help people learn about computer hardware, software, and security. I find it helpful to ask people what they wonder or worry about computers. This assists me in generating ideas for new articles. Its all about the audience then the content.

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