Exposed!! 10 Secret Habits of Top Successful Bloggers

There are a number of habits that separate top bloggers from the rest. They’re not often talked about, though the benefits they yield are very real.

I’ve worked with a number of top bloggers, either through writing for them, corresponding with them, or collaborating in other ways. Others that I haven’t dealt with directly, I’ve observed for quite some time.

Throughout my dealings with top bloggers, I’ve noticed they have some distinct habits which have allowed them to build and maintain a popular blog.

In this post, I wanted to focus only on the habits that many of us are lacking, or have difficulty developing. Other habits (like producing great content) don’t belong to top bloggers alone, so they’re not mentioned here.

How many of these top blogger habits could you develop?

1. They’re super-efficient emailers.

If you’ve ever communicated with a top blogger you’ll notice that they’ve mastered the art of using email to say exactly what’s needed and nothing more.

The skill is one borne out of necessity, because top bloggers can receive hundreds of emails in a 24-hour period.

What if we developed the top-blogger habit of becoming super-efficient emailers, even though we don’t receive quite as many emails? We’d save time every day.

2. They network with social media power-users.

Have you ever envied the ability of top bloggers to write posts that become popular on Digg,del.icio.us or StumbleUpon at least once a week?

Part of it is solid content, but the other part occurs behind the scenes in the form of mutually beneficial friendships with social media power-users.

These power-users will submit the top blogger’s posts and almost guarantee them to become popular. The benefits of these relationships are something average bloggers often overlook.

Social media power-users have more to gain from a partnership with a top blogger, but we can start small by befriending a network of everyday social media users.

Sometimes a group of people working together can carry as much weight as a vote from a power-user.

3. They blog like clock-work.

Except in unusual cases, top bloggers rarely disappear or go on hiatus. They blog when they’re sick — they even blog when they’re on vacation!

If that’s not possible, they organize guest-posters to cover any holes left by their absence. While it demonstrates enviable tenacity, it also displays a respect for the audience they’ve built up.

They know that thousands of people will be let down if they get lazy or unmotivated. They’ve got something to lose.

What if we treated our dozens or hundreds of readers with the respect that most top bloggers treat their thousands (at least in terms of posting consistently)?

4. They develop multiple income streams.

Most top bloggers earn an income for their efforts. Because it tends to be a decent amount, they’ve become good at protecting it by diversifying.

Online incomes can be fragile and top bloggers know not to put all their eggs in one basket. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, for example, monetizes through advertising, donations and his eBook (Zen to Done).

This means that if one of those income streams peters out or is cut off, others exist to make up for the loss.

Because most of us don’t make thousands online, we can fall into the trap of having only one income stream.

This might not matter so much now, but if our online income grows in future, it would be devastating if that one stream was damaged or cut off. One lesson top bloggers teach us is to start diversifying sooner rather than later.

5. They outsource to others.

While not all top bloggers are in the practice of outsourcing, many are. From moderating comments, to paying writers, to handling email, to technical issues and administrative tasks, there’s a top blogger out there outsourcing it to someone else.

It’s the result of the simple realization that the cost of outsourcing tasks to others is less than the benefits of freeing up time to concentrate on other things (whether those benefits are financial or otherwise).

The average blogger usually isn’t in a position to do paid outsourcing, but you may have skills you can leverage in place of money.

I recently negotiated with someone to handle some forum moderation for me in exchange for writing posts on his blog. For the average blogger, you can outsource by exchanging skills rather than money for labor.

6. They know when to relinquish control.

One thing you’ll notice about most blogs run by top bloggers is that they showcase a number of different writers.

Many average bloggers struggle with the idea of temporarily relinquishing control to someone else, usually because they fear the resulting content won’t be up to standard.

Top bloggers have generally realized that there are some great writers out there.

They also understand that allowing others to contribute content can free up valuable time.

If you’ve previously been nervous about letting others write for you, why not give it a shot?

If a post isn’t good enough, you can ask the writer to revise it, or simply say no. Ultimately, you have the right to decide whether an idea or submission is up to scratch.

7. They invest in a high-quality design.

Not every top blogger has a slick looking blog, but most do. That’s because they realize the importance of branding and presenting well.

A high quality blog design can make your blog worthy of a second look to someone who would have passed it by otherwise.

Not every top blogger with a great blog design paid for it, either. There are plenty of really well-made free themes out there if you take the time to look.

8. They know how and when to say no.

Top bloggers receive pitches, requests and questions all the time. If they complied with all of them, they’d have no time left to do anything else!

Once again, the ability to say no is one that top bloggers develop out of necessity. They know how to treat their time like it’s worth something.

The ability to say no can be a difficult one for the average blogger to develop.

When you don’t have thousands of readers, losing one through your own actions (or inactions) can seem like a frightening possibility.

Despite this, it’s important to realize that saying no kindly will rarely lose you a reader. When you find yourself making a sacrifice without reward, that’s when it’s time to say a polite no.

9. They stay humble in spite of their successes.

With thousands of readers and subscribers it would be easy for top bloggers to become arrogant. While some have fallen into this trap, most of them aren’t top bloggers anymore. Arrogance is a big turn-off.

Top bloggers who’ve been successful for a while stay modest because they know their success is and was entirely dependent upon others.

Top bloggers wouldn’t be anything if they didn’t get readers, links and social media votes from people all over the world.

When you start to experience some successes with your blog, remember that it’s only because others have championed you. Success in blogging will never come from you alone.

10. They don’t let criticism bring them down.

One of the few inevitable laws of blogging is this: as your popularity increases, so does the amount of criticism you receive.

Yes — even if you blog about woodwork, or pegs, or fluffy bunnies. Throw 10,000 people at a page and you can bet one of them will have something whacky to say (which explains a lot of the criticisms leveled at the Digg-effect).

Top bloggers deal with criticism daily, but they’ve learned to recognize when it’s worth listening to, and when it’s not.

In unfortunate cases, top bloggers have also been on the receiving end of threats. Because of this, they learn the importance of keeping private details private.

You might not be receiving much criticism at the moment, but it’s important for any blogger to protect their privacy.

This means that when you are criticized (and it will happen eventually), you know that it will only ever be words and nothing more.

Like It Or Not: Blogging is Public Speaking

Do you get sweaty palms, an increased heart rate, or feel like you are going to faint when you have to make a presentation in front of an audience?

Would you like to improve your public speaking skills and enhance your blogging at the same time?

Public speaking and blogging are similar in many ways and particularly because they both require you to make an immediate connection with your audience.

Additionally, how you choose to present yourself, whether speaking publicly or blogging, will ultimately determine how people view your tone, your image, and your brand.

Some other complimentary similarities between the two include:

  • You are putting yourself out there in front of the masses (sometimes this invites criticism)
  • Public speaking and blogging are both acquired skills (for most)
  • You must be able to effectively communicate a message

So it would stand to reason that if you improve your public speaking skills then your blogging talents would be enhanced too.

How do you feel about public speaking? Would you rather be doing anything else other than standing in front of a group of people and delivering a presentation?

Now that we are into the New Year many of us (including myself) would like to take our blog to the next level in terms of gaining more subscribers and possibly increasing our online income generation.

If you would like to really improve the overall quality of your site there is one skill that you can work on that can have a direct correlation with improving your blogging talents.

Of course, I am talking about the ability to effectively communicate a message and make a presentation in front of a group of people, or speak publicly with authority and confidence.

When was the last time you had to stand up and speak to a group of your peers or colleagues?

Many people are apprehensive about standing in front of a crowd and delivering a message but if you can conquer the fear of public speaking you can absolutely improve your blog. As noted above the two are inherently related.

When I was younger and in high school, and even into college, I was a horrific public speaker. I had NO idea what I was doing and I lacked the relevant skills that were required to be successful.

For most, public speaking is an acquired talent. My ability to present to a group of people was gained as a Peace Corps volunteer where I was continually asked to make speeches to large groups of people, and in a completely foreign language.

Attending graduate school also helped to increase my skills.

If you are not the most dynamic public speaker do not fret because there is hope.

However, there are also a few tips and tricks that are specifically related to blogging and presenting, which can have you creating improved posts by the end of today.

Like it or not, blogging is public speaking

That’s correct, every time you publish a post you are speaking to the global public via the internet.

The number of people in the world with online access is certainly a much larger audience than any of us will ever have the pleasure of standing in front of, so it is pretty amazing.

Take Darren Rowse, of ProBlogger, for example. I don’t know what his daily visitor stats are, but he has almost 40,000 subscribers, so everyday he is delivering a presentation to thousands of people via his blog posts.

Pretty impressive don’t you think? When you approach it that way, public speaking isn’t so bad after all.

What traits do all great public speakers have in common and how does it apply to blogging?

All of the most effective public speakers that I have ever witnessed have some common qualities, and the same is applicable to blogging.

If you have the time some day I strongly recommend that you watch one of the many Seth Godin videos that are available on YouTube.

Dynamic public speakers and bloggers typically:

  • Know their topic and are well prepared
  • Display confidence when speaking or writing
  • Take command of the audience
  • Speak with an authoritative voice
  • Engage the audience
  • Add a touch of humor
  • Maintain a high level of energy

Additionally, along with the above, top bloggers (and public speakers) are able to communicate their message in a succinct and easy to digest manner.

In the past I have had to present to many government officials and in a way they are a lot like bloggers because they don’t want to waste time and they typically have a short attention span.

Rather, they are only interested in the valuable information that you have to tell them and they are not interested in fluff.

Successful blogging is no different. In fact, of all the blogs that I read daily; ProBlogger, Seth Godin, Doshdosh, AnyWired and Zen Habits, the writers are true masters of their craft.

The authors consistently produce posts that are delivered with a commanding tone, an authoritative voice, a solid message, and they successfully engage the audience and make you think.

Practice makes perfect

If you are not too confident in your public speaking I would encourage you to practice as much as possible.

There are Toast Masters’ meetings all over the world and if you are not familiar with them they are a group of likeminded people who gather together to work on their presentation and public speaking talents.

In time, you can become comfortable in front of a crowd and even enjoy speaking to groups of people.

When I know that I have to make a presentation, or draft a blog post, there are some general guidelines that I always follow in my quest for success.

Here are some tips to start you on your way toward improved presentation skills and blogging:

  • Start with your title and create the post from there
  • Use visuals as a support mechanism to enhance your post or presentation
  • Get someone to provide constructive criticism by watching you practice, or proofreading your post
  • Connect with your audience or readers immediately
  • Never apologize if you are bombing (only apologize if there is a technical issue)
  • Make your points and support them with examples
  • Provide information of value
  • Seek input from the audience or your readers

As a final tip I would like to add that there are always going to be negative people and naysayers who will try to criticize what you are doing, so whether you are blogging or presenting, don’t listen to them and focus on the positive every time!

Remember, presenting yourself in the public domain is nerve wracking but with a little attention to detail and the proper preparation you should be blogging and speaking in public like a professional orator in no time.

Be Insanely Useful and Make Your Readers Come Back

Most people don’t read blogs. They let their eyes wander through the text hoping to spot a new, exciting idea, a handy tip, or a new way to look at world events.

As bloggers, our job is to give them what they are after – quickly, because if we fail to do that, they will ignore us. Maybe for good.

Here’s how you can be insanely useful and make sure you won’t be ignored again.

Make your point crystal clear

I come to your blog and start checking out your latest post. If in five seconds it’s still not clear to me what your post is about, you’ve lost me.

It’s cruel, I know, but the world is full of great blogs so unless we’re friends, I’ll move on to the next blog.

But there are ways you can use to increase that five seconds to ten, and then to actually reading the full post:

1. Use a descriptive headline:

This has been said many times. The headline needs to catch my attention, or otherwise you won’t even get that five seconds I promised you just a few lines up.

But if you want to be useful, that’s not enough. Make your header, or at least the first sentence tell the reader the one most important idea you are going to present in the post so that she knows whether the post is for her or not.

2. Summarize your key points with sub-headlines:

People don’t stop to read the body of your text before you’ve convinced them to believe that it’s important.

That’s why it’s important to organize your post in distinct sections so that even if someone just reads the headings, he will still get the big picture.

3. Use bold:

Highlight the most important words and sentences so that the busy reader can pick them up without reading the surrounding text.

In fact, I could bet that even from this list, you’re not reading anything but the parts written in bold.

4. Use pictures:

They catch the reader’s eye, but also serve as a quick way to share a lot of information at just a glance, which is exactly what the modern reader wants.

5. Use short sentences and a lot of whitespace:

Short sentences and whitespace makes the text look less heavy. That makes the text easier to read which in turn improves the likelihood of someone reading it.

6. Keep it simple:

A good blog post takes one topic, looks at just one aspect of it, and does that well.

Besides, this way you can come up with more posts with the same amount of information you would spend to create one scary, big post with everything packed in it.

In case you missed the point while skipping over my content, here it is again:

Keep it simple. Make sure I can get your point without reading more than 10% of your words. The next thing you’ll notice, I might be reading the whole thing.

And as a bonus: use simple words. If your reader can’t understand the words you use to explain what you have on your mind, there is no way they could understand your idea either.

Make your content useful

The world is full of people looking for something useful to help them in their lives: work, hobbies, career plans, parenting, blogging, you name it.

And you have something useful you can share with them. All it requires is work and some thinking:

7. Find out who you can help:

You can’t help everyone. Some people are not interested in your topic. Some think they know more about it than you do. But then there is the group of people who are interested in the same things as you and want to learn more about them.

Pick a topic you already have a relationship with: your hobby, your job, some specific things you have had to go through in life. I’m sure there is someone who needs to hear your experiences.

8. Find out how you can help:

Quite often, just telling what you have learned through your experiences is enough. The problem here however is that you need to have those experiences.

If you blog about something you have little or no prior experience on, you will need something more. It’s still possible to be useful, but it will require more work: Visit Wikipedia, read lots of other blogs, go to the library, talk to people, read books, do experiments.

In other words, you need to learn new things so that you can teach them to your readers.

9. Be practical:

Don’t forget that your reader won’t stay for long (even in the best case). That means that you’ll have to work hard to make everything as quick to digest as possible.

And when it comes to the content itself, one of the best ways to make your reader happy is by presenting the topic in a practical way. Tips and how-to tutorials are nice because they give the reader a set of clearly defined things to do and try out without making her think too much.

Theoretical thinking might lead to bigger ideas but unfortunately a much smaller audience as well.

Put yourself in the shoes of the reader and ask yourself, “Is this going to give her a new boost in [blogging/coding/cooking/insert your topic here]?”

Quite often the answer is the same as the answer to another, similar question, “Is this information useful to me? What would I gain from reading it?”

Be there

When your readers have finished reading your post, they will have additional questions. Listen to them.

If their questions come through your blog comments and can be answered in a relatively quick comment, answer them right there on the place.

If the questions require a longer answer, write a new blog post to cover the question.

If the questions come through e-mail, answer the e-mail and consider if the answer would be something others would also like to read on your blog.

Sometimes crafting a good answer will require some background work, but it pays off because when someone asks you a specific question, that’s your best chance in being useful: you know exactly what your reader needs. You just need to go and find the information.

Analyze

After publishing a post that you think should be useful, take some time to see how people reacted: did they Digg or Stumble your post? If they did, what did they comment on it? Did they comment on your blog?

How did the new post affect your visitor stats?

Also, if you have a direct way of contacting your readers (through e-mail, for example), it’s a good idea to ask them for their opinion. If they didn’t find your post that useful, chances are that most other people didn’t either, and you should have done something differently.

Then try again. Write a new post and concentrate in different ways of making it more useful to the reader: make the post easier to skim and more captivating, organize it so that it’s easier to understand, go look for some more background information on the topic.

And you might notice the reaction to your new post to be completely different from the first version. That happened to me again, just last week.

Keep it simple, be useful and make your readers love you!

The Reader’s Point of View: The Irritating Side of Blogs

I’m not writing this post as a blogger but as a reader. And as a reader, I’d like to share some thoughts about the most irritating aspects of many blogs.

1. It’s full of clutter.

Ahoy, an about-page ahead! Dodge the “get my free e-book”-link and return fire on the recent comments-list. We’re almost there after we flank all those ads.

It sometimes amazes me how so many bloggers still haven’t understood the importance of uncluttering your blog. The message is everywhere! Minimalistic designs are pop.

And it’s easy to see why; blogs that are full of clutter will cause information bloat. Readers want a clear direction to follow when reading a blog. I, for one know that I do.

Do your readers a great favor by making your blog(s) look more like NxE or Skelliewag than JohnChow.com. Only John Chow can pull off John Chow [dot] com.

2. The blogger doesn’t answer comments.

Sometimes, I would come across a good thought-provoking post that begs for a comment/discussion. So I write a comment, a long one which I poured my dedication into. I would then subscribe to the comments’ RSS feed so I won’t miss the blogger’s answer. But more often then not, the response never comes.

When a blogger doesn’t answer your comments, it makes the effort you put into commenting feel like a waste of time. Every time this happens on your blog, you can probably expect that commenter to never comment again.

Do you do that to your own readers? It’s understandable if your blog is really popular, but it is also essential to make sure that you spend adequate time in responding to comments so that your readers don’t feel like they’re being ignored.

3. “What is this blog about?”

I am a fanatic StumbleUpon user and as a result, I come across many new blogs on a daily basis. One of the most frequent question I ask myself when landing on one of these blogs is “What is this blog about?”.

While your content and about page are great at describing what your site is about, the typical Internet surfer will probably not bother to read them. What most blogs need is a quick way for internet surfer to identify what the blog is about.

Here’s some tricks that can help your visitors recognise your blog’s topic:

• Put a visual cue in your header. If your blog is about books, why not put a picture of a book in your header? This will not work very well for metablogs and other blogs with more abstract topics. This leads us to our next tip…

• Describe the topic of of your blog using your blog’s title and tagline. Make sure that your blog title and tagline are descriptive and attractive. Something simple is always best, but make sure that it will provide the visitor with enough information so that he/she can decide whether this blog is for him or her.

• Put your content above the fold. This way the visitor can see the headlines of your posts right after coming to your site. If the headlines are persuasive enough, you might have just gained a reader.

4. It’s hard to read.

Yellow text on black background might appear attractive to some bloggers, but I assure you, you will not keep many readers with it. Bloggers who happens to have super eyesight and like their text and font size in the 1 digits pts can also share in the same fate.

Black text on a light background is the best option if you want your visitors to read your content. It is what people are accustomed to, in off-line publications as well as the majority of good online publications.

Also, when choosing what font to use, make sure to choose one that flows from one word to the next. You can find out more about the ‘Anatomy of Web Fonts‘ by heading over to SitePoint.

It is commonly accepted that big chunks of text are not very easy to read. Blog readers often like to skim through the content, so make sure you make your content ’scannable’.

Also, keep in mind that the proper size of a paragraph depends a lot on the width of the text area/your blog’s design. Wide areas look better with bigger paragraphs and narrow areas are better with small paragraphs.

5. It’s ugly or too common.

Default themes, ugly themes and over-popular themes; they’re everywhere and by using them, you run the risk of making your blog look unoriginal, unattractive and neglected.

This is for all those of you who haven’t bought a unique layout from a professional web designer or haven’t spent the time to look for a more unique, lesser used theme.

You can’t even guess how cheap some layouts can be. If you choose your designer wisely, you can get a really elegant layout without incurring a huge cost. If you’re blogging for money, I guarantee you that it will be worth the investment.

The impact of a beautiful, unique design can be huge. If you are not in the position to buy a custom designed theme, go out and find yourself a lesser used theme. The amount of free WordPress themes is huge,

However, do not think that by making your blog beautiful will instantly translate it into a successful blog. It is not a magic potion, but it will certainly increase the chance of your blog becoming successful. Vandelay Design made a post about this topic just a couple of days ago.

6. The blogger is too self-centered.

Most blogger fails to understand that blogs are a two-way communication tool, not a one-way broadcasting tool. It’s good to add some personal touches in your content and blog, and sure… this might please the more regular readers of your blog. However, too much “I, I, I” and “me, me, me” can and most often will frustrate new readers.

Remember, when you’re in a conversation, the best way to keep the other participants happy is to talk about him or her, and not about yourself. Of course, that is unless the topic of the discussion is about you.

The best conversation is one where everyone can participate and share their thoughts.

7. The design is too ‘heavy’

Shiny headers and funky RSS buttons are cool. Shadows and funny images are cooler. But make it too cool and your visitors’ browser might start coughing.

Make your design light and don’t overuse images in your posts. You might lose the reader if the page takes too long to load.

8. The posts are full of typos.

“You’re blog” here and “Ima blogger” there. Posts that are full of typos are hard to read and will give the impression that the blogger is unprofessional, lacks passion, and undedicated.

The best way to prevent them is to use a proof reading program and to proof read it yourself before publishing. Read your posts at least two or three times before posting them.

Add your own comment here. What irritates you about blogs?

10 Ways to Make Your Blog More Powerful by Optimizing the Signal-to-Noise Ratio

“Simplify, simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau (who would have made an excellent blog writer)

How much of your blog is actually useful content, compared to stuff about your blog, about your cat, about what you did today, or about why you’re not posting as frequently as you should?

People come for the useful stuff, but they’ll leave if your Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) is too low.

SNR is a term borrowed from electrical engineering by Usenet, used to describe the amount of real information in a post (or in a forum) compared to spam or irrelevant or false information.

You come for the signal, but you leave if the noise level is too high. You don’t want to sort through a bunch of stuff to get that one little nugget of information.

The useful stuff should be jumping out at you, from every corner, and the non-useful stuff should be kept to a minimum. Otherwise, you’ll quickly lose those visitors who you do happen to attract.

How can you keep your blog’s SNR to an optimal level? Here are some suggestions:

1. Focus on publishing something useful, every post.

My goal on my blog, and when I write for other blogs, is to write something extremely useful, every time.

Now, I don’t always succeed, I’ll grant you that … but that’s the goal. My experience as a reader is that I tend to continue reading blogs that have a high ratio of useful content.

That should be your goal — when you’re thinking about what to write, ask yourself how useful it’ll be, and what problem it will solve for the reader.

2. Focus on the reader, not yourself.

Related to the above point, of course, but it’s to make a point: too often a blogger will talk about his day, his dog, his boss, his cool new iPhone.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with those topics … they can be great topics, and very useful to your reader … if you apply them in a way that will be useful to the reader.

If instead you talk about yourself, and what interests you, you are being self-centered … and you’ll lose the reader. Think about the reader’s needs and wants, what problems the reader has, and how your post will help solve them.

3. Focus on the macro level.

Think about your blog overall — is the overall topic very general and not of much use to the reader?

Then you’ll only get a few readers. Be more specific, and think about the theme of the blog — is it useful? If not, you’ll get a lot of noise, because you aren’t starting with a concept that lends itself to focusing on producing a high SNR.

Now think about each post: start with a concept for each post, and then make it more specific: don’t just talk about your boss, but talk about ways to deal with a micromanaging boss. That’s useful.

4. Focus on the micro level.

Once you’ve thought about usefulness on the level of your overall blog concept, and your post concepts, think about it on a paragraph and sentence level.

Is this paragraph necessary, or can it be cut out? Is this sentence, or this phrase, helping get the message across?

5. Review and revise.

Once you’ve written the post, go back over it and review it on the macro and then the micro level.

Cut out as much noise as possible. It’s good to revise, cut, edit. Be minimal.

6. Use lists.

I use lists too much, but I’m a compulsive list maker. You don’t have to do that, but I would suggest you try it out.

It allows your reader to quickly find the main points (the signal) of the post, without having to read through all the noise. If the reader wants more, he can decide what to read more closely.

7. Cull your archives.

Every month or two, you should go back over your archives. This is a daunting task for many bloggers, but it helps tremendously.

You might have had a bunch of posts that talked about site updates, or your daily life, that most people don’t find interesting when they go over your archives.

They want to find the amazing posts. If a post didn’t do well, perhaps it’s time to toss it. Cut out the noise.

8. Simplify your design.

Noise doesn’t have to come from just words. Look at every element of your blog and decide if it’s really serving a purpose — for the reader, not for you.

Removing elements that aren’t necessary will greatly reduce distractions and allow your reader to focus on what’s important — the message. Every design element should help get that message across, not hinder it.

9. Identify the essential.

In order to know how to cut out noise, you need to know what signal is. And to do that, you need to know what message you’re trying to get across with your blog, with each post.

I like to crystalize my message in a good headline. If I can’t do that, then I don’t really know what I’m writing about. Once you’ve crystalized that message, you know what is essential about the post.

10. Eliminate all else.

Now that you know what’s essential, remove everything that’s not. I know, it kills you to do that. But really, it will help your reader focus on what you really want him to focus on — the message.

Everything else is a distraction — noise. And remember — too much noise, and you lose readers.