You might have heard that I don’t spend a lot of time reading blogs.
But one thing I do spend quite a lot of time doing is visiting the best blogs and websites in different niches in order to “borrow” ideas from them.
You see, one thing that bloggers often do is get stuck in their own niche. If they write about the moon landing then they only read other blogs about the moon landing or related space travel geekery.
I think this is a mistake.
Quite a lot of my ideas for content or different future projects have come from looking at sites in niches I have absolutely zero interest in. In this post I’m going to show you a few things I’ve learned from my travels about what the best blogs do on their sites. Hopefully you’ll discover something you can apply to your own.
1. A darn good content plan
One of my main passions here on Blog Tyrant is helping my readers learn more about how to develop a content plan. In fact, this special announcement that I’ve been talking about for a while now will be focused quite a lot on this very topic.
Just take a look at guys like Chris Ducker who recently ran a 10-part series (yes 10 parts!) on how to work with a virtual assistant. This type of thing takes planning and it reeks of high quality, useful information.
The professionals like TIME, the Guardian and National Geographic would all have very strict ideas about where they want their content to go over time. The random posting of bloggers really worries me.
2. Long term goals
Closely linked with the last one is the idea of long term goals. This doesn’t just refer to content goals, of course, but things you want to achieve with your blog and then thing you want your blog to help you achieve.
For example, one of my personal goals of 2013 is to make Blog Tyrant my primary focus and stop working so much on my other online businesses. This means a big re-focus for the work that I do on a day to day basis.
Think about some long term goals that you’d like to achieve and then work your blog into that plan. It’s very important to make sure you’ve got the short and medium term goals sorted out as well.
A good About Us page is vital for any blogs success. It is usually the second page that people visit and can go a long way to making a random visitor a little more interested in your content or even your mailing list.
Caz and Craig and the kids.
My blogging friends Caz and Craig have a really nice example of this. It’s personal, it has photos and it gets you deeper into their content. This is how you should use a page like this to help people get to know you.
When writing a good About Us page consider including:
- Your story
Make it a personal story, not just the story of the blog. Talk about who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
- Some good photographs
More on this later but for now let me just say that a good photograph is really important to help people connect with you personally as well as taking your blog seriously.
- Get some feedback from readers and consider showing that on this page down the bottom. Helps people feel part of a group.
- Old content
Remember, new visitors don’t know about your classic posts. Why not show them a few of your pillar posts to help them get a feel for your blog?
- Your mailing list
Of course – make sure there is an option for them to become a subscriber.
Put all of this together and you’ll have a nice little section for people to get to know you.
My preference is to use AWeber because they have a lot of great stats, opt-in form creators, and they allow you to segment your lists in a very simple and orderly way. You can also redirect your new subscribers to get a free eBook.
However, the focus of this point is that you need to keep your email subscribers orderly and on a specific funnel. Make sure they know what they are getting when they sign up. If they asked for a weekly roundup of your posts don’t send them every single update.
5. Their own domain name
If you’re new to blogging (and a lot of my readers are) you’re probably going to be a little bit scared by this one.
The fact of the matter remains that it is very hard to grow a professional blog on a free domain like Blogger or Tumblr. Sure, it happens. But it’s not ideal.
In my video on blog hosting I talk about why I think you need to move away from the idea of a free domain name and get one that represents your brand – something that you own completely. I just really hate the idea of people building up their blogging assets on a domain name that they don’t own.
6. Some reliable blog hosting with a WordPress backend
This is something I mention quite a lot but need to keep mentioning because it is so important. Your hosting is really important – as is the content management system that you use.
For beginners looking to host their own blog I have made some recommendations here and instructions on getting set up here. This is so important because, again, you don’t want to be building up an asset on a platform that you don’t fully own and control.
Some of the main reasons I recommend getting your own host with a WordPress backend include:
- Thousands of plugins
There are thousands of free plugins that you can use to change the way your site functions. These features can cost a lot of money if you were to custom build them on a different platform.
- A crap load of themes
As with the plugins, there are thousands of free and paid themes that you can use and tweak and change.
- Ease of use
WordPress really is one of the easiest CMS to use and beginners can pick it up quite quickly while experts will easily delve deeper and make it work a lot harder for them.
- Infinite customisations
I am always blown away at how much you can do with WordPress using plugins, custom coding or a combination of the two. You can turn a page on your blog into an online store, take bookings for events, run a download site… the list really is endless. If you have a good coder like Crazy XHTML you will find that almost any feature you want is a possibility.
- Complete control
When you own the server you have complete control over your emails, server space and all the things that go along with that. It’s a bit more work but totally worth it.
The best blogs and websites, however, have super fast dedicated hosting and use things like Content Delivery Networks to deliver images and graphics at a faster rate. This will be the topic of a future post as I suspect there are a lot of Tyrant Troops outgrowing their shared hosting environment.
7. Multiple content battlegrounds
A few months ago I wrote a three million word post on how to choose your social media platform. I tried to detail the main sites in a way that would help you get a grasp on what each one offered and how you could use it for your business.
And that is a really important point – you need to choose carefully but not give one so much weight that you neglect others. As Pat Flynn always says, be everywhere. But as I always try to clarify, not at the expense of your main asset – your blog.
If you can use Pinterest, Google+, Facebook and Twitter to drive sales and subscribers then do it. But if you are just finding that it is a time waste that doesn’t convert then give it up.
The most important point about having multiple content battlegrounds, however, is that you really need to try to move away from just using text and get into video, photos, images, eBooks, webinars, podcasts and all the other varieties of media that are out there. This diversity really helps to protect your blog from the Google ups and downs.
8. A bit of an advertising splash
A long time ago I wrote a post on ProBlogger about how you can use advertising to help grow your blog into something bigger. I think this is something a lot of bloggers needs to re-visit.
For some reason we bloggers think that blogging should be free and it should grow organically without any help from a cash-injection. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work like that.
A screen shot of one of Neil Patel’s ads on Facebook.
All businesses advertise. We should to. Even if you just do a little bit of a Facebook spend like Neil Patel does when he is pushing a new service it will help you get in front of new people and hopefully drive some targeted traffic.
Be warned, however, this stuff is really addictive and it’s easy to get wrong. Make sure you do a lot of testing and tracking so you’re not just throwing money out there.
9. Some professional photos
A few weeks ago I jumped on a Skype chat with the very intelligent Chris Ducker and one of the first things he mentioned was the photo I use of me sitting on the couch in a forest with my laptop. Initially I had some doubts about the concept (I don’t work in a forest!) but after hearing one of my internet heroes talk about the fact that he noticed it I was really glad we went along with the concept.
An example from Tim Ferriss who always has fun and professionally done photos.
Professional photos are so important for taking your brand to the next level. Not only do they help your readers connect to your face and personality, they undo all the negative effects that a cheap photo does to your blog. I instantly feel a little less interested in some blogs when the photos (especially the About Us) are just stock images or done with an iPhone.
Do a search for photographers in your area and see if you can set aside $200 to get some quick photos done. Make sure they express who you are and what you do and aren’t just traditional headshots. You don’t want to end up with a photo on Awkward Family Portraits.
10. A well developed and consistent brand and logo
Something that you instantly notice when you visit great sites like Nerd Fitness is how consistent the branding is. The logo is well incorporated into everything that they do and the colours and vibe are the same everywhere.
This is really important for blogs to do because it is part of standing out from the crowd. If you can come up with something distinctive and apply it to your voice and all that you do you’ll find people are more interested in you content.
I’ve been a bit naughty on this front as I’m moving away from the Blog Tyrant sceptre with the upcoming changes in favour of the more military style text logo. I know some of you won’t be happy with that.
11. A clear (and loud!) voice
When you read content on a really good website (like Dooce), blog or in a book you’ll notice that there is a very clear voice. The author knows what they are trying to say and how they are trying to say it. Most importantly, they know who they are talking to.
It’s so important to develop a clear writing voice on your blog – it’s something I spent a lot of time talking about in my post on how to write better.
For me, it really helps to read the type of people I want to sound like as much as I can. And then when I sit down to write I pretend I’m talking to a particular person I know in a very informal setting. That person makes me feel like I should be kind of humble (because I respect them) but also really casual because we’ve known each other for a very long time.
12. Something that makes them different
The previous three points all really come back to this – you need to find a way to be different to the rest. Whether it’s done simply with your branding and logo or, better yet, something you carry throughout all your content and the way you approach your product. It needs to be different.
Now, a lot of people say that you need to be original – I don’t believe that. There are thousands and thousands of successful companies who are making a fortune doing the exact same thing as someone else. Think about all the major fast food chains, all your local plumbing companies, news sites telling the same stories, etc. The big thing is that you need to stand out somehow.
The best blogs all have ways to differentiate themselves from the rest. Whether it’s through a particular historical event (like selling a few blogs and working on a couch!) or through a way you deliver an every day item like the news. SourceFed – a YouTube news channel – gets more viewers than mainstream news by doing their hilarious five stories of the day. They do it differently.
13. A good mobile site
We all know that mobile is growing. There is now a significant portion of web traffic coming from smart phones and tablets. This means that we bloggers need to make sure our sites work across as many platforms as possible.
What a lot of bloggers don’t realize, however, is that Google has indicated that a site will need to have a mobile version in order for them to rank it highly. This is another example of Google trying to pass on quality websites to the people searching with their engine.
When it comes to mobile versions you can either go a responsive design or a plugin that creates a mobile version of your website. I’m not a fan of either personally but the responsive design is better in that it showcases all of your content as usual. There’ll be a responsive version of Blog Tyrant coming out very soon!
For a good example of a mobile site just take a look at the way Copyblogger shrinks down for the smaller screens. Brilliant.
14. Some writers who know what the kids are sayin’
This is a really lame way of saying that you need to have a writer (it could be yourself) who knows how to keep up with things that are trendy.
I’m not just talking about language, of course. Rather, it’s important to have your finger on the pulse when it comes to trends like infographics, SEO changes, WordPress updates and new features and, most importantly, the things happening in your niche.
So how can you stay across all of these things?
- Set up a Google Alert
Set up some Google Alerts for keywords that are relevant to your blog. Just check them every now and then and see if anything stands out.
- Hire a writer
In my guide to content writing I talked about the different types of writers you can hire. Why not find someone who works quite cheap to brainstorm some new things for you?
- Keep an eye on the top blogs
Find the top blog or two in your niche and just keep an eye on what they are doing. The most successful blogs like BuzzFeed and Huffington Post will always be on new trends before the rest. This is partly because they start the trends.
Remember, trends aren’t the be all and end all but it is important to have some understanding of what’s going on so you don’t get left behind.
15. A clean sidebar
Not all of the best blogs have a clean sidebar but you can bet that most of them have some clear goals to their sidebar. That is the important part.
I am often really surprised at how cluttered the sidebars of my fellow bloggers are. Even mine has way too much stuff in it at the moment. Take the social media links as an example – I don’t reckon they get used, and I don’t reckon the social media icons that people use do much either.
A sidebar should be used to funnel people towards your desired outcomes. It could be to your mailing list or best content. Try not to clutter it up and confuse people too much.
16. A basic understanding of how SEO works (does anyone really know?)
SEO is changing a lot. Companies like Moz (formerly SEOmoz) are changing from a “pure” SEO firm to one more focussed on content. Other people reckon that it hasn’t changed that much and the old SEO tactics still work.
The basic concept here is that you, like the big blogs, need to look at writing for humans but also ranking for humans. It’s really important. If you don’t have an understand of what Google is after you could be missing out on a lot of new traffic.
17. A focus on evergreen content that people want to share
Have a look at any of the top blogs and you’ll notice that they all have a focus on evergreen content – content that is always relevant and (if possible) appeals to beginners.
This is important because it helps you reach new audiences by appealing not just to your existing readers but to people that might not have otherwise known about your stuff.
Write your content for new readers as much as possible. If it’s any good you’ll find all your readers get something out of it and your audience will keep growing.
What do you wish your blog had?
Let’s turn it over to you guys and girls now – what features, ideas or successes have you seen on the best blogs and wished was present on yours? Leave a comment and let us know.