How do I stand out? It’s an age-old question.
And when it comes to online marketing (well, any marketing really…) standing out from the crowd is possibly the most important thing you can do.
Think about it – every day there are thousands of new blogs created. And what about all the successful blogs that already exist?
It’s a lot of competition.
In this post I want to share a few ideas about how to help you and your blog stand out on the web.
I hope it makes a difference!
How to stand out (and why it’s so important!)
I know I’ve mentioned this book a couple of times now but I really just can’t stress enough how important it has been for my business.
It’s called How Brands Grow and it’s basically an explanation of the science-based experiments into marketing that have been going on at The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science.
Their results have been shocking.
And while I’m not going to go into them all here, the main one that struck me is the idea that loyalty is not as important as reach and having a distinctive brand.
That means we need to stand out and get in front of as many people as possible. If you’re not doing that your business is actually shrinking.
What I want to do now is show you a few ways I found that help a blog, website or personality stand out on the Internet.
So, what is a brand?
I’m going to be mentioning the word “brand” in this article a lot so I thought it might be a good idea to just talk a little bit about what that means.
It’s not your logo.
Although your logo is a part of it.
Heidi Cohen has a great list of definitions but my favorite one has always been:
“The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.” – David Ogilvy
When you think about your brand you want to think about how it looks, but also how it feels and what a person would think about when your blog comes to mind. How does it make them feel? What does it make them do?
It’s this “sum” of qualities that we need to make stand out.
Let’s go through some of them now.
NOTE: Standing out from the crowd needs to also be balanced with creating a quality blog with a deliberate strategy. Obviously you need to stand out but also be worth the memory space in the mind of the visitor.
1. Your name (and URL)
Choosing a domain name is actually one of the hardest parts about running a blog or an online business. I usually get about one email a week asking for help in this very area.
So what are your options for making it stand out?
- Keywords are important
If you are building a blog that is related to a specific key phrase then the words in your domain name matter. The problem is that most of the good ones are taken. If, for example, you are a physiotherapist in Alaska and you can get AlaskaPhysiotherapy.com then you will have an instant SEO advantage over a generic name like HappyPhysiotherapy.com. Mostly this helps you stand out to search engines.
- Short and memorable
If you are building a content site that is aimed at getting SEO traffic but also email subscribers and readers then short and memorable is your next best option. Keep it niche specific and don’t be afraid to “say” something. NerdFitness.com is the perfect example.
- Random and memorable
Websites like Digg, Delicious, Reddit, Imgur and so on have done very well with super-short but randomly funny or memorable names. I’ve never been brave enough to do this but they certainly stand out. You will have to work a bit harder to communicate what your brand does, however.
- The personal brand
There have been a few people lately moving towards a personal brand name where they use their full name as their domain name and website name. This is a good long term approach and helps you to manage your reputation online – especially if you have many projects on the go. Chris Ducker is an obvious example of this done extremely well.
Try to avoid numbers (is it two or 2?) and more than two-word combos. If you can instantly communicate what you’re about and why you’re different, while still being short and careful then you are onto a winner.
Don’t get too disheartened at this stage – it’s still possible to stand out with modern domain name choices.
2. Your logo, design and associated elements
Coming up with a good logo is hard because it needs to communicate so much and still be simple and affordable. A good one often costs thousands of dollars. Or, if you’re a bank, a cool $15m!
- Keep the logo simple
You don’t need to have a globally recognized symbol when you first start out. Danny Brown has simply used his name in an elegant and perfectly sized typeface. But if you have an idea, a simple and elegant logo like at ViperChill will be a winner.
- Don’t go cheap
If you are going to get a professionally designed one please don’t use a $5 logo site. Most of the graphics are ripped off some other site, and the cheapness is often the only thing you’re communicating.
- Match colors and styles
If you do get a logo created you want that branding to flow through the colors, styles, fonts, etc. so that the whole thing looks like one solid whole. Whacking a logo up the top and then having disjointed elements everywhere else will make you less memorable.
- Use photography to show difference
Professional photographs of yourself can go a huge way to making a point of difference. People get used to seeing your face. The “couch” photo that I use on the homepage and on social media gets so much feedback and I think has gone a long way in helping to make this brand stand out.
- Consider branding personification
One of my favorite examples of this is Roger from Moz. He is the little robot that you see one all of their ads and blogs posts. As soon as you see him you know it’s some brilliant Moz content and it really brings the brand together despite hundreds of different authors. Social Media Examiner also does this well with the jungle theme.
Roger from Moz in his many different variations.
As you go through this process keep asking yourself whether its standing out from your competition while still communicating your ideas and philosophies.
3. Your content and message
As far as I’m concerned, this is the part that is the most important for blogs and bloggers. You can get away with the other stuff (although it will hurt conversions) but you can’t get away with mediocre content or messaging. It has to be distinctive.
So how do you stand out?
- Emphasise your point of difference early
Make sure that you know what you point of difference is, and make sure you emphasise it as soon as someone hits the site. Your tagline is a good place to start, or a story in the sidebar like Neil Patel does.
- Find a style and stick to it
At the start you should experiment with lots of styles, but once you find what works you should stick to it. You want people to know that they are on your blog or reading and article that you have produced. This is a lot harder than it seems.
- Make your message flow through everything you do
One of the best recent examples of this is when Pat Flynn wrote about his website re-design and how they came up with the idea that he was the crash test dummy of online business and passive income. It really felt like his brand became “solidified” after this.
- Keep tweaking based on feedback
If you don’t have a solid branding idea to begin with it’s a good idea to keep tweaking it based on what people are saying about you, and where you think the market might take you. For example, you might evolve into a tutorials-only site based off of all the shares you’re getting from your industry.
- Align yourself with the right people
One of the ways to stand out, ironically, is to be associated with other similar blogs of high quality. This means mentioning them in your content, and writing similar (but better!) content than they produce. If people start mentioning you in the same breath as the other websites you’re onto a winner.
- Be Japanese
Well, not Japanese. But maybe manga. This is a bit of an homage to Maki from Dosh Dosh who mysterious disappeared after gaining tens of thousands of subscribers and building a blog where every post was a different manga character. It was brilliantly distinctive and I really miss him (or her…).
- Be as useful as you personally can handle
One of the things I like to remind myself of is how much this site is associated with my face and name. And I try to think about all the tens of thousands of people who visit each week. When I do that I feel encouraged and want to be as useful as I possible can, trying new things to help people. This is a good guide for a brand and product. People notice.
Don’t worry if you can’t figure out all of this stuff right away. Good content will evolve and you will slowly find what works and what you like doing.
People (and examples) that can help you stand out
If you’ve ever talked about branding, logos, marketing, etc. at college you’ll know that the topic can go on forever. There are entire degrees devoted to it and some people (like above!) spend their whole lives trying to figure it out.
And because I can never write a post that totally solves a problem, I always try to include some examples and resources that will help you to take your learning to the next level.
Here are some cool things to look at and think about:
- The evolution of 25 famous logos
Here’s how a bunch of well-known logos have evolved and improved over the years.
- Why a logo does not cost $5
A good read explaining some of the reasons you shouldn’t do a logo cheap.
- How our eBook launches have evolved
A great writeup by Darren on how his big launches have evolved over the years.
- How Social Media Examiner cut through and grew its list 234%
This is a really cool little chat about how SME did it in a really crowded market.
- Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks: A tale of two coffee marketing giants
A really interesting read with some stats on how these two big companies arrived and then flourished.
- 30 ways to make your business stand out from the crowd
I’m not usually a fan of collections of tips but this one has some very actionable points from some very smart individuals.
- Dooce’s Dilemma
A fascinating read about one of the world’d biggest bloggers and what it takes to make a name for yourself.
- 70 of the best blogs for creative inspiration
Almost as much for their tips, the blogs here are almost all examples of solid brands executed very well.
- 10 branding lessons every graduate should know
Some really quite different tips here on some of the lessons business grads are missing.
- Branding lessons from religion
A very interesting take on religion and how good some churches are at marketing their product.
Do you stand out?
I’d be really interested to know whether you think you and your blog stands out from the crowd. Or maybe you know of a blog that really stands out? Please leave me a comment below letting me know your thoughts. Maybe we can help a few blogs change?
Top photo: Ryan McGuire.
60 CommentsJoin in. The comments are closed after 30 days.
Great read. Being extremely personable and catering to all of your visitors needs is another great thing that can set you apart from your competition.
Nice stuff as usual!
Thanks Matt. Appreciate it.
Thanks Ramsay for this great post and as always enjoyed your post. Most importantly thanks for replying all your readers and lovers.
Interesting post, I think also a good way to stand out is to do things different from everybody.
Zig when everybody zags.
Long form content, everyone is doing it – apart from Seth Godin.
Encouraging comments on their blog, everyone is doing it – apart from copyblogger.com
Your USP or identity could be bucking a trend, or pushing back against the ‘norm’.
Yeah that’s true.
I can’t criticise those brands because they are way better than mine, but both of those examples seem to be them going back to something that was done ages ago.
Seth’s being doing short content for a decade. So maybe he just found his personal style? If I wrote posts like that I’d get no one! Ha.
Thanks for sharing.
Good read Ramsay, thanks. I do like the sound of the Japanese blog pity it’s gone. I think finding the distinctive bit is hard to do and for new bloggers it takes time to hit the nail on the head.
Yeah Dosh Dosh seriously was awesome. The closest to it today is probably ViperChill except Maki wrote way more regularly. You can actually still read some of it if you go through the Way Back Machine.
After jumping off the grid to become a full-time caregiver for two and half years, I can confidently say … I do not stand out.
And that’s kind of a good thing.
It gives me a chance to explore how my name, design, and content impact my brand and how / if the brand stands out as something different and worthwhile.
Looking forward to being back in full swing.
Sounds like a hard gig… You’re a good man.
Anyway, I have a question for you and the troops about standing out with a ( common ) personal brand:
I’m interested in developing my personal brand, but my name is super common so locking down branded urls and handles needed to create a clear presence on the web isn’t an option.
I’ve been test-driving the idea of dropping my first name and styling my last name in capped letters ( RICE ) with the hope I might be able to establish some kind of visually recognizable consistency … but it doesn’t feel right considering the transparent trust-focused landscape of the web these days.
Am I overthinking this?
Should I forget about that and focus on the content I’m producing?
I know you’ve written about it before, but did you feel conflicted about transitioning from the BlogTyrant to Ramsay?
You do know you can always change your name or adopt a nom de plume?
My married name is actually Sue Johnson and I tried for a couple of years to rank in search – best I ever got was top of page 2 after all the sex advisers and masseurs.
So I decided to use my husband’s Fijian surname – Tawake. But there were a couple with that name. So I tried Sue Tamani and BINGO I’m the only one. I changed my name on FB and immediately ranked first on p1 Shimples!
Tamani is a beautiful name.
Funny enough, I’ve used a pen name in the past for short stories and screenplays, but the thought of using one as a blogger never crossed my mind.
Thanks for the suggestion!
I think I have changed my brand a half-dozen times in a few short months. Not sure what to stick with!
I am an author, speaker and musician and like to blog about lessons we can learn from everyday life.
So here are some brands that I’ve tried…(bear with me)
Encouraging Women Everywhere
Jennifer Waddle Blog
Day of Small Things…Minute by Beautiful Minute
A Blog About…Oh, You Know…
I know you are super busy, but if you have a second to give your opinion, I would be forever grateful.
That’s a tricky one. Have you ever asked your existing audience?
Great post! The sasquatch picture is the best; that stride never gets old.
Anyway, my comment for branding is this: I want to keep it simple. I’m brainstorming nicknames I’ve had throughout the years because they reflect how others see me. Seems that what can make you stand out the most is observing what all of your friends like about you.
Are you the quiet weirdo in the corner with the hilarious retorts when prompted, or are you the one who is always seeking out the spotlight but is never annoying about it? The cynic? The optimist? The realist?
It’s a starting point, I reckon…
great post, Ramsey!
Great comment, Harold! Thanks for sharing.
Very useful post, thanks 🙂
Well said. Standing out from the crowd is very important. Having a trendy brand name and logo sets you apart to some extent.
But the most important thing is to have something on offer, that is actually unique.
As Gregory Ciotti said in the blogging expert roundup http://blogician.com/blogging-tips-for-new-bloggers/ (in which you participated too), you have to rise above the level and do things others are not doing. That is the most straightforward way to stand out in my opinion, although it takes lots of effort.
What do you think, Ramsay? Blogtyrant is doing great using this formula!
I would have agreed with you before I read the book above. But what their data shows is that you don’t need to be original or new, you need to be distinctive.
The information I share is no different to other stuff out there. Similarly, Subway and Burger King etc. all do basically the same thing but have huge individual businesses.
If we only did original and unique stuff there would be no one doing anything.
Sorry for the late response. I am not necessarily saying that you need to provide “unique” information.
Even if you are saying the same thing, the “unique” angle or the new way of presenting the same material is needed.
When you are writing a massive guide, I agree that there may not be much new material. For example, a how to start a blog guide. But the way it is presented, to make it more convenient to the user, that is what matters.
Maybe I was wrong when I said the matter has to be unique. But surely, the perspective needs to be unique.
And I am saying this on the assumption that you are competing for the same audience with other bloggers.
I really enjoyed this post. It shares useful advice and I like the way you’ve adapted “how brands grow” to blogs.
I used to work for a FMCG corporation and the book was at the time considered like the Bible, because it told our executives that we got it all wrong, focusing on loyalty, instead of distinctiveness and one time buyers. I enjoyed your tips very much and will be applying some of them to my blog, dewiragi.com, my travel and self-discovery blog.
My current focus is to make sure my blog’s shape looks good for my readers. I’m learning a lot from your posts, and I’m about to join Aweber to provide my ebook in a professional way, thanks to your advice. The next step for me will be to liaise with other bloggers, who do something in the same field as me. Another one of your recommendations.
Thanks, keep up the good work!
Thanks for sharing that. Did your old companies change their ways after reading the book?
Christopher Rice – Chris Eats Rice, Chris E Rice, Chris Eat Rice, Chris Fry Rice, Chris Fly Rice, Chris Fried Rice, Crisp Fried Rice, Chriss Riice. Christo Rice? Chrispy Rice? Chris to Rice? Christ Rice. Chris.to.fer Rice. Chris. to.Rice (Like Wil.I.am or I.man, or Mo’nique). Chrisp Rice? Hee, hee! Me thinks u should ask kids.
Well, it would stand out. even if you are not a ricehead. What is your middle initial, any?
I like Sue Johnson’s creation. Tamani is cool as Tawake. but, then, with 7 billion people in the world there is bound to be at least one permutation that looks like, sounds like, me. 200+ Suzy, Suzanne, etc Lee in San Francisco area. every which way to spell it too.
My boyfriend went to a conference in NYC. He almost went up to a girl to ask, “Suzy, what are you doing here?” I was in San Francisco. And, that was my boy friend! I thought he should have connected. I would have been curious -yellow, red and green!
I talk to a lot of mom bloggers who have had problems with their branding and its corresponding issues- finding your niche and audience. I think that once you know who you want to talk to and what you’re talking to them about, branding becomes easier. I mean, if Pepsi wants to get more young people drinking Pepsi, then they need to brand themselves as the soft drink of the younger generation, right?
Yeah that is so important and it’s a big step a lot of bloggers miss.
Great post – just have to say your site is my current ‘blog crush’ – I love it.
To me your branding is very strong and the sofa picture says so much about your brand philosophy that if you took it down you’d actually dilute the message.
In this context, I’ve just developed a knight in shining armour character for the Content Champion blog, but am unsure about using it (I used to have a superhero but it was like Marmite/Vegemite for my audience).
Here’s a temporary link to it as I haven’t started using it yet – what does everyone think? I’m unsure:
My cartoon is well drawn etc but I think it might be overkill in terms of branding.
Thanks for the kind words.
I love the knight personally but feel like it’s too complicated for brand purposes. I think it either needs to be the face/helmet or just one aspect of it – not the whole thing.
I totally agree. While I respect the huge skill of the designer I do think it’s a little too busy in its current form to stand alone as a branding graphic – even though I too love it as a cartoon.
It definitely needs simplifying if this is the road I go down. Lots to think about 🙂
Top advice as usual.
I’ve been experimenting on the branding of my own blog. In reality it’s been one long blogging experiment but unlike the chemistry experiments at school it hasn’t caught fire yet!
So I’m doing lots of back to basics stuff to get things super sharp and to this end I’ve put together a short 8 point manifesto – now with it’s own page on the blog. If it doesn’t fit with this then it’s not part of what I’m doing. So I’m binning old, unremarkable and off-messge content and rewriting other stuff.
Being a remarkable brand doesn’t happen overnight but each improvement is a step closer!
Re naming – I chose a slighly odd but short .com. Still not enitely sure about lifewhack.com but I’ve also got peterewinhall.com as well (there are zillions of Peter Halls but only one with Ewin in the middle!?!)
That is a REALLY good idea.
Can I just say THANK YOU for writing this!?! I did most of this years ago when I was first building my brand. I can now be at a conference or a get-together and I’m either recognized immediately or I get the, “you look familiar” comment. I see so many web sites across niches that miss the boat on this one.
Here’s my version of measuring brand success; it’s what happens when you walk into a room of people interested in the same field.
As an aside, I’m updating my web site this year to better represent my brand and how it exists in today’s market. I’m dropping the “blog list” as a front page in favor of the business overview style like on BT and others.
Yeah that is a really good test. I like it!
Ramsay I feel being authentic in all you do makes you stand. Or, being genuine, and speaking your mind, in a high energy way, and getting SUPER clear on moving forward with a freeing driver, helps you to be you. When you are just being you, you’ll follow the DEAD ON tips above to a T.
When you are you, wow do you stand out. You’re a prime example. I may be one, at least to people I bribe to read my blog and to comment on my posts 😉
Keep on inspiring Ramsay!
Ha ha. Don’t be modest – you’re killing it! 🙂
Big fan of your work.
Loved the details. Specially the part with the cheap logo. I am thinking of making a illustration of myself for the website heading. What do you think?
I have personally found that it is easier for me to post regular podcast sessions rather then writing a 1500 post blog post(according to your suggestion).
I would love to see a post on podcasting to get more exposure for my blog.
Keep up the good work 🙂
The illustrations can work really well if they are simple and memorable.
Great post Ramsay….I have gone with and built my brand around my personal name, and it was a great idea in the end…especially when you have the “entrepreneurial” disease and want to branch out in other areas over time…
And, I love the thought of changing up that image (literal photo) to reflect different times of the year, will have to incorporate that this year…THANKS AGAIN!
Yeah I think the personal brand name is a really solid move if you’re planning on doing many different things in your career. Thanks for commenting!
[…] How to Stand Out. It Matters More Than You Think – A detailed blog entry that provides a step by step guide to creating a powerful online presence. […]
That’s one resourceful post, Ramsay.
The first blog that comes to my mind, when you ask if we know of any blog that stands out, is Social Triggers. And, also Buffer blog.
I think when you talk about standing out, it goes way beyond the name, logo and may be even design to a certain extent. It’s more about the experience the end users feel / get w.r.to content, style and engagement.
If you observe, Derek of Social Triggers is pretty distinctive in his approach. When the world was doing content based blogging, Derek was focussed on video blogging. And, of course, he had own unique style of creating videos. That’s just an example of standing out.
Speaking about the above post, the bullet points in number 3 (your content and message) are most important in my opinion, especially the finding / sticking a style and emphasizing your point of difference early.
Yeah Halpern always kills it. He knows what he’s doing – especially selling.
I really enjoyed reading this and I liked all the examples you showed. It always takes me a long time to choose a domain but standing out is important.
Over years, I and my friends here have found that one must stick to one’s strengths. That converts any name / URL into a respectable brand. The overly conscious blogger often changes his name and loses the gains made with earlier identity. So, whether your name is too common (e.g. Rice, as Chris feels in his comment) or your URL is unrelated(e.g. Google, when it started) or your URL is in your name (which you find insignificant), it will eventually become a brand if the blog has long-term quality and you have been able to ‘brand’ it. However, having a relevant and established URL / name does help.
Very wise words for bloggers. It can be so hard. I think that is why the most important thing is to make sure you care about your blog and topic. If you don’t it’s too easy to lose focus.
You know, it’s funny. I usually hate long-form writing and rarely read full pages. However, with your style, I always seem to find myself reading until the end. So, thank you for keeping me interested. 🙂
That is a MASSIVE compliment for me. Thank you so much.
Great post here.
I can safely say that the best way that I stand out, based on you list, is by my content and message. Specifically, finding my style. I’ve been blogging for a year and a half now and only 6 months ago I discovered my style of writing and it’s been working so far.
Lots of great feedback.
Your blog is quickly becoming one of my favorites, Ramsay. Have a great week.
Glad you’re enjoying it here, Andrew. Hope I can keep it up!
You never fail to churn out immensely valuable content about becoming successful in blogosphere. Today learned a lot about setting up a blog platform in a proper manner. Many thanks!
Really glad you’re enjoying it Cathy. Thanks for commenting.
very attractive blog ya! you had written your blog creatively. this is what readers expect from the blogger they love. I am happy to drop my comment here, keep blogging and keep smiling.
Really, I think, you are so kind. Thank you for your advice. Today, I especially liked how you referenced so many brands “The evolution of 25 famous logos….”, which made me realise, that I shouldn’t be so afraid, to go and do it, I can create a brand and modify it as I learn, it doesn’t have to be perfect straight away. You really made sense to me when you wrote “Make your message flow through everything you do”. You give so many references and then you give more. I have been afraid to begin, but I know now, I can start. Thank you for your help.
Oh I’m so glad you found it useful, Natasha. Really appreciate the kind words.
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Truly amazing post and lots of brilliant ideas and resources you shared here. Being a recent entrepreneur, this post is going to be a valuable asset for me.
Brands do not get built over night it needs serious hard work, lots of patience, lots of failures and lots of good products. But ya, following these tips from the beginning, will definitely help any business to make an impression.
Being a professional optimizer, I differ on one point you made. See, overuse of keywords on the domain of a site may not be a good idea, at least not from optimization point of view. Google EMD (exact match domain) updates may create problems with these type of EMD or partial match domains.
Thanks for this post Ramsay, it was a good read.
I usually like the domainnames without keywords more, because those websites let you see that you don’t always need keywords in a domain to rank.
I was planning on getting a logo on a website like fiverr for $5, but I won’t do this anymore after reading this :-). Maybe spending a little bit more would be a better option for the long term.
Keep doing what you’re doing.