Practice, Passion, and Patience: The Secrets to Successful Blogs

In his new book, Blog Blazers, Stephane Grenier interviews 40 prominent bloggers about their secrets to creating successful — and profitable — blogs. Some of those who participated include:

I also took time to respond to Stephane's questions. Here, with his permission, are a few of my tips on how to build a successful blog.

Stephane
What makes a blog successful according to you? Is it traffic, reach, revenue, etc.?

J.D.
I run several blogs. Each blog has a different measure of success. My personal blog is successful if it keeps my friends and family informed and entertained. I don't need a lot of traffic there, but to maintain a connection to the people I know. Similarly, at my animal intelligence site, I measure success by how many stories I can find and share, not by traffic.

At Get Rich Slowly, however, things are different. My number one measure for success is feedback from readers: are people finding the content useful and relevant? But I'm much more interested in traffic numbers there. In particular, I try to build my subscription numbers. RSS readers are important to me. I'm less interested in pageviews and unique visitors.

Revenue is a secondary concern for me. Don't get me wrong: the money is nice, but it's not my top priority. I am grateful that I'm earning enough from blogging to allow me to quit my day job, but I'd still blog even if I didn't.

Stephane
When did you decide you finally reached success with your blog?

J.D.
I don't know. I've been writing various blogs for nearly seven years (and “on-line journals” for even longer). For most of that time, I've dwelled in relative anonymity. I guess it's only recently that I've begun to think of myself as a successful blogger, and that's only because doing this now can support me full-time.

Stephane
Which websites would you recommend for any new bloggers starting to blog?

J.D.
Steve Pavlina's article on how to make money from your blog is excellent. I think it's the best single piece of information on this subject. There are only two actual web sites, however, that I think most bloggers need to read: Problogger and Copyblogger. These sites consistently provide excellent information.

Stephane
Which book(s) would you recommend for new bloggers (these can range from marketing books, blogging books, etc.)?

J.D.
I strongly believe that the skill most bloggers — including myself — need to improve is writing. I don't think bloggers need to read marketing books or blogging books. They need to read books about writing. I recommend the following:

Two non-writing books that I also believe are useful:

  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which deals with procrastination and fear, etc.
  • The Incredible Secret Money Machine by Don Lancaster, which is a late-seventies manual for starting a small business. When I re-read this recently, I was amazed at how much of the advice applied to my situation as a “pro” blogger.

Stephane
What's your best advice in regards to content and writing for bloggers?

J.D.
Content and writing are two different things. I address writing elsewhere in this interview. As for content: be interesting. Try to avoid the “echo chamber”. Every blog niche has one. Among personal finance blogs, one person will write on a subject (“how to save money on cheese!”), and then there'll be a ripple effect as other people respond (“my top 5 ways to save money on cheese!”, “why processed cheese is better than the real stuff”, “top 5 blog posts about cheese”). Some of this is natural — there will always be articles you want to respond to — but too much of it is lame.

To use one example: John Chow has carved out a very successful niche for himself. He has a good blog and some devoted readers. But many of his readers create blogs that seem to be solely responses to John Chow. Don't do that. Let John Chow write about John Chow. You write about yourself and what is important to you. If you don't know a damn thing about making money on the internet, then don't write about it. Write about your paper airplane collection instead. I'd rather read a good blog about paper airplanes (or saving money on cheese) than to read yet another person responding to John Chow.

Stephane
What are your quick and short five best tips for blogging?

J.D.

  1. Take a writing class at your local community college.
  2. Don't start a blog because you want to make money. Start a blog because you're passionate about the subject.
  3. Write daily, even if you don't post daily. Get in the habit of writing.
  4. Learn to edit yourself! I spend more time editing my material than I do actually writing it.
  5. Don't worry about SEO. Search engine optimization does not make a successful blog. Writing content that people want to read makes a successful blog.

Stephane
What is the most common pitfall new bloggers generally fall into?

J.D.
Wanting overnight success. Readers and traffic come with time. You can't start a blog for fame and fortune. You have to start it for love. If the passion isn't there, the other things will probably never come.

Stephane
Any other comments or thoughts you'd like to share?

J.D.
Blogging is a dream come true for me. Not the blogging itself, but the opportunity it gives me to write everyday. I've always wanted to be a writer. I just never pictured myself writing about personal finance for the web. (I thought I'd write fantasy or science fiction novels.) Now that I'm doing it, however, I understand that this is what I'm meant to do. My whole life has been leading to this. It's awesome.

You can read the entire interview — and 39 others like it — in Blog Blazers, the new book from Stephane Grenier. The author was kind enough to provide several copies of his book for me to give to GRS readers. I will send a free copy to four randomly-selected commenters on this post.

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PT
PT
11 years ago

Great post, J.D. Very interesting to get your perspective on blogging. I was told “on writing” was a great book by a friend. I’m going to try and pick that one up.

Off to write a echo post about your interview. 😉

Eric N.
Eric N.
11 years ago

Great tips JD! I don’t blog but I still enjoyed it.

Pat with SPI
Pat with SPI
11 years ago

“Wanting overnight success. Readers and traffic come with time. You can’t start a blog for fame and fortune. You have to start it for love. If the passion isn’t there, the other things will probably never come.”

That’s golden right there…golden.

Thanks J.D.

Shanel Yang
Shanel Yang
11 years ago

The change to write about all the things I love (helping other people overcome obstacles in life related to people, work, and money) is why I started blogging and I can’t agree with you more about passion being the No. 1 priority to blogging for the long haul. I’ve just completed my first year but am looking forward to many, many more years to come. But, like you, I also haven’t given up my love for writing fiction. For all aspiring writers out there, I thought you might enjoy “200 Writing Quotes” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/08/21/200-writing-quotes/

Lance
Lance
11 years ago

This is really some great information J.D.! I blog because I love it – and because I love it, I want to do more of it. And get better at what I do. And, I think that’s the passion. Blogging has been an amazing journey for me, but it’s also one that I am not profiting from – which is ok. Maybe I’ll get there. For now, I’m happy to be writing and interacting with my readers. This also reminds me I need to spend more time at Problogger and Copyblogger… Good info all around!

Ryan McLean
Ryan McLean
11 years ago

This is a great interview. I run my own entrepreneurs blog and I just got sent a free tshirt which is one small measure of my growing success. Also I have nearly 300 RSS subscribers which is also a sign of my growing success.
I love your blog and thanks for the interview

Bon
Bon
11 years ago

I am lucky enough to read your articles. Its inspire me in doing
and get to know about blog.

Thanks.

J. Leon
J. Leon
11 years ago

What a timely posting today! I was literally sitting down with my wife this morning telling her that I wanted to start a blog, but wasn’t sure where to start or how to approach it.

Great tips that I’ll be considering over the next few weeks as I try to get my own blog off the ground!

Thanks!

Diogo Slov
Diogo Slov
11 years ago

I blog every now and then and I am looking for tips on how to reach the next step, apparently this book might be a good tool.

I also didn’t know Steve Pavlina’s article, going to read it now. Thanks for the tips!

Cheers, D.

Lorna
Lorna
11 years ago

You are so right about different blogs having different measures of success. I do have one blog that I measure strictly on its traffic for monetizing purpose, but another one I measure by the comments and conversation my posts bring.

JD, I would love to get my hands on one of Stephanie’s free copies, so here I am commenting after lurking for so long 🙂

Paula D.
Paula D.
11 years ago

I enjoyed your post very much and really realized one thing. I love reading blogs, but wouldn’t make a very good blogger myself since I don’t care that much about writing!

I’ll keep reading, because I enjoy your tips.

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

Hi JD,

Thanks for the post. I have a question:

How long was the gap between starting your first blog/website and starting your second, or third blogs/websites?

Great work,
Jeremy

Karen
Karen
11 years ago

This is an interesting post. I’ve been thinking about blogging lately, but I want to be sure I have something to really share with people before I start. I feel there are a lot of blogs out there about my passions so I haven’t taken the initial step to actually blog. I also thought it would be a good way for me to express myself since I like to write, but as you mentioned, I don’t want to take from other blogs or be repetitious.

Joey
Joey
11 years ago

Your post is excellent and very timely for me. I have been an avid reader of personal finance blogs for a while now, and have recently felt the stirrings to start my own. I have had a personal blog for a long time that my friends and family read, but I believe it’s time to step up and do what I really want to do, which is write about personal finance.

Thanks for the great tips that will undoubtedly benefit a newbie like me.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Jeremy wrote: How long was the gap between starting your first blog/website and starting your second, or third blogs/websites? For many years, I had just one blog (or web journal). My first web journal was started in the spring of 1997. I moved that to Blogger in March 2001. I didn’t start any new blogs until February 2006, at which time I started my comic book blog. I started Get Rich Slowly in April 2006. I’ve started various other blogs since then, but realized that mostly that’s just too much. It’s difficult to focus on more than one site.

John Chow?
John Chow?
11 years ago

Who reads this John Chow website? There’s no content there!

Dylan
Dylan
11 years ago

I like the comic strip. Good thing you already had access to boxes!

Jim
Jim
11 years ago

Congrats on all your success so far, great work you’re doing here.

Tony
Tony
11 years ago

I’ve always thought Steph has good things to say. It’s quite a compliment to be included in his book, congratulations.

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

Thanks for the response.

Every once in a while I come across bloggers who say things like, “I have 143 blogs making $10 each month per blog. You can too! Pay me $50 to find out how.” WHAT? Where’s the focus, the feeling? Even a remote genuine interest? Drives me crazy.

A big thanks to you for continuing to pump out high quality, interesting, and useful information for me, and the rest of your audience.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Dylan
Yeah, when I saw this strip on Thursday or Friday, I just about died. It’s like it was drawn just for me. Boxes. Blogs. Talking animals. And funny, too! 🙂

Studenomics
Studenomics
11 years ago

Follow up question, How long after the launch of this blog did you gain so many readers? This blog is clearly very popular and if I could have fraction of your readers I would be happy.

TNRkitect
TNRkitect
11 years ago

I have a personal blog as well as write and maintain a blog for my local AIA chapter. I agree that you should only blog because you want to write, not because you want to make money or become famous. Success in blogging is about getting your point across to the reader. Accomplish that, and the rest is gravy.

Ken
Ken
11 years ago

Check out “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard as well.

Chic Financials
Chic Financials
11 years ago

Great information from you as usual J.D.! What I really like about these posts from you is that you emphasize writing about what you’re passionate about. The money may or may not come and if it does, you won’t get rich overnight. When I decided to “go public” with my journey, it was for support and accountability. I want comments from readers who can offer good advice, who can relate, and who can help keep me accountable when I slip up. As I started reading more Personal Finance blogs, I saw more ads and more posts about monetizing. It is… Read more »

Manshu
Manshu
11 years ago

I recently read “The Elements of Style” and was amazed by the rich information the little book had to offer. Equally surprising was the lack of focus that bloggers pay on writing. I see several grammatical errors and a few spelling mistakes on otherwise good blogger’s content too. Thanks for bringing out the focus on writing skills and attention to editing too.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Studenomics
Here’s a graph of GRS weekly traffic since August 2006 (when I first started tracking). As with anything, I’ve gained readers slowly. My subscriber graph looks similar.

Loren
Loren
11 years ago

I started a blog fairly recently and I have a lot to learn. It’s incredible how much information is out there! My friend has sent me several links to your posts for tips. Thank you for the great advice.

A. Dawn
A. Dawn
11 years ago

Great article. I think marketing is also a very important factor to make a blog successful. Success blogs, like Get Rich Slowly, do not need marketing because it started a long time ago and already created its own niche. These days there are simply too many blogs out there and in order to stand out, you need to have a successful marketing strategy.
Cheers,
A Dawn Journal
http://www.adawnjournal.com

Ian
Ian
11 years ago

JD,

Thanks for the tips about writing. Nothing is worse than a poorly written blog.

Deborah Johnson
Deborah Johnson
11 years ago

On Writing is a great book. I also recommend Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.

However, you need to read more than just books on writing in order to improve your writing. Read literature, interviews, non-fiction, fiction–just read slowly and carefully, like Prose recommends (she calls it slow reading). Savor the words.

Another way to improve your writing is to do it. Write every day. Writing is like a muscle. It doesn’t develop if you don’t work at it.

shevy
shevy
11 years ago

When I saw that comic strip in the Friday paper I thought of you! Very interesting interview (I didn’t know about all your other blogs, although the comic one doesn’t surprise me) and a book I really want to read. I’m not really trying to make money off my blog at this point (or I’d be doing AdSense and probably Pay Per Post) but I’m still trying to figure out why some blogs with poor content have a lot of readers, some good blogs have a relatively small number, other equivalent ones have thousands, etc. When you read about it,… Read more »

Frugal Scholar
Frugal Scholar
11 years ago

I am a newbie blogger, but a long-time teacher of writing. The key to good writing: READ! ANYTHING! ALL the time!

Another good book is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Truly a motivator!

JennWhite
JennWhite
11 years ago

You’ve inspired me to pay more attention to our blog. I think it’s probably the best strength of our site and worth developing. Thanks for the great posts, and all your hard work. As with anything in journalism, we only get to see the tip of the iceberg! I know how much work must go into even a simple post – so thanks!

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

I like the part where is warns us not to expect overnight success.

I have The Elements of Style and a few other style book/manuals. I think I need to crack them open again!

Amy
Amy
11 years ago

I love “On Writing Well”! Yes, all bloggers should read it. Also I agree that having content that people want will lead the search engines to you, and for free. Something else that I’m thinking about for my own blog is how to build a community. It seems like that is another key to success.

Jeremy Day
Jeremy Day
11 years ago

Hi JD,

Glad you did the interview. Its not really news to me, but its a good reminder of what it takes to have a great blog.
I would say RSS readers are most important to me too. Darren just wrote about how he cares less about the numbers everyday and more about the influence he has with the blogging community. I think that is a real measure of success.

Cheers,
Jeremy

guinness416
guinness416
11 years ago

Sounds like an interesting book. Your success is richly deserved, but it’s good to see the hard work that went into it … although selfishly I’d like it if you updated Animal Intelligence as often as GRS 🙂

Thanks for the excerpt JD!

Kenneth Finnegan
Kenneth Finnegan
11 years ago

That’s a lot of good answers. With ads on my blog, it’s always an easy trap to just try and write to get better ads and more clicks. Every few months I need to take a break and retarget myself at my readers.

Beca
Beca
11 years ago

Very useful information. Thank you!! I love your blog and have been reading it a lot. Lots of good financial advice.

Simple Sapien
Simple Sapien
11 years ago

J.D.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom! One thing I have definitely been neglecting with my blog is the whole writing aspect. I mean that in terms of brushing up on my writing skills. I spend hours working on my blogging skills, and spend no time improving my actual writing.

If I don’t win Blog Blazers, I will buy it! Sounds like a great resource.

– Jack Rugile
Simple Sapien

Amy M
Amy M
11 years ago

I love the Get Rich Slowly blog. I read it every day.

Jenni
Jenni
11 years ago

I’m thinking of starting to blog, and this article was very helpful to me, including the recommended links. Thanks!

Ali Manning
Ali Manning
11 years ago

Great advice – will definitely look for her book at the store. Thanks.

Zane
Zane
11 years ago

From a “blogger wannabe” who wants to blog but has not committed yet, these are great tips. Thanks.

antiSWer
antiSWer
11 years ago

I absolutely love that cartoon. And great advice.

T
T
11 years ago

these are great tips – thanks for sharing! Speaking of writing fiction… have you ever thought of doing the National Novel Writing Month to get some of that fantasy noveling in?

Adam
Adam
11 years ago

I am not a fan of blogs, but I enjoy coming here at least once a day to see what articles you have posted. I definitely agree with your assessment that writing is the most fundamental skill for a blog owner.

Nadine
Nadine
11 years ago

Fantastic info – and the book giveaway – great way to get people to click-thru RSS!

Thanks for all of the info that you give away.

Carol M
Carol M
11 years ago

Great article. Have been thinking of starting a new blog and would love a copy of the book. Thanks for all the tips!

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