how to start a successful blog

A lot of people are starting blogs these days. And a lot of people seem to have professional aspirations when starting them. As someone who stumbled into a professional blogging career without really meaning to, I can tell you the road to create a successful and sustainable blog is long, winding and often thankless.

There’s a lot info out already out there on the nuts and bolts of starting a blog. I personally recommend that you use WordPress and host it on your own domain. If you’re going to do something, you may as well take it seriously.

The focus of this post is how to generate a large readership.

1. Select a Unique Brand and Concept to Focus On

This submarine’s most blogs before they even get started. Most bloggers start out writing about one thing: themselves. This is fine if you just want to use your blog as some sort of online journal and don’t expect anyone to read other than your friends and family. But if you have higher aspirations, you’re shooting yourself in the foot before you even start.

Even though every major blogger ends up creating a large personal brand for themselves (Tim Ferriss, Leo Babauta, et al.), their blogs are still built on the foundation of a core theme or idea that is expressed easily. Their blogs are built with a value-add for readers in mind, not pontificating about their own lives and random thoughts.

The first question I ask a lot of beginning bloggers is “What’s your brand?” and this stumps a lot of them. That’s fine, it stumped me for a long time too. But you need to be able to answer it clearly and effectively. My blog is about self development for men, particularly improving their relationships with sex and wealth. Boom. Done. In sales, this is called the “Elevator Pitch” and it’s crucial if you’re going to get anyone to stop and pay attention. You need to have an idea that when random people stumble upon your stuff, it’s immediately clear what you stand for and why you’re writing. The brand also needs to speak to the readers and their interests directly.

Examples of strong blog brands: Fluent in 3 Months, Get Rich Slowly, Lean Gains.

All three blogs present an obvious idea that appeals to the interest of a reader immediately. You don’t have to hunt around to figure out what the site is about. And even though all three sites’s writers have large personal brands and share a lot of personal experiences, they are not the central focus of the blog.

2. Don’t Try to Be Everything to Everybody

Once you’ve settled on your brand and your niche, stick to it. In fact, if possible narrow your focus as far as possible without making yourself insignificant. The result is paradoxical. The more you hone in and master a particular territory of a larger subject, the more people will be interested in your perspective and give you credit for having something unique to say.

It’s often not until you have a massive following that you can start to branch out into other areas and get more adventurous. The perfect example of this is Tim Ferriss. Tim’s Four-Hour Work Week focused on one specific point: setting up an internet business so that you can make money without working. Even though he had plenty of other stuff to talk about (living around the world, fitness, nutrition, etc.), the main idea and point of his initial work was how to “hack” a passive income for yourself.

Once that core idea caught on and his audience became massive, he was then able to start applying that to other subjects such as fitness and nutrition. But if he had started out with a blog and/or book that was about business, traveling, cooking, fitness, etc., it would have been that much more difficult for people to grasp his central idea and their interest wouldn’t have stuck as easily.

For years I wrote about pick up and dating. It wasn’t until I narrowed the focus on of my site to meeting women and dating through emotional connections that my site and brand took off. From there, I was able to expand into a broader category of self development for men.

3. You Will Live and Die By the Quality of Your Writing

Every time you write and someone reads it, you are temporarily transporting them into your mind. You are giving them a unique mental experience and if you don’t make that experience enjoyable, you will lose them. It’s as simple as that.

You don’t have to be Shakespeare or anything, but you need to be conscientious in how you’re expressing yourself. For instance if you’re writing about fitness and citing a lot of nutritional data, then your readers likely don’t need nor expect you to be a wordsmith. But you sure as shit can’t suck with a keyboard.

Great writing is necessary but not sufficient. It, by itself, won’t make you hugely popular. The combination of writing, brand and engagement is what makes you popular. But bad writing will kill your blog off faster than just about anything.

What if you’re not a great writer? Most people aren’t when they start. There are a few exceptions (journalists and novelists spring to mind). But a lot of people such as myself, we figured it out as we went along.

You have to love to write. It has to be something you would do regardless of whether there’s an audience there or not. Before I started blogging I was a forum whore. I had thousands and thousands of posts across half a dozen forums ranging from politics to music to tiny local dating forums. This prepared me in a major way for blogging more than any English class did.

But at some point, you must take your writing seriously. Read literature. Study the greats, analyze books, attempt to mimic great writers as an exercise. Write short-stories and fiction in your free-time helps as well.

This is a skill you must practice and craft over a period of time. If you want to become a successful blogger then you have to take it seriously like anything else. If you wanted to be a computer programmer you would continue to study programming and learn new programming languages. If you wanted to be a web designer, you would study up on design principles, new software and practice them continuously. It’s no different with blogging.

4. Post Often

Some bloggers only post a few times a month. Others post a few times a week. A few even post a few times a day. Generally speaking, the less you post, the higher quality the post will have to be. I prefer to post a few times a week because it generates more return visitors, greater reader loyalty and it seems to be my personal sweet spot. Honestly, I would post every day if I had the time to keep up with it.

I strongly believe that when starting out you should always err on the side of posting more often.

One difference between blogging and other forms of internet business that many people don’t realize is that blogging takes far more time to reach “escape velocity.” What I mean by that is that in other forms of internet business, you can strike gold or capitalize on a great idea fairly quickly.

Blogging requires at least a year or two to develop the level of consistent readership required to make any sort of respectable income off of it.

Generally speaking, the more you post, the more your baseline readership will grow. The more you post, the more likely you are to catch new readers’ attention, the more likely you are to be shared, the more likely you are to be linked to.

When starting out, posting quality content as often as possible is the lifeline of your blog, everything else is secondary.

A lot of people get into blogging and spend as much time on their SEO or marketing as they do on their content. This is a mistake. If your content is awesome, then a lot of the SEO and marketing will take care of itself and/or be rendered moot in the long-run and you’re wasting time. If you write amazing posts, people will naturally share and link them. If you engage your readers effectively and often, they will automatically trust you and you won’t have to market to them (much).

5. Aim to Affect People Emotionally

You can have the best information or advice in the world, the coolest stories, the funniest anecdotes, but if you don’t frame your content in such a way to move and affect your readers on an emotional level, you’re not going to get a whole lot of traction out of your content.

Affecting your readers on an emotional level requires that you pour your own emotions into your posts yourself. Or as my favorite high school teacher used to say, “Sometimes you just need to give a shit.”

Write with power. Write with conviction. Reach through people’s screens and grab them by the throat. It’s this “no holds barred” attitude that keeps them attached to you.

This may sound simple but it is surprisingly rare among bloggers. I really believe this is what separates a lot of bloggers from a mid-level success from becoming truly popular. Most bloggers don’t put their heart out on every post. They don’t risk themselves in everything they write. And because of their lack of emotional investment, the readers feel a lack of emotional investment as well. Therefore they don’t come back.

6. Don’t Shy Away From Controversy

In many ways, being controversial is one of the best marketing tactics one can employ — better than any squeeze page, link exchange or social bookmarking bonanza. A recent New York Times study found that their most shared and linked content also happened to be their most polarizing content. It’s a fact one must always keep in mind.

Although I believe there’s a fine line. Don’t be too cynical. Don’t cry wolf. Don’t pick fights and be controversial only for the sake of controversy. I think that’s unethical and can lead your readers down some unscrupulous paths.

But at the same time, don’t ever shy away from a controversial opinion or laying what you believe out there without apology. Again, this is something that separates low- and mid-level bloggers from a lot of the big boys (and girls): the fearlessness of letting thousands of people know your unbridled opinion and then weathering the onslaught of criticism and discussion in return. You can’t be loved without being hated. Or as one marketing guru used to say, “If you aren’t pissing someone off by noon, then you probably don’t matter.”

Successful blogging requires a large time investment, an emotional investment, and maybe most of all, it takes brass balls. It can be thankless but it can also be inspiring and uplifting. My blog has led me to affecting more people in the world than I ever would have believed possible five years ago.

And even in its own way, blogging can degenerate into another grind — like anything, I suppose. At the root of the matter, you must love it and live for it. And like anything, you won’t know until you get out and try it for a while.

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48 Responses to How to Start a Blog

  1. ben says:

    Hi Mark, recently came across your blog and have really been enjoying reading your posts (as well as learning), I’m someone who has started a blog (though I don’t write on it often) however it is on Google’s ‘Blogger’ as opposed to WordPress. Is Blogger a sufficient site or would I be better off going to WordPress if I wanted to start blogging more regularly and seeking a wider audience?

  2. Kevin says:

    It’s cool if you’d rather keep the information close to you chest, but any chance you could share some traffic numbers, to put the ‘success’ of your own blog in perspective?

    • Jean says:

      He already said this website has 300k monthly visits. Back in July the website went offline 4 times in one week because of servers overloading and all. This website is booming!!! Damn atomic bomb that is :)

      • Kevin says:

        Maybe I’m wrong, but I think then he was referring to the crazy spike in traffic he got from the ‘America’ article. I’d be interested in knowing what his typical stats are.

  3. Nick says:

    Hi Mark,

    Great post. I have a question for you that might fall into that nuts and bolts category. What kind of proactive link building do you recommend? If any at all? I personally fell into the trap of trying to learn everything from article spinning to how to use things like Bookmarking demon, etc.

    I think I wasted a lot of time on that stuff and wonder today if I could have put my sites at risk if I used any of it beyond experimentation. I use onlywire now to post to just a few sites that I want cultivate. But in your opinion…is that a waste of time these days? Are we back to just needing to write great content and not worry about posting to Ezine and those types of sites? Thanks again for your post.

    Regards,
    Nick

    • Mark Manson says:

      A while back I approached similar blogs to mine and asked for a simple link trade on our blogrolls. These days I ask to do guest articles on people’s sites. That’s about it though.

      95% of the links you’re going to be able to create yourself with SEO tactics are going to be crap for traffic.

  4. andrew says:

    Been a long time reader Mark and am glad you are getting the attention you’ve been getting. Sometimes I feel like I know you better than my friends.

    Anyway I feel like you got a shoutout by J Cole on Lil Wayne’s new mixtape – when I heard it I got a little excited. Is there another famous Mark Manson that he could reference to?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrq2E9KwhWE

    1:45. Cool stuff

  5. Superman says:

    300K a month? That’s a lot more than Roosh’s blog if I’m not mistaken. Wow!!!

  6. Jack says:

    Superb post, so inspiring, I’m going to work on my writing until it moves people! Yeh nigga! :-)

  7. Dr Feelgood says:

    Interresting! Can you tell us what the sources of income for your blog are and which percentage each one contributes to the overall income of your blog?

    I would also be interrested in how long it took you to get the number of readers up to 10 000, 50 000, 100 000, etc. readers, and how many hours of weekly work that took respectively. I’m clear that the work hours alone don’t get you there, but it gives us a point of reference.

  8. Branding | Julie Gillis says:

    [...] read this article today from PostMasculism about how to start a successful blog. One point that struck me was point 1) Select a Unique Brand [...]

  9. Kwjibo says:

    God I love this blog

  10. Elliott Crane says:

    Hey Mark. Do you have any advice on how to display your idea in a way that you are able to “risk yourself” and “emotionally invest yourself” for topics that aren’t easily seen in that light. I feel like I might have just kind of figured out the answer to that question while typing that answer…
    P.S. You never responded to my email. Should I send it again or assume you aren’t interested?

    • Mark Manson says:

      Hey Elliot, send it again. I get a lot of emails, sometimes they fall through the cracks.

      To answer your question: insert your personality. Ramit Sethi is a good example of this. He writes about personal finance, saving money, debt, etc. But he inserts his own variety of humor and perspective on things. He finds a way to make it personal and his. He shares stories as well.

  11. Turner says:

    This was a kick ass post and a topic that I have been reflecting on over the past few days as I have been doing my blog for about 8 months now. I feel that I have the components that you highlighted (brand, strong voice etc), I am more so having an issue with finding the correct audience (people who are seeking jobs overseas). Some of this issue may be resolving itself as I have cleaned my site so it doesnt look nearly as much like just a travel diary, but as you said, it takes time to work on a craft (ie 2 years before you might see anything). I have tried to post constantly, twice a week, but haven’t made much headway in terms of networking with other bloggers and having my worked shared. I think that, networking/finding the right people to spread your work, is a key point that could be considered as a number 6.

    Thanks for the focus.

    Turner

  12. Traindom says:

    I agree with number two. I tend to follow advice from sites that specialize in a certain area, like fitness. I know that their stuff is gonna be in order because they don’t take a dip in an area; they go way deeper and arrive at more profound, innovative conclusions.

    I think the content is exponentially better when the blogger is knee-deep in his central theme. The idea that they obsess over and over and over a concept makes me think that their content will be much more enriching than someone who read a couple of books and had some experience.

  13. Andy says:

    What I found is that all projects have a certain gestation period before they start coming to fruition.

    All of them. And there’s nothing you can do to artificially speed up the process.
    It doesn’t matter whether you are learning an instrument, or a sport or any skill or are building a blog or a business.

    Yes, it grows slowly but exponentially. But the initial growth period is always very slow and often long no matter how hard you work. In fact, you actually do have to work extremely hard every day while seemingly making no progress. This is the grind period, where most people give up. It can take anywhere between 6 and 24 months, or more, depending on how hard working and focused you are and how much natural talent and determination you bring, and prior experience you may have in similar areas.

    It’s like a snowball running down a mountain, picking up in size and speed until finally becoming a full-scale avalanche.

    But for the first couple miles it’s you who has to constantly push the snowball forward all the time before it starts gaining any momentum.

    • Mark Manson says:

      This is absolutely true, but I would argue that the “gestation period” for blogs is longer than most projects if not infinitely long for some.

      Someone sent me a Ramit Sethi interview where he basically flat out says, “If you want to make money on the internet, don’t start a blog.” Listening to his logic, it made sense. If you want to make money, building up a freelancing or consulting business is going to get you there much quicker and easier. Blogs need at least a couple years to pay off in most cases.

      And that’s assuming that you’re a good writer, writing in a niche people care about, etc.

  14. Superman says:

    What site brings you the most traffic outside of google and search engines?

  15. DAN says:

    So I think one thing that you missed that I have been trying to figure out is how do you gain income from a blog? For instance, I want to do a fitness/nutrition blog but how can I make money from it? Advertising?

    My friends have a business for pre-packaged meals(geared towards bodybuilders/athletics) that I thought would be a good business opportunity to capitalize on. But how do most bloggers make money? I’m assuming you need some sort of product/service which you are selling out of your blog, like your books/services.

  16. Jamie says:

    I am wondering where you get most of your visitors from. Is it mainly search engines? Via the articles that went viral such as India and America? Or did a large portion migrate over from the entropy days?

    It must be an awesome feeling knowing every word you write is being read by so many people.

    • Mark Manson says:

      Most of my traffic is direct traffic, meaning they have me bookmarked or they type the address in directly.

      I do get some search traffic, but a large percentage of it people just searching for my name or for PM.

      And then yeah, I still get social media traffic from the America/India articles and other sharing.

  17. Ben Hebert says:

    Agree completely that you should post often and worry less about SEO and marketing. Optimize after you have some traction and an established readership of some kind. Otherwise you’re attracting people to a site with nothing but crap on it.

  18. Liviu says:

    I have just started my own blog on a very specific niche, as you’ve mentioned in the article (long distance relationship advice for men)…so far it’s been 2 weeks, and I feel totally overwhelmed…. :)

    What would you suggest would be a great strategy for getting readership, in the early stages?

  19. [...] you can check out Mark Manson’s Podcast: Starting a Location-Independent Business or his “How To Start a Successful Blog” [...]

  20. sheqo says:

    Great article Mark! I agree with you on using word press as a host, they have been very helpful to me as a newbie. It’s not easy but I am noticing some improvement slowly but surely, following your the tips you outlined here should boost me some more. thank you.

  21. John F Shaw says:

    Hi Mark,
    This is a fine example of a great professional blog with very accurate informative information within it.  I have a site showing people how to actually make their own blog site, set it up and the basics to getting started.  I’m going to link our sites if that’s OK as yours offers exceptional advise and details, devoid of ego and all the other BS out there.
    Kudos to you mate,

  22. John F Shaw says:

    Hi Mark,
    This is a fine example of a great professional blog with very accurate informative information within it.  I have a site showing people how to actually make their own blog site, set it up and the basics to getting started. It’s http://www.howtostartyourownblog.com
    I’m going to link our sites if that’s OK as yours offers exceptional advise and details, devoid of ego and all the other BS out there.

  23. Carlos says:

    Hi Mark,
    I would be very interested in a post how you structure your writing. From collecting the info to creating the article. I think you do it pretty awesome. Do you have some kind of technique or some kind of process before you write it down ?

  24. [...] founded by doing something amazing and make promoting it to the worldly people. Do you want to know how to start a blog. I think, the open source platform for this is blog and you can express your opinions as you want. [...]

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