Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

5 Secrets to Succeeding in Blogging

I get a lot of inquiries about blogging. Most people ask me to visit their blog and tell them how they can improve it.

Unfortunately, the answer is rarely cut and dry.

But I have noticed some common mistakes that turn off would be readers and also happen to be the secrets top bloggers know…

Creative Commons by ChrisSmith

Creative Commons by ChrisSmith

Before I talk about mistakes, allow me to clarify something about top bloggers which will help explain why they attract the most attention.

First, it’s not because they use lists or bullets, and it’s not because their blog posts are long or short, or that they teach something.

If you look at Seth Godin’s blog, who is considered the top blogger in the world, he rarely uses lists and bullets, and some of his posts are only a paragraph long.

Seth also rarely uses pictures and his comments are turned off, and yet, he’s the world’s greatest blogger. Why?

If you research more top bloggers you’ll likely find something very interesting about them if you know what you are looking for. 

It’s the reason professional writers, editors and journalists are not typically the top bloggers as you might expect them to be.

As a matter of fact, there are some great bloggers out there who are not what you might consider great writers, but they have tons of readers.


Seth Godin is considered one of the foremost marketing experts in the world, in no small part thanks to a little free eBook he wrote titled “The Idea Virus” (note that he calls it an eBook, not a manifesto), and his blog.

Seth was also the Vice President of Permission Marketing for Yahoo.

If you look at another popular blog by Michael Hyatt you’ll find on his about page that he is not only the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, but he was also the Vice President of Marketing at Thomas Nelson in the 80’s.

Not all top bloggers are marketing experts like Seth or Michael, but a lot of them have marketing experience, like yours truly.

So here’s what’s important to know:

Blogging is not just about writing and writing well. (Tweet This.)

It’s about knowing people and considering what appeals to readers from a marketing perspective.

How does this help?

Well, to give you a simple example, marketing experts know terminology and how the words they use affect different people in different ways.

One HUGE mistake some bloggers make is that they use terminology specific to their niche that no one else understands.

Marketers know the importance of using evergreen words that everyone can relate to and immediately understand.

Let’s Ship

Let’s what? Are we going to the docks?

Bloggers who blog for other bloggers, industry experts and even writers use the word “ship” a lot, which for a writer would translate to mean they completed their work and published it.

Ship sounds totally cool and works for a specific audience, but if you’re writing for people who are not in the know or for a wider audience, it likely means nothing to them and could potentially rub them the wrong way because it may seem like you are trying to write over their head.

Don’t kill the message you are trying to convey with terminology your readers don’t get, or worse, puts them off.

Secret #1:

Terminology is one of the critical reasons you must find your own voice that connects with your audience and not copy someone else’s.

If your audience doesn’t connect and what you really mean is published then use the word published.

Consider the word “Manifesto

Have you written a free eBook that you give away to your readers?

Do you call it a manifesto?

Did you know this is another word that rubs the general public the wrong way?

If you’re using the term for an audience of writers and bloggers they’ll get it, but you’re likely to leave the rest feeling like you are a snob. After all, the public opinion of the term manifesto is, well, considered of snobbish, high class I-am-better-than-you origin.

(I hate to mention this, but you know I will, manifesto also has a pejorative meaning associated with reclusive bombers and serial killers due to media and popular procedural crime shows.)

Of course you are not a snob, or arrogant, or self-righteous (or, heaven forbid, a killer) if you use it, but if that’s the way people feel about it don’t you think it is a good idea to adjust accordingly?

Secret #2:

Know the meanings that are associated with the words you often use.

Marketers adjust their language and syntax. Marketers use words just as writers with a specific purpose in mind, but not necessarily the same purpose.

If you’re writing for every day readers, like me, consider calling your manifesto a free eBook, because free eBook sounds much more appealing and generous. Think about it. You could even call it a report, if you want to send your readers to school or a board meeting (Yikes!).

Beware of technically sound writing

Even when something is written correctly it can still come off the wrong way.

I’ve had editors correct me many times when I write “good enough” to “well enough”. Of course, when they make this change they are right technically, but from a marketing standpoint it can be less effective.

“Good enough” has a different connotation than “well enough”. Editors might argue with me, and at times I do change it, but not usually.

Secret #3:

Here’s the thing, if you’re a blogger who wants to get noticed, you absolutely must go beyond writing “well” and write in a down-to-earth way that your audience will get and relate to immediately, even if it is not technically right.

Marketers use words and phrases, and even clichés in ways that drive editors up the wall, and writers who are blogging, but have no marketing experience are hard pressed to write that way.

Cliché’s, seriously? Are they crazy? Not hardly.

Bullets and lists

(Gosh, don’t get me started.)

They might work for specific blog posts teaching specific lessons, but often don’t work for telling a story or sharing personal experiences, and yet because bloggers have read hundreds of times to use them they try to use them on nearly every post.

No. Don’t do that.

Sure, many readers only scan posts, I get that, but if your writing is compelling enough and phrased right, you can not only turn scanners into readers, but gain an audience that matters.

You want people to come back, and scanners rarely come back.

Secret #4:

Only use bullets and lists when they work for the content and are needed. Over use them and your blog will lack depth and personality.

Bullets and lists are great for blogs with many authors providing lessons, but not for individual bloggers who want to establish a readership for their message.

Writers vs. Marketers

Mediocre writers with marketing experience are far more likely to do well blogging than expert writers with no marketing experience.

And if you’re an expert writer like say Seth Godin, Michael Hyatt or Jeff Goins who all also have marketing experience you’re more likely to shoot to the top of the blog rankings.

So if you’ve ever wondered why the best writers are not typically the best bloggers, now you know.

Secret #5:

You might not need to become a better writer for your blog. What you may actually need is a better understanding of marketing.

My advice to writers who have become bloggers, but are having a hard time finding success, is to consider taking some marketing courses.

Why few bloggers write about the marketing aspect of blog writing.

Most how-to-blog-better articles do not talk about the marketing aspect because marketing gets a bad rap and because most people automatically assume marketing means advertising.

And honestly, it is much easier to offer posts on writing. After all, what do writers want to do?

Become better writers.

I know I want to become a better writer.

Writing lessons help you become a better writer, but not necessarily a better blogger.

You need marketing knowledge

Marketing is an understanding of human nature and appealing to people the way they want to be appealed to. Isn’t that what we all want?

It doesn’t mean you should change your blog’s niche, topic or core message, it means using better, more effective ways to relate to your audience.

And you can do that!

As you might know I am a member of Jeff Goins Tribe Writers blogging course and I am an affiliate. But the reason I mention his blogging course more than any other is because he has incorporated marketing strategies into his blogging course, even though he never actually comes right out and says it.

As a blogger, it is imperative to understand the way people perceive and relate to what you are writing. (Tweet This)

The more you know about marketing the better your blog will serve your audience and the larger your audience will become.

The Ultimate Super Secret to succeeding in blogging is marketing knowledge. (It’s a secret, but you can tweet it.)

Don’t let the idea of marketing put you off from blogging.

If you were brave enough to become a blogger, then you are more than capable of learning how to incorporate the marketing perspective into your blog posts.

Awareness is the first step, and I hope I have helped raise your awareness a little.

Did this blog post help you consider your blog writing differently? Share in the comments.

Be awesome!

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Renia Carsillo

    I LOVE this Bryan! Particularly the part on not calling every ebook a Manifesto! The word doesn’t turn me off, but whenever it has a name like that I expect the work to move me to tears or I’m disappointed. Many times if the author just called it an ebook to begin with I would not set my expectations so high.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Renia! You make another great point about calling an eBook a manifesto. Although the word doesn’t really turn me off either, I remember the first time I showed one of my eBooks to a corporate leader and called it a manifesto he looked at me and said “You think a lot of yourself, don’t you?” He didn’t mean it in a good way. It all worked out, but that was a valuable lesson.

      • Renia Carsillo

        Ouch! It’s the ones that sting that always make us remember!

  • Bryan. Well-timed. Brilliant. I am going to re-title my e-book. I should have listened to my teenage daughter when she hated my book title. Manifesto is in the title 🙂

    • Sounds like your daughter has great intuition, Pamela! 🙂 What’s the new title of your eBook, without manifesto that is…?

      • Hmm, I have been thinking about this, and Manifesto sort of fits the e-book. I am not “a snob, or arrogant, or self-righteous,” it really is a battle cry to artists. Perhaps you could suggest a title more fitting?

        • Call it a battle cry to artists! That sounds good. What is the actual title and what is it about and maybe I can help, Pamela. Would love to know.

  • This post showed a different side of you, Bryan. At least for me. Can’t quite put my finger on why though. I’ll have to give it more thought. More business like I guess.

    • Hmmmm, gosh, I hope it’s not bad!! 🙂

      No worries, actually this is a different type of post and one I had to debate with myself about posting. It’s a type of post that a lot of bloggers avoid writing.

      One reason is the perception of “marketing” and the other reason is because successful blogging doesn’t have much to do with writing in the traditional sense.This creates a situation of great writers blogging but confused as to why they are not gaining readers, so they eventually stop.

      I hope you don’t hold the post against me and just know that I wrote it to hopefully help.

      • Bryan,

        Guess I wasn’t clear in my take on it. It wasn’t bad, it was just different and I noticed it. Do you have a business hat you sometimes don? My brother George thinks I need one. The business part is the difficult part for me.

        • Ah, now I understand, Anne. Thanks for clarifying for me.

          Yes, I’m a sales manager in my day job. I don the hat every day 🙂 I’ve also worked marketing and public affairs, and for my day job those are incorporated as well. I try to keep those separate from blogging and writing, though. Now that I understand better what you mean, yes, I can see how my writing more reflects that side in this post.

          I do agree with George, especially if you want to make a living from writing. In order to do that you need to come up with a business plan. Since you’re interested, the best bet would be to find a good advisor, someone who can help you draw up a plan, similar to a financial advisor. It’s a good idea Anne, I hope you consider it.

  • An insightful and really helpful read. I daresay there is no concrete ‘secret formula’ out there for being successful at writing/blogging, but these tips go a long way towards assisting us to avoid potential pitfalls. My aim is to enjoy the creative journey and hopefully grow in knowledge and experience as time goes on. Thanks, Bryan! 🙂

    • Hi Joy. Helpful was my goal and I am happy to know I accomplished that for you. I think the message will help fellow bloggers create stuff that matters more effectively for the blogging medium we now use to spread our messages.

      We share the same aim, to enjoy the journey. You said that so well 🙂

      Thank you, Joy!

  • troy mc laughlin

    Yes Bryan “secret” is a great marketing word. We would be well served to learn copywriting to become better bloggers. Or the art of convincing others of our message. This may sound trite. But writing is a sales job. We are trying to convince others of our point of view. We want them to come back for our “product” or our blog. My goal is not 0 readers of my blog. Because if it is I shouldn’t do it.

    Nice post thanks Bryan.

    • Hey Troy!

      Totally agree x 1000% Writing IS a sales job. We are selling ourselves every time we publish and with blogging the frame is so narrow that we have to do a better job of it in a shorter amount of space and time. That’s why marketers are so good at it, they’ve been using short, concise, effective messages long before blogging came along. Thx!

  • Yup, a lot of people ask how I find such great success in seemingly a very short period of time. The secret isn’t because I’m some awesome writer who knows how to tug the right strings. It’s because I know how to market. That’s where all the juice lies.

    • Ah, Vincent, tugging a few heart strings doesn’t hurt. 🙂 You’re doing a great job. See my message to Eric above, I think you’ll enjoy those books as well if you have not read them already.

  • Great thoughts here. Being someone with no marketing experience what’s a good place to start? (Besides the obvious bloggers you mentioned!)

    • Good question, Eric. Actually, the best way to start is to invest in a few marketing books, specifically about marketing. A lot of people buy books about how to market their book or product, but the best books to read are about marketing itself.

      This one’s a good one to start with: http://www.amazon.com/Kellogg-Marketing-Alice-M-Tybout/dp/0470580143/

      Seth and Michael don’t overly talk much about how to use marketing in their blog writing, and as far as I know there are not too many bloggers who do. However, once you know about marketing in the overall sense of what marketing is and what it is not, you’ll be better able to identify the messages and use them.

      There are many other good books, but that one will get you started. Then I would consider reading “Disney War” by James Stewart, “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker, and “Winning” by Jack Welch.

  • Sarah Spitz

    I just discovered your blog and love, love, love it! Here are my thoughts on writing:


    I’d love to know what you think!


    • Schreibst du nur auf deutsch, Sarah? I guess if German is your language then yeah, you’d write only in German, right. Thanks for sharing and get back to writing, you can do a 1000 words!

  • Rick Gibbs

    Great post Bryan! I’ve become a regular reader. I agree completely about the marketing aspects of blogging. I’ve made a point of following marketing groups or experts on LinkedIn. I also love Smartbrief.com, which allows readers to put together an e-newsletter based on virtually any field or business type. It never fails to provide something useful, to use at work or jog an idea for a blog post.

    • Knowing you Rick, I thought you might appreciate this post 🙂
      I like the idea of using alerts to get ideas for blog posts, Rick. For my other blog I use Google alerts, because for certain topics you need the latest news if you want to make an impact. So that’s a great tip for me about Smartbrief.com – thanks for sharing with us!

  • Ian

    Excellent post, Bryan. And quite unique outlining the power of marketing. I expect for Seth & Mike there is an element of it coming naturally to them due to their experience. However, even Mike in his story tells us he had a defining moment when his tribe grew exponentially, like Jeff’s did.

    We too easily forget that “packaging” good content is important, not just good content. This something all 3 do well. They package their message: good soundbites, quality minimalist visuals (like you do, Bryan) and utilise their connections well, especially Jeff & Mike. Just today I received similar emails from 2 of Jeff’s influential connections to join TribeWriters.

    Let’s face it, apple’s product is excellent but their minimalist packaging is also powerful. We enjoy great packaging as consumers.

    Once again, excellent post, Bryan.

    • Thanks, Ian. As with most anything where someone becomes successful it’s typically because they have the complete package (or have the right assistants to help them.) I haven’t seen too many blog posts that highlight the marketing aspect of writing blog posts so I figured I’d put it out there.

      All 3 of the bloggers I mentioned are capable of writing concise messages and providing extremely valuable information at the same time. However, concise messages work because they most often are developed from clichés, even if not always obviously.

      Marketers use clichés because they helps to get the message across easier and with the least amount of words. It’s brilliant, and most people do not realize they are reading a cliché because the marketer knows how to rephrase it in such a manner that it becomes unique. (Billboard ads, anyone?) Seth is an absolute master at this. And frankly there’s nothing wrong with using the most effective method of story telling available, especially for blogging.

      The problem for most bloggers out there is that they do not have this background marketing knowledge and are confused as to why certain bloggers are so much more effective than others, and are following all these guidelines about bullets, lists and pillar posts etc, but if you look at some of the most effective bloggers offering such tutorials, they usually have a marketing background as well, or, are just plain naturally good at it, which happens too.

      I have seen some bloggers talk about marketing, but usually when they mention it they really mean advertising in the sense of using social networks, guest posting and generally finding ways to get the word out. That’s marketing, yes, but only part of it. It’s the thought processes behind the billboard ads that is necessary to understand. We don’t need to be experts like Seth and Mike, but if we have a good solid, if basic, understanding we can accomplish much more with our blogs.

      Goodness! I didn’t expect to write this much, but I could have gone on and on with this post, so I’ll definitely do follow ups 😀

      Thanks a million, Ian. You got me thinking about how I can communicate more of this message about marketing and other aspects of successful blogging in the follow ups.

  • nancy bouwens

    Bryan- Thanks for releasing us from the tyranny of bullet points. I like to use them …sometimes- but because some of the “great ” bloggers use them always..I have often felt perhaps I “should”

    woot woot! .Also, your words reminded me again what we do as writers is a conversation and we need to have this conversation in OUR conversational style. Whether we call it voice or style..it must be ours


  • Just found your site tonight and this is the first post of yours I have read. Good words and ideas. I know very little about marketing and I guess that’s why my blog seems to be – at times – moving backwards. I am still working on some other aspects – layout, self hosting – or the costs involved, and now – I guess – I have another area to look into.

    • I bet none of us realized how much work blogging really is when we started, Mick!

  • Great advice that I will reference over and over as I write more posts!

  • Susan Lower

    There is some great tips here. I’m a fiction writer and I’ve struggled for years to know what to blog about. I have some marketing in my background and I still I’m at a loss at how to move forward. I like the free- ebook idea. Thinking this could be a fiction book, too?

  • I am new here, having just found this blog a few days ago.I expect I shall be checking it out again.
    After several years of keeping a haiku blog, I began a writing blog about five months ago. It has not had much traffic. There are many days with no traffic and on the days there is some traffic, only one or two viewers. Three people have signed on as followers, and one is my sister. Of course, I’m disappointed. I put a notice on my haiku blog, sent e-mails to several people to tell them about my blog, posted information on Linkedin and on a writer’s group in which I was a member for a while. So many people on their blogs advise being on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. To tell the honest truth, I closed my account on Linkedin because I was concerned about security. I don’t want to be on Facebook or Twitter for the same reasons. Perhaps, I’ll never have a following, but I feel I have something to say about writing and will continue to post my thoughts.
    Adelaide B. Shaw

    • Hi Adelaide, I think it’s great you’re keeping up your blog and you’re sharing valuable advice. Keep writing and keep sharing! 🙂

      • Thanks, Bryan. I enjoy writing and enjoy blogging.