The Secret to Building a Popular Blog

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Martyn Chamberlin. Martyn is a passionate blogger who founded the blog Two Hour Blogger. Read the First Rule of Two Hour Blogger to discover its meaning. To find out more about guest posting on this site, email me.

Popular blogWhat are you trying to accomplish with your blog? I mean, really? Do you want a passionate audience? A growing volume of traffic? More subscribers? Maybe, even a steady income flow? Or something else entirely?

Writers don’t write to get published, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to share what you’ve written. There’s something about good art that demands to be shared.

  • An artist paints a picture that cannot be hidden.
  • A musician composes for the concert hall.
  • A writer writes words destined to be read.

With blogging, this is possible like never before.

I know you’ve heard this before, but the ability to publish your thoughts for the world to see in an instant did not exist a thousand years ago. It scarcely began two decades ago.

Indeed, we find ourselves in a fascinating era of human history. Yet, the barriers of entry are so low that practically anybody can be a publisher. With millions of writers broadcasting their work to the web, the space becomes saturated.

Imagine if the only subscribers were bloggers themselves. In order for the average blogger to have one hundred regular readers, the average blogger would have to be subscribed to one hundred blogs.

I don’t know about you, but I can only read about 10 blogs at a time. But I want more than that many blog readers. So, how is this done? How do you build a popular blog that will attract hundreds, if not thousands, of readers?

The answer is copywriting

That’s four syllables and eleven letters: copywriting.

In short, it means writing to get a response. When you blog, you are seeking a response from your readers. You want them to leave a comment, tweet a link, or “like” you on Facebook. Maybe you even want them to click a link or buy your eBook.

Let me make this clear: Unless your blog is a personal diary for your eyes only, you are seeking a response from people, and you are a copywriter.

You do not need to be working for an ad agency to be a copywriter. You do not need to be a prestigious CMO  or freelancer. If you are a blogger, you are a copywriter. It doesn’t matter if you blog about digital marketing or gluten-free homemade bread, it’s all the same: you want a response.

If you get a response, you’ve succeeded.

But how exactly do you do this? How can you know that your next blog post will spread? If word of mouth is the secret sauce to growing a popular blog, how do you initiate it?

The Internet is full of writers trying to build an audience. Many are failing, because they don’t understand the basic elements of copywriting.

There are no magic bullets. You can’t follow a formula and guarantee a bright outcome. Some tend to mimic others, without fully understanding how successful copy works. Invariably, they abandon their blogs in disappointment. At best, observing formulas tends to undermine your uniqueness and effectiveness.

As David Ogilvy once said,

Nobody has ever built a brand by imitating somebody else’s advertising.

While you must learn the general principles of copywriting, you will have to apply them to your unique situation. Here are some of the basics:

The most important part is the headline

Your headline holds more weight than the rest of your entire article.

Copywriters like Jon Morrow tell us we should spend more time writing our headline than the rest of our article. While this may sound extreme, you should certainly spend more attention on your headlines than you currently are.

The rules aren’t what you think

Just because you insert the words “secret” or “free” in an article’s headline doesn’t mean it’ll go viral.

This isn’t Mad Libs. You can’t borrow headlines from a lifestyle magazine, switch the words around to suit your niche, and expect spectacular results. It’s frightening how many otherwise-seasoned writers make this blunder.

But what makes a great headline? There’s so much talk about it, and yet so much confusion.

“What’s in it for me?”

Nobody’s going to click past the headline if it doesn’t offer them something in return. This seems obvious, yet few writers get it.

Blogger and copywriter Jeff Sexton says readers will do anything for someone who:

  • Encourages their dreams
  • Justifies their failures
  • Allays their fears
  • Confirms their suspicions
  • Helps them throw rocks at their enemies

A good headline promises to deliver one or more of these points.

The content better be good, or else…

The greatest headline in the world is an absolute failure if the article fails to match expectations. If the body copy doesn’t match the headline, you’ll lose your credibility.

When I wrote the headline “How a Single Blog Post Sent Me to San Francisco and Launched My Art Career,” I obligated myself to a pretty unusual story. If I dropped the ball and failed to deliver the goods, I would have been a spammy jerk.

Your headline can only be as epic as your body copy, which means the latter is important.

Part of good copywriting involves breaking up the text. The only reason traditional media uses blocks of text is because paper costs money. It’s not going to cost you an extra cent to make people scroll a bit more — break up the text.

Use pictures. Use the return key more. Use subheadings. Write no more than 3-5 sentences per paragraph.

There’s nothing wrong with one-sentence paragraphs, either (like this one).

Good copywriting spreads

A headline and content that answers, “What’s in it for me?” gets shared. This is the most exciting aspect of blogging.

When you’re truly teaching, delivering solutions, creating value for others, people thank you for it.

They tweet it and “like” it. Their friends come and read, and subscribe. Your blog grows by itself, automatically.

If you’re trying to make money from your blog, learning copywriting will increase your revenues. A reader recently told Copyblogger how he doubled his income by paying closer attention to his headlines alone.

There’s so much opportunity. There are thousands of subscribers awaiting you — and depending how much time you devote, a lucrative career.

How have you seen the rules of copywriting apply to blogging? Share your own secret for building a popular blog in the comments.