There are few clients I have enjoyed working with as much as Steve Denning.
The former director of knowledge management at the World Bank and the author of six books, including The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, Steve is as smart as he is driven (one thing I have learned through the years–there is no substitute for genuine passion for one’s message and Steve has it in spades).
That said, one of the challenges of working with busy, successful authors like Steve is the fact that they are being pulled in a thousand different directions at once and getting them to spend time on making their blog great can be a challenge.
When we started working together last summer Steve was posting regularly, but not daily, and was not getting everything he could have been getting out of the time he was spending blogging. As a result of a few tweaks and a year’s worth of hard work and great writing from Steve, he has grown his page views more than tenfold.
Along the way, Steve has learned a significant amount about how to grow a large readership on a blog (things we would do well to listen to). Below, in a guest post that originally appeared on Forbes.com, Steve tells us more about what works best.
Fourteen Points On Growing A Blog
“I’m sometimes asked what is involved in growing blog. I’m hardly the one to respond, as I’m a relative newcomer to blogging. I’ve only been at it actively for about a year. But as my blog has grown quite substantially over this period, I’m happy to share my hypotheses as to what’s responsible.
In return, I am hoping to get feedback as what people would like to see more of—or less of!
I joined the Forbes platform in January and that has obviously a huge factor in the growth of traffic. But there are also massive differences between my posts on Forbes that attract a lot of traffic and my posts on Forbes that attract relatively few readers. As to what leads to the big traffic, here are fourteen hypotheses:
1. Have something to say. You can have big hits with catchy titles, but ultimately building a following means having a coherent point of view on the range of topics that people are interested in and want to keep coming back to hear more. Knowing your audience and speaking their language are obviously important. Linking every article to the core theme is key.
2. Have a catchy title: It’s hardly a new thought that titles are a big part of the difference in traffic. “Spam Grandma For Cash” will do better than “An Analysis Of The Impact of Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Motivation in Management Of Large IT Organizations Today”. The difficulty lies in coming up with catchy titles. Plugging in to current events can be helpful, although since everyone else is also doing this, you have to say something different to stand out from the crowd.
3. Write the title after the article. You are looking for a catchy phrase that highlights a key point with unexpected language. Typically this occurs (if at all) while writing the article not before you start. Hence always consider the initial draft title as a second-best throwaway title. You must be able to do better!
4. In the title, be specific: In a business blog, try to have a single firm name in the title. “Memo to Merck” will do better than “What The Pharmaceutical Industry Should Do,” even though the content of the article may in fact be about entire pharmaceutical industry.
5. Judiciously include big famous firms as examples: Objectively, small obscure firms are often more relevant examples. But in terms of communications, the reality is that people like to hear about big famous firms that they already know to some extent. So use the best examples even if they are unknown firms, but also try to add some big famous firms as further illustrations of at least part of the argument, while being careful to point out any respects in which the big famous firms don’t fit the argument. (Using examples of famous firms that don’t fit the argument is obviously very common on the web and very bad.)
6. Use stock tickers: Write not just Apple or Wal-Mart, but Apple [AAPL] or Wal-Mart [WMT]. Obviously this won’t apply if you don’t mention any listed firms. Tickers help your target audience find you.
7. Use categories. Categories help attract the attention of your target audience. The categories on the Forbes platform are particularly helpful in attracting the attention of viewers.
8. Do a series of posts: Given my subject matter, my posts tend to be on the long side. I was warned that this would be a drawback. But it doesn’t seem to be so for my subject and my audience. Thus the posts that have attracted very large audiences have all been longish. But if the posts are very, very long, then break them up into a series of two parts, three parts, or even four parts if the subject warrants it. By advertising “Coming tomorrow…” you invite people to come back. This has caused traffic to build over the series of posts.
9. Keep personal material light and relevant: Readers don’t come to my blog to learn what what I ate for breakfast. But my experiences, say, as a senior manager at the World Bank, or with a bad airline trip, or eating incredibly delicious bread in France, can add a light personal touch that is helpful, provided that they are tightly linked to the themes of the blog.
10. Find the right graphics. It took me more than a year to come up with the graphics that illustrate my main themes of my current blog effectively. The earlier versions worked to a certain extent, but they were not as clear, crisp and dramatic as the current versions.
11. Keep experimenting: Some titles have done unexpectedly well, that don’t follow any of these rules, e.g. “How to say no while inspiring people” did unexpectedly well. No famous firms, no tickers. It just seemed to hit a nerve and take off.
12. Post once a day: I see an immediate falloff in traffic if I stop blogging even for a day. Blogging once a week is probably not going to get the job done.
13. Highlight the work of like-minded writers: This is about advancing the subject, not just promoting your own work.
14. Avoid videos and audios. Everyone says the opposite, but videos and audios have not done well for me. In fact, for my audience, they seem to be almost the kiss of death, both my own videos, as well as videos by other people that I think are absolutely terrific like Rachel Botsman’s cool TED video. Not sure why.
Twitter has been very helpful as a kind of on-ramp to the blog. I use it to flag the new blog posts and this is obviously key.
Thanking those on Twitter who retweet your stuff is important. This helps build a sense of common purpose and a community of interest in your core themes.
Using Tweetdeck has been a must. In enables me to keep track of many things at once. It also automatically feeds my Twitter entries to my Facebook page. (Facebook per se hasn’t been a significant part of my activities to date, in part because I don’t use it for my personal life.)
Those are my hypotheses to date. The hypotheses relate to my subject of radical management, i.e. a big complex argument about the transformation of management and indeed the whole of society where the target audience is senior executives, change agents and all those interested in leadership, management and the future of the human experiment.
The hypotheses will be different for other themes/audiences. For instance, if your blog is about making money in the stock market, you would want very frequent short pieces with quick topical insights.”
Very good thoughts from Steve. Have you tried any of Steve’s tips? What else have you seen work well?