How I Grow My Blog

by Jesse Farmer on Friday, May 9, 2008

I was talking with Matt Humphrey the other day and he asked me, "How did you grow your blog?" My answer at the time wasn't very enlightening, so I thought I'd sit down and hammer out my strategy for growing 20bits.

General Principles

  1. Play to Your Strengths

    Not everyone is witty and not everyone is penetrating. Personally I'm good at writing longer, article-sized posts, so that's what I write most of the time. I'm also not great at written humor — I usually just come off sounding like a smug asshole.

    As an exercise I might try to write some shorter articles or include a parenthetical joke, but I understand my strengths and use them to my advantage.

  2. Pick Your Audience

    Before you even start writing you have to decide on an audience. When I first started blogging I was all over the map. Since then I've tightened up this blog to focus on technology, technology news, and the some aspects of Silicon Valley life.

    This limits me in some respects, but helps me in others. Since, you know, I'm working in technology in the Bay Area, it actually does a lot to advance my career, even if I'm never going to be quoted in Time magazine.

  3. Be Interesting, and Know When You Aren't

    Try to write interesting things. This means things your audience would be interested in reading, by the way. I can't count the number of times I wrote an article that I was really proud of only to realize that I was the only one who gave a crap.

    Of course, nobody can be interesting all the time. Take stock of your mistakes and learn to identify when a post will actually be interesting. And please, don't fall into the trap of thinking you're better than your audience.

  4. Be Succinct

    Be as short as you can be without compromising your central argument. This applies to any kind of expository writing, in my opinion, and blogging is no different.

Tactical Principles

  1. Make Friends

    Reach out to other people in your field and make connections. Ask people out for coffee to discuss their latest work. Promote other people when they say something worthwhile.

    Basically, you want people to be able to associate your website with your face. Think of it as a branding exercise with the pleasant side-effect of getting to meet really awesome people.

  2. Be Quick in Spotting Popularity

    If you spot something you know is going to take off and you have a response, write it up as quickly as you can and get it out there.

    Nowadays you can use TechMeme to measure this. Find an upcoming article there that few people have responded to and be the first to respond.

  3. Be Controversial, but not a Jerk

    Controversy generates interest. Don't just use a linkbait headline with a milquetoast body. That's just half-assing it.

    That said, don't be a jerk. If you call people out expect to get called out in return. And be ready to change your tune when someone shows you the error of your ways. In short, have strong opinions, weakly held.

  4. Know When To Promote, and Then Go All Out

    When you have a post you know will get traction don't be afraid to promote it by calling in favors. But don't be the boy who cried wolf, either, asking your friends and connections to promote every single story you write. Save if for the good stuff.

I try to follow the above consciously with every article I write. So far it has paid dividends.