14 Traits of Successful Blogs

Millions of people start a blog every year. Conversely, many blogs die every year from lack of updates, lack of interest, not having original content, copying/stealing of content from fellow bloggers or copyright violation etc. Those that stand above the others stand far above the others.

Have you ever visited a blog and wondered how they got 100,000 RSS subscribers or 200,000 Twitter followers? Well, the most essential and basic ingredients behind any successful blog is Focus, Passion, and Originality. This post looks critically at some of the most successful blogs and identifies some common traits. This is a subjective list of traits that seem to be shared among successful and highly-trafficked blogs. None of these traits guarantee blog success, but rather are a set of common variables among the top blogs on the internet.

You may be interested in the following related articles as well.

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How Things Get Started..??

The Method

A number of blogs were examined for common traits in design, function, layout, content type, content format, colors, feel, ad placement, pagerank, technorati authority and traffic. If commonalities or similarities were noticed, they were listed here. Results have been broken into the basic areas of Content and Design.

The Sample

20 of the top blogs were examined in the areas listed above. These blogs were identified as being the top performers in the blogosphere as claimed by Technorati. The sample included these and many more blogs: Mashable, HuffingtonPost, Gizmodo, BoingBoing, TechCrunch, SmashingMagazine, and dozens more.

Content Related Traits

Although being a successful blogger and having a popular blog is not an easy task, it’s not the one that should frighten you. Infect, before asking yourself if you can be one or not, take a moment or two to think about what you do and how you do it, and see how many characteristics you can improve from the following points.

Almost All Successful Blogs…

01. Have Helpful Content

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

Useful or helpful posts attract visitors and encourage multiple visits. The most popular blogs don’t just state the obvious or repeat another site’s content. I read blog posts backwards. Well, kind of. I read the comments first because they tell me how other people find the article either helpful or not.

So what is helpful content? Posts that tell someone how do something that is tricky; tutorial posts; handy workarounds; shortcuts, tools, resources, etc. These posts attract recurring traffic and encourage social media sharing.

02. Have Original Content

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

Nobody likes a copycat. Your content should be your own unless you have permission to use someone elses. Original does not just mean paraphrasing or restating content you found on another post.

Original content also means you cover topics that have not been covered before. Sometimes this means covering topics that have been poorly or minimally covered in the past.

Things change, so revamping older articles is fine too. As new websites become available, creating a second “roundup” post like this one can also be completely original.

03. Offer Lots of Lists

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

List posts are becoming more and more frequent. These lists often look like “50 of the best WordPress plugins” or “10 of the best simple templates”.

The size of lists are increasing steadily, but here is a list of great list posts :

As you can see, these posts are informative, timely and relevant to the topic of the blog. They present an introduction to the topic, and then identify legitimate resources with current links. They also include accurate descriptions of the resource, screenshots when possible and additional important information like download links and a disclosure if registration is required.

04. Post Content Consistently

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

There is much debate about whether it is better to post daily or on a regular schedule of days. Successful blogs that were examined tend to post daily. This may be because successful blogs tend to have the resources to post daily.

As a beginning blog, it is ok to not post daily, but readers should know when to expect new content. At the very least, readers should know that there will be new content consistently. (If there isn’t, why would they bother coming back?)

Here are some more discussions on the frequency of posting :

05. Are Humble

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

What you won’t see on successful blogs is claims like “Your source for…” or “The top resource for…” Successful blogs know they’re successful and don’t need to flaunt it.

Put time into the content and visitors will follow. Don’t try to sell big, flashy advertisements until you have the readership to back it up. Develop strong relationships with other bloggers and authorities on the subject (don’t harrass them or comment spam their posts).

06. Are Inspiring

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

You know your blog is successful when readers are inspired by your posts. If your blog is about web development, your readers should be inspired to try that new technique you’re writing about. If your blog is about graphic design, readers should feel the urge to try that new dropshadow you’re talking about.

So why be inspiring with your posts? There are several reasons including :

  • Readers will appreciate it. (and bookmark you!)
  • Readers will return for more inspiration later.
  • Readers will remember you the next time they need inspiration.
  • Other bloggers will respect you.
  • We all need a little inspiration from time to time.

07. Are Easy to Share with Others

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

Social networking is everything these days. Look below every post on successful blogs, you’ll see some reference to sharing content using your favorite networking tool. You will also see some sort of sticky set of links to share content.

You want this to be an easy tool for readers to use. Notice the trend: small blogs don’t pay much attention to social bookmarking, medium-sized blogs pay HUGE amounts of attention to this (big flashy buttons) and large blogs pay a bit less attention because their readers purposely look for these tools.

08. Allow Others to Join in

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

Almost all popular blogs have some sort of guest-blogging policy. This author has written for some of the biggest blogs in the blogosphere like Mashable, InstantShift and Smashing Magazine.

This is a great thing to do for aspiring bloggers as well as well-known bloggers. It is a nice thing to do and gives you some (usually) great content. You can be as picky as you want and choose from a number of proposed topics. It also keeps the content a little fresher by inserting a new perspective, new language and a different style.

Here are five big blog’s guest-writing pages :

Design Related Traits

If you are serious about your blog design then there is a lot of information out there about various interfaces, design techniques and patterns you can follow when crafting your user interfaces and blogs, solutions to common problems and general usability recommendations. It should be necessary that you have all the elements of a great blog design which can ensure that readers will enjoy the content and not get disturbed with the flow of presentation.

Most Successful Blogs…

09. Cross-Promote Their Content

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

Successful blogs rope the reader in to their articles first, and then redirect them to other posts. This is cleverly done through sliders and “related posts” windows.

You’ll see a lot of “if you liked this post, you may like …” kind of links. These are not just for your convenience. They increase time on the site, increase conversions (email signups, etc.), decrease bounce rate, and increase the likelihood of social bookmarking.

10. Are Easy to Navigate

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

Popular blogs are easy to find and easy to navigate. You’ll see navigation menus commonly along the top of the page with categories along the right side. This is for a reason.

When a blog gets popular, you find it. This happens for two reasons: a) they have lots of content to find through search engines and b) the search engines give them lots of credit which ups their position on search results. Once the reader is at the blog, it is important to help them navigate it.

Categories should be clearly identified and easy to get to. Don’t make readers click multiple times to get to their goal whenever possible. Static pages (about, contact, etc.) should also be easy to get to from both the top and the bottom of the site. Don’t forget to cross-promote content from the bottom of the page as well as that’s where readers end up.

11. Have Prominent Subscribe Options

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

At the top of every successful blog is a way to subscribe to updates either through RSS or email newsletter programs.

You spend tons of time researching content, you spend tons of time pulling it all together and creating a coherant, helpful article. The traffic comes and your blog is becoming popular. Now that this pretty picture is painted, imagine this: your bounce rate is 100%. (Bounce rate is the percent of visitors who visit your site once, and never come back)

Why would this be? Because there are no conversion tools on your site. You haven’t included options for readers to subscribe to updates either through RSS or email. This is a MUST DO to retain visitors you work so hard to get.

Here are some options for your blog

Also, this post at Copyblogger is a great intro to the topic of conversions.

12. Have a Unique Site Design

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

Successful blogs don’t use that free WordPress theme everyone else has. They have an original, branded and beautiful design. Readers should be able to recognize your blog by the colors and shapes alone. Although popular blogs have the resources to commission unique designs, there are lots of ways to make your blog stand out for less.

Use a free or premium theme that has the features and layout you need. Important features are different for each blog but typically include easy category navigation, social media integration and aesthetically pleasing typography and formatting.

After you choose the foundation, customize it to be your own. Either do the work yourself if graphically skilled. Or you can hire someone to do some basic customizations that will have a dramatic impact on your site. Commission a custom background, header images, logo, etc.

You can also make small changes like new icons, widget header graphics, etc. by hiring a pro from GraphicRiver.net.

13. Are Well Organized

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

It should be easy to identify how your blog is organized. Your categories and tags are prominently placed and the taxonomy of your content is obvious to the reader immediately. For example, your categories should not be “web design, graphic design, SEO and discount dog collars”.

Sub Categories should be easily found using some sort of indicator like an arrow facing down or a “…” or “more” link.

Also identify your categories as such. Many blogs utilize categories, sub-categories, tags, pages, etc. These can all be confusing to the reader unless you identify them.

14. Are Focused

instantShift - Traits of Successful Blogs

Successful blogs focus on what they know. As described above, categories are related and appropriate.

This means your blog is both organized well and incredibly focused. You started the blog because you are passionate about the subject. Find out what excites you most and focus on that. If your blog is about WordPress, consider focusing primarily on WordPress themes.

Additional Resources!

Image Credits

Find Something Missing?

What you seen so far is quite a challenge. What, besides the obvious, do successful blogs have in common? We know that we’re also not 100% certain. But at least we can get the idea started. Maybe you can help. What are we missing? As while compiling this list, it’s always a possibility that we missed some other great resources. Feel free to share it with us.

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  1. Great List, wish I could be successful in all of them.
    The only other trait of a successful blog I can think of is Community – the blog facilitates the promotion of others thru recent comments and blog promotion

  2. Great post. Thanks for the direction. Nice example of something my blog should love up to.

  3. I search and recently came across your blog and have been reading along. It was wonderful blog.



  4. Very important Tips!

  5. Great Post! Luvd reading it

  6. Frequency of posts seems to be one of the biggest challenges of any blogger regardless of industry. The unique niche of my blog is always easy for me to focus on so I hope readers feel the same..

  7. Wow, I have a LOT of work to do!

  8. Great list, I couldn’t agree more with all of them. One of my biggest mistakes I made in one of my last blogs is not being specific to my own niche. I tried to broaden my topics to gain more readership, but of course, it just hurt because it resulted in a terribly defined audience. Definitely bookmarking these things to keep them in mind in the future!

  9. I hate lists

  10. Very useful tips for a new blogger like me. Thanks!

  11. …. actually, a very helpful list of 14 Traits of Successful Blogs…. I wonder…. could there be even more :?) !! These 14 will certainly help until they post more…. I hope the author does…. eventually !! :) Thanks !!

  12. “Original does not just mean paraphrasing or restating content you found on another post.”

    This is the most important thing out of your post. Nice and brandnew content will top your traffic limit to a new limit!

    btw. this post was great! Thanks for sharing this!


  13. I am totally agree with you that blog designing is the most essential thing for successful blog and you presents some good tips for it. Thanks.

  14. These are things I’ve noticed but it’s helpful to read them all in one place and have others recognize them so definitively. I am starting a blog soon and this will surely be of inspiration.

  15. Thank goodness I had some web savvy friends to help me get started. One of them is the reason I found this post (thanks oustcat.org). She’s always on me about keeping great content and focusing on that until I am able to either learn the graphic side of things or have the ends to hire someone. A favorite post for my readers is a list “9 Tips to Midget Wrangling.” I’m trying harder to incorporate both photo posts and list posts.
    I appreciate, like most of your readers, you putting the time in to set this list up for us to be successful in our blog niches. Maybe 2011 I’ll be in the league with the well designed content rich blog of fame.

  16. Great tips, thx man :-)

  17. Cool article & really well explained !
    I can really say its not only lists where Instant Shift rocks ! ;)

  18. Just retweeted this article. Very good and solid advice. I’m a new blogger myself and trying to come into my own. I’ve read so many good articles online and so many books, their ideas that I just want to share, but I don’t want to be a blogger who regurgitates other people’s works.

  19. really good article, I agree with you on everything you have said.

  20. I thought this was a really well written article with lots of good advice!
    I notice that lists are something that I always click on.

    Posting content daily can be a real challenge! You think you have a million ideas and then distraction and procrastination can set in. Many blog and have a full time job. I can do anything for 15 minutes even if I am tired, so I try to think about writing in blocks of time.

    Thanks again for an article that got me thinking!

  21. …. great advice !!

  22. well since i’m not a designer, maybe I’ll consider to buy a theme for my blog

  23. 02 and 03 are antithetical. There are a vast amount of list blogs out there, this site is one of them. Most of them are rehashing what others have already said and are not providing any original content. OR… they are completely opinion based. For example, 20 Best Photoshop Tutorials. And this actually contradicts 05 in your list, being humble. Am I supposed to believe that a blogger that says these are the 20 Best Photoshop Tutorials based solely on that person’s own opinion? That is a a lack of humility if I ever saw one.
    Take, for example, a post on this site, http://www.instantshift.com/2009/03/09/120-best-free-blogger-templates-around/
    So, this site is saying that these templates are THE best blogger templates on the entire Internet? That, my friends, is a lack of humility as well as just trying to get good search engine listing.
    Please STOP with the lists already!

  24. Sorry for the question, but I am very interested in how CMS operates a blog?

  25. Seems like I have my work cut out. I’m like a turtle so hopefully I’ll be be okay. So….and….steady! Thanks for the excellent info.

  26. Excelllent source of information, thanks.

  27. Thanks for the tips. I need all the help I can get!

  28. WWEll thank you for does useful types now i might be interesting in blogging

  29. Relevant and timely postings help establish and retain your audience. Information that educates efficiently and is well written is highly beneficial to the development of a robust blog. Separating your blog from lookalike blogs takes dedication and passion.

  30. I love this … thank you for posting …. gotta share with my people!!

    Jessica Palotas

  31. I keep finding more and more great information on this site. These tips are very helpful. Keep it coming.

  32. These 14 traits really are fantastic to know and master

  33. I would add another trait:

    15. They tend to get out to conferences and events and directly meet other bloggers.

  34. Yes, I was wondering on how they got 100,000 or more RSS subscribers. I have also blogs but I really don’t how to get that numbers of RSS subscribers. Today, I will put the missing piece of my blogs that you discuss in this post.

  35. This was a great post,
    Definitely keep finding more and more great information on this site. These tips are very useful. Look forward for more tips
    For the best web design or Web development, check out [..url..] they offer innovative and creative website designs based on your theme and line of business

  36. Thanks for the helpful tips! I’ll definately try to keep all these in mind

  37. a very dedicated service and can be applied anywhere you want and get better results. Excellent brief and this article helped me alot. Say thank you I looking for your information

  38. Great post – Very detailed information I love how you have a pic for each topic very east to follow tips to create a create a great blog Thanks

  39. This is an excellent post, you have came up with awesome 14 points to be a successful blogger. I strongly agree with the #2 which is about original content. But I think it would be the #1.

    Great post with lot of valuable info.
    Thanks for sharing.

  40. The blogosphere is becoming a very crowded place with thousands of new blogs appearing on the web every day. When you set up a blog you will want people to visit and hopefully come back to it again. However, of all the thousands if not millions of blogs, most receive little to no repeated traffic.

  41. My secret is really on widgets especially those which syndicate contents and I guess you will find it insightful too.

  42. Great info. A good place to start the 100 yard dash.

    One item you stated, “…your bounce rate is 100%. (Bounce rate is the percent of visitors who visit your site once, and never come back).

    If I’m not incorrect, I believe the “Bounce Rate”, is the percentage of the people visiting a site who do not seek out another page on that site during that visit. Hence, they hit and “bounce.”

    If one is using Google Analytics, the “New vs. Returning”, will allow you to know the percentage of the new and returning visitors.

    Thanks a bunch.

  43. I agree with you on being a little bit more humble and that’s just goes the same with everything else in life, you’ll go far. great post!

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