Go Big or Go Home: Why Being Bold is Critical to Getting Noticed

Extreme Surfer

This guest post is by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

Millions of blogs talk about the same thing your blog does.

Read that sentence again and let it sink in for a moment. With so many blogs talking about the same topics, how will you differentiate yours from the rest? How can you come up with new and interesting angles on the same topics for both your post and your overall blog theme?

If you don’t mind being just another blog among millions, just keep talking about the same thing. But if you want to make the Technorati Top 1,000 (I did it in five months, and got to 11,000 subscribers and 1 million page views a month in that period), you have to find a way to get noticed. You have to stick out from the crowd.

How do you get noticed? You gotta be bold.

There’s no other way.

Think about it: I’m regular Reader Joe, looking in my Google Reader, or on Digg, and I see two headlines:

Headline 1: Good Strength Training Exercises

Headline 2: 16 Tips to Triple Your Workout Effectiveness

The first headline got 2 Diggs, and the second got well over 1,000. The difference? Well, the first one has a rather bland headline, and the second one is quite a bit bolder. But the key difference was done even before the article and headline were written — when the author chose the topic for the post.

Make Bold Selections for Post Topics

Let’s say you want to write a post today about, let’s say, making money from Google Adsense. You’ve noticed that on the two different blogs you own, one makes quite a bit more on Adsense than the other, and from your testing, you’ve found that the reason is that while both blogs get about the same amount of traffic, one gets a general readership and another has a more targeted niche — and the one with the targeted readership is serving up better targeted ads, and therefore getting more click-throughs and making more money.

So, you want to write a post that explains that. Now, you could easily write a post that talks about how bloggers should selected targeted niches for their blogs to make more money on Adsense.

Or, instead, you can ask yourself these three questions:

  1. If a reader saw this headline and briefly skimmed the post in their feed reader, would they click on the story to read the whole thing?
  2. If I were to see this article on Digg, would I vote for it? Can it get on the Digg front page?
  3. If I were the editor of a very popular blog, would I link to this article?

If the answer to these questions is No, go back and rethink your post. Writing a regular post that people have read a million times on other blogs is a waste of your time. No one wants to read another.

So how do you turn it into something worth writing? Look for bolder ways to write about the same topic. Here are some ways to be bolder with the example topic:

Example 1: How I Make Two Grand a Month by Laser-sharp Targeting

Example 2: Throw Out Your Blog: Niche Blogs are the Only Way to Go

Example 3: Make Twice As Much Money With Fewer Readers, Not More

Will all of these examples succeed? Probably not. But you can see the difference between the original idea, and these three bolder expansions on the same idea. I should note: being bold doesn’t mean just writing hyperbolic headlines. It means writing about a bigger and bolder idea, and backing it up with great content to match. But it starts with the idea — be bold and daring, and you’ll get noticed.

Why Bold Works

Why does being bold work better than being humble and understated, as I think many of us would prefer to be? Here’s why:

  • It stands out. Again, there are more than 83 million blogs out there … how will you get noticed among the cacophony of all those blogs? If you think bigger and bolder than all of them, you will get noticed.
  • You’re more clickable. If your headline is in someone’s feed reader, or they see your headline on another blog among a list of links, they will be more likely to click on you if you’re bold. It’s almost irresistible.
  • People talk about you. It’s good if people start talking about you. They read your bold post, and they talk about it on their blog. “I just read an interesting post on Zen Habits about why ….” And even if they disagree, that’s still good news. Whether people disagree with you or not is immaterial — you want them talking about you.
  • People link to you. When other blogs talk about you, they link to you. And that’s the most important effect of all.
  • Digg traffic. The most important thing on Digg is the headline — it’s about the only thing the Digg users see. If your headline is bold, it is more likely to get Dugg. And getting on the Digg home page sends a lot of traffic. Sure, that traffic will die down again in a couple of days — but in the meantime, a dozen or two more links will pop up pointing at your popular article. That all starts with boldness.
  • You become an expert. This will be a controversial assertion, most likely, but I’m speaking from experience. If you talk about the same topics as everyone else, but you say it in a bolder way, over time you will begin to be see as an expert on the topic. Not only will you get people talking about you and linking to you and Digging you, but your credibility will go up. People will start to call you a “productivity guru” or an “SEO expert” or a “fitness guru”.
  • Cumulative effect. What’s the effect of all of these things? Being noticed, being clicked on, being talked about, being linked to, being Dugg (or delicious’d or reddited or scaped), and being considered an expert … well, the long-term answer is obviously more links and more traffic and more search engine traffic and more ad revenues. That is probably a good thing for most blogs.

I can personally testify that this method of being bold with your post topics and headlines works. I don’t purposely exaggerate, but I take a regular post and bring it to another level.

When I wanted to do a post with some of my favorite Getting Things Done links, I decided to do a Massive GTD Resource List post instead. It took me a couple hours longer to write than the original idea … but it was a hit. When I wanted to do a post about frugality and being romantic, I expanded it to another hit: 50 Ways to Be Romantic on the Cheap. When I wanted to do an article on some of the things I’ve learned as a runner, I bolded it up and got another massively popular post: Beginner’s Guide to Running.

These all took much longer than normal, and I had to back up each post with research and good ideas, but they worked. Big time.

Take your regular post ideas and bold them up. You’ll get noticed, and that’s what matters.

Get more great tips from Leo at Zen Habits.

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Reader Comments (81)

  1. says

    Just exactly the article I was looking for. Great explanation. I understood every single thing in this post and now what matters is that I should follow whats written here. Thanks Leo.

  2. says

    I totally agree, but I believe the saying is “come big or stay home”, originating from Euchre (card game) and the streets of Chicago. Pet peeve 😛

    Again, you hit the nail right on the head here. Sensationalism and viral traffic are like Britney Spears and some guy in Vegas, they’re totally meant for each other and the next day it’s over 😛

  3. says

    There is such a fine line between being bold and being an attention, um, hound. You are right on about the content needing to be good. It needs to be spectacular. It is no fun to click on bold headlines and then be disappointed.

  4. Leila OShea says

    You don’t see the irony in the topic of this article? There are millions of other blogs talking about differentiating your blog too… jackass.

  5. says

    “Go Big Or Go Home.”

    It’s not just a motto, it’s a lifestyle…

    Bold is the cousin of controversy. The difference is that you can always be bold, but you don’t always have to be controversial.

    Being bold is about saying, “Yes, I know what I’m talking about.” If you don’t, it will be reflected very clearly in your blog.

  6. says

    @Leila: Rudeness aside, you make a good point … how is this article different than the others? Allow me to clarify:

    This tip actually works for me. I do it for my blog’s posts, and for other blogs I write for, and it actually works. In the last 11 days, for example, I’ve had 10 posts make the front page of both Digg and Delicious — posts that I’ve written for my blog or for several other blogs.

    I’m not bragging, but I am saying that this works. And I was hoping that other bloggers would find it useful. If it’s not useful to you, feel free to move on!

  7. says

    There are certainly a lot of blogs and posts about making money through blogging, but of the few that I’ve read, this is one of the best. My judgment is partially based on the fact that you have fewer mistakes than the others.
    So good job there.

    Thanks for the tips.

  8. says

    Great post–this is one of those things that’s nearly impossible to explain, but the examples do a great job of explaining what you mean by boldness. I think some people are tempted to think you’re talking about linkbait, but there’s a difference between bold and linkbait. Bold delivers on the promise of a great headline, while linkbait is usually disappointing after a close read.

  9. says

    Great advice for businesses too.

    When I used an almost exact headline like this, my results weren’t anywhere near as good as yours.

    Thanks for the pep talk. I’ll keep trying.

  10. says

    Headlines aside, the style and tone of writing is very important in conveying the great thoughts. That’s the reason which compelled me to read on. Great job, Leo!

    Cheers, Ellesse

  11. says

    This is good advice – thinking about the title and content, and making it that little bit outstanding.

    What I would like to know is how you managed this:

    But if you want to make the Technorati Top 1,000 (I did it in five months, and got to 11,000 subscribers and 1 million page views a month in that period)

    What was the first article that went stratospheric for you, and why. How did you manage this while others barely reach these numbers after a year or two? I’m not so interested in how many times your articles are dugg now, because with 11,000 readers your chances of being dugg are far higher – I’m interested in how the crossover was achieved. Is it because your niche is broadly popular? Do you have connections you are keeping schtum about?

    Leo, your 0-6000 subs in 4 months – doubled again in 6, guesting on huge subscription sites like Lifehack – is practically a vertical rise to fame in the blogging world. Undoubtedly your content is interesting and highly readable – but there must have been more to it than “being bold”.

  12. says

    Hi Rory … excellent questions. I can’t identify a single post that made my blog popular. It was a series of surges and dips. Some of the keys, however:

    * Try to write useful stuff, every single day. Go to my site and you’ll see what I mean. I almost never do a post where I talk about my cat or what’s wrong with the world today. It’s always a post that aims to be extremely useful to my readers.
    * Catchy headlines. I’m not as masterful at this as Brian here, but I’ve been getting better. Headlines are the most important part of your post.
    * In the beginning, as you suggest, it’s much harder to get on Digg or delicious. What helps is when bigger sites mention you (such as Copyblogger). And the key to that? Be bold, and be useful. The traffic from bigger sites will propel your article to popularity on Digg or the other sites, if it’s good.
    * I’d like to point out that when I talked about 10 articles hitting the front page of Digg in 11 days, those aren’t only on my site … they are on other sites, and some of them are not as popular as mine. What works for me now can work for anyone if done right … not just those with popular sites.
    * Collaborate with others. I wrote to other bloggers (like Brian Clark) and suggested that we collaborate. They were generous and allowed me to write guest posts for them (and some wrote for me in return). This kind of collaboration exposes you to a much wider audience. It doesn’t propel your site to fame overnight, but it has a longer term effect.
    * Build up a huge collection of resources. Once a reader hits your site, he might like your article. And then what? What will keep him reading and make him subscribe? If he looks in your sidebar and sees a huge amount of very useful stuff. Resources are the best way to do that. Focus on building up those resources before worrying about marketing.
    * Branding. Over time, people will get to know your name and the name of your blog. But it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to find multiple ways to make your name stick. And the way to do that? Get mentioned on other sites, get popular on Digg multiple times, and collaborate with others. The best way to do those things? Be bold and very useful.
    * Aim for home runs. I like to write articles that will provide readers with resources, get mentioned on other sites, and get popular on Digg or similar services. I don’t go for the smaller articles too much. Of course, you can’t hit a home run every day, and you still have to do smaller articles if you want to keep your readers, but you should still go for the home run 2-4 times a week.

    I hope this helps! I do not do a lot of marketing … nothing, actually, other than what I’ve mentioned here. The key is the content, and aiming big and bold. Seriously.

  13. says

    Good tips from you. I have come across articles on the same topic but back then I wondered whether it will work. I have tried with some of my post, I guess I cannot really see the different. I will try again as this works for you, or maybe you already got a reputation.

  14. says

    I really appreciate the rapid answer, and some fine pointers.

    I’ll have to do a bit more thorough research on Zen Habits – it is like a Case Study on popularity, and I find it difficult to grasp that it is on these points alone.

    It would be interesting to trace back through your blog, and the sites you have guested on, and see where the upward trend began.

    Thanks, again.

  15. says

    One way to differentiate yourself is to look at what the herd is doing and do something else.

    Be true to yourself and your light will burn a little brighter.

  16. says

    I posted about why I thought Western copywriters shouldn’t be worried in the longterm about low cost Indian copy because of the inherent differences in style.

    It attracted more traffic and stronger comments than any of my other posts, and I did at times wonder if I had put my neck too far over the line handling such a controversial topic. But I believed in what I was saying and stuck to my viewpoint when responding to comments.

    It did teach me that playing safe with your posts might be the best way of not causing a disagreement with anybody, but it’s not the best way to develop an interesting blog – being bold is.

  17. says

    I wrote to other bloggers (like Brian Clark) and suggested that we collaborate. They were generous and allowed me to write guest posts for them (and some wrote for me in return).

    See, that’s one thing a lot of bloggers wouldn’t think of. They’re living inside their own heads too much. This is an example of boldness on a different level than just the words you put in a headline or post. It takes a bit of boldness to reach out to strangers and make a proposition. Obviously, it paid off for you!

  18. says

    Wow, another great advice to bloggers. I’ve been visiting copyblogger.com and I haven’t been dissatisfied with the available reads. Great work and thank you for the ideas.

    I’ll always remember to be bold with my posts…

  19. says

    I can attest to Leo’s method. I started reading Leo’s blog about a couple months ago. I was inspired by how useful every post was and how that translated into more subscribers.

    The last month I have worked hard to emulate Leo’s philosophy of writing useful content, and sure enough I have increased my subscribers by over 400. Maybe that seems small potatoes, but that was coming from only double digits. and my daily traffic continues to increase.

    It is a cyclical rise. The daily visitors cycles up and down but every week brings a new high, so what Leo says about not being able to pinpoint one post rings true to my experience. Certainly I’m not at Leo’s level yet, but I believe that if I keep challenging myself to put out my best content every day then I can get to Leo’ level someday.

    I need to write content that is worthy of people spending their precious time reading my blog. That is always the major criteria my post ideas must meet when I write.

    Nice job articulating this, Leo!

  20. says

    Currently I write for two blogs, one on SEO and online marketing and the other on design and development. Sometimes I wonder if I should take all of my design, development and SEO skills to another niche. Maybe cooking or something. A area that isn’t dominated by SEO experts already.

  21. says

    I think Leo and I are one in the same. For the most part, I’m pretty unbold (is that a word?). I occasionally post a quirky video, but nothing too “BOLD” as they say. I also post some borderbold things from time to time. My “crude, yet refined” tagline describes it well. But I definitely need a nudge every now and then. Luckily, I have some loyal readers that will email me and tell me “it’s time for another…”. Anyway, sorry for the rant. Great post!

  22. says

    Well I’m off to go and add some bold to my webpages in order to make it more readable. More space around my words might do me some good too.
    I used to use blockquotes a lot – maybe I should be using it again.

  23. says

    Good stuff. A lot of the points you make are things that I’ve already thought about and even after reading your great explanations, still will probably struggle with a little. Makes sense that to succeed you’ve got to stand out from the crowd, but it’s easier said than done sometimes think. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of just doing it like everyone else does.

  24. says

    Great article although I am not too fond about “everything” being about promotion and whether everything is digg material etc.

    I may be naive (or rather, I am naive), but isn’t blogging about finding and developing your personal style as you write about what interests you with due consideration to what interests others?

    If it all ends up being about promotion you risk loosing sight of why you started to blog in the first place unless the point was getting noticed of course. Being an absolute beginner I am sure I make countless mistakes when blogging, but since I am both blogging to learn and learning to blog is it something I can live with.

    I am not saying I do not like being noticed mind you. It is actually quite important because it indeed is part of the whole purpose of my blog, but I do not want to be here today and gone tomorrow kind of noticed. It should ideally be a long term kind of noticed, but maybe that is hoping for too much.

    Hence am I not trying to be bold, but to be myself. Both in terms of purpose, post and prose. To me does bold indicate yelling rather than conversing, which is what I would rather be. Being different is important, but you can be different without being either bold or bland I believe.

    I believe you may even end up with a better scoreline if you go for good hits rather than going for home runs when you write. You may hit fewer home runs that way, but you just may strike out less also.

  25. says

    I’ve always noticed that the posts I make where I share my opinion are more popular than ones where I just share some facts. Now it seems like I should think about that in my headings as well. Thanks for the tip.


  26. says

    Hi Jan … excellent comment! I would tend to agree with your point, if you’re looking for a conversation on your blog and nothing more. This post was deliberately bold, however, to make a point: if you’re looking to get more traffic, you need to get noticed, and to get noticed, it is no longer enough to have your own voice — you need to be bold. Like I said, there are 83 million others trying to find their own voice.

    At the same time, I don’t think being bold is the same thing as screaming, and I don’t think it necessarily means giving up your voice.

    Imagine yourself in the middle of a crowded room. There are hundreds of people there, and they’re all having individual conversations. They’re speaking in their own voice. But if you want to be noticed, you have to be bold in some way. You could do that by screaming, granted. But you could also do it by dressing differently, in a bold way, or by standing on a chair and tapping your wine glass, or by waving a flag, or by raising your voice a little and saying, “Everyone, can I have your attention please? I’d like to make an announcement.”

    So there are many different ways of being bold and getting noticed — the challenge is finding a way that is consistent with your voice.

    I think I’ve done that on Zen Habits. I’ve gone for the bigger ideas without trying to yell too much, and if you ask my readers, I think they’ll tell you that the voice I speak with on the site is genuine. I’m not a marketer by heart, so what I’m sharing here is what I’ve learned to do while still being true to myself.

  27. says

    Leo, I really needed this. I know I’ve written some really good, and original articles. The reason they haven’t ‘made it big’ is probably due to what you’re addressing here.

    Thank you!

  28. says

    Leo, excellent reply.

    In my comment I was trying to be bold actually. Bold in the sense of picking the angle where I less agreed and commenting on that instead of the rest which I agree with.

    My point was thus not to say that you don’t make excellent points which you do, but merely to say how important it is how you are being bold and that your boldness should be in line with your purpose etc. Since you once more emphasized the same in your reply can we agree to agree on that I think :-)

    Also I did not mean that bold is always like yelling only that it may be seen that way if not done appropriately. In addition to your examples in your great crowded room analogy would I mention striking up the most interesting topic or taking a particular stand as that may also draw a crowd. Only will it happen little by little and not all at once. Odds are that the attention may last longer and be more involving though.

  29. says

    Great article. Bold is in and bland is out.

    Although I too caution on writing bold headlines and not backing it up with a quality post. If you use all of your flash in your headline and only have trash in your post, you’ll not only lose the reader but likely keep them away. So with that caveat: Go bold!

    Thanks for the tips.

  30. says

    Definitely a good article. Getting noticed is an art. How ever valuable the content may be if you don’t know how to put it forward its no use. What is seen , sells!

  31. says

    @#16: Perhaps it’s because your website is just a series of random ads that I’m supposed to think is content?

    I’ve found that pinging other articles drives me about 30-50 uniques daily I wouldn’t have if I just plain wrote about them. However, it helps if you actually SAY something, instead of a book ahem, blog report about some other stuff you read. The book report articles look and go home, the “say somethings” stick around.

    And as always, I think Leo is right on the money. I’ve yet to find a word that I disagree with (much to my chagrin)

  32. says

    What if you are just writing about general news stories like everyone else? How do you go bold on announcing someone has raised 5 million in funding?

  33. says

    I can see how being bold is important for getting noticed… but it is also important to back up these claims with the content promised.

    I have been to some blogs that had bold headlines with content that lacked…. I quickly turned around on those.

  34. says

    Boldness also works very well offline, and in many careers. (I think science and medicine might be exceptions!) Basically, if you are bold it inspires confidence in others, and they will respect you (even if they don’t like you!).

    Time and time again I have seen people who were no more talented or hardworking than others get the plum jobs on offer. The main reason: they were bold and confident, and they really wanted what they went for.

    “Who dares wins” as they say!

  35. says

    I think GTD is a splendid method for getting your life “sorted out” and it certainly is the best way to get ahead with your Blogs, as well as any other stuff you’re up to.

    I visited a great seminar lectured by Göran Askeljung, Director at immediate effects where he went thorugh the essentials of GTD and how to apply it to your favourite PIM, like Outlook or Entourage.

    Most of used Outlook, so he focused on that. Since then I have experienced the pros’ and con’s of GTD, mostly pro’s though! The con’s are limited to not going through your reviews regularely…

    If there’s a seminar I would recommend, it this one.

  36. says

    Wow, it really pays to read high quality article like this one. I am new at this but this really makes things much more clearer. Thanks for a great article. Very helpful for beginners.

  37. says

    I just read this and man did it inspire me! It’s 3:30am and I can’t wait to wake up and try out some bold articles and headlines and all kinds of cool stuff. Thanks for the inspiration (3 years later, hahaha).

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