The Real Secret to Becoming a
Popular Blogger

Popular Blogger

Let’s play pretend for a minute, shall we?

Let’s say you live in an old Italian Market. On your rounds as a door-to-door zucchini salesman, you drop in on two tailors’ shops that are quite different.

The first is run by Roberto Andolini, a very skilled tailor who has a ridiculous mustache and always greets you warmly, asking about your kids and your business. Roberto has a large collection of fountain pens and is always telling you about his latest acquisition.

Each time you see him, he cracks the same joke about making sure to keep the pens away from the clothes he’s tailoring. And each time he tells it, he’s so amused by his own hilarity that he uncorks a big, billowing laugh. You like Roberto very much.

The second shop on your route is Tailor, Inc., run by John Smith. (His name used to be Giovanni Smitto, but he had it legally changed.)

John is also a very good tailor, but he’s incredibly boring. He never rises from his sewing machine, and all he’ll talk about is hemming and fabric types. If you’re lucky, sometimes he’ll tell you about thread.

Got the mental picture? Two tailors of equal ability, one of whom is personable and warm and one of whom is slightly less interesting than a can of hairspray. Now, pretend you have a suit that needs taking in. Who do you go to?

Both tailors are good, so you do what your gut tells you to do. You go to Andolini, because you like him.

It’s the oldest, most obvious sales principle in the world: people do business with people they like. Yet the internet is filled with boring, dry text unworthy of even John Smith’s personality.

But listen up, because you can’t afford to write boring copy. Doing so is a great way to lose your readers to the Andolinis of the world.

What you know is a commodity

Let’s get this unpleasant truth out in the open. The world is far too big for your knowledge to be truly special.

If you write about gardening, there are hundreds of millions of competing pages on the Net. Even if you drill down into a niche (say, “gardening for seniors”), there are still hundreds of thousands of competitors.

The law of averages says that many of those competitors will be good at what they do. In fact, quite a few are even going to be excellent.

This means that even if you’re excellent in your niche-within-a-niche, you’re still just one among thousands.

“Being excellent” is not a USP. It can never be enough to define you. Yet, “trying to be the best” is the way that most people online hope to improve readership and gain popularity.

Yes, you should always seek to improve. Yes, being good at what you do matters.

But no, it’s not enough. Not by a long shot.

To be popular, you need to be likable. For the most part, you’ll need to rely on your writing (whether as text, in a podcast, or on video) to do that. But luckily, learning to write personably is actually more about unlearning how to write like a stiff.

Try these tips:

1. Write like a real person

Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz is known for her legendary foul mouth. And I’ve been known to let the occasional curse word fly myself.

Naomi swears because it’s how she talks in person. I swear because I happen to believe it makes everything funnier. (Picture Donald Duck cursing inventively right now. Hilarious, right?)

I’m not saying you should swear, especially if it doesn’t mesh with your personality. But don’t hide who you are in an attempt to sound “professional.” If you normally pepper your speech with quaint Southern expressions, do the same in your writing. Genuine speech conveys authenticity and allows your best audience to find you and develop a connection.

2. Make it personal

Marketing consultant Marcia Hoeck (who, as it happens, is also my mother) found that when she added personal details to her business’s blog and e-zine, she got a significant increase in clicks and responses.

She wasn’t writing essays about personal issues, but she’d occasionally incorporate anecdotes about her dogs or grandkids into her articles. She might explain how she was conducting a teleclass from our house, but had to hide in my basement to do so because the baby was in a noisy mood that day.

Adding personal details to your copy doesn’t make you look unprofessional. It humanizes you, making you more than just a member of the faceless horde.

3. Be interesting

My own topic is technology, but I started blogging as a humor writer. In fact, I picked up a lot of readers by getting a reputation for funny one-liners on Twitter.

Thanks to this, I’ve become “the funny technology guy.” Even though I’m teaching the same stuff as thousands of others, readers come to me because I’m usually somewhat amusing even when discussing dry topics.

If you can make someone smile a little when discussing the ins and outs of domain forwarding, they’re likely to come to you when they want to know more about, say, how to manage their web hosting service.

Again, you don’t have to be funny when you write. (In fact, if it doesn’t come naturally to you, you should probably use humor sparingly, if at all.) But you do have to be interesting.

Talk about sports teams you like, and why other teams suck. Infuse knitting know-how into a post about salesmanship. Refer to your hatred of Ashton Kutcher in a post about how to do affiliate marketing.

In other words, say what’s on your mind. You’re a normal, well-rounded human being who doesn’t think about one topic 24/7. So be that person in your writing as well. When we find true humanity online, we tend to flock to it.

We’re taught in school that the purpose of writing is to clearly convey a message, or to overcome objections, or to persuade. And all of that is important.

But writing isn’t just about conveying information. It’s about communication. The minute you start being more of a person and less of a knowledgeable robot, the easier it will be for your audience to find you, trust you, and like you.

About the Author: Johnny B. Truant makes technology simple for anyone at Learn To Be Your Own V.A. and makes life stupid at The Economy Isn’t Happening.

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Comments

  1. You know I actually burst out laughter when I read this sentence, ” If you’re lucky, sometimes he’ll tell you about thread.”
    To me Frank Kern is the kind of marketer that really relates his personality into the internet marketing world, just a few hours back Yaro talks about it on his blog, telling bloggers to be themselves and be what we are.
    And is true that personality is really a power factor in success, no doubt about….

  2. Don’t get me wrong… am I the only person who sees a lot of identical posts in the blogsphere, all regarding: write like a person, make it personal, be interesting and be a master in the topic you are writing of, and all of these posts don’t add anything new/interesting?

    p.s It’s zucchine, not zucchini ;)

  3. It’s not about what you know, it’s about how you say it. Done.

    Peace.
    @vinylart

  4. Flapane, all I can say is if everyone already gets this, why are there so many “me too” boring bloggers?

    Clearly, people still need to figure this out. So telling this story in a new way may get through to someone who hasn’t gotten before.

  5. Great tips, but can be hard to do.

    Being your self is a key piece to all of this. The story about being a funny tech guy it perfect because it show’s that people are looking for authenticity. The content has to be useful to me, but the author will keep me coming back to him/her if there is ‘life’ in their post and i can somehow ‘connect’ on a different level personally based on them being real in their writting.

    thanks!

    http://twitter.com/franswaa

  6. Who let Truant write on Copyblogger? I mean, come on.

  7. Oh man, how drunk *was* I last night? Oops.

  8. Yes, there seems to have been some editorial slippage here. But I didn’t spot a single curse word, so I think we’re ok. ;)

  9. J –

    Congrats on the CB post. Now get back to work!

    Dave

  10. Brian, that’s just because Sonia edited my original text, which had Donald Duck yelling “[expletive deleted]!”

  11. Now, THAT would’ve been more personal, Truant.

  12. Note to Sonia: Donald Duck yelling “F*ck!” would have been hilarious. And it rhymes, too.

  13. Johnny, we must be on the same wavelength or something. I talk about Naomi in my post today. (Although, I linked to her but didn’t name her because I didn’t want to embarrass her.)

    As for Sonia being drunk, I think that’d be cool to see. (Cursing more, drinking more, maybe Naomi really *is* having quite the influence there!) ;-)

    All the best!
    deb

  14. And don’t forget, if you want to be funny but fear your jokes about spools and spindles are falling flat… you can *teach* yourself to be funny. Nobody’s born funny.

    Except maybe for Mr. Robin Williams, but we all know he’s an alien.

    Great essay, Johnny. I’m a fellow funny-tech-girl (I mean… yeah whatever). I’ve already shared it with several of my friends who are trying to find their voices :)

  15. BTW, that’s totally me grabbing on the hotties with the tramp stamps at the top of this post.

  16. Heard this first from Paul Boag. Thank you for reminding us again how to write and communicate like a human being. I feel that the post is alive and breathing everytime I read a personable article. I’m going to add this to my blogging toolbox. Thank you :-)

  17. Well, in response to Brian {if everyone already gets this, why are there so many “me too” boring bloggers?} some of us, okay, at least 1 of us but I’m guessing there’s more, are boring, factual people. We’re working hard on developing a personality, but it isn’t easy. From the time I was 10 I started winning “most dependable” awards in school. Yup, boring. Now dependability is an important trait, but not the one I think I want to go down in the history books for.

    So rather than telling me to infuse my very dull, boring, technical personality into my blog, can you instead tell me how to get a personality people would like? Now that’s an online course I’m willing to pay for!

  18. Johnny, I didn’t know you write for Copyblogger. It’s nice to see your literary stylings here. Good advice, too.

    I’m going to mention my hatred of Ashton Kutcher’s overexposure as soon as I can. I’m not, however, going to quibble about the proper spelling of a fucking squash.

  19. A post by Johnny! I’ve loved your stuff over at IttyBiz. Congrats on getting on Copyblogger!

  20. huh, clicked the link from my feed reader and you already have 18 comments around. Never mind..I personally believe that when it comes to popularity, it’s much about giving content and showing your readers who is writing this beautiful stuff. That’s it. Referral is faster than light when people find useful stuff.

  21. @Mary – Oh, come on… I don’t believe you’re a robot. (Although that would be awesome.) Even if your dominant trait is “dependable,” do you hang out with friends sometimes? Have a nickname? Like movies? Play chess? A personality doesn’t have to be thrilling to be “connectable.” Take a chess player… not too Bedazzler-worthy, right? But to other chess players, talking about gambits would add humanity to a post about humidifiers. What if someone was the humidifier repairperson who talked in chess metaphors? Is it exciting? Maybe not. Is it HUMAN? Does it infuse PERSONALITY? Absolutely. You don’t have to have a rocket personality to flaunt it.

    @Kathcom – I’ll settle for “… wrote a post for Copyblogger,” but I like the insinuation that I’m a regular. *Cough* *Ahem*

  22. Although I do think this has been said in other ways in other places, this is a nice reminder. I’ve never had trouble using my own voice on my personal blog but for some reason when I created a blog that’s more informational, I felt more scared and thought using my voice would be too vulnerable. I’m gradually settling into my voice and the response has improved since people feel like I’m less of a robot and more of a human trying to teach something. Timely and useful info. Thanks for the post.

  23. @Sonia: Thanks for editing the curse-words out. I personally have no interest in reading yet another vulgarity, just because the author is too lazy to work expressiveness into his text – without taking the easy route. And this is not about beeing prudent. Cursing canbe the pepper in the soup, but who want’s to eat a bowl of pepper without any soup in it?

  24. Mary McRae: “can you instead tell me how to get a personality people would like? Now that’s an online course I’m willing to pay for!”

    Mary:
    1. Buy the movie fight club ($10 therapy)
    2. Read Brian’s article on fight club ( http://lateralaction.com/articles/tyler-durden-innovation/ )
    3. Memorize rule #6

    Problem solved.
    Good write Johnny.

  25. Mary McRae: I have two words for you: Ben Stein.

    Johnny, great to see you here at Copyblogger. Awesome post, dude.

  26. I think you’re right…in order to succeed as a blogger, you have to put a little personal touch into it. Nobody wants to read and read and read unless what you have to say is interesting. If they really wanted to read something with no personality, they’d go pick up a text book.

  27. That’s it. I’m going to start cursing my *ss off in my next post. Well, maybe that’s not such a good idea because in real life I like to reserve the “f-bomb” for special occasions ;).

    Seriously though, it’s great advice to add your personality to your writing. I tend to forget this most of the time and I’m grateful for the reminder!

    @flapane No, it’s “ZUCCHINI” as is written in the post.

  28. You’ve outdone your fabulous, funny, foul-mouthed self, Johnny.

    Zeroing in on and helping others see their unique voices has always been easy for me.

    But even though I’ve read and studied embarrassing amounts of info on this topic, I still pretty much suck at it in my own communications. (Lethal combination of past corporate communications indoctrination, a bit of crowd shyness and Southern woman’s syndrome.)

    You already know that your voice and deliciously irreverent sense of humor resonate with me.

    And that’s exactly why your take on this subject really hits home. “Knowledge robot” was a particularly effective kick in the pants, er, nugget.

    I get it! I get it! I need to grow a ridiculous moustache! ;-)

    @ flapane Thank GOD for these posts that continue to try and pound this wisdom through my thick skull! Because each contributor’s voice and viewpoint are so distinct, I gain something valuable from each round.
    Capiche? ;-)

    Thanks, Johnny. Tanto felicitazione!

  29. LOL Thanks Johnny. Yes, I am an XMLGeek (duly pinned by a knight of the royal court) and a fiberartist (hence @fiberartisan). Self-appointed barista goddess and Goddess of the OASIS Process. But I think I’m going to aspire to robot. At least I would be productive!

  30. With my first blog, I struggled to keep the balance between pithy and human, but it often came out too didactic. I eventually realized I wasn’t writing about my true passion — self defense and the martial arts. Since starting my new blog, it’s far easier to write like a real person, make it personal, and be interesting.

    (Yep, my last name is the same as you mom’s.)

  31. I find this interesting mostly because there is a fine line between being personable online and being perceived as a cheese ball by prospective clients.

    Sure people like to do business with people they like, but it all depends on the industry. I would not buy an American car now on days no matter how Jim Carrey like the salesman was. Or if i just want to get my suit tailored and not waste time with chit chat… i’d rather have a pick up service.

    There is no science to writing a great blog since the target reader is ever changing.

  32. I really love this post. Thanks so much Johnny for throwing in the reminder. Interestingly, I was just viewing Yaro’s video a few hours ago about being ourselves – letting our personalities shine through. I’ve seen this advocated many times in many different places and no doubt it’s the key to gaining masses in what you want to do, among some other reasons. The trick is in the delivery of this strategy and that’s something which requires honing as we go along I feel.

    I’ve been blogging for 6 months now and I feel that the time has come for me to return to the basics and reevaluate the fundamentals, so this post is really a great way booster. Thanks again!

  33. @Mary McRae, you’re not boring! Jon’s nailed it. You don’t have to be Carrot Top to be interesting. :) You don’t see Joanna Young or Chris Garrett running around like crazed monkeys with Tourette’s syndrome, but they’re both interesting and compelling and make great connections with their readers. Quiet is good too.

    Note to Brian: the original word didn’t rhyme. And I’m pretty sure I used up my annual quota for asterisks with the Naomi interview.

  34. Great advice Johnny. I blog and tweet for my employer as well as myself, and it’s a struggle to get some of the bosses to understand that social media is not about cultivating a polished corporate image. It’s about connecting with people in an authentic way. The “suit and tie” days are gone; anyone who’s looking for that probably isn’t reading blogs or following people on Twitter. I’ll be clipping this to send to the higher-ups at my shop. Thanks!

  35. …and I wish I was that guy in that post picture up there.

    Jonny, please what does it take to be featured as the next model in the “the real secret to becoming a popular blogger” part 2?

  36. I also find writing to be more fun when I’m letting loose a little and having fun with it. Thanks for the reminder to be human. :)

  37. Disclaimer: Do not take the following personal. Venting taking place…

    Don’t get me wrong, I love and read your content, and will continue to do so as long as it keeps my interest. The problem is that I use all of this great advice that you and others provide, but have no one to read it.

    Let’s assume that I am the best writer out there right now (although I honestly do not know how my writing is because no one has rated it). No one is reading my great writing because I do not know how to get it to people. Digg, Twitter, Facebook, and I still get the same amount of hits. Keep in mind that my blog is fairly new, but I have to assume that this content is written for everyone.

    Is it me? Honestly. I guess the good part is that this only inspires me to be better, but I get a bit aggravated when successful bloggers, like yourself, make it sound easy.

    Venting over. Again, please do not take this personally. I just want to succeed.

  38. Richard Barratt :

    “being excellent is not a USP!” This was a good post but that one little line made it a great one!!!

  39. Thanks for this article. I’m going to go “write like a real person now.” I aim to do that, yet there’s always room for improvement.

    I’ll tweet this for you. Too good not to share!

    Cheers!
    Deborah

  40. Thumbs up! This was a great post because we all need little reminders that being human isn’t a bad thing – it’s what we’re supposed to be. Sometimes we all become so perfectionist and professional, we forget to let our guard down a little and just interact and connect as human beings.

    And, for the record, I’d much rather go to Andolini than Smith. ;)

  41. Well, looks like every possible comment has already been made about this post, so I’ll just say thanks for affirming the very approach I took yesterday when I stepped into the blogosphere for the very first time.

    …Also, I once swallowed a bug. Nobody said that already, right?

  42. Bang on the nail. Initially people want what you know (Content), then like us all we want an experience. The chance of an encounter that makes us laugh and feel good. Which e-mails do you open first, the funny pictures from Big Jon , they may be rude they may be darn right outrageous, but it made you feel good!!!! Dont we all seek that feel good moment. Frank delivers and I for one cant wait for the next sneak attack lol

    Mark – yournetbiz

  43. Really well written. I think it comes down to allowing your inner light to shine through in your copy. That sounds downright corny, but it’s kinda true.

    Giving your readers a smile and a feeling of positivity is going to attract them to your blog over someone who’s dishing out quality material but neglecting to accomplish the other factors you outlined in this post.

    Good stuff mate. And no… I’m not Australian.

  44. You know thread can actually be quite an interesting topic. Ever seen someon snort a piece through their nose and pull it out their mouth? It’s pretty entertaining if you can cope with actually watching it.

    I’m all for making your writing personable and using language/terms/cursing you’d normally use in everyday conversations. I have a question though; I’m Australian and like most Aussies, every second word is slang (every third word is a curse but that’s another story). I often use slang in my posts because that’s how I communicate generally. When I use a slang word, I link it to a hidden “slang translation” page. Do you think this is necessary or am I undermining the intelligence of my readers as Sean D’Souza spoke about in his recent “Shut Up” post?

  45. nice post dude

    write our personality on our writen make reader feel more amenst because there are a genuine.

  46. I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER! Well, because so far I’m kind of being myself. Browsing through blogs that sounds so professional make me question my writings. Should I be more elaborate or just simple like I always talk. So this article suggests that being real is better. I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. Yeah, I know a little cliche but I have no clue whatsoever how to paraphrase that expression.

  47. Stone the crows, Squadron Leader; this is the dinkum oil! With pukka gen like this, I’ll be flat out like a lizard drinking in two shakes. Bless your cotton socks, Cobber! You’re a ripper bloke! A great big ‘Onya Sonya!’ to you, the missus and the anklebiters (if applicable). Best regards, P. :)

  48. It’s amazing how networking with other writers and their sites pays off and, coicidentally, does so in a timely fashion. I’ve been researching “writing funny” and your blog post provides an excellent example. Thanks!

  49. This was a great post to remind me to be myself on my blog. You are so right. In Kansas City, we have a remodeling contractor that has basically made himself famous through his radio spots. The important part of it is that his spots have nothing to do with remodeling or construction. He talks about his dogs, his grandkids, fishing, etc. Never even mentions what he does until the very end. He simply finishes his story and says “If I can help you please call me at …”. That’s it. But I guarantee that he gets a huge amount of traffic from those personal radio spots!

    Jeremy @ RefocusingTechnology.com

  50. @ Traunt, one can writer personally, adds humor, spices up withe the right salt and pepper, but how do other people get to know that , this particular good stuff is up there ??

    Any Ideas??

    Regards,
    Amy

  51. oooops sorry, its “Truant”
    *just checked*

  52. I see no cuss words here. :)

  53. If you mix the old adage (“people do business with people they like”) with new media (like Twitter), you find the real point of how to incorporate social media into your business. Don’t scream at me about your latest offer. Don’t inundate me with links. Show me your personality. That’s what I’m looking for anyway: a partner with personality.

    Great post. I’ll be saving this one to remind myself and clients what we should really be trying to accomplish with the web.

    @bdunc1

  54. I agree. I would just add one thing – being interested in others as well. This is really important. Show interest in what other say, in their blogs, their tweets, their comments, and their lives.

  55. I agree man, a lot of stuff I read come from people who are really interesting.

    Adwords can be a subject that is quite techincal, but I enjoy Howie Jacobson’s Adwords newsletter because he is so darn humorous. Check out this comment on his website by a “professional” reader:

    “I read it last night and could not believe what I was reading, so I held judgment and reread it this morning. In the context of your professional newsletter, the positions you take are inappropriate and unprofessional. I am sorry you did this because I will never again be able to read your newsletter without an antenna to your personal emotion and bias. Please remove me from your mailing list.”

    LOL!

  56. There’s certainly a lot of political bloggers churning out similar rants!!

    Adding personal details may attract the wrong kind of attention off some folk

  57. When people tell me they “don’t get twitter” because they don’t understand why they need to know people’s personal habits, I tell them – that is EXACTLY WHY you need to know about the sushi in Seattle or @shannonpaul just moved there, or @chrisbrogan is reminding himself about balance in his life. This is HOW we connect on line, to make the screen come alive and remember there is a HUMAN being there after all. Doesn’t mean you have to like them or like sushi, but at least you know a bit about who they are and what is important to them. BTW I have never met @chrisbrogan or @shannonpaul, so certainly don’t blame them for my post!! (I do think they both ROCK, tho!)

  58. Interesting post. When I write for myself I always put my own personality into my writing. It is important to allow people to see your business personality and what you can do for them through different types of marketing. The analogies you use are really good and bring home to everyone how important it is NOT to be boring no matter how excellent your services and products are.

  59. With most people’s attention being pulled in a million different directions all of the time, you’ve got make your writing interesting. I’ve read several blog posts where I’m sure it contained fabulous information but because it was so technical and boring and lacked any form of life I couldn’t tell you what it was about. I completely agree, that if you want your blog (or your business for that matter) to be successful, you must infuse some life into your writing to keep people interested.

  60. Wonderful post that touches on some great points. It is hard enough to differentiate yourself on the internet these days while still being profitable. The trick is to find the line between personal and business (at least for me). I love connecting with my readers by giving my blog and newsletter a personal touch whenever possible.

    I saw a show on the Travel Channel a few months ago and a man went shopping for suits. When he found a Tailor, they spent a while talking, playing music, and joking around before they got down to business. That sounds like a great way to approach business to me.

  61. Yep. I’ve improved a lot myself since the day I read Richard Wurman’s Information Anxiety book. When he said about how important is “to know how to unlearn things”.
    Johnny used that right here and is totally the key to get better on the rest.
    Actually I think is key for other aspects in life than blogging. Mmm, maybe I should blog about it?

  62. Very interesting post — makes a lot of sense. I think that many of the points you make apply to other types of content, such as books, articles — not just blog posts.

  63. Great post – personalization goes a long way in my opinion

  64. You always wanna to go to that person who have smile on his/her face and truth on his/her heart.

    I also put such things on my face and carry truth on my heart but some time because of this few clients consume our more time and place the order for less.

    Its ok for us if he/she do it for few times but when this become regular practice … we take off smile from our face for him/her.

  65. I had to Google to make sure I’ve been spelling zucchini, the name of my favorite vegetable, correctly. I have been. Just because some people in Italy spell it wrong is not my problem. However, what I did discover on my quest has altered my life for the worse permanently:

    “Botanically, however, the zucchini is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower.”
    (Wikipedia)

    My favorite vegetable is not only a fruit, but it’s a SWOLLEN OVARY?

    *cries plentifully into my bowl of ZUCCHINI*

  66. Mmm…. I could go for some swollen ovary about now.

  67. Johnny, this is an excellent post. I completely agree that blogging is about “the person(ality) behind the blog.” I typically decide to subscribe to a blog because I feel a “connection” to the blogger in some way or because I feel like I’d probably get along with the writer in real life.

    Thanks for pointing out the importance of the “relational” aspects of blogging.

    stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

  68. Yep, exactly. “Information” is a commodity, and there’s no shortage of it online. The way to stand out, ironically, is to be a real person.

  69. Coming back to basics! people want to feel part of something bigger… the blogosphere allows that to take place and people flock ( virtualy ). So it stands to reason that you will be liked by some and hated by others. Standing somewhere in between is no mans land, you dont want to be there in a war and you dont want to be there in your market.

    Mark

  70. Great post. People should be able to feel a sense of “you” when reading your blog. Thanks for a great article