I am quite impressed with Leo Babauta, top blogger and founder of Zen Habits and mnmlist, but for a different reason than you might think. What I admire about Leo is his ability to zig instead of zagging in a very busy blogosphere. A sphere that is filled with as many tips and tricks as you can find to market, optimize and make money from your blog. Of course these things are important, but it is the way that Leo has crafted his blog to its current incarnation that speaks to his character.
I stumbled across Leo Babauta and Mary Jaksch, founder of GoodLifeZen, A-List Blogging Bootcamps during research. After taking their bootcamp which is offered several times a year on various blogging topics, you are able to join the monthly A-List Blogger Club (I highly recommend the bootcamp and the club. Leo and Mary are great teachers and you get to connect with a diverse community of bloggers).
Content is King
The thing that Leo has drilled in our heads since I started the A-List Blogger Club is “content is king”. Put your energy into creating great content. The rest will take care of itself. Leo says that great content spreads. I am definitely one to adhere to the “build it and they will come” scenario, but I think many people are scared to take the slow path. They want to build things rapidly and have success overnight, so they look for ways to market themselves which can sometimes be incongruent with what they are creating.
Pop Up Opt in Forms
Nothing drives me crazier than to check out someone’s blog and within 30 seconds of being there, a very annoying pop up box lands in front of me asking for my email. I personally get turned off by this marketing and won’t sign up for any blogs that use these. Yes, I have heard the statistics and conversion rates of bloggers that added these opt in boxes and how their subscriber rates doubled, tripled, etc. I consider myself a very discerning buyer. If I am not signing up for your email updates, how many other subscribers are you losing? I think it is important to ask yourself, are the subscribers you receive from these opt in forms really qualified buyers/readers or do they just want to get rid of the annoying pop up box so they can read your blog? As Leo has said, if a reader really likes your work, they will sign up to receive updates, not because they are prompted by a pop up box. You don’t need to sell them on your work.
Free Material with Email Sign Up
I am drowning in free ebooks and material I have received by signing up for blog updates. In the beginning, I thought this was a great idea to get subscribers, but I can assure you I have not read 95% of this material. Why? Because in a blogosphere littered with free information, there is no value in giving things away. You think one day I will read this, but the reality is people value what they pay for. So, if I paid $10 for your ebook, you bet I am more likely to read it than one I have been given for free. Plus, you are providing readers with free content on your blog, how much free content do you need to give away?
Leo mentioned he tried various forms of advertising in his early days as a blogger and learned what made money and what didn’t. Overtime, his blog has evolved into the ad free version you see. While his 240K+ subscribers read his posts via rss or email feed, if you happen to go his website you will see a clean white, minimalist design which reinforces his zen brand.
Like the pop up opt in forms, I am not a fan of Google AdSense. My mind literally turns a blind eye when I see them on a site. I know you can make them targeted, but I don’t feel the ads match the character or purpose of any blog I have seen them on. They are distracting and take away from the design aesthetic and focus of your site.
While Leo had photos on his site in the past, he no longer uses them. His focus is solely on his writing. This speaks volumes, as there probably aren’t too many bloggers willing to part with photos permanently. We are a visually oriented society and images capture our attention.
I don’t have a problem with photos on blog posts, but I think they are misused. Unless you are an artist or photographer posting your own photos, chances are you use flickr common use or one of the many paid stock photography sites. The problem with stock photography is that its intended use is for the masses and therefore the photo doesn’t carry any direct personal relation to your post. It is lacking your unique essence and perspective. I have seen many of the same photos on site after site. Yes, they may be pretty, but half the time I don’t think the photo goes with the particular post or it screams stock photography.
I do think photos can be relevant and look great if done well (i.e. you have taken the photo yourself or the post is an interview or book review and you have used the corresponding book cover or interviewee’s photo). As an experiment, you might try posting time to time without a photo. Let your writing speak for itself.
Things you might want to consider the next time you post a photo:
- Does this photo really connect with my post?
- Can this post stand on its own without a photo? (If it can’t, you might want to think twice before hitting the publish button)
How can you zig instead of zagging the next time you post? How can you challenge yourself to stand out from other bloggers?