What Makes a Blog Good? - Happier Human

What Makes a Blog Good?

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“What makes your blog unique?”

This is the usual question a new blogger asks themselves. If they’re familiar with Derek Halpern, they may instead ask – “What is my unique recipe?

I think this is bullshit.

But to explain why I think that, I need to go into some background.

Eyeballs are a finite resource.

When someone spends some time to read your blog, they could be doing something else – offline or online.

Some of us on A-list have unique, small niches. Take the case of Dolly – there aren’t that many journaling blogs on the web. For someone reading her blog, the alternatives are

  1. Read another journaling blog.
  2. Read other stuff on the web.
  3. Spend less time on the web.

1. If her content is of a higher quality than other journaling blogs, or in a style that better connects with a certain sub-segment of the journaling niche, then she is providing higher value.

2. Assuming her readers have a fixed amount of time they spend each day on the web, they are now spending less time on other website. If her blog provides more value on average than those other websites, she is providing higher value. I think we can assume she believes that 🙂

3. Assuming her readers have a variable amount of time they spend each day on the web, they are sacrificing some real-word activity to read her content. I think that sacrifice, for all of our readers, is generally worth it (I think our content is decent!).

Okay, so that’s Dolly. What about HappierHuman?


Here is the problem. If you could take the time my readers spend on my blog and re-invest it on the A-list blogs in my niche, like zenhabits, I think they would be better served. I consider myself in the happiness niche, so that includes a lot of blogs.

Leo writes several times better than me. He has better ideas than me. His posts are more inspiring than mine. There are thousands of high-quality happiness blogs. My content may be unique, it may even draw eyeballs, but does it provide more value per second?

This is my essential point. Success has more to do with marketing than providing value in the blogging world. I’m not saying this is unfair – the world works as it does, but it creates a massive fragmentation which gives us our opportunities but wastes the time of readers.

You don’t even need to be unique.

Blog readers aren’t exposed to some sort blog directory or recommendation algorithm that analyzes the uniqueness of your blog. They are only exposed to your marketing and the marketing of your competitors – be it tweets, facebook shares, guest posts, or forum posts. If your content can keep your readers (e.i. is above some quality threshold), and you market enough – you win.

I think unique selling propositions are crap we tell ourselves to feel good and confident, not fundamental business realities in the blogosphere. Note that I am talking about the blogosphere. The dynamics of other business environments, where there isn’t as much fragmentation, requires uniqueness.

When ignorance is bliss.

This is another case where I wish I was ignorant. When I was in college I created a now defunct startup called Unseek. It was a blog recommendation algorithm. It was supposed to be like Pandora, but for news and blogs. Lawsuits and Google got in the way, but let me share the essential point. We had a database of over ten million blog posts. There were usually thousands of high-quality posts on the same subject. The criteria we ended up using to select one high-quality post talking about Apple or Productivity over another was usually approximations of their popularity.

Even if each post had a slightly unique angle, even if they conveyed slightly different information, a reader would generally have benefited the same from both posts.

So what can we do?

Again, the question is not what can we do to be successful. We know already that that requires only two things: quality above a certain threshold and marketing.

The question is how we can provide more value per second. But… more value per second than what?

The top 20% of quality blogs get a huge portion of the blog traffic, probably something like 90%+. In other words, the average blog reader is reading an A-list blog.

So now the more specific question is, how can we provide more value per second than an A-list blog?

  1. Niche. That could mean focusing on a sub-niche or having a niche writing or presentation style. But again, the point is not that your content be different – it’s that, for a particular reader, it be better. If you are in the happiness niche, some readers respond better to certain types of ideas, and certain ways of communicating those ideas. If your blog influences your readers more than a more generalized A-list blog, that’s a win.
  2. Higher quality. This could mean higher quality ideas or higher quality presentation and communication. This is obviously hard, which is why most bloggers don’t even try.

Both #1 & #2 are difficult. And again, they are not necessary for success. Marketing isn’t about helping people – it’s about fulfilling their wants and needs. Those are not the same things – people have a want to have more shiny cars, but are you really helping them by selling them shiny, expensive cars? People have a want for novel blog content to read, but are you really helping them more than their alternative?

Whenever I check my yahoo mail, I’m hit with yahoo’s headlines. They’re written so well that I click through even though I don’t actually care about the content. I have a want for novel content which the headlines appeal to. But I believe I would be happier if I could get my wants under control (or if yahoo stopped spamming me their shitty content).

So that’s my philosophy.

Hopefully this helped Kaylee! I expect it might not have, in which case I hope, at least, that you enjoyed reading it 🙂



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