The Underdog’s Guide to Building an Unforgettable Blog

The Underdog’s Guide to Building an Unforgettable Blog

Note from Jon: The fear of not being able to stand out in a crowded space can be paralyzing when you’re a beginner, but it doesn’t have to be. Today, one of our favorite guest contributors, Henneke Duistermaat, will walk you through how to create a blog no one forgets, even if you’re just one small voice amongst thousands. For more training on how to enchant your audience, also be sure to check out Enchanting Marketing.

Let’s not pussyfoot around it.

Hundreds – maybe thousands – of bloggers write about the same topic as you.

Some have more writing talent than you.

Some have more followers than you.

And some have a huge email list to drive traffic to their sites.

So the big question is:

How can you possibly compete with all of these popular bloggers?

Why Popularity is Overrated

As a blogger it’s easy to focus on volume – more web visitors, more shares, more comments, more email subscribers. Because that’s the proof of your popularity, isn’t it?

Doesn’t Chris Brogan have 266 thousand Twitter followers? Isn’t he circled by 127 thousand Google-Plussers? Doesn’t he have a huuuuge number of people on his email list?

Yes, of course, the number of followers and subscribers you have is a measure of your popularity. But follower numbers are less important than follower engagement, enthusiasm, and love for your blog.

You can only build your popularity when people feel connected to you, when they want to listen to you, when they are excited about you – when you become their favorite blogger.

Without that spark of excitement, your blog remains a “me too” blog – easily interchangeable with any other.

So how do you ignite this spark of passion, even in the face of such stiff competition?

The Myth of Usefulness

I used to think once you started a blog, you only needed to share useful tips to grow your blog.

Just share in-depth and uber-useful posts and your follower count will grow – that’s what we’re told, right?

Maybe that was the case once upon a time, but it’s not true any longer.

Sure, your blog needs to be useful, but that’s simply a minimum requirement.

If all you do is share useful tips, readers can easily swap you for another blogger who’s also sharing useful tips – probably identical tips to yours. You’re just another faceless writer. A robot churning out practical advice.

Readers will visit you just like they visit Wal-Mart – because they need bread and butter, or beer, or blogging advice.

But nobody raves about going to Wal-Mart. Nobody tells their friends how wonderful Wal-Mart is. And nobody raves about a blog that’s just sharing useful tips.

Being useful is necessary, but it’s not enough to make you popular. It doesn’t create avid fans. It doesn’t make readers yearn for your next blog post.

So how can you give your readers something so special they won’t swap you for anyone else?

How can you build a bond so strong, your readers miss your voice when you skip a week?

How can you make your blog so appealing that you even start to steal readers from your big competitors?

The Art of Being Irreplaceable

Let’s imagine you’re opening a small shop in town and you want to compete with the mighty Wal-Mart. What would you choose to sell? Chicken feet and pig’s trotters – because you can’t find them in Wal-Mart?

No, of course not; you would still sell bread, milk, and beer, because that’s what people in your town want to buy.

The only way your little shop can compete with Wal-Mart is to set it apart by creating a special place with a distinctive vibe – a cozy shop where people love to browse around, drink a coffee, and have a chat with you, a place where they feel welcome and at ease.

The key to the success of your small shop is personality. Rather than be another faceless store with soulless aisles where people want to get in and out as quickly as possible, your shop should be distinctive and personal.

In the blogging world, it’s the same. In an endless ocean of blogs churning out indistinguishable tips, the only way you can stand out is to develop a blog with personality, with a unique voice. You want readers to come back because they want to listen to your voice, to you.

Your voice needs to be so unmistakable that readers miss you when you’re not there. So that they wait desperately until you publish your next blog post. So that they don’t want to read other blogs because they can’t hear your voice there.

But how do you find such a distinctive blogging voice that your readers miss you as soon as you’re not around?

Where Your Unique Blogging Voice Comes From

Leo Babauta has a unique voice. Sonia Simone has a unique voice. And so does Jon Morrow.

As soon as you read the first few sentences of their posts, you know who’s written it. You can practically hear them talking to you, as if they’re looking over your shoulder to guide you with their advice.

You feel like you know them and can trust them because when they write, they sound like real people.

Their blogging voices are expressions of their personalities.

And the same is true for you.

But you’ll need time to find the right tone, rhythm and style that authentically represent your unique identity, your personality.

You don’t start blogging with your blogging voice already in place – just like you’re not born with your personality fully formed.

But what is your personality? What makes you unique?

Let’s think about your imaginary shop again, because it will help you understand who you are as a blogger.

Would your shop look classic or ultra-modern? Would your products be well-known, unusual, or even quirky?

What would the shop front look like? Bold lettering, flashy neon, or a traditional shop sign?

Can you picture yourself in your shop? If you can’t yet, keep exploring. Think about the flooring you’d have, the decorations on the walls, whether your store is cluttered or spacious.

Once you can visualize yourself opening up your store in the morning and walking in, you can start defining your voice.

Imagine talking to your favorite customer. Let’s call her Sarah.

How would you talk to Sarah? Jokingly? Friendly? With authority? Would you swear a little or use fancy words? Would you carefully consider your answers or just blurt out your ideas? Would you speak full of enthusiasm or keep a certain distance? Would you rant about the road that’s broken up yet again?

To determine your voice, write three statements that accurately define you. Consider what your voice is, as well as what it isn’t. A few examples:

  • I’m casual and use humor, but I never make fun of my customers.
  • I’m confident and speak with authority, but I never use jargon.
  • I’m enthusiastic and passionate and sometimes I swear. But I never rant for long.

By imagining yourself in a real situation talking to a real person, you’ll discover who you are and what your voice is like.

Now, let’s see how you translate that into your writing.

The Secret to Creating a Distinctive Blogging Voice

“Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.” – Austin Kleon
To learn how to write with a distinctive voice that sounds like you, start by studying the writing techniques of your blogging heroes.

When I was learning how to blog, I studied my heroes. Why does Sonia Simone sound so friendly and approachable? Why does Sean d’Souza have such a unique voice? Why does Jon sound like such a badass?

Sure, these three people aren’t like me at all. But each of them has something special that I wanted to emulate, something that was part of the puzzle of how my voice should sound.

I studied their blogs day in, day out. I didn’t just read blog posts. I tried to understand what made their writing different; and why they spoke so strongly to me.

To develop your blogging voice, you need to learn the writing techniques your heroes use to create a strong voice. You need to study, and analyze, and then emulate:

  • Learn how their headlines attract attention.
  • Understand how they use opening paragraphs to pull you into a post.
  • Notice their use of long and short sentences and bullet points to define the pace and rhythm of a post.
  • Analyze the power words they use to make you feel something.
  • See how they address you as a reader – are their blog posts more like a monologue or conversation? How are questions used?
  • Review how they incorporate personal details or stories to add personality.
  • Determine what words they use – is their word choice flowery, sensory, or bold? Do they curse?
  • Learn how their concluding paragraphs inspire you to take action.

By mixing the techniques of two or three bloggers, you can create a writing style that suits your own personality.

When emulating other bloggers, you’ll find yourself making “mistakes” – you diverge from the style you try to imitate. These diversions are valuable, because you might like them and you can amplify them so your voice becomes stronger, more personal, more like you.

When borrowing ideas for your voice from other bloggers, be careful. Don’t ever imitate just one blogger, and don’t copy whole paragraphs or sentences because, of course, that’s plagiarism. Just emulate writing techniques.

Study the writing styles of two or three bloggers and pick the techniques you like from each of them. Don’t just appreciate the how, understand the why too. See why certain words are chosen, why stories are told, and why an opening paragraph pulls you into a post.

Consider adding influences from different artists like rappers or poets or even film critics. Create your own list of favorite words and phrases that typify your voice.

Now, you need to take just one more step to allow you to compete against the popular blogs and gain your raving audience.

The Essential Last Step That Makes Your Blog Irreplaceable

Let’s briefly side-step again. Let’s think about your favorite restaurant.

Why do you go back again, and again? Is it just the food or is it something else?

The attraction of a restaurant isn’t just about tangible aspects like the menu, the interior, and the free apéritif. It’s also about the smile of the waiter when you enter. It’s about the restaurant owner who stops by to ask about your holiday. Something in the air makes you feel at ease.

Each aspect of a restaurant contributes to its atmosphere, its personality.

Think about a posh restaurant. You’d probably expect a swirly font on the menu, fragrant soap in the bathroom, and bristling white linen, wouldn’t you?

In such a place, you won’t expect heavy metal music at a high volume and you won’t expect a chatty waiter. Loud music and over-familiarity undermine the overall impression of quiet sophistication a posh restaurant tries to exude.

Your blog exudes a certain atmosphere too. Just like the mood in your favorite restaurant, the feeling on your blog isn’t defined by its design alone.

Each element on your website, each moment of interaction contributes to your reader’s perception of you, your personality, and your voice:

  • Do you answer comments with humility or bravado?
  • Do you acknowledge that you sometimes don’t know the answers or do you speak with authority at all times?
  • Do you thank people who tweet your posts?
  • Do you welcome newcomers with a “New? Start here” page? Or do you expect people to find their own way?
  • Does your design seem understated or bold? Cold or warm? Crowded or peaceful?
  • Do you use pop-ups to boost your subscriber numbers? Or are you more relaxed and let your readers decide whether they’d like to sign up or not?
  • Is your sidebar full of adverts like a bustling, noisy bar? Or is your blog an almost minimalist affair?

When a detail is out of sync with your personality and your blogging voice, it undermines people’s perceptions of who you are. You can’t say you’re rebellious, and then start wearing a black suit and carefully cropped hair. You can’t tell people you hate hype and sleaziness, but present a sales page full of yellow highlighter, CAPS, and exclamation marks.

To make your blog profitable, cherished, loved, and unmissable, each detail should express your personality. Because that’s how your readers recognize you and warm to you. That’s how you form an unbreakable bond and gain a loyal readership.

The Simple Truth About Your Blog

The web is full of “me too” blogs.

It’s filled to the brim with bloggers sharing useful tips and tutorials.

To win your place in the hearts of your readers, you need to do more than just share tips.

Because tips are like one-night stands. They meet a temporary need, but involve no sense of connection, no feeling, no emotion. Readers just move on to the next blog without missing you.

To become someone’s favorite blogger, you need to show your personality.

Your readers must get to know you, like you, and trust you.

That’s how you win readers in the face of stiff competition. That’s how you make your readers come back again and again. That’s how you make readers yearn for YOUR next blog post – because they want to hear your voice again.

Be yourself. Be genuine. And share your passion.

About the Author: Henneke is an irreverent copywriter and marketer on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook. She’s a regular contributor to Smart Blogger, KISSmetrics and Copyblogger. Get more blogging tips and learn how to write fascinating content at Enchanting Marketing.