the blogging pyramid decoded


Today I’d like to return back to The Blogging Pyramid and discuss each level in more detail. After reading all of your amazing thoughts on being truly successful in blogging, I urge everyone to go back and read the thoughts presented in the comment section. They are outstanding.

I especially want to mention Jill’s point: whether we are trying to get a large following or a small, dedicated one, the principals are still the same. So it’s not just about trying to gain more exposure as much as the pyramid demonstrates what blogging well requires overall.

Now I’d like to go through each level in more detail. I hope to do so in a way that will help new bloggers trying to get started, and also connect with those who have been blogging for years.

And before I really get into it, I will say there are dozens (if not hundreds) of great blogs out there that actively defy the levels I will outline. Awesome blogs are first and foremost built upon that tip-top level of soul and uniqueness. If that is executed well, the other levels below may not impact their blog success.

For example, Penelope Trunk does a fantastic job at writing and uniqueness, while she doesn’t publish on a regular schedule or use many images. Meanwhile Seth Godin doesn’t have the prettiest blog design or images, but he posts multiple times a day on fascinating topics. And then there is The Pioneer Woman. She does it all – though I have no idea how with four kids and a ranch to run.

So when you think about a great blog that defies one of these levels, consider what other excellent qualities it has. You don’t have to have a perfectly balanced blog to be successful, just one that has excellence in some (or most) of these areas.

Consistent Posting

At the base level, you have consistency. Bloggers don’t have to post on a perfect rhythm all the time, but readers need to trust that a blog they follow will continue to provide content on a regular basis.

Patricia described this as the Halloween Effect in our NYC Workshop. If you are a kid going trick-or-treating and head up to a house every year for a great King Size Butterfinger and one year find that the house is empty, it’s disappointing. Just like visiting to a blog that stops posting consistently. If you aren’t sure if there will be new content, it makes you less invested in the site as a whole.

So this is the first level of trust that is created between bloggers and readers. It’s not important if it’s daily or weekly. But it does need to be consistent enough for readers to trust that there will be new content frequently enough for them to come back. It’s often suggested that new bloggers should post frequent, high-quality content as much as possible to establish themselves.

I also like that this is the base of the pyramid because I think for new bloggers, it’s easy to underestimate the time it takes to develop great original content on a regular basis. I often consult with business owners who like the “idea” of blogging to increase business, but massively underestimate the time it will take to develop a loyal following on top of their other business priorities. When done right, it can be one of the biggest marketing tools out there. When done inconsistently, it can easily get little response and become a skeleton (aka: an abandoned site that still traces back to the business).

Great Blog Design

After consistency is created, an appealing blog design goes a long way in establishing a blog. If the site looks good at first glance, readers are more confident that the content within the posts will be worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that the site needs to look one specific way – it can be rustic, pretty, professional, beautiful, funny, or modern. But it does need to execute that feeling well.

For blogs focused on writing and ideas, a clean site is great to let the words themselves stand out. A great example of this is Danielle LaPorte. And for a lifestyle or style-focused blog, the design should compliment and extend the brand, but not compete with the content. A great example of this is Design Love Fest.

In 2009 the blog design was usually an afterthought for new bloggers. However in 2012, I believe that if it is done for business or for the intention of making revenue, a blog design should be considered at the start of the site (or as soon as finances allow).

With the boat-load of beautiful blogs out there now, a great design will help gain credibility – but cannot carry the site to huge success all on it’s own.

Engaging Writing and Images

In the lifestyle and photo-heavy blogging world, I sense more and more that one of the main differentiators between sites is original content. Pinterest has been a wonderful attribute, but to truly excel, I think the value of Pinterest should be found in the fact that your own photos can get pinned and shared, rather than just pulling images from the site to use in posts. Camille Styles, for example, does a great line using and creating Pinterest content.

To really have what Caitlin calls “Pin-worthy” photos, DSLR cameras and photo-editing is now becoming the rule rather than the exception. I hate that this is the case, but I do really think it’s true. The more photos there are online, the more high and low quality images there are to choose from. And given the choice, readers will generally seek out the best. iPhone images (like I use here on MML frequently) are also great, but DSLR really does take the cake in lifestyle blogging.

But even if digital cameras and Photoshop are out of your price-point, I don’t think that’s a reason to not have a lifestyle blog. In fact, starting the blog before purchasing the equipment and making that (big) financial investment is a good idea. With so much time, effort, and passion required to have a blog, it’s a good to try it out before spending the cash.

Further, I think the next frontier in lifestyle blogging is great writing. For a while amazing images were king, but as those are becoming commonplace, writing is really the new way to differentiate. Which is great, especially for those who don’t yet own photo equipment.

In the non-lifestyle blogosphere where images aren’t the main attraction, writing is essential (obviously). We need to clearly communicate an idea and sound ourselves at the same time. Finding our voice is a challenge. So far I’ve found that though I don’t personally notice my “voice” in my writing, I’ve been told it’s there.

And think that’s a good thing.

When I started writing on the blog I used to try to “be a good writer and have a good voice.” But really all that did was cause me to mimic the voices of other writers I admired. Oh how I deeply wanted to write like Elizabeth Gilbert! 

But alas, my work will not be portrayed by Julia Roberts. And that’s okay.

The idea that we should write as simply as we can to get an idea across is something I’ve used to help me break the mimicking habit I had years ago. (I think I got the idea from a Hemingway quote.) By doing this, I’ve naturally given up the idea of “trying” to be myself and my voice just naturally emerges within my words.

Though I’m not an expert on writing voice, try to: Say things simply and write often. 

Plus to go an extra step, I think good photography in the writing realm of blogs also can help a blogger separate as well. I went for a long time using very few photos and relied on graphics to depict my topics, but I’ve since switched to using images for the headers most of the time to help keep my writing and content even more unique and personal.

Value, Soul, and Uniqueness

The top two levels of the Blogging Pyramid are discussed in more detail in this post. So I suggest reading that piece for more detail on these two key concepts.

And remember, if blogging is a pursuit for personal reasons, there simply are no rules.

But if there is the goal of readership and a dedicated following of any size, in order to lead, we must first serve.


This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Katie

    Penelope Trunk is the trolliest troll of all time. I am astounded that she’s included on this list.

  2. Jess

    Katie, I agree that Penelope is definitely polarizing. But I do think she is a good writer and has a very unique point of view.

  3. Kara F.

    Thanks for posting this on JUST the day I need it Jess!

    I struggle with all of this as I juggle more than my fair share of hats to wear and discipline to keep going. Every so often or so – just like with being married or having kids – there’s a fun “win” that helps keep me going.

  4. Boy do I need to get my butt in gear…. lol I’m new to the blogging world and if everyone could just read my notebook of ideas that I keep in my purse or rummage through my closets they’d LOVE me but obviously that cant happen and I’m struggling to find the time to post! Not to mention my design is lacking & camera is crap! lol I’ll pull it together eventually, your post was definitely helpful xo

  5. Great series. I struggle with alot of these issues, especially how often to post. Since I am new to the blogging world I feel as if I should be updating my business’ blog daily in order to attract readers and show my clients that I am active in my field. I also completely understand about wanting to find your voice, especially when there are so many inspiring authors out there. But obviously that is just not always realistic. Looking forward to the next post.

  6. Serena

    So many great points Jess. Two in particular stood out for me. I think people are starting to ‘get wise’ to bloggers who consistently curate content rather than creating content themselves. As photo editing software etc becomes more user friendly and Pinterest rules supreme it’s becoming easier for people to catalogue and curate their own content. I’m finding people want more originality in posting – in the words and the images.

    And yes! Whether you’re writing a tagline or a full essay post, writing is a skill you need to develop. I’m a writer in my day job and since having a blog, I’ve found I’m quicker, better and more ‘in the pocket’ with even my professional work. The more you write, the better you’ll be. And don’t be afraid of writing crap – you have to write the bad stuff to work your way to the good stuff! Editing is key.

    And lastly – anyone who is a student should look at investing in Adobe software – it’s soooo much cheaper on a student rate!

  7. Fantastic! It’s posts like these that are the reason I keep coming back to MML- the ones which truly show how much “soul and uniqueness” your blog provides, Jess 🙂

    I’m a “new” blogger (though I wrote on my old food blog for 2+ years before giving it up for a new direction) and so many of these points are helpful to me right now. I write for another site as well (and get paid for that) so finding enough hours in the day, not to mention inspiration for 6 blog posts a week, is definitely a challenge.

  8. pve

    I do find that blogging deserves time, just like a garden, it needs to be tended to in order to flourish. Great points.
    Thanks for sharing my “trick or treat” tip. Yes, nobody wants to climb the stairs for an empty bowl….

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