Great content doesn't grow on trees, doesn't work in a vacuum, and doesn't need to be driven solely by what your readers tell you -- you need to have a strategy built around content to grow a site.
Glen has written a really useful post that can help you see why content needs to get most of your attention -- he built and sold a site.
He lists many characteristics that are part of my experience as well. Your results -- in this case mine -- may vary depending on the level of commitment and focus you put on them. We'll come back to this in a moment.
From my experience:
We had a very tight knit group of marketing blogs (my initial niche) when I started this blog more than 3 years ago. One day, Mack Collier built the Z-List and we all took off. Even Seth Godin got involved.
There was another list built by Todd And that eventually became AdAge Power150 (yeah, that was fun). Todd just deleted three years' worth of blog content. Would you do that? Sometimes it's what you need for a fresh start, and he's already shown he's an innovator when he built the Power150.
Later I specialized more with Junta42 and the group Joe Pulizzi runs herd on for content marketing blogs. This is an area where both Joe Pulizzi and Brian Clark, Copyblogger, built a business. My new site is even more specialized to hone on brand strategy, which is the core of my experience and skill.
At two main critical junctures, I ran surveys about the content here. The key with surveys and research is to combine quantitative with qualitative and ask questions in a way that provides direction, and not recipes. Your customers don't know what they want, until they see it.
Although I use TypePad, I ran with a custom theme and header both when I launched and when I updated the style to three columns. There will be another site clean up and mobile optimization in the coming weeks.
Design is as important as usability. On the bright side, my other site is a custom WordPress Thesis design thanks to the skilled work of Chris Baskind. Yes, it's best to graduate to using a developer for best results.
Over the years, I've written for many sites (see links on sidebar): The Blog Herald, Fast Company, MarketingProfs Daily Fix, Marketing 2.0, Social Media Today - at the tune of hundreds of posts. I loved those readers and interactions as much as I love the readers of this blog and our conversations. It's not a check-the-box thing.
I participated in many interviews and articles, blogger socials and meet ups, podcasts, podcamps, BarCamps, speaking opportunities (face to face is very important), even a video, to share what I know with audiences of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and colleagues in marketing and communications.
And brought many guest writers to this site for series of conversations (see sidebar), and guest posts. Once the site was successful, I also built an About You page and a Facebook fan site to help other members of the community connect with one another.
Check out the eBooks I created as well.
This blog didn't grow super fast, maybe because TypePad doesn't have the strong search plug ins of WordPress. The fact that there are so many other marketing blogs out there also made it generic at first. What sustained the growth has been a consistent stream of curated content.
Search is an important part of your content strategy. Settle for a few key words and be consistent in delivering on them. This is where those experiences with mini sites know that running A/B split tests is the best way to learn what works well.
Remember however that with blogs, timing is of the essence to have the initial spike.
You need to time a story right when it's breaking -- it happened to me twice, by accident (or luck) with the Skype outage, which hit Techmeme and Technorati top search the very next day and the post about the Kawasaki/Ballmer Mixx interview, which also hit Techmeme top list.
And time is critical to have lasting search results.
Content needs to get most of your attention and for that to happen you need to show up, consistently, with helpful information and resources. I used some examples in this post to show you how aligned the results are with the effort and focus that went into it.
The most useful kind of advice I can give you is practice what you preach. The knowing part is easy. It's the doing that gets tough. And that's where the greatest learning is.
Content is also evolving with the tools -- think mobile, online, interactive -- and the context you want to build. What matters to you? How do you turn the dials at your blog?
© 2006-2010 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.