It is often written, “Do not try to reinvent the wheel”.

In blogging, some will say, find a popular blog, and copy what they are doing, and you have a better chance of becoming successful.

Is that true? Or, is there a better way?

If you look at inventions, often individuals will take a good idea, and make it better. Others will say, “Why didn’t I think of that?’ Or, maybe they did, but didn’t act on it.

Today’s Lesson

I have an inquiring mind, and for years, I have been researching online. In the process, I have been on thousands of sites.

While researching, I would almost always end up on one particular website, only because it was on the first page of the search engine results. It got to be that I would silently curse, as the site was full of pop-ups and other ads. Just to read one particular article, I would have to click several times as they only gave an excerpt. I felt like they were wasting my time.

To avoid this, I began to look at the URL of each “hit”, and avidly avoided that site.

Recently, I went back to that site to see why they were consistently on the first page of the search engine results.

The site has changed, to some degree.

Some of the pop-ups are gone.

worked good at blocking those that tried to open, but the pages are still heavily ladened with Google ads…strategically placed, I might add.

They have, what appears to be, thousands, of articles. The site is non-niche, but the articles are neatly “niched”, into what us bloggers know as categories.

The articles are relatively short, concise, and include many internal links.

Their site is very professional looking, and is adorned with photographs.

The site is using a three column, newsprint theme, which is easy to navigate.

Their Google page rank, for their home page, is 8/10. Not too shabby.

The name of the site, I’m speaking of, is About.com

Founded in 1996, About.com was acquired in March 2005 by The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT). Today, About.com is recognized as a top 10 content site and one of the largest producers of original content on the Web.

This is what I attribute to their success.

First and foremost, About.com was founded in 1996. That means they have been around for close to 12 years, and their page rank also reflects that.

Their articles are short. If you want to read more about a given topic, they provide links.

The three column theme gives them more space to highlight the site’s features.

The homepage, newsprint layout, gives them more space to showcase particular stories.

Their Google AdSense ads are done, using complimentary colors…same color as their links, therefore, they blend in. In fact, I clicked on one, thinking it was an internal link.

I would guess, in the past, they used many SEO (search engine optimization) techniques, however, with a page rank of 8/10, a library of thousands of articles, a large readership, and name recognition, many readers are probably bookmarking or subscribing to their site.

Today’s Assignment

Based on the above analysis of About.com, do you see any factors you could use, to improve your blog’s readership and/or popularity?

Do you frequent a popular site that you have considered copying the format of?

Do you know of other bloggers that use techniques that could benefit others?

Care to share?

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  1. CatherineLNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara – in the early days I found about.com v useful. But they have become so spammy.

    When I add pages to my sites I try to look at the layout of popular non-competing sites and work how to adapt it to mine. But it isn’t easy to work out which parts to include and which to leave out.

    I think Rosalind Gardeners http://www.sage-hearts.com is an excellent example of an affiliate marketing website, and it’s worthwhile checking out some of the strategies she uses.

  2. BarbaraNo Gravatar says:

    Catherine,

    I checked out the link you provided. She does have a great niche site and you can tell, she has put a lot of thought and work into it. Thanks for sharing.

    As much as we can learn from others, I think that the internet is changing all the time, and new ideas are worth testing, as well.

    That’s one great thing about blogs….there is no one right way to set one up, so bloggers get to show their individuality.

  3. CatherineLNo Gravatar says:

    Barbara – that is so true. They are all so different. I have noticed a lot of bloggers use pictures to great effect and that is something I would really like to try this year.

  4. BarbaraNo Gravatar says:

    Catherine,

    Funny you should mention that, as I am in the process of trying how to figure out how to add photos too. and wrapping the words around them.

  5. Ian DennyNo Gravatar says:

    I feel like a fraud! I’ve put pictures on the 2 blogs I run. But I don’t really know how to on the main one!

    I have to confess (Cath knows this) that I recruited a great guy to advise me on blogs. He did the design. He also reads the posts and finds and publishes the off pitcure to illustrate it.

    I don’t know where he gets them from, but I do know that he uses valid images that will be okay to display (inportant! once got a bill for £2,000 for an image our web-designer used on our site).

    Back to the topic. I completely agree with the concept of learning from others.

    But I must admit to a certain stubborn streak in terms of trying to find the thing that makes you different of your own accord.

    But that boils down to who you are and how you express yourself.

    I think I filter things too much for political correctness and worry about what people may think or say as a result.

    But some things are really me and my colleagues. And we’d do stuff like that or similar anyway – like have oursleves wearing a dunces hat or auctioned off as an IT slave for the day.

    For reasons I cannot really explain, I’ve been quiet of late in the blogosphere. But today I’ve been the opposite. I’ve posted on both the blogs I author and at least one with some emotion.

    Maybe emotion is the key.

    It’s more enjoyable letting yourself “go” so to speak, and it’s arguable more enjoyable for the reader seeing the real thing.

    Cath has published an article today which really lets rip. It gets the reader – I suspect both the regular or browsing reader – involved.

    Maybe bloggers should vow to express themselves more from the heart in 2008?

  6. KekoaNo Gravatar says:

    I resonate with that, Ian. Just yesterday I was listening to Steve Jobs’ Stanford speech from 2005. (Incidentally it’s a free download off the iTunes store: http://deimos3.apple.com/WebObjects/Core.woa/Browse/itunes.stanford.edu.1292029264.01292029269.1292846299?i=1411599120 )

    Anyway, in that speech Steve’s main message was that he was successful only because he found what he loved to do. That gave him the endurance to keep going when things got tough. That’s the key.

    I don’t land on About.com as much as I used to, and I consider it Wikipedia’s rude older cousin. I much prefer wikipedia’s information and minimalist layout.

    Steve Pavlina’s blog has been a big influence on me. Similar to how the Beatles influenced music across the entire spectrum in the 60s, I think Steve is influencing blogging itself more than he realizes, just through his honesty at what he’s been able to achieve with his own WordPress blog.

  7. BarbaraNo Gravatar says:

    Ian,

    I don’t think you should feel like a fraud if you have hired individuals to help with your blog(s). You are in a more fortunate position than others. Currently I know of no one in my immediate circle who has a blog, let alone, understands blogging, therefore, I work at learning (which I love to do), all there is about blogging and the creation/maintenance of them.

    Some blogs are ripe for emotion, whereas others, become information sites, and emotion doesn’t play a part. With that being said though, I think most bloggers are passionate about their writings, and attempt to put out the best content possible.

    Kekoa,

    Thank you for the link. It sounds like its’ a speech worth listening to. Isn’t it amazing how passion drives us? I think, if we are passionate about something, it takes a lot to get us down, and even when we do hit a road block, we bounce back a lot quicker.

    Steve Pavlina is one of my favorite blogs. I have read many of his posts, not only about blogging, but about life, in general. Some of his posts are quite lengthy, but are great, motivating reads.