Think Rules are Made to be Broken? Ignore These Popular Blogging Tips

Think Rules are Made to be Broken? Ignore These Popular Blogging Tips

Rules? Yeah, they’re made to be broken.

In the world of writing, blogging and online marketing, there are a lot of rules and best practices shared by experts and novices alike.

It can be confusing as a new or even seasoned writer to determine which rules are worth following and which rules might be beneficial to break.

Finding success online as a writer is certainly not a one-size-fits-all equation. Sometimes it’s smart and strategic to ignore popular advice and go with your gut. There are many different approaches, strategies and tactics to pave a path as a writer.

Be a rebel! Here are some popular online writing rules worth breaking and stories from successful bloggers who broke them.

Rule #1: You must select a niche

This is hands-down the single most popular piece of advice I hear bloggers wax poetic about: Find a niche to build an audience and grow your blog, rather than keeping your content more general.

After years of niche blogging (one lifestyle blog, one travel blog and one book review blog) I decided “the hell with it!” I’m a multi-passionate person with many interests and I wanted my blog to reflect me as a person. I wanted to build a brand around my name and personality, not a specific interest or area of expertise.

So, I did. My blog’s general umbrella topic is stepping outside of your comfort zone to reach your goals, but tons of different subjects fit nicely under that more generic concept. And for nearly four years, this approach has worked for me, building a community more than 1,000 strong that allowed me to eventually quit my job to work for myself.

Instead of cornering yourself into a tiny niche that you may lose interest in, write about the subjects you’re passionate about. Your readers will connect with you more when it’s clear you’re excited about your topic of choice.

Rule #2: Don’t build your house (or blog) on rented land

Licensed therapist, coach and writer Melody Wilding has spent the majority of her career rebelling against the traditional way of doing things. That same mindset applies to her blog strategy.

“I’ve bucked the rule that says ‘don’t build your house on rented land’ or in a nutshell…the prevailing marketing advice that encourages people to build their own blog readership from scratch.”

As Melody explained, many online marketers encourage newbies to spend the majority of time and effort building their own website, blog and platform, keeping your best content permanently on your online home. Instead, Melody grew her following by leveraging other people’s platforms, audiences and authority to grow her own.

“Through strategic guest writing and becoming a contributor for major sites when I was first starting out, I 10x’d my audience in a fraction of the time it would have taken me to do on my own,” she explained. “Then, I also had some big names behind me that I could further leverage to grow my audience and subscribers.”

Fun fact: Melody didn’t even have a blog on her website during her first two years in business, but was still able to successfully grow a following through guest blogging and building an email list.

Rule #3: It’s all about SEO

Another popular piece of blogging advice is to make your post as SEO-friendly as possible to ensure the maximum amount of people can find your content when they search on Google. Your headline matters and your post should be scannable with bullets, lists or sections, they say.

Yes, SEO is important, but when you try to fit your content into a pretty little SEO-happy box, you sometimes leave little room for creativity and personality.

Many popular blogs recommend crafting post headlines that are quick, to the point and simply explain what the post is about, rather than using a catchy or emotion-driven headline.

Meanwhile, Mary Catherine Starr of StarrStruck Blog says that she often breaks this rule by writing posts with headlines that her readers will like and understand, but may not necessarily be SEO-worthy.

Bloggers also recommend writing short, succinct and easily scannable posts by using bullets, sections or creating a list-based post. Mary Catherine says she is proud of her longer, more personal posts that aren’t necessarily formatted as a list or with bullets.

“Catchy, trendy posts aren’t my style and while they may be a great way to get lots of new visitors or eyes on my blog, I’d rather stay true to what feels authentic to me, even if it won’t make me as popular,” she said.

Rule #4: Long-form content is where it’s at

Long-form content is very trendy right now. It makes sense; as this KissMetrics post suggests, “long-form content gets you more of what you want.”

However, there are definitely times shorter posts can come in handy and be just as useful to your audience as a 4,000 word ebook.

“When the topic’s right, I’m big on breaking the ‘longer is better’ rule that’s oh-so popular right now,” explains Brittany Berger of Blog Bolder. “Sometimes the topic I’m writing about can be explained clearly in less than ‘the magic 1.5K.’ Continuing to write for the sake of SEO and shares when I’ve already given the reader what they need feels like putting my wants and needs above theirs.”

Not every blog post you write needs to be an epic, all-encompassing guide or tell-all. If you can get your point across succinctly, do that.

Rule #5: Monetize your blog as quickly as possible

A lot of bloggers get in the game because they think they will be able to make a lot of money through their blog or website. Making money online is a great long-term goal to set, but goals like creating awesome content and developing a loyal community should come first.

Geekadelphia editor-in-chief Mikey Ilagan said, “We’ve been around for nine years and have given a voice to things people might not have heard about otherwise. We actually rejected monetization for the longest time. Now, our Patreon sustains our servers, but building the blog and community was never a financial venture.”

Instead of chasing the money, chase your community. Build a community that loves you, your content and your brand first and then consider adding monetization into the mix.

Rule #6: Don’t get too personal on your blog

You want to be seen as a professional, right? Then, don’t get too personal on your blog. At least, according to some experts.

Right now, lots of bloggers are talking about the importance of delivering value to your readers. While I don’t disagree with offering your audience value, what about simply sharing good stories that help readers to connect?

This is the approach The Write Life contributor Marian Schembari has taken with great success, even leading to new clients.

“The fact that I post about my personal life has been positive,” she shared. “For a long time I worried that posting about my marriage or about money or travel would ruin the brand I’d created as a writer. But really, new clients love sharing stories too, just like normal humans. Now I’m known as a “storyteller” and have had a few new client requests come through from people who want me to share their stories.”

Rules? Yeah, they’re definitely made to be broken.

The only rule that always has and always will apply — and we think you should follow this one! — is to be yourself and do you.

When you’re true to yourself online, your authenticity shines through and your readership will take note, allowing you to grow genuinely and organically.

Have you broken any popular blogging or writing rules? Tell us all about it in the comments!

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33 comments

  • Tal Valante says:

    Great post, Jessica. I love the examples you’ve given for successfully breaking these rules.

    I think the #1 rule is to try and measure your success. See for yourself what works and what doesn’t. But don’t forget to collect and compare results, otherwise you’re just setting out randomly instead of mapping a new terrain for yourself. Try and test, repeat, and most importantly, have fun!

  • Elke Feuer says:

    Great post, Jessica! I’ve broken #1 most. I’m multifaceted and I know others are too so why focus on a niche?

  • I love this, Jessica. You articulated what I was thinking about when I woke up this morning. Every blog I read now feel formulaic. I’m not interested in being one of the crowd. I want clients who appreciate originality and creativity.

  • Thanks for this, it makes me feel a bit better about how I’m going about my own blog. My umbrella niche is writing (more specifically, my own writing journey), but I write about all kinds of things: book reviews, movie reviews, my own personal stories. And I don’t know a thing about SEO, and don’t really care. Some posts are long, some are short, some have lists and bullets, some don’t. It’s slow going, but I want to build a community and make connections, but above all, be myself.

  • Great post, Jessica. I see soooo many bloggers slapping ads on their blog from day one…and it just doesn’t work! They’re earning $1.50 a month, while alienating most new readers and sending them away.

  • Robert says:

    Thank you for giving some wonderful advice. Blogging is never easy and if you don’t have a solid foundation it can mean less visibility for yourself than before you started it.

  • Fantastic post, Jessica! I tweeted it. Thank you for the inspiration!

  • I think I’ve pretty much broken all of these rules. And I used to worry about it. I spent a lot of time fretting about what I *should* be doing and I lost all the fun that had brought me to blogging in the first place. I have now decided that I just don’t care anymore about doing it “right.” I’ll do it my way and worry about pleasing myself.

  • Love your thinking on this Jessica. It’s funny I was just reading Writer’s Digest today and they said I should do all the things you say not too. Who am I gonna believe? YOU, of course. How are you gonna stand out if you don’t break the rules? You go girl!

  • Peter Rey says:

    I think you’re perfectly right, Jessica. Number 1 in particular resonates with me. Blogging, like writing novels and pretty much everything else of some import, should be based on what we love. Not on what we think others might love. =)

  • Judy L Mohr says:

    The only rule meant to be broken missing from that list is “to have a successful blog, you should blog at least 3 times a week”. You have no idea how many people have tried to convince me of that. However, I’m of the view that if all you can achieve is once every two weeks, then so be it. It’s better to have 1 good post, than 6 crappy ones in that same time frame. People who enjoy reading your blog will gladly wait for the next installment, simply because they enjoy reading. Why should we force ourselves to produce content just because someone said that we had to, just to be successful?

    • Great addition to the list, Judy! So true. I think as long as you’re consistent about it, people will keep reading, no matter how frequent or infrequent your posts are.

  • You’re absolutely right, Jessica. My very thoughts on breaking the rules. Sometimes there are far too many people on THE BAND WAGON and the only way to get noticed is to jump off. My blog posts cover everything under the sun and beyond. And I do it in a way that makes me feel comfortable and enthused about the subjects. Hopefully those feelings are passed on to my readers. Remember: Frank Sinatra did it his way.

  • Thanks, Jessica! I started my blog a year ago and have struggled with all of the advice and things I should be doing. I am happy that someone has just said “write!” I also fully agree with Judy’s comment above. I write every two weeks as well and that’s good for me. Thanks for this perspective!

  • Claus Martin says:

    But one important rule should always be kept:

    The text should be well formatted, so that it is visually easy to read it.

    Some Bloggers publish long posts without formatting them well and it is awful to read them at a computer screen and then I stop directly to read them.

  • Vera Micic says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post Jessica! As a new blogger, I am still stuck in between “finding your niche” and writing about what you want to write. As a writer I am interested about writing topics, but there are other topics that pick my interest, so I don’t want to be oriented only toward “writing/novel process” topics. This post really encourages me to write about all topics that interest me, not only about one specific area. 🙂

  • Kim says:

    It’s so funny that I would read this today: Last night I published a blog post about why I think finding a niche is too constricting. I have too many interests to confine myself to only blogging about one.

    Thank you!

  • Deynn says:

    I always follow what they say stay on one niche. I am just running around the same place for more than a year. Like you, I can also write more than what I am giving to my audience. I am just afraid of the thought that Google might punish my website for catering too many niches.

  • Richard Weir says:

    Yes!! Rules are instructions on how to fit into the herd. If you want to stand apart from the herd and put something you love into the world, then quit obsessing over the rules! Love it.