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!