Unless you are a successful newspaper columnist or a famous actress who is able to draw hordes of readers by your reputation alone, your blog is going to need a theme. It may be a narrow one, like “Libertarian politics in the Massachusetts Governor’s race.” It may be a broad one, like, “art focusing on life and love.” But whatever your theme, your blog is going to keep readers by presenting them with the valuable content they expect. Not coincidentally, it’s also going to be a theme you love and will not be tempted to stray far from.
Because there are literally millions of blogs available, successful blogs reach one kind of reader, and they do it well. The reason is obvious: a reader who might share your interest in model trains may not share your love of fine wines. He may not care about your vacation in Paris. Unless he’s a personal friend, he may not care about your new car. That means you’re going to have to pick a subject and stick with it. A good starting place is the following list of popular blog categories: political, spiritual, society/culture, rant, business, hobby, technology, art, news, reference.
Of the most popular blogs, measured by Technorati.com, a popular blog search engine, significant percentages are political blogs. This should not be surprising: with the exception of religious opinions, opinions on politics are some of the most fiercely held and vociferously debated. Political opinions make great blog fodder. But there’s a catch: everyone has an opinion, but not everyone has one that millions of readers will take time to read. Successful political blogs, whether the liberal Daily Kos, the conservative Red State, or the law-oriented Volokh Conspiracy, all have one thing in common: they have important and timely information (not just opinions) that can be relied upon by serious political junkies. They have high-level political connections, access to rumors, or expertise to share. If you are connected in politics or law and have serious light to shed on the issues of the day, a political blog may be your Blog Empire. The same case holds for spiritual blogs, hobby blogs, and technology blogs: the successful blogs are those run by experts (that is, of course, why we’re going to build your empire on your own expertise) who can tell readers what they don’t know and want to know.
There are, however, successful blogs that are not run by experts; they are run, in fact, by someone who had a brilliant idea. As of this writing, the third most popular blog on Technorati, linked by more than 25,000 other blogs, is Post Secret. On Post Secret, the readers do all the work, creating a picture that represents a secret the contributor wants to anonymously reveal to the world. The secrets may be “I once made a student repeat a grade so I could flirt with his father for another year,” or it may be “I find it amusing when my blind dog crashes into furniture.” In every case, the entries chosen are skillfully presented (the blogger IS an expert in picking interesting content) and readers laugh, they cry, and they relate. But most importantly, they return again and again. Post Secret illustrates that all you need is a well-presented good idea to build a blog empire.
News, link, and reference blogs require an abiding interest in one subject and the tenacity to find relevant, timely information. Successful ones cover their subject so well that they are considered valuable references by serious news hounds. A good example of this type of blog is Zero Intelligence. Zero Intelligence gathers every relevant story about “zero tolerance” drug and weapons policies in public and private schools and presents them with commentary. It follows stories through the press cycle to resolution or disappearance and serves as a trusted clearing house for relevant information. Another reference blog is “Literally, a Weblog,” which documents the popular press’ misuse of the word “literally.” If a writer needs an example to make a point about the use or misuse of “literally” in the arts or media, “Literally, a Weblog” can provide a fitting example for any story.