Sunday, May 30, 2010

A 'Successful' Bicycle Blog?

Today I received an email from a reader asking for "tips on how to run a successful bicycle blog." I get this type of question every so often, and never quite know how to respond. For starters, what exactly is a "successful bicycle blog"?... One with a readership of over x visits per day? An average of y comments per post? Placement on "top 50 bicycle blog" lists? Mentions in local publications? Probably all of the above, plus other indicators I am not even aware of.

[EcoVelo - one of my favourite "successful bicycle blogs"]

The next thing that comes to mind when considering the question, is why would one want a "successful bicycle blog" - that is, what do they hope to get out of it? If one's heart fills with desire to write about bicycles, they can simply open their computer and start typing - using free and easy platforms like BlogSpot and WordPress if they wish to make the writing public. The act of turning to an "established blogger" (reader's phraseology) for advice suggests that there is a specific end-goal in mind. I suppose the goal can include sponsorships, effective advocacy, and personal fame... but I think that such a goal-oriented attitude at the start is counterproductive.

[Let's Go Ride a Bike - one of my favourite "successful bicycle blogs"]

The main thing I would suggest, is to start the blog only if you have a genuine interest in the topic - an interest that is sufficiently strong, so that you can imagine producing hundreds of posts, day after day, with the same degree of enthusiasm as your first. Because the most important aspect of a blog's "success," from what I have seen, is its sustainability. Even though it may seem like there are tons of bicycle blogs out there, the number is actually not that great if you narrow it down to those that have been around for at least a year and continuously generate new content on a close-to-daily basis.

I would also consider how much of your time writing a blog would take, and whether that time investment would be worth it for the end-goal you have in mind. I am an unusually fast writer and constantly write anyway as part of my work. A blog entry every one to three days is possible, in terms of both time and effort. Otherwise, I absolutely would not be able to do it.

[The Mixte Gallery - bicycle blog with a unique theme]

Finally, I would suggest considering whether your bicycle blog will be sufficiently unique so as to differentiate it from all the others out there. The uniqueness can be a result of a specific focus (The Mixte Gallery is all about mixtes), of a distinct tone of voice (BikeSnobNYC's comic crankiness), of a consistent visual theme (the women on Copenhagen Cycle Chic), of being a source of cycling news in your area (the regional focus of Boston Biker), or of many other factors - but there must be something that will make the blog stand out in some way.

[BikeSnobNYC - one of my favourite "successful bicycle blogs"]

As for attracting readers, advertisers, sponsors, journalists and what have you... I feel that having this as your goal from the start could very well undermine it. It is my belief that readers can sense it when the ultimate purpose of a piece of writing is marketing-driven, and are less likely to connect with such writing.  I could be wrong, but I think that most "successful bicycle blogs" happened not by design but organically: The writer is so taken with the topic, that they keep writing and writing - until people begin to read. The best thing to do is simply to write and not think about "success" - whatever that may mean to you.

27 comments:

  1. I think sustainability is key -- not just keeping up enthusiasm and writing, but having a flow of good ideas week after week. And that's hard.

    I thought about starting a blog, but I know I'd run out of interesting things to say in about a month.

    Even popular bloggers seem to run out of ideas with time. I usually become bored of my previously favorite blogs and wonder how many of their readers must be fairly new.

    What I like about your blog is that you keep it real fresh, with a combination of nice photos, useful technical information, and local flavor.

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  2. Thanks Herzog. I too go through periods when I find some of my favourite blogs stale - though they usually turn it around fairly quickly and I am interested again. Some blogs that I used to read regularly, I no longer do - but then, likewise, there has been some turnover in my regular readers as well.

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  3. I think a lot of blogging is about rhythm. Finding the right frequency to post for your readers, so they have something new when they look for it, but are not overwhelmed. And within that flow, finding the right mix of longer and shorter posts, of frivolous and more serious posts, of posts on various themes, etc. And within each post the right mix of photos and words.

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  4. If you believe in what you do and do it with passion and honesty, the rest is easy...
    Velouria writes almost every day about something she really loves: Bicycles, maybe that's why "lovely bicycle" is so succesfull

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  5. A successful blog is one that comes from the heart. It's fair to say that the blogs you've listed above all fit that category. It's one person's passion, written in a compelling-enough manner and interesting enough to touch a chord with readers who have similar interests.

    Velouria, I've been following your blog since about last September, I think. During that time I've followed other blogs about other topics, and my interest there has waned. But I still follow yours, as it's well-written, has great photos, good stories, lots of useful info and it just makes me feel good. :-)

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  6. I agree with Bikejuju. I think the hardest thing is to post on a regular basis, even after some months. I try to do about 2 posts a week. I have more ideas, but no more time. Especially as a non-native English blogger it sometimes takes me ages to get my ideas across (and I'm still not satisfied with many of my formulations). Unfortunately, I do not have the time of even implement all my ideas, and then after a while I get bored of them, so that I do not even implement these good ideas at all.

    I think it's also good to have other passionate people around (partner, friends, co-bloggers) that help to overcome uncreative times :).

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  7. Clearly, a successful blog is more than a journal. A large reader base, however, isn't as important as providing ideas to those readers that provoke thought and consideration, and in occasionally receiving thought provoking comments. Of course, photos are a fun part of achieving that end.

    Ultimately, if your blog increases your enjoyment of the subject it covers, it is successful, even if the only loyal reader is - yourself.

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  8. One think I found from running my cycling club website is that you should have plenty of cake photos like photo in this link http://www.southlakesgroup.org.uk/2010photogallery/wpimages/wpadabd4ee_05.jpg in the photo ride reports, for some reason cyclists like looking at photos of food, but cycling blogs and cycling websites should have mix of ride & photo reports, useful information about area, gps route files of rides and opinion posts to keep the site interesting.

    Also What's New Page is very useful feature on any cycling website see link http://www.southlakesgroup.org.uk/whatsnew.html which alot visitors to website bookmark and also shows that the website is being kept up to date.

    The measure of success for my website is the number new members we get on club rides and comments like 'I wish live nearer you so I come on your rides'. The feedback from new members is that they usually look at photo ride reports for about six months before coming out on the rides.

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  9. Since I don't have much experience writing a blog, I'll comment from a reader perspective. For me, and this goes for any blog on any topic, the successful blogs seem to be written by people with so much love and enthusiasm for a particular subject/subjects that they just HAVE to get it out and share it, with no expectations of people showing up to read, or sponsorships or fame or what have you. Just using your little corner of the web to keep a journal of your thoughts and experiences, and if by chance someone stumbles on it and enjoys what you have to say, then great! Also, for me, I enjoy lots of well shot photos.

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  10. I agree that the term 'successful' could have quite a few different meanings.

    For myself, I really only hoped to have a place to dialogue about things going on in my head, and to hopefully present riding a bicycle as something normal and accessible.

    Of course you hope somebody will read what you write, but I think starting out for me, my greater desire was just to have a place to write about bicycles, and that's it.

    I still don't have any desire to make money from it or become famous or anything like that, I just enjoy the dialogue with readers and the ability to get my thoughts out into the world.

    I don't feel like I'm particularly good at posting regularly, I tend to go in spurts, but again, I feel like my intention with the blog was more to serve myself than anyone else (no offense to anyone else, I'm glad you read if you do), and it seems like people still read it even though I'm not always very regular about it, so that's good :)

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  11. I've reached that point in life where I'm evaluating everything - yep, the midlife crisis! Since I can't quit my job and move to a remote island I'm trying to dedicate more energy and time to my non-career passions - my family, cooking, growing and of course, biking! Starting a blog was my way of committing myself to this.

    Being brand new to blogging I'm still trying to figure out what makes a blog successful...and really it's about how I personally decide to define success. Is it simply that I get my thoughts down on "paper"? Is it ensuring that I'm spending non-work time focused on non-work things? Is it simply evolving and polishing my photos, writing and overall style - which have a lot of evolving to do at this point! Is it having one reader or ten readers or a thousand readers? Honestly, I'm not sure yet. What I do know is that I'm enjoying writing about things that I love and sharing them with whomever happens to stumble upon the blog.

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  12. I find myself returning over and over to blogs coming out of cities where I'd like to live - usually cities that I've traveled to and would relocate to in a heartbeat. Along with that, I like and relate to words expressed by the writers. Meli of Bikes in the City and Dottie and Trish from LGRB are women I'd love to have coffee with because they bring so much to the table in terms of style, intelligence, and creativity. I enjoy reading the adventures of Mama Vee in Suburban Bike Mama, who is doing motherhood in Newton, Mass. her own way and on two wheels. Unlike many of the other women blogger I follow Mama Vee seems to be, like me, sort of on her own as a bike commuter or utility cyclist rather than enjoying a peer group of committed cyclists. Also living in the suburbs I relate to this very strongly.

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  13. Of course, another measure of success I neglected to mention is degree of influence. For example: how many readers engage in a specific activity, make a specific purchase, or implement a change as a direct result of reading a particular blog? This sort of influence is very hard to measure objectively, because readers will not always report about it (or may not even be aware that they are acting under the blog's influence). It's an interesting factor to consider.

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  14. I would consider your blog successful because it is my absolute favourite and the one I go to first every morning while I have coffee. The only things done prior to that are checking my auctions, website and email if I am meeting a friend for a ride. I just love reading this blog, great writing, photos, fabulous taste in bikes, what more could one want? I am also liking very much your collaboration on the Boston Retro Wheelmen blog. Somervillian's post on the porteur build/restoration/conversion was great, LOVE that bike! I am off track a bit with that, but these are decidedly influential posts if they are making me want to try something like that, opening up a new vista, sharing a new lifestyle. That certainly has to be happening to more people than just myself and that must be good, therefore successful.

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  15. What made me take up Blogging about Cycling ,I dont know really it just started from an Idea and continued. I was curious as to how long I could keep it going. It is all about the Angst I feel about bad Infrastructure,Bicycle Design, Accoutrements and fixing those Gadgets on my Bicycles, Repairs to Bikes. Particular difficulties I might have with certain Bikes.

    Various functions I attend Promoting Bicycle Advocacy. Other Stuff that indirectly becomes part of my Cycling Regime,like Hauling stuff around by Bicycle,Garden Requisites ,Plants ,Top Soil,Cement,Wood,Furniture sometimes although Light or Flat Pack, Food Groceries.

    In short it is a sort of Bicycle Journal,Chronicling my Life Cycling,what I see and do and the little Triumphs and Victories for Cycling Advocacy in Dublin. I also get Excited when People take an interest and reply about something and compare their Area or Country to what is going on here in the World of Cycling.

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  16. Simeon Orme - I've noticed that there are a lot of bicycle blogs and websites out there with food as a secondary theme, or at least lots of food pictures. Personally I find it distracting, as it makes me very hungry - In fact, the better the pictures, the hungrier I get! But I know many others who absolutely love it. There must be a significant overlap in the cycling and gourmet readerships.

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  17. Certainly, most bloggers are writing to an audience (real or imagined), otherwise they'd just open up a Word doc and start typing. This leads me to believe that when someone asks for tips on "how to run a successful bike blog" they're thinking of metrics such as Pagerank, pageviews, sessions, unique visitors, etc. These metrics (and a few others) are almost always used when comparing one blog against another in an objective manner. Of course, "success" on a personal/subjective level is something entirely different and unique to each individual.

    As for our site, I wrote a mission statement when I started the blog that helps to keep me focused on our primary goal of inspiring others to try transportational bicycling. Having a clear, stated purpose can be a great motivator when you hit those inevitable dry spells. A mission statement can also help others understand what it is you're doing and why they might want to support your efforts. I believe both motivation and support are important factors in determining whether a blog survives over the long haul.

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  18. I try (very, very hard, sometimes) not to be judgemental .. and I'm not/have never been 'objective' (Anyway, can one be 'objective' really?)in my "assessment of the success of a blog" (I'm being pompous, here; 'condescending' to some, I'm sure!:D ) and thus the reason for my repeated visit to a blogg is based on the ('projected') persona of the host/hostess of the blog and/or the 'content'/topic of the post/article. Where there are more than one host/hostess I may be partial to one (and not the other) ... and may return for the one and not the other.

    If I so decide to blog I would not seek 'popularity' through it ... for 'popularity' is a 'gift' ...not on demand or could be 'fished' (successfully) .
    Lem

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  19. oops ... Correction, please:'not on demand or could be fished (successfully) ' should read : "not on demand and could not be fished successfully."
    Lem

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  20. What I like about this blog, particularly, is that I started doing this kind of cycling at around the same time as you and I found your blog when I was about to buy a Pashley so I feel like I have grown with you. Aww, feelings. Following this blog and LGRAB (and others, too) has been great because you all seem to be adjusting things/going further/having similar experiences to the ones I am having. It's like we're in the same grade at school or something. I think you're definitely influential. We've had some similar Pashley problems and sometimes I try one of your solutions (handlebar adjustments) and sometimes I've seen you've done something I did (remove stuff from front of bicycle to try to go faster).

    Blogs, of course, are particularly useful when you have a "niche" interest and I think they can be very influential. I just ordered those heel-friendly pedals that Dottie talked about, for example. I also would not have known to seek out and try the Retrovelo Paula without this blog (and Anna's) and I fell in love with it when I tried it and am going to get it at the end of the month. So yeah! Blogs are influential and super helpful sometimes. It's not like I was going to find any kind of literate, sensible information about utility cycling in the general interest press. And I say this lovingly as someone who has been occasionally and gently employed by those mofos.

    I don't blog because I have a book due in six months and a two year old. I tried for a bit but it was pa-thetic. I am happy to just enjoy.

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  21. Hi! I am your newest follower and love love love your blog, beautiful photos, and wonderful links!! Cannot wait to read more!! :)

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  22. A "successful" bike blog is measured by wether or not the writer enjoys doing it.

    I have problems with "bloggers" who turn their sites into mini-marketplaces.

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  23. Now that I have a little bit more time waiting for something to happen in the office, I might as well 'say' a few more words here about this blogg. I used the word 'gift' in my earlier post but I actually wanted to use the phrase 'is earned' with its metaphorical sense emphasized .:D.

    I share the sentiments and belief of most visitors here (some of them are my 'friends & associates) that "Lovely Bicycle" - has earned the reputation of being an exciting,interesting, vibrant and (very) educational place to be and it hostess a very accomodating lady - even to the most trying.

    If this is not'success' than what is?
    Certainly for emulation by 'newbie bloggers'!

    Velouria, I'm /we are not expecting daily posting by you - you have your other occupation to tend to also - but be assured that we would be assiduous visitors here to read and be 'instructed' on bikes, biking and related matters.
    Hmmm..hmmmm! ...looking forward to/for more 'goodies' here. :p ;)
    Thanks and best wishes for the future.
    Lem (L.)

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  24. Thanks to everybody for the comments about this blog, these are really a pleasure to read. Plus I enjoy the discussions at the end of the posts as much as writing the posts themselves - so thanks for that as well!

    Allan - I think that ecovelo most definitely achieves the mission stated in the Mission Statement! Thanks for running this excellent blog and for updating it so regularly. It is a daily read.

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  25. Velouria,

    Thank YOU for your wonderful blog and your always interesting and insightful posts. Michael and I read Lovely Bicycle! everyday!

    Best regards,
    Alan

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  26. I read somewhere that to blog about a topic successfully, one must be obsessed with the topic. Not maniacally, but enough that one thinks of the topic a lot and is compelled to share with and learn from others about it. That's an accurate statement, in my experience :) The most compelling blogs are the ones where I can almost feel the flame burning or hear the wheels turning in the writer.

    Another important part of blogging is fostering community and an open line of communication, especially in the bike world, where so many people are new to transportation cycling and probably don't have many people to discuss the details with in "real life." Places like Girls and Bicycles and EcoVelo really opened my eyes and taught me so much as a newbie cyclists, stuff I never could have gotten from traditional media.

    I always encourage anyone who's interested to start a blog. Everyone has such a unique point of view and, if anything, a blog is a great way to meet people and force yourself to think through your own logic and consider others' in a friendly forum - like here, one of my favorite corners on the blogosphere :)

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  27. "that you can imagine producing hundreds of posts, day after day, with the same degree of enthusiasm as your first. "

    That's it for me. I feel like since my first post, every day brings more and more interesting topics to write about!

    A couple weekends ago, someone said to me, "How much can really be said about bicycle fashion?"

    I've been at it for 2 1/2 years and I feel like I'm only just getting started!

    Yippee for this post! You and your successful bike blog rock!

    :-)

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