What makes a blog successful?

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I have always thought that blogging is a way to reach your career goals. It's hard to write a blog if you don't have a goal. You need to know what blogging success looks like to you, so you know what you’re aiming for.

Like most goals in life, my definition of blogging success has shifted as the circumstances of my life have shifted.

1. Post regularly without messing anything up.
My first goal was simply to understand how to get my writing onto the Internet. All the buzzwords overwhelmed me: feeds, trackbacks, SEO. I understood none of it, and it took weeks to get up the nerve to blog before I actually started. My first goal was to post regularly and avoid basic publishing mistakes like posting a draft before it was ready. (Reality check: There are much easier ways to start a blog than the method I chose.)

2. Create traffic.
I started measuring my success by traffic. But after a few months, I was totally overwhelmed and had to rethink what I was doing. Suddenly I couldn't answer all the comments, I couldn't even answer all my email at the beginning—it started coming in faster than I ever imagined. (Reality check: Traffic metrics are addictive.)

3. Grow conversations.
I started getting a handle on my email and the comments and the general influx of blog-related information from all the readers. And in the process, I realized that what I really cared about was the conversation. I wanted to meet new people and learn new things about topics I'm interested in. So I wanted the conversation to be good. I started measuring my success by the number of comments, and then, in turn, by how much I was learning from the comments. (Note: Here’s a lovely post from Problogger about encouraging comments.)

4. Make money.
I realized that I loved blogging more than any other writing I had ever done. I knew I wanted this to be my job, so I needed to be able to support my family doing it. I started measuring my success by how much income I could generate. I hit my target of $100,000 a year pretty easily (thanks to Yahoo) so I realized that I could aim higher. (Reality check: Money is not a good blog goal for most people.)

5. Build a company.
So I decided to sell equity in my blog and spin off a company. I gauged my success on how quickly I could get the company launched and funded. And, once I did that, I gauged my success on how well I could leverage my blog to drive traffic to my company, Brazen Careerist. You might be sick of hearing about my company here, but, you might also be happy to know that I've accomplished that goal, too. (Reality check: I nearly died from the stress of doing this.)

6. Regain my sanity.
So, here I am, asking myself, what is my goal with the blog now? Right now, what I want for myself is to be calm and peaceful. I have had a really wild ride in the last five years. I have gone from being nearly broke in NYC, moving to Wisconsin, starting a company, getting a divorce, traveling every week, while I'm trying to raise kids. Life has been chaotic and erratic and I'm sick of that. I want a break. I want to feel grounded, stable and I want routine.

Part of that, of course, is why I'm with a farmer. It's the farmer stereotype: grounded, stable, waking up every day to do chores. But I need to find that stuff from inside myself, as well.

On days when I post, I feel grounded and stable and connected. On days I don't post, I don't feel that. Which is why I should be posting every day. I see people who have very busy lives who are able to post every day.

So this will be a test for me. For now, my definition of successful blogging is using my blog to give myself a sense of stability and connectedness.

Each blogger starts for some reason. A good test for whether a goal is really meaningful to you is, do you keep at it? Do you keep striving to meet the goal? Sometimes I wonder, do I really want stability and a sense of being grounded, or do I just talk about it? The only way to find out is this: committing to it here, in a very public way, and seeing if it sticks.

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  1. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Good question/ test to check how relevant the original motivation(s) is(are)! Most of us evolve so our goals evolve too. As do the metrics of success on those, and ergo, the tools we use to get there. Blogs are tools in that respect. It helps to remember that.

  2. Jenn S.
    Jenn S. says:

    Great post! I, too, feel more connected on the days when I blog, and am trying to increase the frequency of my posts while maintaining quality – it’s HARD, as you know. My blog is the expression of my personal passion for gluten-free cooking, and even though it is personal, it has boosted my career. I’m known around the office as “the chef,” people from other departments are always stopping by to ask me cooking questions, which has raised my profile in the company, and I’ve been offered a lot of new opportunities because of that. So even a personal blog has professional benefits – and I know that my writing is improving the more that I do it. I’ve been blogging steadily for a year and I still love it.

  3. Steve Churchill
    Steve Churchill says:


    Will you sometime write about the balance that needs to be struck between professional vs. personal on a successful blog site? Too professional, and we seem distant and dry; too personal and we come across as narcissistic.



    • Vicki
      Vicki says:

      I echo the question. How to balance between personal and professional tone in a blog?

      I’m guessing it will be different for everyone because Penelope, for example, doesn’t hesitate to inject the personal deep into the professional and make it relevant and yet for most of us, it’s too much since we don’t want “miscarriage tweet controversy” to come up as the first result when an employer or potential employer Googles us.

      • SL
        SL says:

        PT’s most successful posts are her personal ones. People are basically all the same. We come with the pretense of wanting to discuss business but really, what we’re looking for is a good, personal scoop.

        People are interested in people. We want to know about someone else’s lives, even if that person does appear narcissist.

  4. Sydney Owen
    Sydney Owen says:

    I think as your life changes, your blog should too. A year ago, when I started blogging (thanks, btw) I wanted to set myself apart from fellow graduates as having a POV on social media as it pertains to PR. Which was fun – but no discussion. It got me here to where I am today, no doubt, but as a blogger, I was lost in a sea of people with MUCH more experience in the industry that write about SM and PR. So I focus now on what I know a lot about, what I’m an expert on: Me. When interesting things come up about SM & PR I’m sure to highlight that – but it’s not my blogs focus. Now my blogs focus is about my journey that started last year – how to get that internship, get the job, relocate for what you’re passionate about – the journey from point A (college) to point B (career).

    It was getting to the point on my original format that I would start writing a personal post and I’d feel bad for wanting to post it bc it had absolutely nothing to do with my niche. Now – I can post personal stuff, work stuff, and everything in between.

    Thanks for getting me started in this whole world that is blogging – I’ve met some incredible people and have done some incredible things because of my presence in this space – however small it may be.

  5. DShan
    DShan says:


    I’ll be honest…I’ve never been a huge fan of keeping up with this blog, and it has absolutely nothing to do with your writing (which is great); I simply haven’t found myself compelled to read all that many topical blogs regularly. I obviously pay close attention to your and your team at BC, because what you’ve created is so relevant to the community I’ve built at 20SB. BR was and is a truly inspired addition to the landscape.

    That being said, I think this piece is a really, really interesting insight into your motivations behind your writing throughout the years we’ve all watched you become today’s version of you. While money and a startup aren’t realistic endpoints for the majority, the process of defining yourself as a writer involves determining some goals for yourself. Personal bloggers tend to go through this arc of self-awareness…they reach a point at which they wonder where they’re headed and why they’re blogging. They wonder how their blogging affects and influences their friendships and professional life.

    I think that’s the point at which your post is a phenomenal reminder that some simple, tangible goals can really help them stay motivated to blog, and to blog in a way that’s more rewarding than just ‘getting comments/traffic’. Turns it into an endeavor that’s more about personal growth than it is about numbers.

    Our best literature was written by people with nothing to lose and a voracious internal motivation to communicate their take on the world with written words. Blogging can dupe people into thinking that the immediate traffic and attention changes the equation to ‘success’, but it doesn’t.

  6. DShan
    DShan says:

    Based on the first paragraph of my comment above, I might consider a personal goal to learn how to spell.

    *you and your team
    *BC was and is…(not BR)

  7. Jane
    Jane says:

    I always enjoy your posts, Penelope, but I hope your other facts are more checked than the one about Dooce. She posts nowhere near everyday, and I don’t know that she ever has.

    Which really begs the question of whether everyday posting is necessary (or even helpful) for a successful blog, because I enjoy Dooce’s writing immensely, and she is, by any indicator, quite successful.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Really? Heather doesn’t post every day? I have to go there and look again. I was counting the photos blog and the new blog where she writes about people who send her hate mail, and the regular blog. I was sort of counting it as one thing.

      (Wait. For people who do not know this, Heather took her most obnoxious comments and put them on a separate site and runs ads on them. The site is called Monetizing the Hate.
      I just think she’s amazing.)

      But maybe it’s true that Heather doesn’t post every day , and maybe it’s true that I don’t need to post every day. I’m not sure. Testing things now.

      On a side note: I was trying to decide who to link to up there (this is the very busy lives links toward the end) and I couldn’t really think of any women with kids who posted every day. I could only think of Heather. And now, maybe, it turns out that she doesn’t. So many women with kids don’t post every day and that’s how the world is.

      I don’t know.


      • Erika Harris
        Erika Harris says:

        Dailiness strikes me as a high-velocity goal. But not necessarily a high-quality one.

        I tried “daily” for 30-days and was disappointed when I felt my fire descend from “vibrant-ooh-ooh-a-bright-idea-to-share-with-you” to “gotta-honor-the-commitment-man-this-disciplined-thing-is-a-drag”.

        Now, I prefer to just trust my inner-percolator, rather than serve cool coffee. I’ll post when it bubbles.

        Love your blogging evolution, Penelope, and am excited for the new emerging phase :-)

  8. Srinivas Rao
    Srinivas Rao says:


    I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time and one thing that I’ve always admired about the way you write is your bravery in putting things out there that some might say caused career suicide. I’ve been working on my blog for 6 months and getting to a point of authenticity is something I’ve been working on for the last 2 months. I think building a company is really something that people need to think about when considering their blog. I don’t want to build an empire because that sounds more like a prison sentence than true success. Thanks for keeping us all inspired with your words.

  9. principalspage
    principalspage says:

    Great points.

    A few thoughts.

    1. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one to hit post before the entry was ready.

    2. Traffic is okay… and addicting… but I think the biggest way to measure the success of your blog is by how much of a positive impact it has on people… or even one person.

    3. Success should also be measured on how much you learn… not just on what you may teach others.

    4. Make money… not happening for most of us.

    5. Most bloggers won’t build a company… but they have a great opportunity to improve their career and the business they work for thru blogging.

    6. Sanity… blogging is a journal… and nothing is better than getting the good… and the bad things off your chest.

    Blogging becomes a habit. It’s something if done consistenly reaps all sorts of rewards for the writer.

    It’s like jogging for my brain.

  10. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    The message I got from this is that though the activities you perform may not change, the motivation behind them maychange. As long as you can continue to perform the activities you love to do then that is most of the battle. And, as long as your motivation is still pointing you to those activities, better yet.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, the comment below, by prklypr is really good. It’s an example of collaborative career advice. Which is what I think we do here. I don’t think any of us is doing our career by ourselves — we’re doing it together with common values but different goals.


  11. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    You use yourself as an example of blogging success, but you freely admit you took all the wrong routes to get there. Which begs the question: if you had done those ‘reality checks’ beforehand, and not chosen the path you ultimately chose, would your blog (and by extension your company) be as successful as they are? I think not. You may not have chosen the easiest path or the best goals, but it seems your success has come *because* your path was that much more difficult, not in spite of it.

  12. Lindsey
    Lindsey says:

    This is such a thoughtful post. I have been blogging for a while but am feeling itchy to grow readership, develop more conversations – and I find myself chafing at how to do so in ways that feel authentic and in line with my content and beliefs. Does that make sense? I so admire the way you have crafted a whole community and dialog around the topics that fascinate you, and I love your blog for the questions it percolates in me and for the insight you provide.
    You are an inspiration!

  13. Karl Staib - Work Happy Now
    Karl Staib - Work Happy Now says:

    I use blogging to connect. I’m trying to connect with people that need my help as well as people that can forward my career. Eventually I would like my blog to be a super megaphone, helping me reach new people about work happiness.

    It’s a struggle working full-time and trying to blog full-time. I post 3 times a week, but should probably do 4. I’m also writing a book and trying to hang out with my family. I’m a new dad. It’s a lot of shhtuff.

    Of course I’m stressing out and thinning on top, but it’s a part of my process. I never believed it would be easy, but like Seth Godin says.You have to put in the time, stay creative and keep looking for that break. It’s either that or death. I’m betting that the break will come first.

  14. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    Blogging every day isn’t necessarily the answer. If you have nothing meaningful to say but force yourself to stick to a daily schedule, some posts will likely be boring and you may end up losing followers. Dooce (and most other bloggers, yourself included) both blog and tweet, so if you count that together – and I think you can, tweeting is kind of a short blog post – you can put something out there in some form every day. Heather may post every day or two, but she tweets a lot inbetween.

  15. Leon Mannings
    Leon Mannings says:

    Thanks for drawing me to your overwhelmingly informative blog with a supremely enticing tweet about ‘porn on your laptop’. As a fifty year old new-boy on the blog block I am extremely grateful for such an abundance of explanations & good advice – €“ just wish I had the brain to assimilate it as well and fast as I’d like.
    Thanks again. Dr M.

  16. Dan Owen
    Dan Owen says:

    “I want to feel grounded, stable and I want routine. Part of that, of course, is why I'm with a farmer.”

    This is one of the most discouraging statements you’ve made. Marrying a man to solve a problem is part of the thinking that feminism set out to change, and for good reasons. Here’s one: you’re going to change, he’s going to change, and your circumstances are going to change, and if your reason for marrying is tied to one of those, it doesn’t look like a good deal anymore. Of course, you’re free to roll with those punches, but it’s not so easy for one’s children, who don’t have a choice and don’t choose to love a step-father as a way of solving a problem.

    You’re a practical person, so here’s a piece of practical advice: get into therapy with the Farmer and stay in it with him, even if at first you’re happy, even if at first things are going well, and even if you only have a session a few times a year. Think of it as a kind of prophylactic. Find a business analogy that takes the feeling of failure out of it if that’s a problem (here’s one: a therapist is like a mentor for your marriage). But there are too many ways in which you are your worst enemy: you describe them weekly here in your blog, very entertainingly. Don’t disadvantage the people who love you and depend on you by closing this marriage to a healthy outside perspective that can give you tools to solve problems well before the solution set gets narrowed down to divorce or worse. You described here in the blog that, by the time you got into therapy with your first husband, he had fallen out of love with you. Be sensible about this.

    Apart from that, this blog documents the fact that, while part of what you want is to feel stable and grounded, you really seem to value chaos, stress, tension, and fear pretty highly. I haven’t heard you say, “I regret both of my startups because of the extreme unpleasantness I’ve suffered undertaking them.” Instead, I’ve heard you say, “I tried life as an employee and found it unsatisfying; life as an entrepreneur is difficult but I like the the life and the payoff is worth the pain.” You’re going to need to reconcile these two impulses, and marrying into a pre-packaged, stable life isn’t the way to do that.

    I also wonder about the Farmer’s motives in all of this. Originally, he reached out to you during your divorce posts, like a knight on a white horse. This was sweet, but naive: he’d never met you, and soon enough he’d amassed enough reasons to end the relationship. Is he choosing you for the right reasons? Is he expecting you to change? Is his happiness tied to your reigning in your impulsiveness, or never again starting a company that will put everyone who depends on you through terrible hardship? You told me once that he had laid down clear rules about what you could and couldn’t post about him in the blog, but it strikes me that that’s the least of the challenges you will confront together.

  17. meredith groenevelt
    meredith groenevelt says:

    One not so sunny afternoon I Googled moving back home with your parents and found your blog. I’d been totally stuck and had reached writer’s road block taking a break from writing and feeling meh about our current living situation. Since then I've been back daily.

  18. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    The question I have is how your readership will change as your priorities and goals change. And, frankly, what’s happening in your personal life changes.

    So, make sure you consider that in how you define successful blogging – if an important part is the community, then remember when you are having less stressful, emotional drama, your audience will change. There are some people that tune in for that, and others that tune out for that.

  19. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m glad to read one of your goals for your blog is to post on a regular basis to establish a routine for yourself. While a blog post every day is an admirable goal to strive for, I think a more achievable goal of say three posts a week would be a good place to start. Commit yourself to three posts a week and if you’re able to do more than that then you should post more. Posting every day because you have to post seems to me to be forcing it. However I would recommend working on a blog post every day to establish that routine. Also I think it would help all your readers to know which days (e.g. – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) they could expect and look for a blog post from you so they also could have a routine to read and comment on the post.

  20. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    When I started blogging, I committed myself to writing 15 minutes a day, which sometimes translated into a post, and sometimes it took 2-3 days for a post to get finished (often the better ones, but not always).

    It was the process, not the outcome I committed to. The past year+ has been insanely busy. But maybe I need to get back to that — it did make me feel grounded and productive.

    Thanks for the post … it got me thinking in helpful ways.

  21. izzat aziz
    izzat aziz says:

    I blog because I want to write and write and write and connect with people.. I try writing a book, nobody read it.. I try write essay, my Teacher say you should read it yourself.. so the last option is blog.. I blog because I want to write.. and with that in mind I also want traffic since I love people read my post and actually comment, to make sure my blog is alive for 100 years I need to pay lots of bill and hosting.. so I need to make money out of it.. So that why I need to have successful so that I can write more.. and this post definitely will help me :)

  22. Susan Hill
    Susan Hill says:

    I’m newly blogging and thought this was both inspirational and realistic. It’s difficult, to be sure, and you encourage me to keep at it.

  23. Erik
    Erik says:

    Your question is an entitled ask.
    I often ask myself “what do i false” or “why i dont get any feedback from other users?”

    And now I dont know my whole answer. But a wee bit.
    And then i read your blog post.
    At first: CONGRATULATIONS about that big success.
    You show and tell us (me) that if you do it right, blogging can make fun and make yourself successful.
    Its awesome what you managed and what you have mounted.

    I heed your tipps and think about it. thx. ;-)

    How long does it lasted sinsomuss you were at this point where are you right now?


  24. Isao
    Isao says:

    Penelope, I remember you saying something like self-recovery through writing was one of the motivations (or even addictions) for you to keep writing. That struck me so hard whenever I write I try to follow my thought threads rather than constructing an article according to a predefined agenda.

    I think this self-discovery that you mentioned can be one of the (major) definitions of a successful blog, not only for the author but also for the readers.

  25. Avil Beckford
    Avil Beckford says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Thank you for always being so honest. While I was reading this posts some things came to me:

    You have come full circle
    You have found what you have been searching for
    And you are at peace and know how to BE

    Good luck!

    Avil Beckford

  26. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I also wanted to thank you for sharing the post from Darren over at Problogger (Give your readers room to participate in your blog). He does a great job of making the analogy with the subject of his other interest/blog. I have read posts that are so complete and inclusive that they don’t lend themselves to discussion. It’s always possible to comment but real discussion is another matter. While I’m on the topic of sharing posts, I think you do a good job of linking to other sources which helps to make your blog successful.

  27. Diana
    Diana says:

    “Personal bloggers tend to go through this arc of self-awareness – they reach a point at which they wonder where they’re headed and why they’re blogging. They wonder how their blogging affects and influences their friendships and professional life.” -DShan

    Thanks DShan, for putting into words what I have been feeling lately. I know my reasons for blogging are changing, but it’s because of my anxiety about how my family and potential customers will react, not because I have nothing to write about.

    There must be a point for every blogger when they suddenly feel exposed and wonder whether or not to proceed and how? I think that’s why I read P. I’m watching her reaction to people’s reactions!

  28. Cat in Boston
    Cat in Boston says:

    I love your blog so much that I have spent two days reading everything from 2008 till now ( I am a new reader and could not wait to get up to day on yout life and your company). this is how you know you have a good blog, if people are willing to burn their eyes out at work amd home reading your blog. Writing about what you know and honestly are also key. People know when you are writing things you dont believe yourself and writing without passsion. Not everybody is going to like your blog and that is fine; if the blog is so offensive to these people why do they keep reading and leaving comments? really, I dont get it.

    Good luck with The Farmer and the farm situation.

  29. Glenn Matthews
    Glenn Matthews says:

    Making regular blog posts while keeping the content interest is a tough choir, especially when you have a fairly young blog like mine. I do however understand that these things take time, and being patient whilst traffic to your site and the number of subscribers increases, is the only way to remain sane.
    Thanks for the great post.

  30. Mark Dykeman
    Mark Dykeman says:

    Sometimes the only goals we need are the desire express ourselves in public (hopefully to more than one reader) and the desire to improve. Those two things in and of themselves, plus the feedback that you can get from blogging, can be more than enough justification to blog.


    P.S. I think I was being a bit crass when I referred to you as being an alien. However, when you look at it from the point of view that you perceive the world differently than many other people do (as you’ve written about with Asperger’s, etc.), you kind of are an alien life form. Sometimes, however, those different points of view are valuable to many other people. So, in the end, I guess calling you an alien was, well, being nice. :)

  31. Alan Lohman
    Alan Lohman says:

    Penelope, great post! Before I get further into it let me premise what follows by saying that it was great to meet you tonight at the AITP meeting. I was totally captivated by what you had to say and in the hours that followed I am still stunned by them. You motivated me to get moving on social networking, jump in and learn to swim. I think you have "saved me" from the endless loop I was getting caught in. Sure, my journey is just beginning but I know myself and I feel empowered by you to do great things. So, now that brings me back to your post. If you had that kind of effect on me it is certainly affecting many others. You are doing a great deal of good for those you interact with and I hope you can find happiness in that. I know personally that I find great happiness in helping others and I am sure you do as well. It may very well be the nature of people to be constantly searching for something and to be restless. Perhaps it can help you to know that you have made a significant difference in my life. Thanks, and I look forward to keeping up with you and your blog.

  32. Perry B.
    Perry B. says:

    Thank you Penelope. I started my blog with a similar mindset and I’m going through a similar evolution. Your posts truly connected with me.

  33. JD Shatswell - Green Bay
    JD Shatswell - Green Bay says:

    WOW…. I saw & heard Penelope LIVE last night. I was abrased with the dina”sore”{no pun intended, right?} reference, but admittedly, it’s true. I can change! BTW, Penelope is even more dazzling in person! I’m glad I listened objectively!

  34. Kelly Salasin
    Kelly Salasin says:

    I’ve finally found the secret access to the dial-up hurdle of accessing the “comment feature” on this website! (http://thisvtlife.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/dial-up-seven-steps-for-sanity/)

    Once again, Penelope’s transparency is always a teacher.

    However, when like me, you start with “calm and peaceful” as your goals, measuring success is tricky because I still need income and desire outer connection.

    I guess it comes down to balance–and that’s always changing. Thanks to Penelope for being a voice of permission to explore and redefine how that looks, feels and expresses itself.

    Time for me to go write some blog goals before I birth anymore of them…

  35. Dale
    Dale says:

    Stability is a very appealing thing when all around you is chaotic. But once things settle down, it becomes a confining situation especially for someone (like you) who’s been on the edge for a long time.
    Mix it up!

  36. Modern Street
    Modern Street says:

    Posting every day is a tough call, depending on what you are writing about. If it is tech stuff, than you can get too far ahead of yourself sooner or later :)

    But here, you are doing just great. Keep it up!

  37. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    I really enjoyed your blog today especially the one about making money. I have come to realize I would love this writing to be my full time job, it started with my book that I am so anxiously awaiting to go public but I find myself more and more involved in blogging. Give me your input on how to generate more exposure if you will, I would love to here from you.

  38. Robert
    Robert says:

    Thanks again for your exceptional guidance on blogging as a career tool. My wife and I are five months into our own blog and while it has not brought us fame or fortune, your guidance has helped us understand why we blog, what we should expect from our blog, and the best way to make the most of our efforts. The best part about all of it is that we get to explore a topic that we’re passionate about (camping) and that we have developed some fantastic relationships and friends along the way.

  39. marielsmith59
    marielsmith59 says:

    Those 6 tips are really helpful. Post unique blogs in your blog site and Google will surely love to crawl it and every link of it! Why not make it as your personal blog with personal experiences.

  40. Laura
    Laura says:

    This article is rather basic to be honest, but yes those are the typical things you need to do in order to make a blogging website successful. In my eyes, fresh content added at least once a week is good, and make the blog appeal to as many different people as you possibly can – without causing the blog title to be referenced more to something else.

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