What makes a blog reach the front page?
In my last post, I discussed how one of my own entries rather arbitrarily, and without my control, became a success. (By the current standards of this blog—there are many established blogs that would consider the same traffic a letdown.)
In a next step, this lead me to reflect on the disappointing quality of the blog entries published on wordpress.com’s homepagee: While some are good, most are superficial, have no depth or insight, lack an edge, are not thought-provoking, … The posts that I really consider valuable, I have typically found buried in the tag listings.
What do these posts have that brings them to the homepage? I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, but a few impressions of beneficial factors:
They are often noticeably longer than the typical post, sometimes approaching the length of a magazine article. However, they do not necessarily say more in the space used than many shorter posts.
They tend to be above average in language quality, measured in e.g. typos; however, are often written in a very bland and populistic style, not entirely unlike e.g. an airplane magazine.
The average number and quality of pictures is far above the overall average. Arguably, however, most pictures have no informational value and many have their only benefit in making the visual impression of the page more pleasing (occasionally, they fail even there). This is, again, reminiscent of how many magazines directed at the masses work.
Most have a picture that fits the homepage entry format well and is of unusually high quality—but which says nothing about the actual article.
Similarly, most have a catchy, but uninformative, title. (Typically, clicking on one of these entries is something I do in complete ignorance of what I will find on the other side. Notably, the homepage does not publish the excerpts that can be found in e.g. the tag listing.)
They often have content that, IMO, will appeal sufficiently to most readers that they are an adequate time killer when nothing else is available—however, they rarely have a great appeal to any individual group. Again, not dissimilar to an airplane magazine…
All in all: If an author could write for an airplane magazine, he might have a good shoot of getting to the homepage. But: How many of us would actually read, let alone pay for, an airplane magazine when something else is available? Do not judge a book by its cover, but by its content—and do not select a post based on how “polished” it is, but look at the actual ideas and insights present.
(Disclaimer: While I have read a few dozen homepage posts in the last two months, I cannot guarantee that I have a representative sample—or that WordPress will continue to make choices matching these criteria. Further, the above analysis is likely incomplete.)