There are a lot of rules when it comes to creating a great website or blog. You have to pay attention to search engine optimization (SEO) settings like keywords and meta tags, you have to carefully design every detail of your page from navigation to white space, and you have to work hard to promote your site and build affiliate links so that you can earn some money from your efforts. Too often, however, the most important aspect of building a platform is overlooked – being yourself. Simply put, if you want to build a great website or blog, then you need to be yourself before anything else.
Why Is “Being Yourself” Important?
Judy Garland used to say that you should “always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.” The implicit truth behind that statement is that you can never be “first-rate” by copying someone else. You’ll never be as good at being someone else as you are at being yourself and the difference will show in everything from your writing to the design and navigation of your website or blog. If you stay true to your interests and tastes as you build a site and write content, then you’ll be ensuring that there is consistency across every page and that your content is interesting. After all, it’s hard to get “jazzed” about a topic that doesn’t interest you or a design that doesn’t speak to you.
Now, being yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t take tips and input from others. In fact, being yourself almost demands that you take pointers from other places; you just need to give them a twist that makes them uniquely yours. For instance, you may come across a great website design with great navigation. You like it because it appeals to your sensibilities, but that doesn’t mean you should copy it part for part. Instead, figure out what it is that makes the site so grand in your view and then use those basic principles to build something of your own.
Be Yourself, Be Cautious
It is important to understand that, in being yourself, you still need to respect social boundaries and societal limits if you expect to amass a large following. Being authentic is important to building trust, fostering relationships, and creating intimacy, but you need to know the limits on sharing personal information, preferences, and thoughts. For instance, you may not want to share details of your personal life, like where you work or what your address is. Those are obvious examples, but you also need to be mindful of less obvious situations in which sharing too much can be detrimental, particularly if your content is available to people of different cultures, social classes, etc.
When you do express yourself, be careful about how you do it. Confusion about the true intent of your words or your website can instantly kill any rapport that you are trying to establish. Take care with the words you use and parse them for potential hidden meanings or ambiguity. The last thing you want is for people to read something into what you have created that you never intended to put there.
As a general rule of thumb, don’t talk endlessly about yourself. Being yourself and talking about yourself are not the same thing. You can mention details about your likes, dislikes, and personal life, but only do so when appropriate. Try to keep the focus on topics that will interest your readers and only include information about yourself when it bolsters that interest. While this problem is easy to avoid on product or review websites, it can be harder to avoid on blogs and in advice columns. Just remember to keep that anecdotes turned outward. In other words, talk about yourself only when it will interest, entertain, or inform your users.
No Lies, Fibs, or Omissions
All too often, site owners and bloggers try to create the perception that they have a larger team working behind them than they actually do. In extreme cases, individuals attempt to make it seem like they are the directors of a large multinationals. It seems innocent enough because you know you can get the work done and because the web provides a veil of anonymity that will prevent people from finding out that your multinational is actually a one-man shop. Don’t fall for this trap. If you fib, people will know.
Lies about your team, where you live, your contacts, or anything else will eventually come to light and destroy any trust you have built with your users. People are increasingly more understanding of freelancers and entrepreneurs on the web, so don’t feel that you need to give the impression of being “larger” than you are. In truth, being a struggling individual can benefit you in myriad ways.
If you are being yourself, then you are writing about things you care about, selling products that interest you, and creating content that has depth. In so doing, you will be helping your clients and readers by offering answers to their questions and honest information about the topics that you discuss. When you are yourself, which means pursuing your own interests, it is easy to be helpful because you care about the topic.
It’s Hard Work
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said that “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” What the great writer was saying is that there will be constant demands on you to succumb to trends, buckle to peer pressure, and go along with the crowd. Resisting those demands is difficult, both because they are so commonplace and because they are often insidious in their coercion. If you can resist the pull and simply be yourself, however, you will find that your content will be better written, your site will be more interesting, and you will be happier. The last fact is the most important because the single largest predictor of success in any job is the individual’s satisfaction with their work. If you are pleased with what you are doing, then you’ll want to spend more time doing it and that means more success.