11 killer tips for a successful Tumblr blog

Tumblr provides a simple and highly effective platform to share ideas, inspirational concepts and to showcase awesome work to a thriving design community. But with the number of Tumblr blogs approaching the 100 million mark, how can you ensure your blog stands out from the pack?

It may seem an overwhelming task, but there are things you can do. For instance, Tumblr showcases interesting blogs in its prestigious Spotlight categories and your blog posts can get featured by 'tag editors' to appear in popular feeds, such as 'Design' or 'Illustration'.

Likes and reblogs

Two years ago today I set up a Tumblr blog called Type Worship. I was looking for a quick and effortless way to collect together lettering and typographic work that inspired me and to publish some occasional thoughts and my own work. I enthusiastically and quite naively started posting and was amazed when my first few entries began to receive likes and reblogs (similar to retweets).

After a few months Type Worship was included in Tumblr’s Typography Spotlight section, after which it grew so fast I had to turn off email alerts for likes and followers. Today, the blog is close to attaining 100,000 followers, and in addition I help to curate great content in Tumblr’s Typography feed.

Here are some principles, learned through my own trial and error, that can be adapted to your own Tumblr blogs...

01. Have a laser-like focus

Focus your ideas

Dynamic Africa focuses on the continent's visual design culture

The majority of blogs are very generalist, discussing the owner’s views on anything and everything. The blogs that really stand out occupy a specific niche and serve a purpose. They concentrate on one thing and they do it well.

What's your angle, your passion? Aim to create something uniquely yours. Whatever you choose: keep focused and try not to go off topic - or at least try to relate unconnected posts back to your subject. Keep the funny cat pictures for your Facebook friends.

02. Pick the right name and theme

Like any piece of design work, first impressions count. Luckily it’s easy to customise the layout, design and functionality of your blog without being an HTML whizz. Tumblr offers around 200 themes, many of which are free, but if you’re serious, consider paying a few dollars for a more sophisticated 'premium' one.

Consider choosing a blog name that describes what it’s all about. Using your own name or web handle can make it harder to determine what your blog is about at a glance. Once you’re commited it’s worth setting yourself up with a custom URL such as 'www.yourblog.com' rather than the default 'yourblog.tumblr.com', to add that professional touch.

03. Pace yourself

Find a blogging rhythm

Find a blogging rhythm that enables you to maintain a consistent level of high quality content

Publishing original content is imperative. To start with, you may have a list of things you’d like to cover. You might be tempted to post tons of material early on, either to gain attention or just because your enthusiasm is is sweeping you up into a blogging frenzy. Pace yourself. Find a regular rhythm that you can maintain long-term.

Don’t spam: If you want to post 20 images an hour you might annoy people and there are other more suitable platforms for this, such as Pinterest. Think of your blog like a book; ask yourself whether the content you are about to share will develop your overall story.

04. Craft posts carefully

One of the things that may determine how often you post is the amount of time it takes to produce an engaging entry. Spend time picking great images - Tumblr has a very visually driven audience - so you ensure the pictures look great, cropping and adjusting as necessary.

You should be offering some insights for your readers into what it is you’re posting about. This might only be a couple of lines but those few words should be accurate and provide a little background. When posting about type or lettering work I always ensure credit is given to the original source (which can sometimes take a little research due to lazy sharing habits online), plus information on the creative process, the rationale and what I think about it.

05. Make it personal

It’s important to add some personal context about why you’re posting something. What do you think and how does it make you feel? Why is it important to you or worth posting about? Good or bad, give your opinion, otherwise no one can understand your unique perspective.

06. Get noticed by the editors

Tag editors

Know what ‘tag editors’ look for when deciding whether to promote your content

Tumblr promotes great content by applying 'featured tags' to excellent posts relevant to key categories. Search for 'design', 'film' or 'illustration' in Tumblr’s dashboard and the resulting list will have been carefully curated by 'tag editors' - volunteer bloggers invited by Tumblr.

I help curate the Typography feed, along with several others. Because this is searched for by thousands of users a day, chosen posts can gain a lot of attention, inevitably leading to more followers for the blogger.

Tumblr publishes guidelines for tag editors. Follow this guidance and ensure that you tag your posts carefully with related keywords for the best chance to be spotted.

07. Learn what works for your audience

As you gain followers and attract visitors you’ll notice what content engages people most. This will inevitably vary from blog to blog but there are a number of general behaviours that I’ve learnt from my audience that I now optimise for. Some of these factors are likely be pretty universal to Tumblr:

  • Long articles don't attract as much attention as shorter, snappier entries.
  • Bold, striking imagery is essential. Multiple images tell a story better than one image.
  • My followers are more active during the working week. Weekend posts tend to attract less traffic.
  • A large percentage of my audience is in the US so I tend to post in the afternoon when they wake up.
  • Maybe because Tumblr followers scan their dashboards so quickly, videos and audio posts rarely rack up as many 'likes' and 'reblogs' as images.
  • Animated GIFs attract a lot of attention.

08. Interact and spread the word

There are a number of nifty tools to help your blog engage with the Tumblr community and reach a wider audience around the web. Tumblr provides functionality to allow people to ask you questions, which can be replied to privately or via your blog, if interesting. Many blog themes also offer Disqus integration, allowing users to comment on your posts.

Hooking up your Twitter and Facebook accounts to allow automatic posting is made easy. However, don’t forget to edit those tweets manually before posting to ensure they are pithy.

Tumblr spotlight

This area is shown to all new sign-ups and generates a lot of followers for the promoted blogs

How to get featured on Tumblr's Spotlights is a hot topic. The most common advice is to "be popular", but there are many other factors.

Three months after joining Tumblr and with no more than a couple of hundred followers, I submitted the blog to editors@tumblr.com to be considered for inclusion in their recently created Typography Spotlight. A week later I received a 'We <3 your blog!' response from Tumblr and was offered a slot. Type Worship now also features in the Design category and this may well be due to the number of featured tags it had received in this category.

Popularity isn’t a numbers game alone, but is measured by the quality of your posts: Tumblr says it looks for "unique, original, and creative content". By publishing this kind of material you’ll inevitably attract a fantastic audience anyway. And it doesn’t harm to ask!

10. Keep an eye on your progress

Tumblr will alert you when people like and reblog your content within its network, but don’t overlook your audience beyond the Tumblr community. Simply adding a Google Analytics tag via your theme settings will enable you to see how your content is being consumed and adjust your tactics accordingly.

Don’t get too hung up on the numbers to begin with, though. You should do it for fun and because you have an itch to publish your ideas, the audience will follow.

11. Give something back

It’s free, there’s little or no advertising and Tumblr has no qualms with you making your own revenue from ads, sponsorships or sales. So pay a little back by being a good web citizen and generate good karma. For example:

  • Keep the 'Join Tumblr' button up in the corner of your blog. Some themes allow you to turn this feature off but a huge number of new members join through this button.
  • Always, always link to the original source of any third party content you post so the owner gets credit.

Words: Jamie Clarke

Jamie Clarke is a designer and entrepreneur. He is a founder of the digital agency Thin Martian and was previously Head of Design at Microsoft. He has developed a number of successful start-ups and runs the blog Type Worship, now the official blog of typography magazine, 8 Faces.

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