We here at the Hydrant are content nerds. We enjoy reading posts just as much as we enjoy writing them. And because we write a lot, we also read a lot. Heck, we’ve even got a Slack channel for #coolblogs and are exchanging books at our holiday party this weekend.
As a recurring feature I like to do every once in a while, I examine different blogs or content sources and what they’re doing right to serve as a content strategy example.
This time, I’m focusing on Zen Habits, a blog that’s been in existence since the stone ages of blogging—2007. (Yes, that falls well before the jargon-y naming obsession in the tech/startup world in calling products “zen”.) Vegan, father of six, champion of living simply and in the moment, runner, writer, and self-described “regular guy…with no formal qualifications” Leo Babauta is the man behind it all.
Soon you’ll see why Zen Habits has got such longevity.
Why is Zen Habits so great?
Oh, let me count the ways.
1. Just look at it.
(via Zen Habits)
I dare you to not breathe a little more easy looking at this.
And the rest of the site’s design is this crisp, minimalist, and clutter-free. It’s beautiful.
2. The founder/creative behind all the content practices what he preaches.
Meet Leo Babauta. He’s been the force behind this quiet giant since the beginning. And like any good thought leader, he practices what he preaches—whether that’s mindful eating, meditating, writing daily, or being a focused dad. And after nine years of what he dubs “experimenting,” you can bet he knows a thing or two.
Further, Mr. Babauta clearly has a healthy relationship with writing, which we too balance at our Verblio (formerly BlogMutt) HQ, as does our network of 3,000+ writers. That, and it serves as a prime content example for our customers wondering how to start a blog and grappling with the idea of getting content out the door that might not 100% “match my voice” or “include ALL the relevant research.” (We’ve heard these plenty of times before.)
From “How to Write Every Day“:
“I learn to overcome perfection and put things out there to be judged, which helps me to embrace failure and messiness.”
It’s your business’s content, not a billboard or a banner from a blimp or a sandwich board you wear all day. Getting your content out there is WAY more important than it being completely perfect. So just push publish.
And Mr. Babauta knows this well.
3. Concise writing.
Conciseness isn’t the easiest trait to come by in a writer.
Most people think an incredible vocabulary, long-winded paragraphs, and flawless editing skills are the markers of a good writer. There’s a time and a place for each, but these elements alone do not an effective writer make.
Mr. Babauta knows this. His content is clean, comprehensible, and his voice sings through clearly as a result.
Want some more tips on how to be a good writer from him? Check out “Training to Be a Good Writer“.
4. Commitment to his mission in every personal/professional endeavor.
There are a few different aspects to this.
First, there are no ads on his site. Not only would that be at odds with his personal mantras of striving for simplicity and living fully, but it would also compromise the look and feel of the site, undermining much of the endeavor. Sure, it’d be a quick win to throw some ads up and now he’s got the clout to potentially leverage his site for lots of moolah, but he’s not trying to get into that game. It’s admirable.
Next, his headlines are anything but clickbait-y. They tell it like it is, and what you can expect to glean from a given post. Just the facts, ma’am. Which makes them more compelling. Amazing how that works, right?
These are my priorities. I say no to everything else: conferences, speaking engagements, promoting anything, new projects.
Finally, he has a friggin uncopyright section. It’ll make every content marketer smile.
(via Zen Habits)
5. Unflinchingly personal.
Besides the posts being written in the first person, you’ll also see posts like what’s currently on his homepage—a touching homage to his recently deceased father-in-law.
The nature of the blog is much more personal, sure, but in talking about his family, eating habits, or striving to be the best version of himself, he is transparent, articulate, and self-aware in his brand and storytelling. Talk about effective when speaking directly to an audience.
What does this mean for a business blog? Sure, not every blog or industry can this easily infuse this level of personal into their B2B or roofing blog, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to personalize however you can. Try it on for size and see how your readers react.
6. And then, of course, the posts & topics themselves.
Most obviously, this is the reason we highlight blogs. We like their writing and find it useful.
For me, a self-improvement enthusiast, Mr. Babauta’s content interests me. But I suspect that his style, low-key leadership, and mentality of sharing and free knowledge-swapping has converted a lot of initial critics as devoted readers over the years, too.
More than anything, Zen Habits embodies its name through each piece of content and the site itself. #brandcontentgoals
Every time I visit this blog, I sigh in relief. A sigh of relief in the zen I find in the voice, clean design, and the topics to make me better. It’s a rarity in this cluttered content landscape, and I can’t heartily endorse it more.