If you’re trying to build a blog readership, you have probably already read some “get x thousand subscribers in x days” articles. Some blogs have signed up astonishing numbers of subscribers in a very short time.
Update: apparently the new answer to getting FeedBurner subscribers is to get FriendFeed subscribers. Google may have just killed the usefulness of the Feedburner chiclet. If you’re still interested in getting RSS subscribers, read the tips below.
The number of people who have subscribed to this blog so far (514 as of today) isn’t as impressive as some, but you might find this article more valuable than others. Why? Because when I started this blog 90 days ago, I had no blogging experience.
This is my first blog. I didn’t start with a throwaway blog or as a freelance writer or anything else. Other than reading blogs, the only other interaction I had with a blog was writing an article or two for the company I last founded. That should make the tips I share below interesting to you especially if you’re starting your first blog.
Many of the blogs out there that achieved huge overnight success relied on an advantage that you don’t have. They were started by already successful bloggers, and they used that success (rightly so) to spread the word about the new venture. TwiTip (started by Darren Rowse) is a great example of this, as are CrunchGear (Mike Arrington), Anywired (by Skellie), Smarterware (Gina Trapani) and countless others.
The first is always the hardest, in blogging and surfing, but everyone starts from scratch. Here are 21 tips that will help you sign up more subscribers (even if you don’t run another popular blog to help you spread the word):
- Realize that success will require hard work.
If you’re hoping to become a successful blogger by spending a few hours a week on your new blog, maybe you should play the lottery as well. You’ll probably have about the same odds of success there.
There’s no secret formula to success. You really have to work smart and hard. Blogging is no different. As Chris Guillebeau recently wrote in his Daily Ass-Kicking on Twitter: “don’t waste time learning the ‘tricks of the trade.’ Instead, learn the trade.”
- Pick a topic that you’re interested in that other people need help with.
It’s important to get both parts of this tip. First, pick a topic you’re interested in. If you’re not interested, it will show to your readers, and you’ll run out of ideas quickly. Second, make sure that people also need help with or information about the topic. Don’t jump into something that either is already well covered (unless you have a good niche in mind), or no one cares about. Combine your interests with your readers needs.
- Start on a solid platform with good SEO capabilities.
Do some research about blogging platforms before you jump in. Make sure you don’t rush in to a blogging platform that you’ll outgrow or be unhappy with later. Make sure you get your own domain name (as opposed to blah.blogspot.com or whatever) if you’re serious about blogging.
- Get a decent design.
Does it need to be the best? No. There are plenty of sites with great design that go nowhere. There are also plenty of sites that become huge with a very ordinary design. A good design would help anyone, but content and promotion are more important.
- Don’t “launch” until you have published 6 to 8 articles.
When you start your blog, you should keep it private until you’ve published some meaningful content. That way your visitors will have a better picture of what the blog will be about. It also makes it clear that you’re not one of the millions of blogs that are abandoned after one or two posts. If you’re using WordPress, the authentication plug-in is a simple way to keep things private until you’re ready.
- Publish consistently.
You don’t need to write every day or 5 times a week or anything in particular. It’s most important to write consistently so people have a reason to subscribe and come back. If you don’t post for a week with a new blog, people will assume you’re not serious about it or that you’ve abandoned it.
- Plan, produce and promote. Rinse and repeat.
There are three components that are essential to the success of any content creating business. Those are, planning (deciding what you are going to do), production (actually making the thing) and promotion (letting people know about what you created). They don’t necessarily have to be done in that order, but all three are important.
I’m assuming you are a one-person operation at this point, so you’d better be honest with yourself about which areas you aren’t good at and work to improve. You can’t simply ignore the parts of blogging you don’t like. Too many great creative people languish in obscurity because they don’t promote their work adequately.
- Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a lot of readers right away.
About 80% of my subscribers have signed up in the past month. It took me a while to refine what I was writing about, and to write in a way that interested people. That process takes time (and you need to let it happen), but keep writing.
Listen and adapt to reader feedback, but also give your master plan time to work. It’s a balancing act, and you don’t want to overreact if things don’t grow as quickly as you had hoped. Once you get traction, growing your subscribers becomes easier.
- Focus on the readers’ interests, not your own.
This is probably the hardest part of blogging (and writing in general), and if you get this down you’ll be doing better than 95% of other bloggers. Before you start writing each post, ask yourself “why will a reader care about this article?”
Put yourself in their shoes and imagine you’re reading your blog with no connection to the author. Avoid writing mostly about yourself, unless you happen to be one of the few people who is interesting or witty enough that people care to read just about your life.
- Don’t fear competition.
There are literally millions of blogs out there. There’s nothing you can do to prevent competition. Your best strategy is to become an authority on your topic, and befriend other bloggers with the intention of cross-promoting content.
Realize that as more people write about your topic (especially if it isn’t already common vernacular), it means you don’t have to educate your readers as much. They’ll be more ready to sign up as soon as they discover your blog, because they’ve already been turned on to the subject.
- Pay attention to your headlines.
Headlines are very important, and you should spend considerable time in crafting them. Potential readers often decide whether to read your post based on a quick scan of the headline. Check out Copyblogger for more tips on writing great headlines.
- Write some “how to” and “list” posts.
Certain types of articles are automatically more popular with readers. “How to” and “list” posts are good examples. Readers like them because they immediately understand what the benefits of reading the article will be.
You may write some great content, but it won’t be popular if potential readers doesn’t know why they should read it. Not every post should be of these two types, but do some experimenting with different formats to see what your readers like.
- Write some guest posts.
Writing guest posts for other blogs is a great way to expose yourself to a different audience. It’s also a great way to get on another blogger’s radar in a big way. That blogger might just help promote your content in the future.
- Interview people.
There are a couple of reasons to interview people. First, to bring your readers a qualified perspective other than your own. It’s good to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Interview some people who can shed some light on your topic.
Second, it’s important to associate yourself with well-respected people, both from a reputation standpoint and an SEO standpoint. Don’t be afraid to ask for interviews either. You’ll find that even well-known people are more willing to help out than you’d think.
- Reach out to other bloggers.
This is probably the way I’ve generated the most qualified traffic to my site. When trying to build traffic, you have to find potential readers who will be interested in what you’re trying to say. Where can you find those readers? There’s a good chance that they’re already reading some other related blogs. If you can get those blogs to link to you somehow, you’ll get a stream of highly targeted readers.
I’ve connected with dozens of other bloggers who write about lifestyle design and location independence. We’ve all helped boost each other’s traffic by working together on surveys, blog carnivals, guest posts, etc. It has really paid off. And again, don’t fear the competition. Write great content to keep your readers coming back.
- Interact with your readers.
Spend some time interacting with your readers. It’s important that you let readers know that you value their comments, so they’ll be more likely to come back. I try to reply to most comments directly in the comments section. It doesn’t hurt to send a brief thank-you email to new commenters either.
- Ask people to subscribe.
You want people to subscribe, right? The best way to get someone to do something is by asking directly. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but it’s reasonable to ask people to subscribe at the end of most posts.
- Make your best content visible.
If you’ve worked hard to create some dynamite content, make sure your visitors can find it. Keep a list of your best stuff in a sidebar. Link to great related articles at the end of each post. Don’t assume that people will search or look through archives to find the best stuff. Show it to them.
- Invest in at least one social platform.
After my first 30 days of blogging, I wasn’t sure if Twitter would ever be a significant source of traffic to this blog. It’s two months later and the story has changed completely.
Twitter is now the #1 source of traffic to this site. Even big established blogs like TechCrunch are finding that Twitter is a top 3 traffic source. I hear from other blogs that other social media platforms like StumbleUpon, Facebook and FriendFeed are also sending lots of traffic their way.
Don’t expect the traffic to come right away. You need to invest some time in a platform before it pays off. You also need to be genuine and helpful. Don’t just push your content. Make sure you are helping people solve problems too. Check out the guest post I wrote a TwiTip for more tips on how to grow an interested following on Twitter.
- Consider advertising.
Spend money on advertising? Really? Yes, you might want to spend a few bucks ($100 would work) on advertising, both to jumpstart your readership, and to find out what types of content is best received.
One of the hardest periods in blogging is when a blog is new and doesn’t have any readers. There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. To get over this, you can pay to have readers check out your site. I spent about $100 on StumbleUpon and they showed my site to 2,000 people. It was a great catalyst. Don’t just link to your home page, though. Advertise individual posts and you’ll start to understand what people like.
- Consider a professional site review.
While we’re on the topic of spending money to improve your blog, you might also consider paying for a professional site review. Chris Garrett provides an amazing service that will really help you fine-tune things and see things from a professional’s perspective. A public review from Chris will also get you some additional exposure and improve your search engine rankings. I really can’t recommend his service enough.
That about wraps it up. I hope these tips are useful in helping you grow your blog readership. If you’re looking for even more, here are some other related posts from around the web:
- 279 Days to Overnight Success (via The Art of Nonconformity)
- The Pocket-sized Guide to Blogging (via Skelliewag)
photo by larskflem