Any time that you take and apply blogging advice from me, you’re trusting someone who has created a number of blogs that failed miserably. But, even though I said I wouldn’t trust someone with marriage advice who has been divorced three times (they couldn’t learn after the second one?) I think the best people to trust are those who have made mistakes, learned from them, and then went on to success.
I built a celebrity blog which I sold after a month because I couldn’t care less about how Paris Hilton spends her time. I ran a DJ blog which I later let die due to other interests and I even ran ViperChill for a year (a long time ago) without getting one single comment or feed subscriber. I’ve made most of the blogging mistakes you can think of.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to learn from them. I grew PluginID to a readership of over 4,000 subscribers in a year then sold it when it had around 6,500 and of course I’m now having a lot of success with ViperChill and really establishing myself in this industry.
If I could go back in time and give advice to my younger self so that I would have success with blogging at a much younger age, these are the types of things I would want to share.
For most people, when they first start out with blogging, it’s hard to gain a decent sized audience. There is the odd exception of a blogger who springs onto the scene from nowhere and gains a large following, but for most people, that simply doesn’t happen.
When I was launching PluginID, I was very confident that I could make the blog a quick success because of my background in the SEO and Social Media space. Without trying to sound arrogant, I really expected to have thousands of subscribers within a few months.
Then reality hit.
I had been blogging for 7 months on that site and gained no more than 500 subscribers. 7 months of producing the best content I could, utilising Twitter, commenting on other blogs and everything else you can think of hadn’t produced results. If I didn’t love my topic, I would have probably given up by this point.
Because it was far more about helping people than how many people I helped, I just continued to do what I was doing. Surprisingly to me at the time, I found that the next few months involved some rapid and easy growth. In fact, within 2 months I had reached the 1,000 subscribers mark. That’s growing 500 subscribers three times quicker than I had previously.
3 months after that, when the blog hit its one year anniversary, I had 4,000 subscribers.
There was not some secret tactic I used to accelerate this growth. It simply becomes easier to grow a blog when there are more people reading your articles because there are more people to help you promote them. As you increase the size of your audience you increase the number of people who are going to be talking about you.
If you can just keep going until you get over the “blogging hump” then you’ll very likely see a similar snowball effect in play.
When I re-launched ViperChill, my aim was to write the best content I could and then hopefully get noticed by a huge blog that would send a lot of traffic my way. They would hopefully see how much work I was putting into this site and how I really wanted to help people, and the blog would grow thanks to their referral.
After a few months of blogging here that didn’t happen (and still hasn’t) but that’s totally fine. When reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin he states, “If your business strategy relies on one big company to notice you then you’re going to fail” and while that didn’t directly relate to me, it helped me see that I was looking outside of myself for my blog to succeed.
Everything you need to know about making your blog a success is out there for free. There are guides which help to put everything in one place for you, but they aren’t totally necessary. You may have a harder time at succeeding than other people (Leo Babauta was on the Digg homepage over 40 times which helped quickly propel him to 100k+ subscribers) but if you stick at it then you have no excuse for building a failed blog. Ironically, most people quit at the point where they’re about to experience their biggest growth.
I wrote over 40 guest posts in 2009 because I knew how powerful they were. Most of them were in excess of one thousand words and each took a long time to produce. You could do exactly the same this year, or you could just sit and look at your analytics stats all day and feel like other people have all of the luck.
If you aren’t going to get some random growth spurt from a big blogger or an article hitting the Digg homepage, carve out the results for yourself. I did.
In the workplace and especially back in school, many of us believe that standing out is a bad thing. If everyone is wearing a certain type of trainer or styling their hair in a certain way, you probably didn’t want to be the person who didn’t go with those trends. It sounds silly to us as adults, but I’m sure you can relate to this from when you were in school.
When it comes to the blogging world, though, standing out is one of the best things you can do. As long as it’s for the right reasons. I want to stand out because I put hours into each article and truly want to help people with my advice. Not because I try and cause controversy and take down big bloggers (there’s a few blogs out there that do this, but they don’t deserve a link).
You can stand out with:
And many other things I could talk about here but the list would go on forever. Remember: if you’re blogging for everybody, you’re blogging for nobody.
Or me. At least not at first. I’m not naive enough to think that you would stick around here if I provided absolutely no marketing value, simply because of who I am or the brand that I’ve built. It makes total sense that people visit your site first and foremost for the content you provide. Isn’t that why you blog in the first place?
If I recall correctly, there was an incident that Problogger – who writes daily – had when he missed posting for one day. He received around 20 emails asking if he was OK and whether a post would be going live. These people obviously cared about Darren, but his content is the reason they keep going back to the site.
The reason I think this is a good lesson to remember is because you can get so caught up in talking about yourself that you actually forget why people come to your site in the first place: To get value in some form. This realisation will also keep you levelheaded once you do start to attain a level of blogging success as well.
I firmly believe that there were a number of people reading PluginID, and now reading ViperChill, that don’t care much for what I produce. They simply read it because they like seeing a big blog case study unfold before them. Similarly, there are a few people who wouldn’t respond to my emails or give me the time of day when my sites only had a few subscribers, but once they reached a few thousand then these people started trying to get on my radar and grab my attention.
Because of that I always try to connect with people who may not have the biggest audience but I believe in what they’re doing so for that alone I’m happy to promote them. You never know when someone who is growing his or her blog now is going to be an A-lister, so I suggest you take the same approach.
This certainly doesn’t apply to all types of blogs, but if you’re the main writer of yours and you have personal aspects to the content you produce then this can be huge. In the early days of my personal development blog, I was writing a lot of ‘how to’ type posts and while they gained a lot of traction, I didn’t really feel like I was connecting with my audience.
When I started sharing personal stories of both success and failure, I noticed that those posts would receive a lot more comments and I would get far more email feedback than usual. Who would have thought that being real was actually more interesting to people than writing as if you’re some perfect being or expert on your topic? (Yes, I’m being sarcastic).
You can inject transparency into your blog in a number of ways. As I write about marketing, for example, I wanted to share the stats of this website on a monthly basis because I know that people building websites will be looking at their own. I can’t name any blogs that give away so much information. Even though revealing this much information increases the competition for me, it also helps people see that I’m the real deal.
What if a personal finance blogger started showing their exact income and outgoings each month?
What if a health blogger posted his exact eating habits and weight fluctuations on a bi-weekly basis.
What if a make money online blogger wasn’t trying to be an expert, but just showed their progress on the journey and didn’t try to sell any products to their readers?
What if you did X, that revealed even just a little more than anyone else in your industry?
As mentioned earlier, a lot of people would subscribe to my blog simply because of how many other people were subscribing to it. It makes sense that with so many blogs out there, people only want to read the ones that look like they’re actually going to be worth reading.
If I stumble across a blog on marketing with the same theme I’ve seen in 100 other places, it’s not going to get my attention. Yet, if I notice a “11,652 subscribers” feedburner chicklet before clicking the close tab, it’s far more likely to make me stick around.
I made the mistake when starting out by showing that I literally had 7 subscribers to my blog. If you notice that, why would you want to join them? I also clearly displayed comment counts even though they were on 0. Work at increasing those numbers through promotion before showing them off.
Luckily, even if you’re a very new blogger who doesn’t have many subscribers, it’s easy to show massive amounts of social proof. Naomi Dunford at Ittybiz doesn’t show her feed count (though it’s high) but instead shows the number of monthly visitors she gets in a nice graphic.
If you have a few blog posts with a lot of comments, you could install a plugin which enables you to show the number of comments your site has and show first time visitors that a lot of discussion takes place on your blog.
Alternatively, if you’ve built up a popular Facebook page or following on Twitter then you could show off those numbers to gain some trust. You won’t get many opportunities to convert the same person into a subscriber so using things like social proof is a great way to give yourself the best chance.
Just make sure you have the content to back it up when they do stick around.
For those of you who have grown successful blogs, what would you tell your younger blogging self? I’ll see you in the comments…