As I announced last week, I have sold my biggest blog, PluginID. The site was around 19 months old, had 6,600 subscribers, and according to a tool that monitors different niches online, was the 10th biggest personal development blog in the world.
I have revealed my reasons for selling over on PluginID, so go there for more details. If you’re wondering how much I sold the site for then my best answer, based on legal limitations, is simply “a mid five-figure fee.” Instead of dwelling on the sale, I want to praise the growth of such a big community and share the steps involved in duplicating my success.
Whilst there is probably going to be some advice in here that you may have heard before, I do believe there are some concepts that I (or anyone else) have never shared. As with most articles, this is going to be long, but I would rather provide massive value for those who want to know everything about building a popular website.
If you’re wondering why guest posting isn’t working for your site or why you can’t seem to get past 100 visitors per day, this is for you. If you are desperate to get your feed count past 1,000 subscribers then, this is also for you. If you’re looking for an A-list blogger to mention you work and put you on the radar, then guess what? This post is for you as well.
Let’s begin, shall we?
Read that again, if you don’t believe it, because it’s true. And I didn’t just do this in the first 18 months; I did this in the second month of my site being online. Hi, I’m Glen; it’s nice to have your attention.
I’ve always known that collaboration can be excellent to get more visitors to your website, so I decided to take things to the extreme. There are, of course, a number of ways to collaborate with people via your blog. For instance, you could:
I have highlighted in bold the one which involved me interacting with over 100 relevant, personal development bloggers. I paid $100 to have someone code me a rankings script that showed the top sites in my niche, and then I emailed every individual blogger to congratulate them for their rankings.
I had created something that people naturally wanted to share (especially if they were ranking highly), something that people would come back to in order to check their position, and most importantly: I had interacted with the top 100 bloggers in my industry.
How I collaborated with these people does not matter (don’t copy my idea; do something unique) but the fact that I did collaborate with so many people who mattered is important. This is how you start building a big blog.
I started PluginID because I wanted a way to document my personal growth. Naturally, I was writing things I wanted to read, because they were the things I was doing. However, I know that a lot of people (I used to do this myself) get caught up in worrying too much about what their audience wants to read.
It’s good to care and get reader feedback, but the majority of the time: your audience doesn’t know what they want. Yet, if you give them something they end up enjoying, they’ll thank you for writing it. Instead of allowing myself to get stressed about the pressures of writing for a large audience or attracted by what everyone else was writing, I simply wrote what I would like to see in a blog.
This may be surprising, but very few personal development blogs appeal to me. I just don’t like reading them. There is lots to learn out there, but I have far too many of my own ideas to write down before I need to borrow inspiration from a crowd of others. I have 2-3 sources which I like, and that’s enough for me.
Do I think design is a huge part of making a successful blog? Not really. Do I think a unique or at least professional design makes a big difference? Absolutely.
While you may not like the design of PluginID, I personally love it and so do thousands of others. Over a year after designing it, I’m still amazed at how many compliments it gets. Some people liked it so much that they copied my image style (text on a black bar) and even the yellow bar that shows how many comments a post has and who wrote it.
I have noticed a huge number of Thesis themes (not an affiliate link) around the web and I think most of them look professional. That kind of look is enough to make sure you are not turning people away, in my opinion. If you can customise your design even further and make it unique to you while staying relevant to your industry, then that’s going to help you even more.
I didn’t only care about whether my site was unique and professional. I also cared about whether it would convert visitors. What a conversion actually is varies from site to site, but for me, my conversions were product purchases and RSS subscriptions. First of all, I made my feed subscription options the first thing anyone sees in the blog sidebar so that they get a lot of views.
I also put prominent RSS hints on popular pages such as the blogs list. This was simply an arrow graphic that pointed to my RSS subscription box which actually got me up to a 10% conversion rate (30 subscribers from 300 visitors) at one point.
And finally, I made sure to show my feed count. I grew PluginID fairly quickly so it didn’t take long to have some “social proof” and a way to show people the site was popular. The more the number grows, the more it impresses and tempts people to subscribe, and the more subscribers you get.
It’s just constant growth.
I’m not necessarily proud of this fact and nor do I feel that guest posting is ultimate way to promote a blog, but this heading is true. Not one single person promoting a personal development blog wrote more personal development related guest posts than me in 2009.
If you’ve never considered guest posting or you aren’t sure where to start with it, read my massive guest blogging guide. It really does contain everything I have to share on the subject and you’ll learn why the tactic is so effective.
Some of these posts only brought me a few subscribers. Some of them brought me over 400 at once. It wasn’t just direct subscribers that I was getting in return for my guest posts though, I was also getting:
Since I first started writing about my success with guest posting it seems like the practice (and the amount of other people writing about it) has exploded. I see people doing it everywhere these days. I don’t have a very big ego, but I believe I have played a massive part in this change. Because of that, I think I’m in a good position to see where it is going.
Guest posting as a tactic is going to get dirtier, less valued and have less benefits within the next 12-24 months, in my honest opinion. SEO’s are already doing guest posts for clients in order to get them links and some blogs seem to do nothing but accept guest posts, rather than writing themselves.
I knew it worked, I used it hardcore, and I reaped the rewards. You will discover something else that you know works this year, so please (after telling me what it is, via email ;)) go hardcore with that tactic and see how it works out for you.
Writing a lot of guest posts might seem hard, but I guarantee that spending your time on “easy things” is just going to leave you with harder work while playing catch-up in the future.
Note: I have not written one guest post for PluginID in the last 3 months and the site still grew by over 1,500 subscribers in that time. Once your audience reaches a certain size, you can slow down (or stop) with activities like blog commenting and guest posts.
I know this article is teaching how about how I grew my site, but one of the reasons the audience grew so much, is because my audience grew so much. Before I explain what I’ve just wrote for those of you who are confused, allow me to say one thing: a decent number of people who subscribe to PluginID don’t do so because they want to read it.
A number of people subscribe to PluginID simply because it’s a big blog. They want to see how often that site is posting, what it’s talking about…and whether it is growing. PluginID isn’t unique in this case; I guarantee that ZenHabits, Problogger, TechCrunch and probably even your site has people who read it just for the sake of knowing what is going on. Not necessarily because of what you have to say.
The great thing about blogging is that once you get to a certain stage, growth becomes so much easier. Once you get to the 500 – 1,000 subscriber mark, you have far more people naturally promoting your content for you. This leads to more growth, and more people promoting your work, and then more growth.
You’ll have people unsubscribe from your feed now and then, but really, no blog should ever be getting smaller.
Focus on getting over the 500 / 1,000 subscriber hurdle (depends on the niche) as quickly as possible. Based on what happens, you could find this to be the hardest part of your blogging life. Especially if you’re a “nobody”. However, if you can just keep going and get over this hurdle, your blog is going to start growing exponentially from there.
Just get over the first hurdle.
And I like to think I still am. My website included my full name, my photo and even some videos of me. That’s a start, but it’s information that is becoming commonplace. To really bring my own character into my site, I went with what I thought would work best: being open and transparent in my blog posts.
I knew that if I shared failures, people would relate to them. I knew that if I shared successes, people would congratulate me and know they can achieve the same. I knew that if I put enough work into making my content help people, then the people I help will give back by talking about me and sharing my work. I also knew that if I put on any sort of front, people would be put-off immediately.
If you go back to blogging in it’s simplest form, then all you’re left with is a writer, a blog post, and a reader. Blog subscriptions, fancy sidebar’s and “most commented post” widgets are all really just extra ways to get people to stay in the simple loop of it being them, and your content, and you.
If you claim to be someone you’re not, how can people relate to what you say? If you don’t tell personal stories about your life, what story is there to tell when others want to talk about you? If you aren’t willing to lose the offline definitions of yourself that you’ve worked so hard to build in an online world, then you’re trying too hard to cover up, and you’re not being real.
I admitted that as an experienced and award-winning internet marketer, I felt like a failure when my blog only reached 500 subscribers after 7 months of hard work. But, I loved what I did, so I just kept going. 2 months later, the site reached 1,000 subscribers. 3 months after that, and one year after launch overall, PluginID reached 4,000 subscribers.
Keep it real, and keep it up.
At 16, when stumbling around the web looking for ways to get more traffic to my websites, I discovered Search Engine Optimisation. SEO, in its most basic form, is about getting more traffic from search engines by building links to your site and improving your on-site optimisation. Over the last 4 years I have been immersed in the SEO community and tried hundreds of different tactics to get websites ranking.
I wouldn’t say that I can rank a site in a tough niche easily, but with enough work I really can start to dominate any niche I focus on in the search results. I wrote how I did that in the personal development niche by ranking on the first page of Google for two of the biggest terms to my audience. One of those terms, was personal development.
I’m sure you can imagine how great it is to be getting hundreds of targeted search visitors to your site everyday. If you want to know how I achieved these rankings then check out my article on getting a lot of search traffic.
Around 15,000 people land on PluginID every single month directly from search engines and that is constantly increasing. How would 1,000, 5,000 or even 15,000 extra visitors to your site affect your stats? If your situation is anything like what happened to me, then you’re going to continue to increase the size of your audience, even if you’re not working on getting traffic from elsewhere.
If you’ve made it this far, I’m guessing you’re a blogger. If I’m right, then I have a question for you: what have you already done today?
Besides reading your favourite blogs, checking email and logging into Twitter, what have you done? I think I’m right when I say that at least 80% of you have probably done very little on your own site today, yet you’re still searching around the web looking for little nuggets of info to improve it.
I believe this site can provide you with useful information and masses of value (otherwise I wouldn’t write it), but I also believe that learning more and looking to fine-tune are all things you do after the things you know you have to do.
You know, like writing quality articles and engaging in your niche. If I haven’t done anything on my blog on a certain day, then I will continually stop myself from reading articles about blogging or anything else until I do something that can actually help my website. Articles for your own site or others don’t take that long to write — just an hour per day will give you enough time to write an article; provided you have an idea ready.
There is nothing more important on your blog than your content.
It doesn’t matter how pretty it is, how many subscribers you have or whether your latest title tweak is going to bring in floods of search traffic; your content is everything.
Not giving content creation most of your time is like a golfer constantly looking for more aerodynamic golf balls rather than working on their poor swing. Just look at the article you are reading right now — surely you can see that most of my time is being spent on my content?
My goal with ViperChill is not just to build a useful blog, but also to use it as a case study for my own recommendations. The site grew by over 600 subscribers in January. That’s nothing to do with luck and certainly no coincidence.
Content simply gets most of my attention.