Become a Top Blogger By Mary Jaksch If you’re a blogger, you know how frustrating it is when your subscriber numbers stagnate. As a newbie blogger, I started my blog Goodlife ZEN with only two subscribers: my son and my best friend. After two months of blogging … I still only had two subscribers. So in desperation, I subscribed my cat Sweetie. Great! Now I had three subscribers. OK – one of them preferred snoozing to reading my stuff… It took another six months for my subscriber count to stutter its way up to 100. The slow start was a blessing because I was still finding my way as a blogger, and my blog at that time was ugly, cluttered, and preachy … ugh. Today, Goodlife ZEN’s subscriber count is nudging 20,000. Here’s a take-home nugget for perfectionists: You can make a lot of mistakes – and your blog will still grow in the long run. How to create a foundation for growth If you want to skyrocket your subscriber count, you need to make sure your blog is well prepared. In fact, there are five foundations of blog growth that you need to consider in order to get your blog to grow: uniqueness, design, usablility, content, and benefit. All the five foundations have a single focus: to make a visit to your blog an enjoyable experience. If visitors don’t enjoy the experience of visiting your blog, they leave immediately. The key point is: getting traffic to your blog isn’t enough. Preparing your blog for visitors is crucial. Let me tell you Ben’s story to illustrate this fact. Ben moved into a new neighborhood. It’s a bit posh. He wanted to meet his new neighbors. So Ben decided to throw a party. He sent out invitations, cooled some beers and prepared cocktails. When the time came, Ben could see his guests arriving. But instead of coming right over, they just stood and stared. Because there was a problem … To find out what the problem was, click on the small image below. Yes, Ben wasn’t quite ready to receive visitors … If you want visitors to hang out, you need to create a welcoming environment As a blogger, there are five foundations of blog growth you need to take into account in order to create a great environment that turns traffic into subscribers. The five foundations of growth 1. Uniqueness According to Invesp.com, Technorati’s research shows that at July 2011 there were 164 million blogs online. (If you want to know what that means for bloggers, read Mike Stelzner’s excellent article, 7 Reasons to Rethink Your Blogging Strategy: New Research.) Infographic by Invesp.com In order to become visible among the sea of blogs, your blog has to be unique – and not just a ‘me too’ website. The key is to define what is unique about your blog, and then to focus on this uniqueness in every aspect of your blog. Remember: you are unique. You blog is unique too. Finding and defining the uniqueness of your blog is a process that you can learn. 2. Design First impressions count. Does the blog look professional, or is it amateurish, or does it look like it’s just trying to sell a product or promote a person? There is no one design format that will get you subscribers, but there is an important point: the design has to be a good fit for the content, as well as being a good fit for your target audience. For example, young guys looking for a tech blog will respond to a different design than middle-aged readers visiting a self-development blog. The key role of your design is to underscore what is unique about blog. 3. Usability Usability is about keeping visitors on a blog and to make them take a preferred action. If your preferred action is to get readers to subscribe, then it needs to be obvious and easy how to subscribe. If you want readers to read more, you need to showcase your top posts in order to lead them deeper into your content. Most of all, good usability makes it easy to find out at a glance what the focus of a blog is and who the blogger is. A blog needs a well-crafted About page, that shows that the blogger has some kind of authority, either by experience, accomplishments, publications, or general knowledge of the blog topic. 4. Content Ultimately, a blog will only thrive if it has useful or entertaining content. Useful content means that the content must be created for the reader, and not for the blogger. Here is an example: A new student of mine recently wanted to know why he wasn’t getting many comments on his blog posts. I pointed out to him that he had used the words “I”, “me”, “my”, and “mine” 28 times in the first 3 paragraphs of his most recent blog post! If a blogger is focused on his or her own experience, and doesn’t consider how the experience could inspire, inform, or entertain his readers, a blog will languish. But good content isn’t enough. A blog post needs to be scannable. This means that the content should be clear at first glance. Short paragraphs, subheadings, quotes, and bullet points make good content accessible. To top it all, an attractive blog post needs a carefully crafted headline. 5. Benefit Benefit is the most important foundation of blog growth. Your blog must be of benefit to your readers. Starter growth strategies A blog just out of the egg needs different growth strategies than a blog that’s already well established. The most difficult stage of growth is from zero to 100 subscribers. Here are some starter strategies that help to create visibility: Create business cards with your blog’s logo and URL. Hand them out to everyone you meet and suggest that they subscribe. Find blogs with similar topics and comment regularly. Make sure your comments are interesting and thoughtful. A tip: choose blogs that use the plugin CommentLuv because a link to your last post will show up at the bottom of your comment. Join forums or groups and join in the conversation, linking to your blog in the signature. For example, members of the A-List Blogger Club subscribe to each others’ blogs and exchange comments. Focus on one form of Social Media, start conversations, and build up a following. Intermediate growth strategies Once the five foundations of blog growth are in place, it’s time to ratchet up efforts and employ different strategies. Guest posting is one of the most powerful growth strategies because it can propel your blog into the limelight. In order to be successful, you need to learn how to research blogs, and how to pitch a blogger. Your success rate will be much higher if you come to a blogger’s attention before pitching your guest post. This could be through commenting regularly, or by responding to the blogger on Social Media. Creating alliances with other bloggers is important as your blog grows. Seek out bloggers who have slightly bigger blogs and strike up a relationship. Think about how you could support and help the bloggers you want to connect with. All bloggers like to get links, or mentions in Social Media. Create blog outposts on Social Media. If you establish a channel on YouTube, a Twitter account, or a Facebook page, your blog will get regular traffic from these Social Media outposts. Optimize your posts for Search Engines. Use an SEO plugin in order to optimize your posts. The lasting benefit from learning about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is that older posts will get regular (and growing) traffic from Search Engine. Advanced growth strategies Creating a gift for subscribers is a great growth strategy. Readers are much more likely to subscribe if you offer something of value in return. Your gift can be an eBook, a report, an app, a video, or anything else that’s useful and would benefit your target audience. Popups that advertise your subscription gift can double your subscription rate. This is a rather controversial strategy, but the results are amazing. It’s important to set the popup to show only once so that your regular readers aren’t bothered by it. I use the plugin Popup Domination on my blog Goodlife ZEN. Modified popups are another option. For example, you can use the plugin WP Subscribers to create a signup box between a post and comments. (Check out on Goodlife ZEN how this looks). Dynamik guest posting is a great way to make your mark in the Blogosphere. This means writing at least a couple of guest posts per week, as well as becoming a regular contributor on blogs that count. It’s a strategy that takes energy and time. For example, when Leo Babauta first started Zen Habits, he wrote five guest posts per week, as well as five blog posts – whilst working full-time and looking after a big family. Writing viral posts can create instant visibility. These are posts that are passed around on Social Media, and are linked to by other bloggers. Posts need a certain structure and a cracking headline in order to go viral. It’s a skill that most bloggers can acquire. Collaborating with other bloggers can boost your subscriber numbers. You can join others in order to create a product, or run an event. The simplest way to do this is to create an interview. Launching a new blog or a product can create the kind of buzz that gives you high viz. A-List Blogger Club member Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend is a good example of how this can work. He relaunched his blog and grew his readership by over 10,000 in less than six months. The YouTube interview with Scott is worth watching. Running an event on your blog is an underused strategy that can have amazing results. If you can create an event that people want to participate in, your blog will grow substantially. What kind of event you choose depends on your blog topic. It can be a charity event, a fund-raising event, or a contest, and so on. For example, here at Write to Done we run the annual Top 10 Blogs for Writers Contest. Rocket Strategies There are a few strategies that make your subscriber count go through the roof. They need careful planning and execution. You can create a ‘rocket strategies’ through combining two or more of the advanced blog growth strategies. For example, Scott Dinsmore combined re-launching his blog and launching a product. You can also combine creating a subscriber gift with creating an event. How to Boost Your Subscriber Count by 33% in 5 Weeks In December 2011 and January 2012, the subscriber count of Write to Done grew from 23,700 to 31,800. That is, over five weeks, the subscriber count of WTD grew by 33%. The strategy I devised was to combine three advanced strategies: subscription gift, product launch, and event. I created a quality gift for subscribers, The ‘Nearly’ Ultimate Guide to Better Writing (which you can download immediately by filling in the form in the sidebar). I then timed the book launch at the same time as running an event, the Top 10 Blogs for Writers contest. It worked 🙂 In conclusion As you can see, there are many strategies to grow a blog. You need to know exactly how to use each strategy in order to get best results. And none of strategies work if you don’t know how to prepare you blog for new readers. It takes study and effort to grow your blog. But the rewards are huge. It’s a great feeling when you create your own tribe that loves hanging out on your blog. If you want to skyrocket your subscriber count, join the upcoming virtual bootcamp at A-list Blogging Bootcamps, called Blog Growth Mastery. Click on the image below to find out more: About the author: Mary Jaksch is Editor-in-Chief at Write to Done. Grab her FREE report How to Write Like an A-List Blogger. Mary has helped thousands of students successfully create outstanding and profitable blogs at A-List Blogging and is the blogger behind Goodlife ZEN.