Photography by Daniel Morris
These tips apply to any blog or website with modest traffic levels (0 — 200 per day) and under 100 subscribers.
If this doesn’t apply to your site, you might consider familiarizing yourself with these growth tips so they can be utilized if you embark on a new project in future.
I certainly can’t guarantee how much your site will grow in terms of numbers, but I do want to suggest that, unless you rely on SEO alone, the growth actions I’ve outlined should create real results on any site.
This post outlines the growth actions I’d recommend to anyone hoping to build an established site from a modest starting point.
Some thoughts on starting growth
Cases like the rapid growth of Freelance Switch and Zen Habits can make new bloggers feel quite inadequate. The subscriber bases of these sites have grown by the thousands in a very short time.
I want to suggest that these sites (and others like it) are not good points of comparison for us. It’s much easier to grow a blog quickly when you can leverage an existing profile or audience.
It’s also much easier when you have money or multiple people working on a site.
Both Freelance Switch and Zen Habits were blessed with a number of these advantages. This doesn’t take anything away from them, as many other sites begin with the same advantages and don’t do so well.
However, I want to stress that these sites aren’t a useful benchmark, as their startup situation is not comparable with our own. In other words, it’s not a level playing field.
Most of us, as was the case with this blog, will have to grow a readership from nothing. It’s a gradual process, but a very rewarding one.
Building something from nothing
If you don’t mind me embarking on a metaphor, it could be useful to think of your site, in this stage of growth, as a tourist attraction in the middle of a wild forest.
It’s a beautiful attraction, but there’s simply no way for potential visitors to find it. There are no paths, no roads, no signs. At this point, you’re relying on visitors stumbling across the attraction by accident.
The actions that follow are about building paths, roads and signs to your site. In the beginning, this will be almost entirely up to you. In some ways, this can make the task even more satisfying.
Here are my suggested actions for this period of growth:
Write a week’s worth of posts before you open the doors
You wouldn’t open your tourist attraction for business if the ticket booth or guest-house was nothing more than a timbre frame, would you?
New visitors need to be impressed by your blog, and there’s nothing less impressive than a sense of emptiness.
As there are no time constraints, try to spend more time than usual making your first few articles outstanding. Use them to communicate what your site will offer.
Join a forum
If you can’t find a forum for your niche, you’re probably not looking hard enough. I built my readership, in the early stages, almost entirely through my presence on the Authority Blogger Forums.
By placing a prominent, yet not overbearing, link in my post signature, I was able to encourage a number of curious click-throughs from forum users who’d enjoyed my posts.
If you can manage it, joining two (or more) forums can help you reach a new pool of potential readers.
I’ve discussed Finding New Readers in Forums before, but the crux of my advice is: post lots, make your posts valuable, connect with other forum members, and help others as much as possible.
Comment prolifically and thoughtfully on similar sites
Many potential readers are to be found reading other blogs and websites in your niche. The best way to draw them back to your blog is to leave a thought-provoking comment, or to answer the questions of other commenters.
I’ve written in detail on finding new readers through comments before, but the gist of my advice would be to: focus on both well-known and lesser known sites in your niche, post comments with value, engage with other commenters, demonstrate your skill in the niche, and most importantly, comment frequently (but only as long as you can continue to maintain the quality of your comments).
Start hunting out guest-posting opportunities
Guest-posts can bring dozens to hundreds of highly targeted visitors to your site (depending on where the post appears).
In the early stages of my blogs growth I guest-posted prolifically. Most of the sites I targeted were not ‘out of my league’, so to speak — they were more established than mine, but not so established that they wouldn’t take a chance on a new blogger.
One strategy I found very effective was to write a post on the Authority Blogger Forums offering to guest-post for anyone who asked.
Even if I wasn’t well-versed in the topic, I found I could research enough for one post with relative ease.
You could launch the same request on a forum dedicated to websites or blogs, or alternately, make the same offer on your niche forum (where at least some of the users will have blogs and websites).
If you want to be proactive I’d suggest pitching guest-posts to certain bloggers via email. My advice would be to stay away from the A-list for now, and be mindful of your inexperience.
Write the blogger a short, polite email outlining your idea in a sentence or two and offer to send them along the finished article if it sounds like something they might be interested in.
If you stress that the blogger can still reject the article one you’ve had a look at it they’ll be much more likely to take a chance.
I never had a blogger reject the article after showing it to them, but even if this does happen once, you can always use the article on your own (or another) blog. A tip: make sure you search the target site to make sure your article idea hasn’t been used before.
Forget Digg and del.icio.us!
Low-traffic sites rarely reach either place, as you need a certain mass of visitors to vote up your articles before a snowball effect gets rolling. Few of us have the raw materials required.
I want to explicitly stress one social bookmarking service that is often overlooked or misunderstood by bloggers and webmasters — though it is starting to get the recognition it deserves.
That service is StumbleUpon, and I want to suggest that it should be your exclusive social media focus in the early growth stage of your site.
One vote for your article at Digg or del.icio.us will never bring more than a few visitors. One vote from a StumbleUpon user has the potential to bring hundreds.
For this reason, I’d suggest pushing only StumbleUpon submission at the end of your posts (for now). Forget Digg, del.icio.us, Reddit and all the others.
They’ll only serve as obstacles for your Stumble link or button. In doing this, you’ll be squeezing the maximum amount of social media juice out of a limited number of visitors.
Kick-start the process by getting involved on StumbleUpon yourself. I’ve written about how StumbleUpon can help grow your blog over at ProBlogger.
Focus on writing viral articles
If your site is new, get into the habit of focusing on potentially viral articles right from the outset. If your site has been around longer and hasn’t yet focused on going viral, your current position will allow you to gain more than you lose by making this transition.
Not every article you write has to be written with virality in mind, but investing time in a few really carefully crafted posts might pay great dividends.
50 Tips to Unclutter Your Blog, which is still somewhat viral, was posted in the relatively early days of this blog and truly helped to get the ball rolling. Don’t save your best ideas for later: you need them right now.
Let others know about you
Start introducing yourself to other bloggers, offer to help them, or link them to an article their readership might enjoy (preferably by someone else, at first).
If you’ve written something you think would truly by appreciated by the audience of another site in your niche, consider politely pitching the link to them. Don’t ask for a link explicitly, merely suggest it as something the blogger or their readership might enjoy.
Keep your eye open for every opportunity
If you see a group writing project, participate. If a blogger you read is sick, offer to write a post for them (that’s how I got my first guest-posting gig at ProBlogger).
An instinctive sense of opportunity is one of the most important skills any blogger or webmaster can develop, and it will only grow stronger with practice.
Moving into Month 2
The next stage of growth applies to sites with approximately 200 — 300 visitors a day and 100 to 200 subscribers.
If you don’t feel as if those statistics will apply to you due to the nature of your site, you can move into the next stage when you feel you’re ready.
Tomorrow I’ll be outlining strategies to move through the next stage of growth. If you have any questions so far, please ask via the comments on this post.