Photo by josef.stuefer
By beginning this post with the above figure, I don’t do so to boast. I know there are thousands of blogs that have received more subscribers than this — and in less time.
I highlight this figure (1,050 subscribers in 3 months) to show that you don’t need to have big money, the perfect niche or a staff of writers to quickly develop a 1,000+ network of loyal readers.
This blog exists within a mature and crowded niche, I’m its sole author and I’ve spent nothing on marketing and promotion.
I’ve learned enough from this experience to share how you can get 1,000 more subscribers in 3 months.
Subscribers are people, too!
A subscriber is a person who has elected to have every article published on your site delivered to them. That’s an impressive commitment.
For a reader to make the decision to subscribe, they need to feel that your content is 1) unmissable and 2) tailored to them.
If you can’t quickly describe your target audience then you’ve just identified the key reason why you don’t have as many subscribers as you’d like.
You’re writing about topics, when you should be writing for people.
What this means
Here’s the difference when it comes to subscribers. I’ll use a hypothetical personal finance blog as an example.
Firstly, let’s examine a personal finance blog without a target audience, writing on the topics of: Investing, Debt Elimination, Saving, and Frugality.
Can we imagine a person for whom all these things are of a keen interest?
If you’re in a position to save, you’re probably not worrying about debt elimination. If you’re trying to pay off debt, investing and saving might not have much relevance to you.
Even if you balance these topics equally, your readers will be skipping up to half of what you write.
Secondly, compare this with a personal finance blog written specifically for people in debt. With a target audience in mind, you can ensure every post you write is relevant.
You can skip over talk of saving and investing and provide valuable advice on budgeting and frugality instead.
When an indebted person visits such a blog they can look across the breadth of the content and say: “Everything here is relevant to me.” They’re in a perfect position to decide to subscribe.
Once you work out who you’re writing for you can cut out the topics that aren’t relevant to them. When a visitor feels your articles are consistently tailored to their needs they’ll be much more likely to subscribe.
Hopefully you can see that each post I write is aimed at a target audience (look to the top right corner of the screen for a hint!).
Another key strategy is to make your target audience obvious. That way, each time a member of your target audience arrives they can see straight away (hopefully before they’ve even started reading your content) that your site is tailored to them.
- Focus on a target audience rather than a selection of topics.
- Write every post for the benefit of that target audience.
- Make it clear to new visitors who your blog is written for.
When more is less
The biggest misconception about getting subscribers is that you need to write a lot of articles each week (preferably daily) and that people will unsubscribe if you don’t post enough.
In fact, the opposite is true. Subscribers dislike being interrupted by content they don’t want to read. In terms of getting (and keeping) subscribers, one great post per week is better than five mediocre ones.
That your content is relevant isn’t enough. It also has to be good. To fall back on a common but appropriate cliché: when it comes to subscribers, it’s quality over quantity. Of course, quality and quantity is ideal. If you can make the time, go for it.
- When it comes to subscribers, quality trumps quantity.
So, how can I write good stuff?
My guiding principle is to fill each post with value for the target audience. For example, instead of trying to explain you how to get 1,000+ subscribers in three months, I could have written about a nifty new WordPress plug-in, or the current state of the BlogRush widget. There’s nothing wrong with either of those topics, but it’s clear which one would be more valuable to you.
One post with lots of value is better than a few posts with a little. For a reader to want to subscribe they need to be moved by the value you offer. They need to feel that your content is worth treasuring.
When creating content, let the value principle guide you. Ask yourself: what’s the most valuable thing I can give my target audience right now?
If you find it hard to find the time to write value-packed posts, post less. Yes — even if it means you only post once a week. One value-packed post a week will grow your blog faster than seven posts with only a little bit of value (Tim Ferriss writes at about this frequency and is in the Top 1,000 blogs on Technorati).
People simply don’t link to or vote for posts that aren’t sufficiently value-packed — regardless of how many you write.
- Consistently value-packed articles are required in order to move people enough to subscribe.
How to source-out potential subscribers
Now that I’ve described the process behind creating the kind of content that motivates people to subscribe, the next (and crucial step) is sourcing out potential subscribers.
Potential subscribers are really just members of your target audience. They’ll discover your blog through either of two main paths: links, or social media.
A bite-sized guide to getting links
Breaking it down again, there are two kinds of links: links you make and links you get.
My subscriber count has always jumped when I got a bunch of links (or one link in a highly trafficked location). If you want to get links, you need to:
- Write an exceptionally value-packed article.
- Do something remarkable and word-of-mouth worthy.
- Ask for them.
The second type of links (the kind you make) can be just as powerful. These include:
- The by-line in your guest-posts.
- Your forum signature.
- The linked name that comes with the comments you make.
The most powerful links you can get are those on blogs, websites and within categories frequented by your target audience — preferably the most popular ones. Not all links are equal:
- A link with lots of targeted click-throughs is best.
- A link with a handful of targeted click-throughs is second best.
- A link with lots of badly targeted click-throughs is third best.
- A link with a handful of badly targeted click-throughs isn’t worth much.
All these links are better than nothing, but some are better than others. Links are doorways your target audience can use to discover your site. If you’re not getting links, you’re not getting subscribers.
- If you’re writing value-packed content you will generate links naturally.
- Exceptionally value-packed content will always get more links.
- Make your own links by guest-posting on popular blogs.
A bite-sized guide to social media
Articles will rarely do well on social media unless they’re exceptionally value-packed or remarkable. If you’re not focusing on value, focus on doing something remarkable.
Luckily, content people want to link to also has a tendency to do well on social media.
Being active on social media will help things along. People often vote for your articles if you vote for theirs: not because you’ve got some sort of reciprocal scheme going, but because it’s an easy way to repay the favor.
I’m certain that having an active StumbleUpon profile has played an integral part in this blog’s growth, for example.
- Writing linkable content will also help you with social media.
- Put effort into social media and you will be rewarded.
A bite-sized guide to networking
People who like you are more likely to link to you or vote up your articles on social media (and in doing so, source out new pockets of subscribers).
The much-vaunted practice of ‘networking’ is ultimately made up of what you do to get people to feel positive about you.
Here are some simple principles I’ve stuck by:
- Be nice.
- Don’t ignore people.
- Be friendly.
- Treat every person you interact with respectfully.
- Don’t view others as a means to an end.
- Help out in the best way you can.
- Be generous.
- Don’t take up too much time.
- Focus on mutual benefit.
- Give more than you take.
Viewed in this light, every email, comment, message, IM conversation and social media experience is networking. They key is to help people out. Give them something valuable for free, whether it be knowledge, advice, or your time.
Just like we saw with the success of Radiohead’s In Rainbows album, you ultimately get more when you don’t ask for anything. In a world where people only want to give a little less than they can take, being generous will make you remarkable.
The little things
If a reader is moved enough by your content to subscribe they’ll find the button even if it’s hidden in your footer.
In fact, I’ve subscribed to blogs that didn’t even have a subscribe button, either by burning their feed at Feedburner or getting the feed from the address bar.
Little things like button placement won’t make or break your efforts to get subscribers. It’s all the above stuff that matters most.
Despite this, the basic tenet of usability holds true: if you want someone to do something, you better make it as easy as possible.
- Put your feed button above the fold. This is where people expect it to be and is also the first place they look.
- Give readers the option to subscribe at the end of your articles. By doing so, you’re catching them when they’ve just read a value-packed post and are feeling most positive about your content.
- A great looking design can increase a visitor’s disposition to subscribe. We inevitably associate a professional design with how seriously the blogger or webmaster takes what they do. First impressions do count.
- You can offer another incentive to subscribe. I’ve written about this in detail at Blogging Tips.
- When do I start showing the subscriber count? When you start to be proud of how many subscribers you have.
This is, in essence, a three-pronged strategy:
1. Work out who your target audience is and write your content exclusively for them.
2. Pack your articles with as much value as possible. If time is a problem, post less.
3. Source out your target audience by getting or making links and writing for social media.
By following this three-pronged strategy my blog grew to 1,050 subscribers in 3 months. There’s no reason why your site can’t grow by just as much, if not more.
If you have any questions about this process please don’t hesitate to ask by leaving a comment.
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