Grow Your Traffic: Turn New Visitors Into Loyal Readers

grow your trafficPhotography by Nika

What’s the difference between a one-time visitor and a loyal reader who visits your site daily for a year?

Around 364 unique hits.

You’d be lucky if a link from an A-list blog sent that much targeted traffic your way. The good news is that turning a first-time visitor into a loyal reader is a whole lot easier than getting a link from an A-list blog.

The bad news? Loyal readers are a source of long-term traffic many bloggers and webmasters (and many articles about growing site traffic) seem to ignore.

What if you could build loyal readers from just 5 new visitors? If they went on to visit your site daily for a year, those 5 visitors would bring you 1825 hits. Further, 50 loyal readers of this kind would bring you 18,250 hits over the course of a year. And so on.

In this post I want to outline some basic strategies you can use to turn new visitors into loyal readers.

Be generous

Generosity leaves an impression, whether you offer new visitors a free eBook, a free review, or some other service.

Make a connection

Responding to a comment or email could turn a one-time visitor into a loyal fan of your site. It’s surprising how many bloggers and webmasters don’t see responding to comments/emails as worth the time investment. It absolutely is!

Be consistent with your topics

If the reader enjoyed your coverage of a particular topic they may keep tabs on your site, hoping for some more great coverage of the topic they’re interested in. If none is forthcoming, they might lose interest.

If you write about a flaw in the iPod screen, for example, you don’t necessarily need to write about the flaw again. You would probably be expected to cover the broader topic of iPods, however.

Pick your general topics and be consistent with them, to avoid readers feeling your site was not what they thought.

Develop a consistent rhythm

Loading up a site only to find that it still hasn’t updated can be quite a disheartening experience. If this happens enough, the reader might stop trying.

This doesn’t mean you need to post every day. You might only post once a week. The key, however, is that your articles flow with a consistent rhythm. If you post 5 times one week, readers will probably expect you to post 5 times next week, too.

Where to next?

Tomorrow I want to provide a longer list of concrete strategies you can use to convert first time visitors into loyal readers, and in doing so, exponentially grow your site traffic. If you don’t want to miss it, consider subscribing to my newsletter.

How to Get 1,050 Subscribers in 3 Months

email subscribersPhoto 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.

Summary:

  • 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.

Summary:

  • 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.

Summary:

  • 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:

  1. A link with lots of targeted click-throughs is best.
  2. A link with a handful of targeted click-throughs is second best.
  3. A link with lots of badly targeted click-throughs is third best.
  4. 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.

Summary:

  • 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.

Summary:

  • 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.

Conclusion

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.

Got a few seconds? Share on Facebook, Twitter or anything else is always appreciated!

How to Get 1,100 Subscribers in Five Days

growing subscribersPhoto by Hamed Saber

There are two reasons why I’ve used the above title for this post. Firstly, it’s a follow-up to my article on How to Get 1,050 Subscribers in Three Months.

Secondly, because my new blog, Anywired, reached 1,100 subscribers five days after its launch on Thursday.

This post contains everything I’ve learned about starting a second blog while using your first blog, connections and profile as a platform to launch it from.

If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be this point: your first blog is always the hardest. It only gets easier after that.

The recipe for success

When launching Anywired I had no idea what to expect. I had hoped that some Skelliewagreaders would be interested in it, and I had suspected it to be a little easier than starting this blog from scratch had been. I had decided to be optimistic and hope for 100 subscribers in the first week.

Clearly, I had underestimated the value of three factors:

  1. A loyal audience.
  2. A profile in your new niche.
  3. Connections with other bloggers.

These are the three components which made the launch successful. If you can build each of these components, you have a recipe for the successful launch of blog #2.

I think that while many bloggers have ideas for new blogs, they’re discouraged because they think back to how tough it was to build something from nothing.

Through the process of launching a second blog, I’ve learned that you can leverage the many hours of work you’ve done on your first blog (and on other blogs) to make growing you second blog much easier.

A loyal audience

From the comments on Anywired and emails I’ve received, it seems that a large portion of the blog’s new subscribers are NorthxEast readers (thanks, guys!).

It also helps that the blog’s niche (working and earning an income online) is in line with what many readers would like to get out of their blogs: a supplementary income.

If I had started a blog about duck shooting, you can expect that the interest from my readers would have been much less.

My key tips on building this element of a successful blog launch would be:

  • Create passionate readers and, as Leo Babauta says, try to be “insanely useful.” (Congrats to Leo on becoming a full-time blogger!)
  • You’ll have more audience transfer if your new niche is of interest to most of your target audience. That being said, a first blog can help even if your new niche is completely different. (After all, maybe some Skelliewag readers are duck shooters!)

A profile in your new niche

Having some degree of respect or notoriety in your new niche can also be helpful. If I decided to launch a new blog in the mountain-biking niche, for example, I’d expect a slow start because very few bloggers in that niche know who I am.

A lot of people know that I’m a freelance blogger, and I also write for ProBlogger and Freelance Switch, both of which are read by people interested in working and earning an income online.

Because I already had a profile in the niche, people were confident from day one that I knew what I was talking about.

My key tips on building this element of a successful blog launch would be:

  • Comment on blogs in your new niche before launching (to develop a bit of name recognition).
  • Write some posts on your first blog that incorporate your new niche (to demonstrate that you know a bit about it).
  • Guest-post in your new niche around the time of the launch.

Connections with other bloggers

My friendships with Darren Rowse, Collis Ta’eed, Jon Phillips and Maki resulted in links and support from their respective blogs when Anywired was launched.

I’ve been very lucky to make connections with influential bloggers, but the launch was also given support by a number of readers, combining to create a grassroots swell of support.

The combined effect was immensely helpful in generating incoming traffic and no doubt brought in a lot of fresh faces and new subscribers.

I’m thankful to everyone who wrote about or commented on the launch. I was truly humbled by the warm welcome.

My key tips on building this element of a successful blog launch would be:

  • Tell blogging buddies about your launch in advance and send them a link when the site goes live. I didn’t ask anyone for a link, but I found people were willing to link anyway.
  • Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get links from top bloggers. Your loyal audience should help you out.
  • Call in favors by asking others to vote for articles on your new blog, or support it in any way they like. You’ll find that if you’ve been helpful to the person before they’re likely to oblige and do so gladly.

Where to next?

I hope this post has allayed some of your fears about starting a second blog, though it’s still essential that you answer five hard questions before starting a new project.

In a month or so I’d like to return to the topic and reflect on what I’ve learned about the actual process of juggling two blogs.

I was considering writing a post simply saying thank you for your support, but I hope this post does the same thing while proving useful. Providing value is probably the best way I can say thanks :-).

Surviving and Thriving in an Under-served Niche

sproutPhoto by Indy Charlie

While I’ve already discussed the benefits of trying to grow a blog in a competitive, crowded niche, I want to devote some attention to how you can best grow a blog in an empty or under-served niche.

The best aspects of this method are an undivided market. If you’re the first quality blog on a topic a lot of people have been searching for, you’ll generally become the biggest blog in that niche because you were the first — as long as you stay consistent.

ProBlogger.net, arguably the first blog about blogging, is still the biggest. Freelance Switch, arguably the first blog dedicated to freelancers only, continues to remain the biggest in its niche.

Unless you’re focusing on ultra-obscure topics I think it would be difficult to be the first blog in any niche, but if a niche is under-served (there aren’t enough blogs to meet demand), it’s easier to be the best.

Tapping into an under-served niche is what many bloggers dream about when brainstorming blog topics.

While the potential gains are great (quality blogs in under-served niches tend to grow rapidly), surviving in an under-served niche can present a host of difficulties.

If we’re to think of things metaphorically, imagine an Oak seedling in a rocky clearing. If the seedling can thrive where others couldn’t, there’s plenty of space for it to grow into something grand.

Before that can happen, though, the seedling has to contend with a lack of soil to grow from. It probably sounds cutesy, but I think it’s a useful encapsulation of what you’ll be trying to do if you blog in an under-served niche.

No soil!

That old (but good) advice: comment, guest-post and pitch links on other blogs in your niche. Throw it out.

If your niche is under-served, there’ll be nowhere to do these things, or if there are, the other blogs will probably be so quiet that it isn’t worth your time.

Rather than looking for other blogs which slot neatly into your niche (of which there are likely to be few), source-out blogs which non-exclusively write on your topic.

If you run the only blog about a small college basketball team, try to get links or guest-posting gigs at big blogs about college basketball, for example. If the blog’s audience is big enough, you’re bound to find a pocket of people interested in your niche.

Some niches are also friendlier than others. For every niche that’s open to guest-posting and sharing links, there’s another niche where trying to do these things is almost impossible.

One unfortunate result of a wide and varied blogosphere is that some niches have a much stronger community than others.

Let’s assume that nobody will let you guest-post, nobody wants to link to you and your comments elsewhere don’t bring in any traffic. What do you do?

The good thing about SEO is that it doesn’t care much what the rest of your niche is doing. If there’s less competition and your blog is cleverly optimized, you stand to net a lot of traffic.

I’m not in a position to teach on SEO (even at a beginner’s level), so I’ll let Ciaran McKeever do so with his excellent article.

The self-sustaining nature of social media is also perfect for growing a blog in an under-served niche. If your niche is under-served, you’re probably blogging on a topic without widespread appeal.

For that reason, I’d suggest putting most, if not all of your efforts, into StumbleUpon. Its highly refined category system makes it a lot easier for niche content to succeed.

You can use StumbleUpon to build your niche site by voting up articles you see as high quality for your target audience. Stumblers with consistent taste in content tend to attract like-minded followers and ‘fans’.

If your blog is about money-box collecting and you consistently vote up articles on money-boxes or similar collectibles, you’re going to attract the interest of other Stumblers who’re also interested in those things.

Another useful StumbleUpon tip is to erase all your previously selected interests until you have no interests selected, then pick just one: the category which most narrowly suits your niche.

As you stumble, many of the sites you come across will appeal to your target audience. If you view the reviews page for the site, you can click through and ‘Fan’ the person who discovered it — a person who’s very likely to be interested in your blog’s niche. I

’d suggest doing this with as many people as possible. Not only does having a wide network enrich your StumbleUpon experience, but it also allows you to send your best content to mutual friends.

Once you have a steady stream of targeted SU traffic arriving at your blog it’s possible to grow and thrive on that alone.

Under-served vs. Not wanted

That there are few blogs on a particular topic doesn’t necessarily mean that there is some kind of seething, unmet demand, bubbling away in the nether regions of the web.

Some shopping strips are empty and dilapidated because nobody wants to shop there, and some niches are empty or lackluster because very few people are interested in reading blogs on the topic.

Notice the difference: very few people are interested in the topic, vs. very few people are interested in reading blogs on the topic.

Just because hundreds of people are searching for ‘wheelbarrows’ each day doesn’t that people want to read a blog about wheelbarrows.

Sure, people might want to buy them — and a blog on such a topic might well make a handsome profit from AdSense — but how many people honestly want to read about wheelbarrows every day?

If you’ve ever done research on niches with the AdWords keyword tool, next time, compare the search volume between your niche idea with the search volume for your niche idea + blog. The difference can be quite remarkable.

Concluding words

Under-served niches are potentially the most risky and most lucrative situations in which you can start a blog. The space can allow your blog to grow at a remarkable level, but you’ll need to overcome a lack of foundation first.

You’ll need to make your own soil to grow from.

  • Guest post, get links from and comment on blogs which touch on your topic, rather than being solely devoted to it.
  • Learn the basics of SEO and apply them to your blog. Focus on keywords your target audience are likely to be searching for.
  • Use StumbleUpon to meet and greet your target audience.

Nomadic Growth: Moving to Greener Pastures

nomadic growthPhoto by Tengis

This post is a lesson borne out of a challenge I’ve been facing at the moment: a growth plateau.

It started at around the time I began to experiment with an inward growth strategy without external promotion: I would write good posts, new audiences would find them through links and social media, and the blog would grow on the back of its content and existing audience alone — or so the theory goes.

It’s a strategy that goes against common advice — that you should constantly be searching out new audiences and promoting externally, whether by guest-posting or by calling upon social media networks.

The result of my experiments? They haven’t worked for me.

My old promotional strategies yielded more subscribers in less time, and while the inward method is less time consuming, it seems to yield significantly less results.

The experience has taught me that good content, even with an established audience, needs to be shared with new audiences on regular basis, whether that’s by guest posting, asking for links, writing easily linkable posts or promoting content on social media.

If you only look inward, your blog or website becomes a walled garden, and it’s much harder for new audiences to enter that space.

Nomadic marketing

Another valuable lesson I’ve learned through this experience of slowed growth is that promotional methods are like pastures. The rewards yielded by each method are finite.

When I started writing for ProBlogger my byline generated a considerable amount of targeted traffic, but after a handful of posts, it started to decline until it petered out almost to nothing (even though some of my later posts were very popular).

If you expose yourself too much to the same audience, you saturate that audience.

Imagine a hotdog seller at a baseball game. She targets a particular section of the stands, and calls out: “Hotdogs, two dollars each!”

The first time she does so, she gets a few takers who leave their seats to get a hotdog. Once they’re finished, she calls out again, and a couple of stragglers who didn’t hear her the first time shuffle over to her cart.

The third time she calls out, there’s only one taker — someone who had just arrived to hear her call for the first time. The fourth time she calls out, there are no takers. The fifth time, people start to grumble with annoyance. Everyone who has the desire for a hotdog has already bought one!

Consistently marketing yourself to the same audience begins to use up the attention the finite attention that audience has to give to you, just like grazing the same pasture for months will leave it barren.

Like any nomad, you must continually move to greener pastures, and new audiences. Are you riding the same old promotional methods into the ground?

But it takes time…

The inevitable truth, though, is that marketing your content to new audiences takes time — probably several hours a week, in fact. This is time not everyone feels they have.

My advice, and what I intend on doing myself, is to subtract the needed time from my inward looking strategies and focus it once again on reaching out.

You might write one less post per week on your own blog and write a guest-post somewhere else instead, for example.

Never forget to look outwards

  • By guest-posting on popular blogs or well targeted blogs.
  • By writing list posts designed to please social media and your existing audience.
  • By asking for social media votes from friends and contacts. Let’s face it — social media is not as organic as it used to be.
  • By pitching links to your content at other blogs and websites in your niche.
  • By becoming genuinely involved and active in the social media service you’re most likely to be successful with.

But remember: while powerful for a certain period of time, the above examples are all vulnerable to ‘empty pasture’ syndrome.

Spread out your guest posts on specific blogs, or don’t guest-post more than a few times in the same place. Mix up your content and don’t keep on repeating the same formulas.

Don’t ask for social media votes too frequently, and don’t always ask the same people. Don’t always pitch the same kinds of links at the same people, and again, don’t ask for too many favors unless you’re confident you can do something meaningful in return.

Navel-gazing promotional strategies are less time consuming, but the time you save is disproportionate to the diminishing returns.

Do you need to explore greener pastures?

I know I do. Maybe I’ll see you around the place?