North X East
Building a SuperBlog

Building a SuperBlog. Part 2

From 2000-7000 Readers in Five Fast Weeks.
After the rocketing success of those two first weeks, momentum continued our growth to just over 3000 readers in what was only our third week of existence. For a few moments it seemed that all we needed to do was sit back and watch the numbers roll over. But all good things come to an end and our statistics began to plateau.

Before I continue, if you haven’t already, you may like to view the first title in this series:
Building a SuperBlog Pt 1: From 0 – 2000 Readers in Two Short Weeks.

free stats Dashboard

And so after our first two weeks of excitement, I happened to come across an article about how spikes of traffic can sometimes lead to *temporarily* inflated subscriber numbers. Cyan – the site manager – and I called an emergency blog meeting at our local Starbucks. The two of us plot and plan most of FreelanceSwitch there over venti cups of piping hot tea and as usual, an hour or so later we had a new plan.

Having decided that our job was far from done, we concluded that the next phase of the blog’s life would be about cementing our growth and position. In this chapter of the case study, we’ll discuss the strategies we implemented to keep that momentum going and to establish FreelanceSwitch at the medium success level of blogging.

(1) Keeping Momentum

Like most things on the internet, blogging success begets further success. Once you have a subscriber base, simply publishing new articles will result in a natural growth. The first task we set ourselves then was to keep pushing out plenty of great content. This would ensure that readers who had subscribed to the RSS feed stayed subscribed and provide us with a base level of growth.

Since quantity without quality is useless, all this posting would mean a rather large workload. While some posts on the site take an hour or less of work, others take anywhere up to a gruelling twenty hours to put together. Since we publish between one and three times a day, this could easily cause problems for our small team.

To compound the problem, we had discovered the amount of administration required on the site was far larger than any of us had anticipated. Since I work on a few other sites and we had only one other contributing writer, this left the bulk of the load on Cyan’s shoulders.

The solution would need to be two pronged, first find ways to deal with the administration load and second expand the writing team. What one or two people have trouble with, six or seven should find easy.

Fortunately we had been receiving daily offers to contribute and before long we grew the team from three to nine writers. Having more contributers is not only an asset for distributing the workload but it also provides a variation in tone and voice to the site that is good for a how-to blog like FreelanceSwitch.

Cutting the administration load was not so easy. After all adding new writers means correspondence, dealing with invoices, editing, publishing and plenty of additional tasks on top of what we already had.

To a certain extent there’s no getting around these and administration is something we are still battling with. We have had some success in cutting back email response times through standard replies and tweaking of our contact page. Look out for more on blog administration in future articles in this case study series.

(2) LinkSwitches

One of my biggest worries for FreelanceSwitch has always been competition. In the first part of this case study I discussed the importance of being early to a new niche. My fear then was that by displaying such explosive growth, we were exposing the size of our new playing field before we had had a chance to properly establish FreelanceSwitch as the niche-leader.


While every passing day, additional subscribers and new linkbacks take the blog one step closer to dominating this particular arena, we looked to find a way to speed up the process.

One simple technique that we began employing early on was to leverage the incoming traffic and growing readership to send out traffic to other blogs. We did this through biweekly link roundups we call LinkSwitches.

At first the idea of sending traffic to other related and possibly competing blogs in order to establish your own blog seems a little back to front. After all doesn’t that help establish *them* instead of your own blog?

Here is our reasoning:

  • By linking we help other blogs
    This is not only good karma, but it also encourages goodwill and return linkage. If we’re lucky enough to get traffic, then there’s no sense trying to hoard it.
  • By linking we tell our readers there’s no need to go anywhere else
    We give the message that by reading FreelanceSwitch, you’ll not only get the best we have to offer, but the best that everywhere else has to offer. And if that’s the case then FreelanceSwitch may be the only blog of its kind that you need bother subscribe to.
  • We give the impression that we are in the center of things.
    By linking out consistently and by telling people to send in their link tips, we position FreelanceSwitch smack bang in the centre of the freelance niche.

(3) Continuous Improvement

I always remember my father telling me that if you stand still in business eventually your competitors will walk past you. I believe it’s no different in blogging. If you want to be the best, you need to innovate and consistently improve.

During the five week period, we managed to release a job board, clean up parts of the site design, open a Cafepress merchandise store, bring on advertisers, run a competition, add authors AND continue to push articles.

By constantly improving, adding features and changing things, you send out the message that your readers haven’t seen the bottom of your bag of tricks, that they better stick around to see what you’ll pull out next.

(4) More Digging, More Bookmarking

In the previous article in this series I mentioned our use of social media. Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and Reddit have all continued to yield results in both traffic and subscriber conversions.

Though we are becoming less and less reliant on them as a source of traffic, during these four weeks we continued to push articles through social sites.

Three things we tried in particular were:

  • Publishing Humour
    Comedy is hard to do and when it fails, it can really bomb. When you do strike a chord however the results can be massive. The most successful day on FreelanceSwitch thus far was the result of a top 10 list that took just twenty minutes to write and brought in some 60,000 visits in 12 hours from Digg. This was a response 3-5 times larger than any other (non-humour) social media successes. To get that one big hit, we also bombed once and didn’t quite hit the spot on a couple of other occasions getting buried or simply not dugg.
  • Emulating Success
    After seeing numerous articles frontpages on digg with titles like ‘33 great designs’ and ‘26 superbly designed sites’, we decided that it would be worthwhile and relatively easy to emulate their success. In writing ‘made for digg’ articles you must bear in mind the needs of your core audience and so we took the slant of ‘places to get design inspiration’ and included offline ideas as well as online. In this way we expanded on a winning formula and tailored it to our own audience. Unsurprisingly it was a big hit on digg. What I didn’t realise would happen was that StumbleUpon gave that same article more traffic in the end than Digg did. In fact as I write today, two weeks later we are still getting an average of 3000 StumbleUpon visitors a day to that same article.
  • Exploring Social Media Niches
    Digg is simply too large to be ignored, however this month we also tried exploring more niche media sites. In particular we found some good results from the programming channel of reddit with content that was aimed towards freelance developers. Positioning specific articles to niche groups is an aspect of social marketing that we look forward to exploring more in coming weeks.

(5) Finding Other Sources of Traffic

Relying only on social media for traffic however is like depending on rainfall for your water supply. When it happens you’ll have more than you need, but there’s often no rhyme or reason to when it comes.

So where else do you find traffic? Here are three routes we tried during the four week period:

i. Advertising
The obvious place that seemingly no bloggers go is advertising. Though it must happen at some level, I myself have never seen a concerted advertising campaign mounted by a blog.

Perhaps it’s because the margins are too tight, perhaps it’s because there are free sources of traffic available. My own supposition is that bloggers don’t tend to think like businesses and hence investing into advertising doesn’t seem sensible.

During this four week period FreelanceSwitch banners appeared on seven other sites and additionally we ran a paid StumbleUpon ad campaign. While by no means a huge amount of advertising, it was enough to bring just under 10,000 visitors to the site.

CSS Remix

ii. Trading Banners
Another way we brought ad traffic in was to trade unused ad space on FreelanceSwitch for the same on another site. Many blogs, particularly new ones have under utilized ad space. By trading space you not only get effectively free traffic, but the ad space looks busier providing social proof to other advertisers that it is worth advertising on your site.

iii. Design Galleries
Finally one major source of traffic for the site has been through its inclusion in a number of design galleries. Because a good third of our readers are designers, marketing through CSS galleries and design portals is not only effective in bringing traffic numbers, but is actually targeted.

If you aren’t familiar with this idea, basically you submit a well designed site (which happily includes FreelanceSwitch) to gallery sites that list inspirational designs. You can see a good list of them here. Traffic gained from such sites can be significant, to date FreelanceSwitch has received over 25,000 visitors from CSS Galleries. Some of the top link sources have been:

This has been the second part in a multi-part case study tracking FreelanceSwitch’s growth. In the next segment, I will be discussing techniques we use to grow the blog beyond 7000 readers including growing community, SEO and linkage and beginning to utilize viral techniques. I’ve set the period for the next phase at 9 weeks, so it should be up early August. Until then!

Liam Cavanagh

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