Less than a year ago, this blog had fewer than 300 subscribers. Now, it’s headed toward 2,000.
This is the story of how I skyrocketed my blog subscribers — and how you can, too.
I tried a lot of strategies — and some of them worked. The good news is, the things that worked for me are things any blogger can do to grow their audience. You’re pretty much guaranteed you will add subscribers.
How many subscribers you add depends on how well you execute your plan — and definitely on a little bit of luck! — but your numbers will definitely go up.
Before I start, I just want to say that growing an email subscriber list should be the first goal for any blogger with dreams of earning from their blog. A lot of new bloggers are unaware of this — I know I was! But without a list, you cannot easily market and sell things to your readers.
I agree with Naomi Dunford of ittybiz — when you don’t have a list, you’ve got nothing. You can be doing a lot of awesome stuff, but at the end of the day if that stuff doesn’t build your list, it’s a waste of time.
Here are the 10 most important things I did to grow my subscriber base:
1. Make celebrity friends. A few years back, this wasn’t so important, as it was easier to get noticed in the blogosphere. Now, as Jon Morrow of Copyblogger tells in a great video on his GuestBlogging site, it’s mandatory. You can do all of the other steps below, but it’ll be slow going if you can’t get a link or mention from an influential blogger. Just like a Hollywood starlet, you can spend years touring in dinner theater and eking out a living, or you can sit at the drugstore counter on Hollywood Boulevard and get noticed by a big movie-studio producer right away.
When top bloggers notice your work, they can spread the word to everyone else and send a flock of readers over to your blog. Some will subscribe. You’ve also then made a great connection you can ask about guest-blogging opportunities on their blog, to gain even more exposure.
There are lots of ways to connect with top bloggers. The first way I did it was just by putting my blog post links on Twitter. One was spotted by Jon and he asked me to guest post on Copyblogger. A lot of good stuff rolled from there.
2. Listen to your readers and meet their needs. You may think you know why readers visit your blog and what they want to read about, but take a poll and ask them. The answers will probably surprise you. If you only have a few readers now, email them individually and get their thoughts. When you write more extremely useful posts on exactly the topics readers want, more readers will subscribe.
3. Post frequently and consistently. Initially, I posted sporadically, then progressed to once a week. I gradually upped that to twice a week, and then three times, which seems to be a good level for this blog. More posts mean more visits — it’s just that simple.
I also set my posts to all go up at the same time of day, and on the same days of the week (holidays excepted). I found readers like to be able to rely on you for a fresh post at particular times in their week. People are creatures of habit, and regular posting will make your blog habit-forming.
4. Write amazing headlines with key words. Regular readers are probably sick of hearing this from me, but most blog-post headlines aren’t drawing readers the way they could. If you improve only one thing about the posts on your blog, let it be the headlines. When I learned more about headlines and wrote stronger headlines, I got noticed by a lot more influential people.
5. Give away great free stuff. So many bloggers complain they can’t get people to subscribe, but they don’t offer any incentive to do so. Put together a short, useful free report and you’ll be amazed at how many more subscribers you get. People love free stuff! When I did my first guest-post on Copyblogger, I was so excited — I thought I would rack up hundreds of new subscribers right away. But I didn’t have a free-giveaway offer, and I really didn’t get many subscribers. So you can drive a crowd to your blog, but if you don’t make them an enticing offer, you still won’t gain many subscribers. I definitely learned this one the hard way.
6. Ask for the subscription. Back when I had about 250 subscribers, I did a consulting call with Jon Morrow. I complained about my low subscriber rate, and he said, “Well — do you ask readers to subscribe?” I countered that I had a signup box.
“No,” he said. “Ask them. On the bottom of your posts write, ‘If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing,’ and give a link to sign up.” Sure enough, making that “ask” got a steady trickle of signups going, right away.
7. Make it easy to subscribe by email. I’ve looked at more than 100 startup blogs in the past couple of months, and a common problem new bloggers have is not making it easy to subscribe by email. Often, there’s only an RSS signup, or the email signup is buried inside the RSS signup sheet.
I used to have a similar problem — I had a small text-link you clicked to subscribe, which took you another place where you filled out the subscription form. In other words, it was a 2-step process. When I fixed that and made it a one-step process, subscriptions rose. Lesson: You can never underestimate how lazy people are when they’re reading websites. Every step they have to take gives them a chance to lose interest and wander away without subscribing.
8. Remove the clutter. Last summer, I got approached by Derek Halpern of DIYThemes and Social Triggers to do a guest post for DIY. He told me my site was too cluttered and I should delete many sidebar widgets. When I did, I got more subscribers. It’s because my site became less confusing and it’s more obvious to readers what I want them to do — subscribe.
10. Market the #%(@*! out of your blog. When you write a blog post, you have created a marketing tool. Next, you have to get out there and use that tool to help people discover your blog. Retweet your content, post links on Facebook, LinkedIn, or wherever else your crowd hangs out. Comment on other blogs. Invite readers and experts to come guest-post on your blog — it’ll make them into big fans and promoters of your blog.