Don’t you love it when you have a perfect storm thing going? When the new post you are starting to write is on the exact same topic you’ve been getting questions about all week? Well, it happened. You asked me what I did to grow my blog.
Because I love answering your questions and because I have a heart for helping bloggers improve their game (once a teacher, always a teacher?), I pulled together some ideas for you.
Some bloggers like to focus on things like floating sign-up boxes and keywords and such. My strategy has always been to build your stage, with content front and center, and then use every strategy you can think of to let people know that you have helpful stuff.
Some of you asked: Did it help winning a Top 10 Blogs for Writers award?
Absolutely, it did. My subscribe numbers increased almost 5-fold within a week of winning and I now have 8 times the subscribers I had before the contest (and I had pretty okay numbers to begin with).
But, really, which comes first, the award or the hard work of building a successful blog so it has a chance in a big competition?
I will just say that huge readership increases don’t happen by following any single rule. And most bloggers will tell you it doesn’t happen overnight. (Although, yeah, from the outside, sometimes it looks like it did.) It is more like a balanced strategy, with attention to the most important components.
21 things I did to get my blog to Top 10 status
1. I ‘nichified.’
By focusing down with my topics, I got more readers. I didn’t freak out when I lost subscribers. In fact, I looked at it as a good thing. Because it meant I was getting that much closer to my real audience, the people who need to know about the things I’m blogging about.
I have gone from a general marketing blog for businesses, to a blog about blogging, to, finally, a blog to help writers and business owners use social media to build their author platforms. Smaller audience, but much more powerful.
2. I de-cluttered and laser-focused the design of my blog’s home page.
Let’s face it. Our readers are attention-disordered. They are landing on our blogs for a specific reason. They are looking for something. Our goal is to be sure they know—within seconds—that they are in the right place. That they will find what they need here.
So, I created a tagline below my header so they could see right away what I’m about. And, a little farther down in the sidebar, my photo and a short bio box so first-time visitors know what I help people with on my blog. I just decided what was most important and focused on that.
3. I decided to make subscriber sign-ups my number one goal.
Speaking of important, I realized that my goal was to get more subscribers, so I put that big old subscribe box the very first thing in my sidebar (and used white letters on a bright background to make it pop). A shout out to @bobwp for his amazing design.
4. I blogged with my helper’s hat on.
This one should have been closer to the top of this list. Sometimes readers are on a blog to be entertained, pure and simple. But many more visit because they want to know how to do something better, faster, easier. If you can be interesting and entertaining at the same time, well, that’s even better. But focusing on showing your readers how to do something or teaching them something they didn’t know is usually a recipe for success.
5. I started listening to my readers.
I was astounded at how much better I got at addressing readers’ real needs when I started asking questions and listening to the answers. And as reader engagement went up, so did the sharing of my posts on social media.
6. I started doing regular promotions, tying in a free gift or service with subscribing to my blog.
I began offering free tip sheets and other content from time to time as an incentive for subscribing. I varied the free gifts, but always with an eye toward offering useful stuff that would help my readers grow their own writing and blogging skills.
7. I finally connected with my true voice.
It wasn’t so much “finding” my voice (no, it didn’t turn up under the couch cushion with that missing slipper sock). It was more that I began writing from the heart. I figured out that making people laugh is part of who I am and so I stopped trying to turn off the funny, sometimes edgy, side of me. My goal was simple: that anyone who reads what I write will know it’s me without looking at the byline. Still working on that.
8. I improved my headlines.
From years of copywriting—creating marketing and promotional materials for businesses—I already knew how crucial a good headline is. But even more so with a blog. Chances are that readers won’t click through to the post if the title doesn’t grab them by the shoulders and/or promise to solve a problem.
9. I linked to my other posts to give readers more help with a specific topic.
How did this help? It gave my readers who wanted more on a particular topic the chance to dive in deeper. And it gave them more good content to share with others, bringing new readers to my blog.
10. I showed myself, warts and all.
If we are honest, we will admit that we have our own unique set of challenges, fears and insecurities when it comes to blogging and writing. If we show our imperfect selves every once in a while, readers will identify with us and come back for more.
11. I found ways to connect with and support other bloggers.
This one was fun. I commented on other blogs (both inside and outside my niche) and found ways to work together, share our resources and help each other get where we want to go faster.
12. I got my blog’s URL out there—everywhere.
I put my blog address in clickable form in my email signature line, in my Twitter bio, on Facebook, and, of course, as the link back when I made comments on other blogs. I also have it on my business card, although, I admit, I’m not passing out many cards these days.
13. I broadened my reach by writing guest posts for other bloggers.
Done with purpose, this strategy is extremely effective. I found blogs with similar audiences to mine and proposed writing a guest post for them. I have been a guest blogger on several of the top blogs for writers, and also on social media focused blogs, such as For Bloggers By Bloggers. I see a significant upswing in new subscribes after a guest post.
14. I stopped worshipping Google.
Before you say, “Heresy! Blasphemy!”, hear me out. First and foremost, Google looks for quality content. Because what good would a zillion people finding your blog be if, when they get there, your posts are full of keyword soup and you have nothing interesting or useful to say? I do put alternate titles in for Google (the headline your reader doesn’t see), but I make my visible title as eye-catching as I can.
15. I refocused my social media strategy.
I learned what works best for me (in my case it was Twitter and, just recently, Google +) and I concentrated on building up my followers on those platforms. Twitter in particular has been very effective in driving traffic to my blog. And though, in a moment of weakness, I signed up for Pinterest, I decided that I’m refusing to get sucked in, so no Pinterest page for now.
16. I began telling more stories.
I knew the pull of a good story, but I wasn’t using this powerful strategy enough. Because telling stories is one of the best ways to make your ideas ‘sticky.‘
17. I discovered the power of the ‘just right’ blog post photo.
I’ll be writing a new post soon on the power of photos and how to select one that will perfectly complement your post. Until then, just know that a good image can get 30 to 50 percent more readers to actually read your post.
18. I developed a brand strategy.
Before your eyes start to glaze over at the word “brand,” there are some pretty simple ways to do this. Besides colors, font types and other design elements, your writing style, if consistent, will go a long way in building a recognizable brand. A strong, unique and consistent writing voice helps, too. And the types of photos you use are key. If you notice, I use lots of children (and sometimes animals) in my post photos. It is what people have come to expect. It’s part of my brand.
19. I learned more about my readers’ needs by teaching in-person workshops in my niche.
This is a good strategy if you can make it work for you. In the process of teaching workshops on blogging, I used some of my posts as examples and sent attendees a link to subscribe to my blog in my post- event follow-up emails. An added benefit: my workshop students have given me many, many ideas for new blog posts.
20. I networked with other niche bloggers at conferences.
I don’t get out of the office as much as I’d like to for travel to conferences. But the networking opportunities at such events are off the charts. There is nothing like meeting someone in person you have been tweeting back and forth with for a year or more. I’ll be going to the BlogWorld Expo in NYC in June. (If you are going, too, I’d love to meet you.)
21. I adopted a policy of paying it forward.
I don’t do it for this reason, but giving free, friendly advice to beginning bloggers has brought me unexpected benefits. People just naturally want to support and promote you if you are generous. Because we have all been there, in the beginner’s shoes, right?
So here they are. Just some of the things I’ve learned along the way. What about you? What’s the single most successful strategy you’ve used to grow your blog?
And, this being the very last days of the Top 10 Blogs for Bloggers contest, in case you were thinking of nominating the Cat’s Eye blog and the time just slipped away from you, here is that link. I appreciate your faith in me and would be happy—and honored—if you chose to vote for me. Contest closes this coming Monday, April 9.