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4 Classic Mistakes I Made In My First Year of Blogging [and How I Got 1000 Subscribers Anyway]

Guest post by Annabel Candy from Get In the Hot Spot

Like a lot of people I set up my blog as an experiment. I wanted to raise my profile as a writer and build up a blog which publishers would see as a useful marketing tool.

Realising how important it was to commit to blogging I vowed to blog for a year and, because I work best with a goal in mind, I set myself the challenge of getting 1000 subscribers after a year blogging with my deadline the end of March 2010.

I picked 1000 subscribers as my goal because I read somewhere that this is the amount of subscribers a writer needs on their blog to get publishers interested. I know 1000 doesn’t sound like a lot when you look at Problogger’s RSS count, but I thought it was a number that was both achievable and challenging.

The point of an experiment is to find out what works and what doesn’t and from that point of view my experiment has been a successful one.

I started blogging in about March 2009 and there are a lot of mistakes I made during my first year of blogging that I’ll do differently next time I set up a blog.

My Classic Blogging Mistakes





1. I changed my topic after 4 months


Although I spent a lot of time thinking about what to write about in my blog I still got it wrong. In the beginning I focused on writing a blog for people who want to move overseas but I soon ran out of steam. It was a subject I knew a lot about and loved but after about 4 months it just didn’t interest me enough to keep me writing about it three times a week.

In the end my blog topic really chose itself broadening naturally to self improvement with the focus on helping people live their dream. Since many people have the same dream of travel and writing as me I had a good angle and since I’ve been interested in travel, writing and self improvement for as long as I can remember it wasn’t something I’d ever lose interest in or run out of things to write about.

As you can see from my Feedburner stats even after about 6 months of blogging in August 2009 I’d only got about 43 subscribers.

feedburner-stats.jpg

It was depressing but I’d made a promise to stick with blogging so I persevered. I even wrote a guest post for Problogger called Getting Over The Blogger’s 6 Month Itch telling other bloggers why they needed to stick with it too.

2. I only got my own domain name after 6 months of blogging

Because my blog was an experiment I didn’t buy my own domain name or host the blog myself, it was just hosted by WordPress.

In August 2009 I got my own domain name and started hosting my blog there. That month I doubled my subscribers from 37 on August 1st to 83 on August 30th. Maybe readers started taking my blog more seriously now I was.

3. I never invested in graphic design

My husband and I threw together the look and feel of it based around the invitation for a leaving party we had in 2007. We’re now working with a graphic designer to get a professional look for the blog. It will be interesting to see if that helps convert more subscribers but I’ll never know how many potential readers and subscribers I’ve lost this year by not investing in graphic design at the beginning.

4. I used Feedburner for my email newsletters


There were two main problems with using Feedburner for email subscriptions. First it sent an email every time I posted which was overkill when I was posting three times a week. Secondly the emails were unbranded and ugly.
This February I switched to a different way of managing my email subscribers. If you look at the Feedburner graph that’s when there’s a drop off in subscribers because the email subscribers were being recorded on MailChimp. It lets me send out branded emails and is free if you have less than 500 email subscribers. I have a feeling choosing MailChimp could have been another mistake as all the professionals recommend Aweber so once again my penny pinching could have cost me subscribers but at least my email newsletters only gets sent when I want them to, not every time my blog is updated. I can always switch to Aweber but if that happens I’ll probably waste a of time changing over.

So How Did I Get 1000 Subscribers?

Well, actually I’ve only got 923 so far (575 by RSS feed and 358 by email) at the time of writing I still have 16 days until my self-imposed deadline. I’m fairly confident I’ll make it to 1000 and if I don’t I believe in rounding up so anything over 950 will do the job.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I kept going for the whole year even when it looked as if I’d never make it.
  2. I wrote guest posts.
  3. Even when my guest posts were rejected by my blogging heros I wrote more posts and tried again until they accepted one. I finally succeeded in November 2009 with guest posts on Problogger and Zen Habits. If you look at the graph again you can see a huge jump in subscribers from 117 on November 1st to 478 at the end of the month because of that.
  4. I kept learning about blogging and improving my writing and my blog layout but although my subscribers rose over the next 3 months progress was slow.
  5. I started posting once a week instead of three times a week on my own blog so I had more time to write guest posts for other blogs because that proved the best way for me to find new readers.
  6. In March 2010 with my deadline looming I went all out and had guest posts on five major blogs including Problogger, Zen Habits and Write to Done.
  7. I believed in myself and ignored people who said it was a waste of time.
  8. I worked hard and kept my goal in mind.
  9. Once I did set my blog topic I focused on it 100%.
  10. I wrote my heart out and really helped people by giving them the most useful information I had on how to make their dream come true.

If I can do it anyone can. I own a business, work from home, have three young kids and run a busy household but in 12 months I still managed to set up a blog I’m proud of.

Over the next year I’ll be continuing the process of improving my blog by setting up the new design, adding incentives for subscribers, possibly offering a free e-book, writing more guest posts, working on my search engine optimisation and setting myself a new goal.

In March 2011 I’d like to have 5000 subscribers. But I worry it’s too low. Over the last year I’ve increased my subscribers 1000 times so if I do that again next year I should be aiming for 10 million subscribers but that ridiculous. Somehow I need to work out how many subscribers I should aim for after two years of blogging and then get on to it.

My ultimate goal is to make money from my blog. I have a few ideas on how to do it but there’s still lots of work to be done, experiments to be made and challenges to overcome. I’m looking forward to it.

What have your worst blogging mistakes been and how do you measure your blog’s success?

Further Reading: Check out ProBlogger’s Guide to Your First Week of Blogging.

For information and inspiration to help you live your dream read Annabel Candy’s self improvement blog, Get In the Hot Spot. Please subscribe to the RSS feed or choose email updates to stay posted on the latest articles.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. We’ve been plugging away at your goal of getting 1000 subscribers too. Not easy I tell you..

  2. Changing the topic would have to be the biggest mistake.

  3. Hi Annabel —

    It looks like you reached your subscriber goal. Congratulations!

    Thank you for this post. Your suggestions are very helpful! Guest posts are a great idea and a good way to reach out and broaden your audience.

    As you point out, a steady and consistent approach to blogging is very important. And with all of the demands you juggle, it can also be very difficult to achieve.

    Again, congratulations! A happy dance is in order!

    Geri

  4. Annabel excellent posts and even more excellent blog! Consider me number 924 (I am sure you have more by now).

  5. I feel your pain. I don’t blog much but own a online gift shop. After being discouraged with traffic numbers and subscribers, I’m offering free advertising to anyone who contributes a story to my site. Just go to “share this site” for details.

    I’m very happy that you met your goal. Having a goal is so important. This was inspiring to me.

  6. Right now, I am in stand by mode because of exams and not writing anything! Once my exams are over, I will start blogging full time.
    I found your post very inspiring and it will definitely help me when I get back. Right now, my subscriber number is fluctuating around 300. I hope to take it to 1000 in 3-4 months.
    One lesson that I learned from you is to keep trying. Sometimes, it just feels bad when a guest post is rejected! Next time, I will keep your lesson in mind!

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience Darren, at the initial time of blogging we are lack of experience and so our blog do not perform well, as time goes we get more experience so our blog also going performing better.

  8. I still haven’t got my own domain, since I’m quite happy with my plain blogs. I dont really count that as a mistake, probably our reasons for blogging differ.

  9. Hi, Annabel! I thoroughly enjoyed your article. You seem like such a free spirit (like Darren Rowse, himself) – I’m completely drawn to free spirits, and I tend to read every word they write. We have to stick together!

    The worst mistake I’ve made in blog publishing is spreading myself too thin. At one time I had over 20 sites I wrote for and maintained! Oh, the coffee I went through.

    I have it down to 12 now and life is much sweeter – still caffeinated, of course – but more productive.

    One of my biggest headaches with my sites is trying to get comments – some niches simply don’t generate the same number of comments that other’s do. That can be frustrating.

    Great article, thanks again.

  10. Hi Annabel,

    Thanks for the great post.

    Just to let you know that this post when viewed in IE7, the paragraphs starting after “My Classic Blogging Mistakes” were displayed as extremely large texts. I checked your code and saw the was not close with after “My Classic Blogging Mistakes”.

    This could be the cause of it, may be not many people are using IE7 now but to play safe, you may like to double check.

  11. Is the text in this post extremely large for anyone else?

  12. Looks like I’m going to fix my mistake. However I’m still believe that Feedburner is a nice choice especially if you’re looking for a professional but free service but I also admit that there is always pros and cons for free service – even for premium services.

    I learned a lot from your article. Thanks a lot =)

  13. Great article. I’m sorry to say, I too have made several of these mistakes. It’s so good to hear it all worked out well for you. Thanks for sharing.

  14. I completely agree with not using Feedburner for email subscriptions. Not only do you have limited control over formatting, but you don’t have full access to those email addresses for anything else (i.e. sending out special offers). Using a service like Mailchimp, iContact or Aweber is a must.

  15. Thanks for this post! I’m really happy that I have a better detailed list to go off of. But the post is rather large don’t you think? I had to read this on my email subscription because the letters where too large

  16. Nice work!, I have 2,000 subscribers in the space of 2 years… Most of them were in the last 6 months!…

    Try videos, they get played so many times!!!!!

    :]

  17. Whenever I read posts on ProBlogger I very rarely leave comments because I never feel that I want to enough. However, after reading this post I felt I had to write this. I am so inspired by this post as it shows than in 12 months of hard work and dedication to a blog you can improve your stats so much. I’ve given up on my blog 3 times in the past year but you’ve just shown me that if I stick to it I can get somewhere!

  18. Thanks Annabel, your post was very thought-provoking. I started a personal/journalistic blog in January. I quickly realised that I couldn’t sustain my goal of posting 5 times a week just on a grumpy old man rants basis.
    Now in the light of your observations I wonder if I should post less on my own blog and devote time to trying to get guest blogs published. I see you’ve topped 1,000 subscribers. Congratulations

  19. Inspirative. However, I have a quick question, did you deliberately set to large font?

    Thanks.

  20. Nice job of honest self-examination, Annabel. The formatting on the post and email is wonky and hard to read–learning a tiny bit of html code helps that. (On wordpress, you can see the html by toggling the visual/html button. Then it’s something like “remove formatting” or perhaps removing heading 2 or heading 3.)

    I’ve been blogging since 12/24/08 and following Darren since 8/09. I don’t have 1000 subscribers yet, but did get about 3 new ones a day for the past 6 months.
    Donna Cunningham

  21. Thank you so much for sharing this information.

    It rings of truth and personal experience,
    more than just really good advise for setting up a blog.

    I believe your blog has grown so well, and is successful, is because your postings feel authentic to us, your readers.

    Again, thank you for sharing.

  22. Thanks for the tips. I just started a marketing blog. 1000 subscribers in a year is a pretty good goal…

  23. Well Annabel that’s quite an interesting post you just worte I think I’ve only made 10 of the four mistakes you just mentioned as I’ve widened or narrowed the scope of my blog about 4 times and I’ve of course had that other dreaded mistake long breaks in between posts.

    So far as Subscribers you should estimate based on you 6 month number. 43 is appox 50. 1000 is 20 times that. and you have to estimate your effectiveness in gaining slowing by half as you get closer to 5digit subscribers, So I’m guessing conservitively 19-20k subscribers after year 2. Good Luckv _Jason

  24. 1000 subscribers on your blog isn’t that east, I’ve seen most people struggling to get 100 subscribers, in fact 1000 is just enough to get yourself noticed ..

    Thanks for your great insights.

    Ev.

  25. You did great my friend. It took me a year before I buy my own custom domain name and I regretted it but I can’t help it because I don’t have money yet.

    When I earned my first 100 USD last December, I decided to buy a domain name.

    Even your blog is not self-hosted (that you use wordpress or blogspot), you can still gain more traffic through your effort of promoting your blog. But a domain name and a good designed template is compulsory to make it more professional looking.

    I don’t have any problem with feed burner but if I got the money, I want to use aweber like you do.

    Thank you for this post.

    Sincerely,
    Felix Albutra – Real Blogging Advice

  26. I changed my topic wayyyy to often

  27. Thank you to all of you for you comments. It’s amazing that while I was squealing away on a theme park rollercoaster during a quick holiday with the kids you were reading this and coming up with so much feedback. It’s wonderful how many people described this post as “inspirational”, “inspiring” and even “inspiritive”. That’s just what I was aiming for.

    Srinivas and Farnoosh – I didn’t include all my mistakes here. There were many more! Like you I also started off with another blogging platform before settling with WordPress:)

    John – I agree, it is good to make the mistakes, as long as you learn from them! I hope I will…

    Nell and Kosmo – In the few weeks between writing this post and it being published I did meet my goal. 10 million! Hehe, it’s a beautiful dream:)

    Jean – I recommend people hiring a pro to design their blog if they really want to do it properly. Having said that I’m a professional web designer and didn’t do it so I definitely understand the reluctance to invest money in something that might not make money. But it’s a silly attitiude really as I invested so much time which amounts to thousands of dollars of work if I charged it out at my usual copywriting rate.

    Annette – I think Feedburner only send the emails if you’ve checked a certain box. You’ll need to work your way through it and test it with your own email address.

    Rachel – I think you’re right but getting more readers to my blog has given me more confidence to be me:)

    Jason – I like your maths and it sounds like an excellent goal. I’d prefer to aim to high and push myself than wonder if I underperformed by setting a goal to low:)

    Thanks again everyone and remember, if I can, you can.

  28. A great list of things – I found this very welcomed advise – thank you for helping me and every one else who reads this.

  29. Thanks for the good list. I’m sure you saved some folks a mistake or two.

  30. Thanks for the great experience sharing.

    I just to ask,how to write a guest post at other blog?By networking or you just simply ask for it from them?

  31. Wow…I would say that was very honest post. Admitting one’s mistake is a commitment to improve yourself. Congrats on 923 subscriber count. Don’t think that its too low..It’s quite an achievement. I like your persistence and hope that you will definitely succeed in your goal. Keep it up!

  32. Hi Annabel,

    I think Anil has an idea for you to hurry up and get those last few subscribers for your 1000!

    A nice post, I enjoyed it very much. I started my blog nearly 2 months ago, with my own domain from the start. But other than that, I seem to be going ok – I would be happy if I knew that the outcome would be as great as yours has been.

    I need to start making guest posts. This is my next step according to my plan.

    Dave

  33. Good story! I’m a big believer in self-hosting and using your own domain when blogging. I do understand the allure of a free blog for someone starting out. However, basic market research takes away the need for that kind of testing first, and it’s really something any serious blogger should do before starting.

    Not only does having your own domain make you look more serious to some audiences, but it’s better for marketing too. Shorter domains are easier to remember than subdomains, they fit better on business cards and other print marketing, they’re easier to promote when speaking (a radio or podcast interview, your own podcast or videos, etc.), and they tend to be better for branding.

  34. Right on Annabel! Most striking to me is that you kept with it. You inspired thoughts and I highlighted your post at http://www.coachradio.tv/you-can-screw-up-blogging-and-still-be-successful.

    If you don’t have what it takes to get through that dip (because you know it’s coming) then don’t start. It’s clearly not easy to do but anyone who is successful has done it.

  35. Secondly the emails were unbranded and ugly.

    It’s because you didn’t understand to customize it.

  36. Congratulations on your success! 1,000 subscribers in a year is truly amazing. Probably the biggest mistake you said you made would be to switch topics after 4 months….effectively putting you 4 months behind schedule. However, it seems that you are on track now and go forward with full momentum.

    Keep up the great work!

  37. Annabel

    Thank you very much for posting that. I honestly thought that I was the only one going through this. I have had my blog for 7 months now and post most days of the week. I am finally getting good subscriptions coming through but nowhere close to what I want.

    I will let you know how it goes when I start applying your tips.

    Thanks once again.
    http://luxurylogistics.blogspot.com

  38. I like your bulldog approach to publishing guest posts. Of course this only works if you write great posts (which you do), but I’m sure that persistence is required in order to reach pay day. I’m going to try this myself. Thanks for the tips.

  39. Hi guys,

    Thanks for sharing your classic mistakes. Because when blogging you are going to have trial and error. But it’s great that you kept on blogging inspite of your mistakes.

    Kind regards,

    Sam
    X

  40. The biggest mistake I made was start out on a topic which did not have any monetization potential. Since my main aim was to make some money, I had to shift the blog to something else. I wasted almost 2 years on a subject which never made any money.

  41. Fantastic post – I really appreciate it, and I’m only dreaming of those numbers!

  42. Even with all of the mistakes and nay sayers I really appreciate you sharing your mistakes and what your are doing now to get 1000 subscribers. You taught me a lesson in perseverance with this great post.

    I was talking with someone just today about our microwave society, wanting everything in 15 seconds, but you showed me how sticking to it over the long haul has paid off.

    Thank you.

  43. Great Post. Thanks for the advices, especially for the email subscribing process. As for the guest posts, I think it is a very precious clue.

    Thanks for your generosity!

  44. oh man great post! I’m in the process of changing my blog becuase no one reads my blog. I’m going to stick at it after read your post!
    Thanks a lot!

  45. my main problem is just trying to think of interesting things to write about. Insurance isnt always the most interesting thing so its always going to be hard to get people interetsted. Thanks for the help though.

  46. Seems that you’re doing well to improve your subscribers by using guest posting technique. Guest posting in well known blog would definitely improve your brand and people might be more happy to subscribe your blog. You’ve done a great job Annabel Candy.

    I’m going to try this method in the coming days too.

    Regards,
    Lee

  47. Interesting perspective. I am a part time blogger and focus more on hard news and often scoop the traditional media which goes to sleep on weekends or holidays. So working when others are sleeping helps. We have several thousand subscribers but have gained these from our main website.

  48. It really is about persistence and avoiding the temptation to give up. Yes, I did set myself back by changing topics and changing domains and think I could do it quicker next time. But the challenge of blogging is what makes it fun and that’s also the most important part. Thanks for commenting everyone and have fun with you blog:)

  49. Annabel,

    Thanks for this post, it’s quite encouraging to read that it’s possible …

    Just a point :
    5000 or 10 million subscribers, does it matters ?

    What about improving the experience for your users ?

    Good luck for next year !

    Didier
    (from Belgium)

  50. WoW, Every thing you just said i did, first my blog was a general blog about any and everything then 1 month later i decided to turn it into a money making blog, and thats when my SERP dropped badly omg i was upset, but thats why you stick with a subject you know you can have something to write about, and people want to read years from now.

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