This post is based on episode 246 of the ProBlogger podcast.
As you may well know, I started blogging back in 2002. And over the years I’ve tried all sorts of things to grow my blogs and make them more profitable. Some of them worked. Some of them didn’t. And some seemed to work really well to begin with, but ended up being more of a hindrance than a help.
But in the 18 or so years I’ve been blogging I think I’ve come up with nine ways to grow my blogs that still work to this day. And in this week’s post I’d like to share them with you.
So here are nine things I believe will help you grow your blog faster.
1. Engage with your audience, and find out what they need
My first blog was just a place where I could be creative and talk about things that interested me. But about two weeks in I started getting emails from people saying things like, “That’s really interesting”, “That really helped me” and “Thank you for writing that.”
And that’s when realized I now had an opportunity to help other people.
I can still remember getting my first comment (well, the first one that wasn’t from my mom). The comment included his email address, and I thought that meant I was supposed to send one. So I did, and wrote something along the lines of, “Thanks for your comment. Who are you? I’d love to know a little bit more about you.”
He wrote back saying, “I’ve left hundreds of comments, and no-one’s ever emailed me. So thanks for that.” He then told me who he was, and we started having a conversation.
At that point I decided I’d do the same for anyone who left me a comment. And for the next two years I sent a personal email to everyone who commented on my blog.
It was one the best things I’ve ever done. Not only did it help me build engagement and relationships with my readers, it also helped me understand who they were and what they needed.
And when you know what your readers need, you can create content, products and services to meet those needs.
When I started Digital Photography School I created avatars to represent the different types of people I’d be writing for. My first ones were pretty simple –basic demographics, where they hung out online, how they spent their money, their questions, what they thought they needed, etc. But over time they became more complex, including things such as their pain points and what they really needed.
On ProBlogger we get a lot of questions from our readers about the technical aspects of blogging. But I’ve also learned there’s a lot of fear amongst our readers. I often hear things like, “I used to have a blog, but I can’t get over the fear. It’s stopping me from blogging.” And so we talk a lot about fear, and how to overcome it.
Something else to look our for are people’s goals and aspirations. What do they want to achieve? What do they dream about? Any content you create that can help them achieve their goals and realize their dreams will be like gold to them.
2. Create content that can transform your readers’ lives
Great content leaves a mark on those who read, watch or hear it. So try to create content that changes your reader’s life in some way.
Now it doesn’t have to a major change. It could be simply making them smile by writing something funny, or giving them some news about your topic that makes them feel more informed.
You could also write a piece that inspires them, and motivates them to act in some way. Or could you could write about something happening in your life that makes them realize they’re not alone.
Think about why people might be coming to your blog. Think about what they need, and what they hope to get from you. (Sounds a bit like an avatar, doesn’t it?)
But don’t stop there. Think about how you’d like them to feel and act after they’ve visited your blog. What change would you like to see in them?
With Digital Photography School it’s easy to explain what we want to achieve. We want people to take their amazing cameras out of automatic mode and give them full creative control. And that’s how I explain what the blog is about.
Never tell people, “I have a blog about photography” (or whatever your blog is about). Instead, explain what it is in terms of the change it makes in your readers’ lives. In our case, it’s “… a blog that takes people from automatic mode to having creative control of their cameras.”
3. Focus on your readers’ hearts and minds instead of their eyeballs
The best way to grow your blog is to engage with your readers and build a relationship with them. Traffic can be fleeting, but good relationships usually last.
Some of you may remember a site called Digg, where you could post links and people would vote on them. The more votes you got, the closer you got to being on its front page.
Well, one day my content made it to the front page. And in the space of two hours my site had 150,000 visitors.
Naturally, I was ecstatic. It seemed like all of my dreams were about to come true.
I’m going to start making money.
I’m going to become well-known.
I’m going to get a book deal.
Unfortunately, those 150,000 visitors were all snarky teenage boys who all left negative comments. It pretty much destroyed the community I’d created. And to add insult to injury, the sudden spike in traffic ended up crashing my server.
I quickly realized that while having all those eyeballs makes you feel good in the short term, it don’t necessarily lead to sustainable growth.
For that to happen I needed not only the right kind of readers, but also readers who would engage.
A lot of people say that content is king. But I think community is just as important as content, particularly if you’re trying to monetize your blog. (It’s what a lot of the algorithms are looking for these days.)
So how do you build engagement? The first step is to be engaging yourself. That means not only writing engaging content but also responding to comments on your blog, joining Facebook discussions and responding to people on Twitter.
Live video is another way you can engage with your readers. When I do live videos I don’t have hundreds of thousands of people watching me. I’m more likely to have a few hundred. But I know those people are far more likely to leave a comment on my blog, share my content, sign up for my newsletter and buy one of my products.
4. Design your blog to suit your readers
In the early days of ProBlogger we offered our readers pretty much any content we had to keep them on the site. But these days we try to find out the journey our readers are on, and then help them along that journey.
At the bottom of our front page (and close to the bottom of every other page) you’ll find the words “I need help to…” followed by eight options:
- Start a blog
- Create content
- Find readers
- Build community
- Make money blogging
- Be productive
- Understand technology
- Get work.
Over the years we’ve identified these as the eight main reasons people come to ProBlogger.
We’ve identified, over the years, that our readers have eight main reasons they come to ProBlogger. And each one leads to a portal page where we have created an experience for our readers.
We greet them with a video where I explain how I’ve also experienced this pain point. And then we provide links to a curated list of posts and podcasts, that help them get past it.
Getting people to a page where you can demonstrate you know them and what they’re going through, and then provide content that can help them, is very powerful.
Even something as simple as setting up a cookie so you can show than the posts that have been published since their last visit can make a lasting impression.
5. Use challenges to teach and engage your readers
Over the years ProBlogger has had a number of spikes in traffic, engagement and profit. And I can track them all back to challenges I was running at the time.
The first challenge happened in 2005 by accident. It was two in the morning, and I was wide awake thinking about the blog when I suddenly had a thought: How about I write a series of blog posts? One a day, for 31 days. And in each post I teach the readers something about blogging and then give them something practical to do.
The next day I launched “31 Days to Build a Better Blog”.
I had no idea what topics I’d be covering during those 31 days, and so I had to make it all up on the spot. But I wrote and published the first post (the longest post I’d ever written), and people started joining up for the challenge.
It soon became more than just a learning experience. It quickly became a way for everyone to engage, especially when readers started showing each other what they’d done for their ‘homework’.
After running it in 2009, my readers asked if I’d consider creating a PDF version of it. “We’ll pay you for it,” they said.
At the end of 2009 when I did it, my readers said, “Hey, we really would love it if you could create a PDF version of this.” Some of them were saying, “We’ll pay you for it,” and I was like, “How much will you pay me for it?”
I turned the content into an ebook and I put it on sale. I didn’t think I’d sell many copies seeing as the content was freely available on the website. But in the end around 10,000 people bought it.
I’ve also run a “7 days of writing challenges” event on the podcast, which really took off and helped it grow as well.
6. Collaborate with others
Collaborations are one of the most powerful things I’ve done to grow my blog. Blogging is a juggling act where you’re trying to create content, build engagement, drive traffic, maintain your social media accounts, and keep WordPress and all your plugins up to date at the same time. And it’s really hard to keep all those balls in the air.
But it becomes a lot easier when have other people helping you keep all those balls in the air. And the best way to get that help is to work with other content creators.
I learned very early on that I didn’t know much about blog design, and so I found someone willing to design my blog for free if I helped them with content and driving traffic to their business.
As bloggers, we should be collaborating more. Think of all the articles and books written by multiple authors. And more and more YouTubers are creating videos together and then reposting it on their own channels. Why don’t we do that more as bloggers?
7. Create evergreen content
For my first commercial blog (a photography site I had before starting Digital Photography School) I write two types of posts: news and reviews.
The news posts (which were pretty much “Here’s a new camera!”) did really well…
For the first few days, at least. After that, no-one cared.
Fortunately, the camera review I wrote were far more evergreen. And looking at my ad revenue, the reviews were also earning about ten times as much.
It got me thinking. What would happen if I had even more evergreen content about this particular area of photography?
And that was how Digital Photography School came to be.
Now DPS does have posts about new cameras and camera-related products. But here’s a comparison between one of our news posts and one of our more evergreen posts.
A post we did on Adobe’s new version of Lightroom did quite well in its first week. On day one around 3,000 people read it, and by the end of the week that number grew to around 11,200. But over the past three years we’ve only had another 18,000 viewers. And right now it’s only getting one new viewer a month.
Two weeks later we wrote about a topic we get asked about from time to time. In the first couple of weeks it had about 16,000 visitors, but that number has now grown to 42,000.
And that’s the beauty of having evergreen content.
8. Maintain your archives
When was the last time you went through your archives? Are they holding up well? Or are they embarrassing?
You might not think you need to worry about those old posts because they’re not generating much traffic. But if a reader happens to come across one that has broken links, missing images and information that is flat out wrong, they could come back to haunt you.
That doesn’t mean you have to get rid of them. Sure, some posts may be beyond redemption. But there’s nothing wrong with giving the others a bit of an update. Fix up the spelling mistakes. Rewrite that lame introduction. Update the images.
One of my posts on Digital Photography School about ISO has had more than 40 million views. I’ve been updating it every six months since 2007, and believe me it’s a lot better now than when I first wrote it.
A lot of the big bloggers aren’t publishing anywhere near as much new content as they used to. Why? Because they’re now focusing on publishing better content. Yes, it’s often deeper and longer. But they’re also updating their archives because they get a better return on improving their archives than creating lots of new posts.
If you’ve been blogging for five or six years, you’ve probably written about everything there is to know about your topic. So why not spend some time improving those old archives, and even republishing and re-sharing them?
9. Be careful about where you spend your time
Finally, I want to talk about where should be spending your time while trying to grow your blog.
Start by focusing on what’s already working for you. For me, that’s search engine optimization. Search sends me more than half of my traffic, while Facebook sends me only 8% of my traffic. So why would I spend three hours a day on Facebook when search is converting so much more?
Email is my second biggest traffic source. We’ll be sending out a newsletter tonight, which means today will be our biggest day of traffic.
And focus more on the things you have more control over. You don’t own Facebook. You’re building their asset. You don’t own Instagram. You’re building their asset. Start building your own assets — your podcast, your blog, your email list.
I hope this post has given you ideas on how you can grow your blog faster. What will you try first? Let us know in the comments.
Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash