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StrongLifts.com 0 – 13,000+ Subscribers in 12 months [INTERVIEW]

Posted By Darren Rowse 23rd of May 2008 Pro Blogger Interviews 0 Comments

StrongliftsToday I want to feature an interview with Mehdi from Strong Lifts – a good example of a blog that is focusing upon a niche topic and growing a readership quickly over the last 12 months.

Tell us about your blog – what’s it about, why and when did you start it, who reads it?

StrongLifts.com is a blog about how to build muscle & lose fat through strength training. Topics include how to go from chubby to muscular, how to go from skinny to muscular, how to get stronger, how to perform exercises correctly, how to avoid injuries, how to improve your posture, how to eat healthier, etc

There are articles about body-weight exercises too, but the blog is mainly about weight lifting. It’s not bodybuilding: it’s not about working out for aesthetic purposes only. It’s about training to get stronger. This increases muscle mass, testosterone levels, cardiovascular fitness, strengthens bones & joints, lowers body fat, increases self-confidence, and much more.

I started StrongLifts.com for 2 reasons:

1) I was doing a job that wasn’t me for 5 years and had been looking for a way out. Summer 2006 someone sent me Steve Pavlina’s post how to make money blogging. I had never heard about blogs before, but this got me interested.

I looked for more info on blogging. Came across John Chow who got serious about blogging around the same time. I followed how his blog got big in a few months. This stuff seemed so easy, I decided to start a blog too.

Through John Chow I found Problogger. I printed the “blogging for beginners” series and studied everything (Darren is not paying me to say this. I don’t read Problogger anymore, but this really happened).

So my 1st reason was to start a blog that makes enough money to leave my day job. I wanted to be self-employed, and set the rules for myself. I knew I liked to teach people things, so blogging would fit. But I needed a topic.

2) I’ve been training for 10 years and often get questions about it. Friends, family, co-workers see how I look. They want the same thing. They’re often surprised I can eat so much without gaining fat by training 3-4x/week for 1 hour.

There’s a strong bias against weight lifting: unsafe, unhealthy, gets you bulky, etc. So you do other things like running, because “you have to exercise”. But you hate running. And that makes it very hard to do it consistently.

Be open minded, forget what you think you know about weight lifting and give it a try. You’ll never go back. Because once you try it, you’ll realize this stuff is so easy, it’s laughable. Whatever your age or gender.

Weight lifting & strength training made me who I am today. I believe everybody would be better off if they did it. That’s why I started StrongLifts.com: to give more people information on how they can easily build muscle & lose fat: like I do.

The guy with whom I started training 10y ago gave me idea to make a website about all of this in February 2007. StrongLifts.com went online May 1st 2007.

The majority of the 200k monthly visitors are males between 20 & 35y old. But there are females, teens and 55y old readers too. I remember getting an email from a 72y old guy who did Squats & Deadlifts and felt great.

Most readers are from the US, but there are readers from all over the world. What they all share is a willingness to change. To change their lifestyle, to live healthier, to be more active. It’s definitely not easy when you have a business, career, family, social life, … But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Where does most of your traffic come from?

60% from search. I get a lot of traffic from Google. 10% is direct traffic. 13k RSS readers means a lot of readers will click back to the site to check comments, click link inside the articles, etc

The rest comes from social media & referrals. Digg doesn’t work well with my content, although I hit Digg front page once. Stumbleupon does better, I’ve had spikes of 3-4k visitors/day in the past.

I get daily inbound links from forums. Several articles are “flagship content” (I got that one from chrisg). Readers link to these articles to answer questions on relevant forums. This is targeted traffic.

Note that relying on Google for traffic is a bad business model. That’s why I focused on converting traffic to RSS from the start.

You’ve managed to build up your RSS readership to 13,000 in 12 months (it’s now 14,000) – that’s 1000 a month and a good strong rate – how did you do it?

Well it didn’t really went like that. StrongLifts.com went online May 1st 2007. It reached 1k RSS in November 2007. 5k in January 2008. 10k start of May 2008, ending the month at 14k. Check the graph below.


A lot of bloggers only care about generating traffic. Any business is about generating AND converting leads. I decided to convert traffic not to money, but to RSS. So I read & tried everything about how to increase RSS.

Most of the stuff I tried didn’t work for StrongLifts.com. Example: most traffic comes from google/forums. Often these readers don’t know what RSS is, they don’t know what the ticker stands for, neither what a blog is. They don’t know, because I didn’t know before I started a blog.

So these tips “put RSS high on your blog, put a big button, ask them to subscribe”, only works if your traffic consists of readers familiar with RSS (traffic from social media or blogs). I know this, because I tracked everything with google analytics.

But I still wanted to increase StrongLifts.com’s readership. So I thought about other ways for many weeks. Thinking outside the box, checking what other sites, non-blogs, did. Then the solution came pretty easy.

Check back the graph above. RSS started to increased mid-December 2007. That’s when I started to offer a 52 pages free ebook to anyone who subscribes. Since then I’ve optimized the sales letter, link placement, etc (use google analytics). It’s far from perfect, but RSS now increases by 3k/month. Which means I’ll reach 40k RSS by the end of the year. And that’s assuming the traffic doesn’t increase.

How do you make money from your blog? Is it your full time job? If not, is that a goal?

StrongLifts.com isn’t generating a full time income yet. I never, and still don’t, focus my efforts on making money. Building experience, building a reputation and building a readership is more important in the long-term. It’s easier to monetize a blog once you’ve built a foundation.

StrongLifts.com generates money through:

  • Amazon & Affiliates. Products I own and recommend my readers get. Good things aren’t free. You learn faster reading books than reading blogs.
  • Google Adsense. I have one block above the comments. Don’t want ads inside the content. It doesn’t make much money that way, but it also sends less traffic away from the blog. I’ll remove this in the future.
  • Personal Training. Whatever business you’re in, you’re always selling something. Selling your own product is smarter than selling someone else’s. I started with personal training recently, not only for the money but because I enjoy it more than writing.

StrongLifts.com is my full time job. I worked 5 years in an IT helpdesk. Quit the job 12 days after the blog went online because:

  • 5 years doing the same job was the limit.
  • I couldn’t combine blogging with my day job.
  • I wanted to burn my bridges.

Even though I lost a good income, I never regretted resigning. Regaining freedom and doing something I like mattered more than a paycheck. I couldn’t do what I to do today if I hadn’t done that job. But it was “time to move on”.

What’s the biggest blogging mistake you’ve made in the last 12 months and what did you learn from it?

Underestimating blogging. Although I got somewhere during the last 12 months, I thought it would be easier. Blogging is harder than it looks: copywriting, marketing, customer service, … You have to learn a lot of things.

I made a lot of other “mistakes”, but don’t really see them as such. Failure is part of the learning process. You have to make mistakes to get somewhere in life. “Failure is life’s best teacher” – Napoleon Hill.

What 3 things have contributed the most to the success you’ve had so far?

  • Determination. I wasn’t going to “try”. I DECIDED I would become a blogger. Quitting my day job guaranteed I had no way back. When you REALLY want something, everything you need to get it comes your way. Including the answers to how to get there.
  • Walking The Talk. I’ve been lifting weights since 10 years and still do. I’ve trained in commercial gyms and now own a home gym. I’ve combined lifting weights with working 2 jobs and night shifts. I’ve combined it with relationships and social life. I’ve been able to eat healthy on a tight budget. I’ve injured myself dozens of times. I’ve trained when ill and injured. I’ve trained after a night drinking alcohol or a 4 hour night sleep. You get the point. Readers sense I’m not bullshitting them. And they understand that a) it’s not meant to be easy b) you’ll never achieve perfection c) if I can do it, you can definitely do it too.
  • Giving. Free articles, free ebook, free coaching, … Some people don’t like working for free. Truth is that you always get something back. Yes I’ve helped people who didn’t even say thank you. But I also had readers who optimized the blog and proofread the ebook for free because they felt they had to return the favor. But here’s what I always got back but what most people fail to realize: EXPERIENCE. You can lose your whole blog, you can lose all your money on your back account, but one thing no-one can ever take away from you: the knowledge & experience you’ve built by helping people. That is priceless.

Can you give ProBlogger readers 3 practical tips of what to do to grow their readership

  • Write Good Content. Find out what people’s problems are. Give them the solution to their problems. How do you find this? 1) by walking the talk so you experience the same problems b) by interacting with your (potential) readers: friends, familiy, co-workers, forums, emails, comments, … Ideas are everywhere, you just have to pick them up.
  • Guest Posts. Make a list of blogs with a high amount of readers and who often get on digg/del.icio.us/stumbleupon front page. If it’s a blog in the same niche, easy. If it’s a blog in a different niche: think outside the box (Example). Write a how-to post, your best one. Include relevant, non spammy back links to your own site, with anchor text optimized for search engine. Send the post to the blogger. Be blunt, don’t ask for permission “will you let me guest post”, just send the whole post, tell him to read it and publish it if he likes it with the only condition that he must keep the non-spammy relevant back links with anchor text. If you wrote a good post, every bloggers will say yes, because it’s like a day off. Hope it gets dugg, will get you back links (anchor text) from the blog and other blogs that copy-paste posts increasing long-term google ranking while creating short term traffic. If the blogger says no to the back links or to your post, send it to the next blogger on your list. Don’t give up, keep trying. If 5 bloggers say no, question your article.
  • eBook. Write an eBook that has the solution to your readers problems. Give it away for free, but only after they subscribe by RSS (download link available through feedburner only). Mention you give away an ebook at the bottom of each post. Make a salesletter for the eBook. Track conversions using google analytics. Tweak it constantly.

What tips do you have for people who want to start a blog?

  • Read. Knowledge is power. Throw your TV out and read everything you come across: copywriting, direct advertising, marketing, business, self-improvement, … Read 1 book per week and you’ll get ahead of 80% of the population.
  • Believe. Watch out for The Crabs. Some people will tell you that you can’t do it, that you will never make money blogging, that you do not have the skills/knowledge to get there. Ignore them. Several people make money blogging, you could be the next one. No-one can tell you if you’ll succeed or not. It all depends on you. So want this and go for it.
  • Don’t Do It for The Money. Blogging looks fun: waking up when you want, writing some blog posts, answering emails, making money online, … That’s indeed how it will look if you stick with it. But not during your first months. i’ve worked 70h on average during the past 12 months, and I’m not “there” yet. So if you’re looking for an easy way out of your day job or if you’re looking for easy money: don’t do it, because you have the wrong mindset and will fail. Blog about something you like, add value to the world, pay your dues. And yes one day you’ll get there.
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 and LinkedIn.
  1. To be honest, I’m kind of reluctant to this kind of interviews. But something forced me to read it… and I do not regret. There are a few advices I will take from there.

    Thanks for sharing guys!

  2. I’ve been following StrongLifts.com since a few months now. Mehdi really writes awesome content! He deserves all the success he gets.

    The 3 tips Mehdi gives are gold:

    1. Write good content so that people and search engines both like your blog
    2. Guest post so that you attract more readers
    3. Give something away for free so that people subscribe

    A new blog follows these 3 rules for a year and they should achieve blogging success too!

  3. As someone who writes a Health/Fitness blog, it’s really great to read interviews like this. So much advice seems to be from either technology bloggers, money bloggers, or blogs-on-blogging bloggers … it’s really good to see a slightly different perspective.

    Thanks for all the great advice, Mehdi, and thanks to Darren for doing the interview. I’m particularly encouraged by seeing that graph! I’m still in the early months, and growth is sloooow … but I’m hoping it’s the start of an exponential curve too.


  4. Now this was a beneficial interview. No misleading hype, no sales talk, just a down-to-earth talk about real life blogging. If I ever get there, may I also be that entertaining. Reminded me why I subscribe to Problogger. Thank you Darren!

  5. 13 contextual inks to his own blog from Problogger! How much did he pay for this interview again?

  6. Is it fair to say that most RSS subscriber success story started when we offer free ebook to subscriber?

  7. I am with Guillermo I usually don’t read these kind of articles but this one was great!

    Do you really think sending articles to other bloggers works?
    I will try definitely try this techniaque.

    Thanks Darren & Mehdi

  8. I thought the point about converting traffic to subscribers instead of to ad revenue was particularly intriguing for me. I think that’s one area that I really need to work on, rss conversion.

    I also like that you said don’t do it for the money, do it for your love and the desire to help others. I think if you can do that and bust your ass the rest will follow.

  9. I really enjoyed Mehdi’s responses and insights. You can tell this is a person who tackles life, lifting, and blogging with gusto — no fluff, just the straight stuff. Very encouraging.

  10. Great interview! I enjoyed reading more about Mehdi’s story and the success of StorngLifts.com. I particularly enjoyed the idea of an ebook giveaway to subscribers. You know, I’ve been trying to sell a small ebook I wrote on one of my pillar posts and it barely covers the costs from e-junkie. Now I know how to put it to much better use! Mehdi, thanks for sharing your tips with Darren’s readers.

    And I plan on subscribing to StrongLifts myself as I plan to get back in the weight room when my shoulder has fully recovered from last year’s rotator cuff operation.

  11. Good looking blog! Congrats on your subscribers and thanks for tips!

  12. I’ve been lifting now for several years – it’s a great way to lose weight and stay in shape.

    I think the points:

    >> I’ve combined it with relationships and social life. I’ve been able to eat healthy on a tight budget. I’ve injured myself dozens of times. I’ve trained when ill and injured. I’ve trained after a night drinking alcohol or a 4 hour night sleep. You get the point. Readers sense I’m not bullshitting them. <<

    really hit it on the head – ‘genuine’ always comes out when present.

    I’ve heard about giving away bonuses for RSS signups – is there a plugin that automatically does this? I’d love to test that out on my blog.



  13. I’ve been reading Stronglifts for a few weeks now, having started a muscle building and fitness blog myself over a month ago. Stronglifts has a lot of useful information and it’s a great read.

  14. I love to read articles like this: real, honest experiences of those who have achieved success with their blogs.

    While weight lifting is not my thing at all, I was enthralled by your genuine enthusiasm, Medhi. If this is reflected through your blog as much as it is in this guest post, I’m sure this in itself would be a contributing reason for your blog’s success.

    Best of luck to you and thank you for sharing your insights!

  15. After reading the article, I cannot thank Medhi enough for this post. There is some really GREAT advice in there for all blogs, not just fitness blogs.

    It is very motivating and inspirational to see the tremendous results he was able to achieve in 12 months, and this will certainly help to keep me going to strive for the same results. I’m going to start implementing his advice, especially the free EBook and Guest Posts. Thanks Mehdi!

  16. This is a great success story that may be very valuable to every blogger. Whatever you niche is, there is potential to grow if you experiment and find the best strategy. Depending of your niche, some social media may not be very efficient. I think that StrongLifts.com did a great job by continuously refocusing and trying something else. This is an example to follow!

    Congratulation to Mehdi for his tenacity and perseverance! You deserve your actual success!

    Thanks for the valuable tips! :)

  17. I think Stronglifts.com is a great resource for lifters. I’ve been lifting for several years now, and will incorporate this into my “must reads”. I think this blog also proves that even though it isn’t the most visually appealing blog, content really is king – it’s what makes readers come back for more time and time again.

  18. To quit your job and focusing on a blog which has since gained more than 13,000 subscribers is worth the initial sacrifices.

    I am sure your blogging income will be on par with your full time income soon.

  19. This was a really inspirational interview. I have only recently started The Tech Juice and I found the advice here fantastic.

    It comforts me to have another site to look towards when I get into those “blogging blues”.

    Good luck with your blog – I’m glad you’ve been able to increase your subscriber base so quickly.

  20. I agree with his magic word for success. “Don’t try – Only Decide”

  21. Fantastic interview – it really gets the point across that blogging isn’t easy, and it takes some determination and patience to show success. What really stood out was the graph – the first few months didn’t really see a lot of increase in subscribers.

    Take home message: Stick with it.

  22. I, genuinely, enjoyed reading this interview. It was sprinkled with much needed practicality.

    It certainly avoids creating the perception of all chocolate and no fat.

    I enjoyed the meat and potatoes of the whole post.

    Thank you for the insight.

  23. Mehdi,

    How do you get custom links in the bottom of your FeedBurner emails? Are you using FeedBlitz?

    I LOVE the ebook tip, especially since I have an out of print book I could offer up.

    Thanks so much to both Mehdi and Darren.

  24. That’s when I started to offer a 52 pages free ebook to anyone who subscribes…

    I’ve seen the idea of offering a free ebook to subscribers mentioned on here before, but how does one find out who is subscribing to one’s feed? I mean, the data is not available on Feedburner (is it)? It’s all anonymous as far as I can tell.

    And if that’s the case, how do you know whom to send the ebook to? :)

    This a serious question – I’d love to have a serious answer!

  25. Sheamus,

    Follow Mehdi’s ebook link to see a little about how it’s done. You can see who your subscribers are in FeedBurner under the Publicize tab.

    I think I answered my own question on the custom links. Looks like it goes between the tags, found under the Optimize tab. I’ll know soon. I’m trying it out on a test blog.

  26. I really appreciate Mehdi’s approach – quality content over monetization. I’ve been lifting for several years myself without any more instruction than a book or two. I love the personal feel of a blog writer vs. my books – broader topics and more personal experiences. It’s like being friends with one of the big dudes at the gym =D

    I’m curious about the long-term retention of RSS readers who sign up to get the free e-book. Is there any way to track that? Regardless of any tracking, I’m sure that some at least will become regular RSS users. Education of readers about RSS does a greater service to the entire blogging community.

  27. A very in depth interview…A very encouraging interview too…The main thing that I am taking away from this interview is to write an eBook soon and give it away free…

  28. What an inspiring read! That is a phenomenal result in just 12 months and has really encouraged me with my new blog.

  29. I just came back after reading stronglifts. As someone who has recently started weight training again, this is valuable information. Thanks Darren!

  30. Lovely interview. I love it when Mehdi says blog for fun. I like that thing. I will surely like to earn from blog. But for me more readers to my blog is most satisfying.

  31. > And if that’s the case, how do you know whom to send the ebook to? :)

    I’m not sure how Mehdi does it, but I’ve seen others add the link/button to the Feedburner feed, so you have to look at the feed to see the link.

  32. This was the final straw for me – I’ve read it again and again but haven’t done it.

    Putting up a free e-book of sorts to increase subscribers. I’ve seen it happen around the blogosphere. Got to get crackin.

    Thanks for a good article. No, it was a GREAT article. :)

  33. I have a lot to learn. I’d appreciate any advice,

  34. this makes me wonder what am i doing wrong

  35. This is great for someone who is starting out in blogging. It puts things into perspective. After reading this I noticed that the link to me rss was not in a visible spot, so I made it more visible.

  36. WOW! Just WOW..:) I love it and thank you so much; I am so glad you wrote such a great article to help. Thank you again.

    Dwayne D.C.Tucker II

  37. This i s a great post
    It had heaps of ideas for me on my personal finance blog
    and it also encouraged me to keep going and pushing forward

  38. I was delighted to read this.. excellent post!
    *taking notes*

  39. even probably lots of us already know all the points, still this is a really great interview.

    thanks to both of you making this interview available. now, where is the print button darren? :)

    i’ll definitely promote this article on my blog, someone remind me if i forgot. thanks

  40. The photos also add to your blog. I also like your topic – weight training does some amazing things. It helped me lose 30 pounds…along with Nutrisystem.

    Great post and blogsite.

    All the best to you!

  41. Excellent interview and tips!

    I really need to try the guest posts tip.

    It’s always interesting to see that in tons (or should I say gigs) of literature one of the key things is always persistence.

    Persistence definitely seems to pay off!


  42. You sound like a sincere person. I hope your blog gets bigger and more successful. Thanks for the info…

    Live From Las Vegas
    The Masked Millionaire

  43. Worked a treat . Nice job.

  44. Anonymous says: 05/23/2008 at 7:14 pm

    One thing I really don’t like about this guy is that he censors his comments hardcore. If you write something even slightly against what he thinks is correct he just won’t publish it. His readers don’t get the full story on most issues because of this.


  45. I didn’t realise that. Thanks.

  46. I totally enjoyed this post and came away very inspired by the interview.
    Thanks guys!

  47. Since we have a blog in the fitness industry as well, I love the advice about Stumble being more effective than Digg. Great tip!

  48. This is a great post and I agree you definitely have to keep learning when it comes to blogging. I have had 2 blogs for about 9 months and I feel I am behind in the potential they can offer.

    So I am back to reading and studying everything I can to maximize the effectiveness of a blog.

    Thanks for this interview!

    Jayson Hunter RD, CSCS

  49. Had he focused building a newsletter instead of RSS readership, he would probably have 5 times more followers. He could then leverage the newsletter to sell his own products or others people products.

    Why are bloggers so bad at getting and converting leads? I blame A-list bloggers and their obsession with RSS.

  50. I’m a bit shocked that the Blog has a huge readership like 14,000 and it’s not even making enough money to pay a full time wage.

    I realize money isn’t everything, but you said yourself that “So my 1st reason was to start a blog that makes enough money to leave my day job. ”

    I mean technically you did leave your day job, but it’s ok to make enough money to support yourself.

    Just my two cents. Great job growing your RSS subscriber list!

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