Why Traffic Your Subscriber Count and Money Doesnt Matter 170

One question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is: what sets the top blogs and websites apart, from a visitor’s perspective?

The question has an astonishing answer. It’s not traffic, it’s often not subscriber numbers and it’s not advertising revenue. These are the things visitors don’t see, or don’t have to see.

If what visitors do see makes your blog or website look popular and successful, to visitors, it becomes popular and successful. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before the numbers begin to fall into line with the way people see you.

I call this The Matrix model because, as we saw in the film, we accept what we see and experience as reality (even if that’s not the case beneath the surface). If you can influence the way visitors perceive your site, a blog or website with modest traffic and little advertising revenue can start to look like a niche authority.

In this post, I want to explain how you can apply The Matrix model to your own site.

Down the rabbit hole: thinking like daily visitor #134

We’ll start by looking at the evaluation process. What causes a visitor to see a website or blog as a niche authority?

As an experiment, let’s imagine you’re first-time visitor to Copyblogger (or maybe you are). It’s one of the most popular blogs in the world. As a visitor, you’d probably be able to guess this, even if you didn’t know. It ‘looks’ like a popular blog in a number of ways:

  • The average comment count on posts is around 30.
  • It has between 25,000 and 30,000 subscribers.
  • It has a professional-looking and unique design.
  • It displays 125 x 125 pixel banner ads — an advertising method common on well-known blogs and websites.

There are enough supporting characteristics that Copyblogger would still look like an authority, even if it didn’t display its hefty subscriber count. For the same reason, you’d know Dosh Dosh and Freelance Folder were niche authorities, even though neither blog shares its subscriber numbers.

As a visitor, you’d assume both blogs had several thousand subscribers — even if this wasn’t nearly the case. You’d also assume all the above blogs were turning a profit — but do we really know they aren’t running in the red?

What I’m trying to get across is that much of what a visitor perceives a website or blog to be is (necessarily) based on assumption. The assumption is based on characteristics common across popular blogs and website. Characteristics you can work to introduce into your own site, regardless of what the statistics below the surface look like.

Your site can tell a different story than the one told by your statistics. Your site can be a lot more than the sum of your traffic, subscribers and revenue.

The subscriber count/comment count see-saw

Let’s do another quick experiment. Open Church of the Customer in a new tab or window. One of the first things you’ll notice is a subscriber count we’d all die for. As I write this, it’s at 121K.

Forget about it for a moment. Imagine the blog didn’t display its subscriber count at all. Scroll down the posts, taking in the number of comments on each. While it’s not bad, it’s not what you’d expect from a 121K subscriber base. Most posts have less than ten comments.

If the subscriber count wasn’t displayed, you’d probably assume the blog was somewhere in the middle band of the marketing niche — not a niche leader, as CotC really is.

Here’s the see-saw: if you have an authority-level subscriber count, comments don’t matter so much. If you don’t have an authority-level subscriber count, your comments will need to tell the story you want them to.

Some tips to help you do this:

  • If you respond to every comment made, you double your comment count.
  • If you engage with commenters, they have a reason to comment again.
  • If you ask questions, you’ll get answers.
  • If you make commenting more rewarding, you’ll get more comments.

Practicing each of these strategies can raise your comment count to levels rarely seen on A-list blogs, even when your traffic and subscriber count is modest. Acknowledgment matters much more than traffic when it comes to comments.

Looking beneath the surface: a hallway in The Matrix.
Looking beneath the surface of a hallway in The Matrix (1999).

The truth about subscribers: your visitors will assume

One mistake I made with Skelliewag, now that I’m following The Matrix model, was to show my subscriber count too early. I starting showing it at about 300 subscribers.

Looking back on it, the community participation at the time (in terms of comments) would have made the blog seem a lot more popular than the story told by my 300 subscribers.

If I hadn’t shown my subscriber count early on, visitors may well have assumed it was significantly higher than that.

If your comments tell the story of a bigger blog or website, let your visitors assume your subscriber popularity — at least until the number starts to fall in line with assumptions.

Design matters: here’s why

Something we’ve all heard is that if you want to build a popular site, you need to take design seriously.

I agree, but it’s not just because there’s something intrinsically good about a unique design. It’s because clever and professional design is a characteristic of the world’s most popular blogs and websites.

As you’ll remember, The Matrix model hinges on imbuing your site with all the characteristics of a niche authority. Good design is one of them.

If you don’t know how to code or can’t afford a designer, pick a rarely used but high quality theme and design a custom header image for it. If you don’t have the ability or the resources, get someone to do that for you. It will be a lot cheaper than buying a design from scratch.

Do anything to avoid using themes that we see everywhere. They’ll quash the uniqueness of your site.

Make money like you don’t need it

Take a look at the most popular blogs in your niche and pay some attention to how they advertise.

If they use AdSense, it’s often tastefully blended with the site design and color scheme.

They might also be using 125 x 125 banner ads, which you’ve probably seen at ProBlogger (a blog I know many of you read). These are probably the most visually pleasing ad styles and have become increasingly popular with well-established sites.

Even if your blog or website shares many characteristics with the main players in your niche, a gaudy or unsophisticated advertising strategy can make your site look cheap and desperate for money.

The most popular blogs and websites tend to opt for a less-is-more strategy. They have less ads, but are able to charge more for each.

On a smaller scale, there’s no reason why you couldn’t emulate this. The reason most young blogs and websites end up using AdSense is because they assume no other advertisers are going to be interested. You’d be surprised at what you can achieve by being audacious.

You are what you do

You’ll never be seen as an authority unless you act like one. If no-one ever talks about you, if you’re not remarkable, people simply aren’t going to take notice.

In the beginning, few people will know about you, so you won’t be mentioned often. In that space, you need to do a lot of talking about yourself. Guest-post, join forums, leave comments.

I don’t want you to talk about yourself in the traditional sense. Instead, I’m referring to the things you do to reach out to new audiences.

Carry yourself like an authority. Communicate professionally and politely. Share your knowledge and insight. Most of all, help people. You can’t make a stronger connection with your audience than that.

Because you can’t do all the talking yourself, start doings remarkable things once you have a base to work from. Write your most popular post ever and send it out to your niche’s main players. Elevate the places you talk about yourself. Guest-post on a huge blog. Write something you want to see on the front page of Digg. It’s easier than you think (the key ingredient is time).

Like most things, all you’ve got to do is ask. If you want a link, ask for it. If you want social media votes, ask for them. If you make a habit of giving more than you take, people will be eager to help you in return.
Once people begin to see you everywhere, they’ll assume you’re a dominant force in your niche. If your blog or website tells the same story, to them, you are dominant in your niche.

What this all means

You can create reality for your visitors by presenting your blog or website in the way you’d like it to be seen.

Feel liberated by the fact that your visitors can’t see your traffic, your subscribers and your profits unless you decide to share them. Don’t let these factors constrain you.

If your visitors perceive you as a niche authority, they’re more likely to subscribe, to read what you have to say, to vote for your articles and link to your content. Soon enough, the statistics beneath the surface will begin to reflect the story you tell.

If you have any questions about The Matrix model, I’d like to answer them in the comments here.

Six Lessons I Could Only Learn by Letting my Blog go 524

It was a little painful to read Darren Rowse’s series of posts on letting your blog go. It hit a nerve with me for reasons that are probably self-evident: in the last four months there have only been eight new posts at Skelliewag. In this post I want to explain some of the important lessons I learned by letting my blog go, and how these lessons will help me approach the future.

Reflecting on that time I’ve realized that there are always deeper reasons for letting a blog go than ‘I don’t have the time’. I’ve learned that the way you use your time reveals your true priorities, even if they aren’t the priorities you acknowledge.

This article is, surprisingly, a positive one. It doesn’t benefit anyone for me to make excuses for my own personal situation, but I’m sure some of you are going through a similar phase and struggling to keep your blog regularly updated. Maybe you’ll see yourself in some of the lessons I learned.

1. You should allow your blog to evolve to match the challenges you set yourself.

One of the most important things every blogger should do when preparing to launch their first (or second, or third) blog is to decide on what you want to achieve with it. If you want to make money from AdSense ads about HDTVs then you’re going to be taking a very different path to someone who wants to become a life coach, for example. Your content and approach will need to be radically different.

However, though it’s essential to plot your route into the future, it’s also equally essential that you allow your goals to shift and realign as your blog evolves. After a time I found that trying to raise my subscriber count ad infinitum was not as rewarding as I expected it to be, but I never properly acknowledged this so I could work on finding new markers to aim towards. I was afraid of changing a formula that seemed to be working well, but the formula had become out of step with new priorities. As a result, following a pattern that no longer seemed authentic led to a drop in enthusiasm for blogging.

2. Sometimes you should break rules.

If you dedicate all your time to optimizing your content in a certain way, using all the right formulas and sticking within clearly defined topics, you’re shackling your creativity. This isn’t to suggest you should ignore the best practices for growing a popular blog–far from it–but it’s also important to step outside the rules sometimes, exercise your creativity and be confident that your readers will stick with you.

Write about a topic you’ve never covered before, experiment with a different voice, break conventions, forget about Digg and StumbleUpon for one post (or several) and write the post you would most enjoy writing. Allow yourself to do this regularly and be fearless about it–particularly when you sense that you’ve been letting your blog go. This is a sign that your writing process needs to be re-invigorated.

2. Sometimes you need to find new challenges.

If you do let your blog go, whether it’s for a week or several months, there’s a reason for it. Boredom is a poor reason, as a blog post begins as a blank screen and the possibilities are limitless. If you feel bored, you’re probably needlessly constraining yourself, and you need to approach your content from a completely new angle. If you’ve ever felt sick of a room in your house and re-arranged everything inside it so it feels ‘new’, you need to do the same thing to your blogging routine.

I suspect the most common cause for letting a blog go is feeling like there’s not enough time to blog. Strangely enough, you may simultaneously be finding time to work, watch television, pursue other projects and play the guitar (or your hobby of choice). Each of us has a long list of priorities and not enough time to do everything on that list. Certain things may consistently fall into the nether regions (or ‘no time’) area of that list, like mowing the lawn, doing your taxes, and blogging. What this really means is that blogging has slipped down towards the bottom of that list. Either things that were once below it have moved up, knocking it down, or new things have been added above it, squeezing it out. If you don’t have time, the truth is that blogging is no longer a high priority for you.

The way we prioritize something is determined both by how much we have to gain by doing it and how much we have to lose by not doing it. Sometimes our reasons for giving blogging a lower priority are very good. We may have just taken a new job, had a baby, needed to care for someone who became sick (maybe ourselves) or gone on vacation. Alternately, you may find the rewards of blogging have become less and the rewards of something else have become more, or that you’re experiencing both these things at once. At this point, you need to either: a) increase the rewards of blogging by shifting your goals so that blogging becomes a higher priority or b) accept that you have decided to put blogging on the back-berner for now and that you will accept the consequences. Sometimes it’s not possible to do everything you want at once, and sometimes you need to experience a degree of failure in one area to experience a success in another.

3. Allow yourself to explore new topics and be confident your readers will come along for the ride.

If you write several times a week on your blog and cover a set array of topics, there’ll come a time when you publish a post and are then struck by the feeling that you’ve restated something you’ve said before, only couched in different terms. This is not very inspiring. Interestingly enough, your readers may not remember your past content as well as you do, and more recent readers may need to be introduced to some of your foundational ideas for the first time.

While it’s certainly OK to repeat yourself sometimes, it will also be necessary that you widen your focus slowly and surely as the amount of content on your blog increases.

This isn’t to suggest that I should feel free to start writing about moisturizer (though I have been asked, believe it or not) and that you should feel free to write about rock collecting. Instead, the topics you branch into should be strongly linked to the topics you’re already covering. If you’re tired of writing about just web design, branch into writing about web development as well. If you’re sick of writing about iPhones all the time, start writing about iPods as well. By keeping the topics related but different you can guarantee most of your readers will find the expansion relatively seamless.

4. Don’t set unnecessary boundaries.

When I started Skelliewag I had never heard the term passive income and had not read widely on earning an income through web content. I tended to deride advertising when I mentioned it, and was very proud that Skelliewag.org was ad-free. If I’m honest, this is easier to do when you know you wouldn’t be making money anyway. Fast-forward to 5,000 subscribers and decent traffic and the stance becomes a lot more meaningful. My enjoyment of clean side-bars now requires a sacrifice of between $600 and $1000 a month, and I suspect that throughout Skelliewag’s lifespan I’ve sacrificed more than $5,000 in the name of no banner ads.

In hindsight this strikes me as kind of silly, but I was petrified that if I introduced banner ads there would be some kind of revolt. It took a surprisingly long time to ask the ever-useful question: “How would I feel if someone else did the same thing?” I wouldn’t care. I believe everyone else has a right to be rewarded for hard work, so it’s strange that I wouldn’t apply the same standards to myself. This means that sometime in the future there will be banner ads in the sidebar at Skelliewag (I’ll most likely wait a month or more until traffic returns to normal levels), and that you probably won’t be too bothered by it.

6. Write for yourself.

This sounds trite–and in a way it is–but this is the simplest way to say it. The person/entity you should be pleasing before social media, before other bloggers and even before your readers is yourself. A big chunk of what makes content remarkable is the sense that the blogger loved creating it. Once you lose that, the other stuff becomes less effective. In fact, if you have to choose between enjoying yourself and writing according to proven social media formulas, choose to enjoy yourself. You might be surprised at the results, both for your enjoyment of blogging and the growth your blog experiences.

How does this reflect on the future?

I’ll be branching into a broader range of topics: blogging as a business model, online business, case studies, effective user-interfaces, websites as a business model, more on social media and web trends in addition to all the topics I’ve covered in the past.

The style of content will be more varied. Some posts will be quite short, others will be very long, others will fall somewhere in-between, and the frequency will depend how inspired I am in any given week (though I would love to write at least three articles a week, which I will be surpassing by one post this week).

As you can see, I’ve simplified and broadened the categories list. The archives are now completely up to date and managed by a plug-in (trying to do it myself was doomed to failure, and I’m not quite sure what brought on that bright idea). The blog has a new header and I’ve tweaked a few other aspects of the design. I’ll be treating the blog more like an online business which will hopefully allow me to make more time for creating content and re-investing in new features. Most importantly, I’m excited to jump back into blogging and excited about the months ahead.

If you feel like you are letting your blog go, or if you start to feel that way in future, hopefully this post will be something you can learn from.

Am I going to promise that things have now returned to normal? No, I’m not. I think the content I have written and planned for the coming days and weeks will speak for itself. I hope you’ll be there to listen.

How to Avoid Fools Gold and Create Value Packed Content 182

In my last post — why value rules the attention economy — I argued that concentrating value is a wise growth plan in the Web 2.0 era. Though a number of readers disagreed with some of the extra points I made, people did seem to respond well to the idea of creating value-packed content.

I do plan on addressing some of the concerns raised in future (particularly in the area of grassroots growth vs. social media), but in this post, I want to share some advice on making every post you write more valuable.

What value does

Value moves people to action. It takes a lot of momentum for a particular article to go viral: a lot of people talking about it, sharing it and championing it. Concentrating a lot of value in one place will provide plenty of fuel for that momentum to build.

Real value vs. perceived value

Content with the capacity to build momentum tends to hold either one of two qualities: real value vs. perceived value. Content with real value is truly useful for the reader. It might contain ideas and tips they actually use, tools to change the way they do things, important lessons and so on.

Perceived value is different. It looks like it could be valuable, but there’s little going on beneath the surface. It’s the 300+ item linkbait composed of mediocre resources. It’s the sensationally headlined post promising to solve all your problems in 5 minutes or less. It’s the article you’ll bookmark and never look at again. It’s little more than fools gold, and its benefits are illusory.

Real value will always grow your site far more than perceived value. Real value leaves a lasting impression on visitors. Content with only perceived value might do well on social media, but it will be soon be forgotten.

You can probably guess what kind of value I think we should all be working towards!

How to create real value

Think of each article you write as a gift to your target audience. The principle of concentrating value works like gift giving. A highly valuable gift will always make a bigger impact on the receiver than a gift with little value.

Of course, I’m using the word ‘value’ in reference to how much the receiver appreciates the gift, rather than how much it cost, or how big it is.

You’ve probably seen a kid running around on their birthday with the gift they like best, telling everyone with a proud and appreciative face “So and so gave me this.” It’s a good metaphor for the way readers will champion articles that hold real value for them.

Compare this to content with only perceived value. It’s the flashy watch, the sports car, the diamond necklace — the stuff you think you want, only to feel a little empty when you get it.

Providing real value is about giving your target audience what it wants most. It could be delivered in one short paragraph, or in a thousand word reasoned dissertation. It could be delivered in one tip, or a hundred. The packaging doesn’t matter. Length doesn’t necessarily matter.

As long as you can make every article you write something your target audience will treasure, the physical stuff doesn’t matter.

Don’t be constrained by post frequency, or length, or format. Focus on giving your target audience the most valuable gift you can manage. Posting less, or longer, might help you do that, but it’s important to figure out a method that works for you: one very unique blogger or webmaster.

Treat your interactions like a wish list

At this time of year, millions of children everywhere are drawing up wish-lists of presents they’d like to receive. If only your target audience could do the same thing, then creating value would be easy!

Of course, they won’t. Instead, you need to draw up your own wish list from what you’ve observed. The only way to anticipate what your target audience will find valuable is to listen to them. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Ask them what they’d most like you to give them.
  • Note down common concerns you get via questions and comments.
  • Work out what other sites in your niche aren’t providing.
  • Brainstorm the needs and wants of people interested in your niche. What are their goals? What are they looking for?

Something to remember: It’s also essential to provide value in a unique way. If another site in your niche has met the same need through the same methods, the effect will be similar to when you get two identical presents. The first person to provide it gets all the appreciation, even though the only thing separating the gifts is time.

The hallmarks of value-packed content

  • It doesn’t alleviate problems a little — it solves them.
  • It doesn’t make your readership think about doing things differently — it changes the way they act.
  • It’s audacious — it tries to do many things at once.
  • It expresses something your target audience didn’t already know.
  • It answers a question your target audience didn’t know how to ask.
  • It makes your target audience feel better about themselves.
  • It helps them move towards whatever they’ve defined as their ‘success’.

Case studies: Tim Ferriss’s blog
Zen Habits
and Freelance Switch

Perhaps I’m a little biased (or blinded) by the focus of this niche, but from what I’ve observed, the above blogs have risen more rapidly than most (if not all) in the last year or so.

The first is part of the lifestyle design niche, the second is part of the self-improvement niche, the third is part of the freelancing niche. They’re each very different areas, but there’s one consistent thread running between each of those blogs: they aim to make their target audience better people and more skillful at what they do.

If you’re looking for one guiding principle to follow when creating value-packed content, that might just be it.

How to Develop an Efficient Post Frequency 532

One question every blog about blogging covers at one point or another is: how much should you post? I’ve yet to see anyone come to a firm conclusion about this, so I’d like to try.

In truth, some post frequencies are wasteful and others are efficient. This depends on two factors: the size of your readership and the frequency of your posts.

If your blog is receiving a few hundred visitors a day, it can be wasteful to post too much. For a post to gain traction on social media and start to spread through word of mouth it requires a certain amount of exposure.

By posting too frequently you may be taking the post out of the limelight and replacing it with another before the necessary amount of exposure can be reached.

Assuming that you have enough time to produce as much content as you would like, the ideal post frequency for a small readership blog is probably once every two days. (In reality, if you can’t sustain quality content at this frequency then your ideal frequency would be as regularly as you can manage while maintaining peak quality).

A well-trafficked blog is the opposite. Once you’re receiving more than 1,000 visitors a day, it’s wasteful not to post every day (once again, assuming an ideal situation where you have the means to do so). This is because if you’re posting once every two or three days a given post is likely to reach the tipping point of exposure well before it is replaced by another one.

There will be a point where more exposure for the post yields steadily diminishing returns. Ideally, you should move the spotlight onto new content as soon as the tipping point is reached. An efficient post frequency for a big blog will be at least once per day, though in an ideal situation this might be closer to several per day. Blogs like Lifehacker and Kotaku update constantly but they have the traffic to ensure each post reaches peak exposure.

The argument I want to put to you is that an efficient post frequency will increase along with your traffic.

I also want to acknowledge that you may not be able to reach your most efficient post frequency while also maintaining the highest quality content you can manage. However, I do want to suggest that this scenario is presented as an ideal that may not be appropriate for everyone.

The best way to determine when your posts reach their ‘tipping’ point is to note down the traffic, number of comments and social media votes received by a given post over the period of several days. Note the rate of drop-off for each day. In an efficient scenario your next post will go up as soon as your previous post hits the point of significantly diminished returns.

Another effective method is to experiment with different post frequencies over several weeks (trialing each frequency for one week) and tracking the results. This isn’t entirely accurate as your content may be more popular on one week than it is on the next, but it should help you to identify general trends.

The factory production-line analogy

A very useful analogy is to imagine a factory belt with a spout that delivers soda into bottles moving along the belt. If there is less soda being poured out of the spout, the bottles will not be properly filled if they’re unable to stay beneath the spout long enough. Each bottle will need to stay under it longer to be filled.

However, if the volume of soda coming out of the spout increases significantly but the bottles stay beneath it for the same amount of time, the bottles will overflow and much of the soda will be wasted. The bottles need to be positioned much closer together on the conveyor belt to be filled just enough without overflowing.

In this scenario, the bottles need to start out spaced further apart and then move closer together as the volume of soda grows. Each bottle needs to be replaced by a new one at the point when it is filled–no less, no more. In a factory, this would be considered an efficient process with no wasted potential.

However, I should restate that if you face the choice between producing one fantastic post per week or seven mediocre posts, you should always choose the first. In this post, I’m discussing an ideal scenario that doesn’t take into account content quality. Lifehacker could not update thirty times a day with any substance if Gina Trapani were in charge of producing every word on the site (as fantastic as she is). A blog like Lifehacker can achieve ideal efficiency because the investments in time and creative output required are shared across a network of people, and as a result, the blog can reach the ‘ideal’ in most areas.

This is something worth thinking about. Are bloggers who try to do everything themselves at a disadvantage when compared to those who collaborate?

Usability is a Conversation 174

Making your site more usable is really the art of making it easy for visitors to do what you want them to do.

Whether that’s coming to grips with what your site is about, commenting, subscribing, contacting you or buying your product, usability gets results.

“Usability” can seem like a pretty abstract term, though. What does it really mean? What does it involve? How do I get it? Do I have it already?

In this post, I want to discuss just how useful it is to think of your site’s usability as conversational.

Let’s talk

When you visit a new website or blog, you — and every other visitor — will be internally asking it some questions.

First, I want to show you an internal conversation between a visitor and a website lacking in usability. I’m using the Skelliewag.org image to represent a hypothetical website. (The yellow photo is by Flickr photographer bettybraun.)

Visitor: “Hi. You don’t know me. I was just wondering… what is this place?”

Site: “If you head to my About page, you’ll see that I’ve got two kids, a lovely wife, and that I live in the Bay Area. I also really like snowboarding.”

Visitor: “That’s… that’s all great — maybe we can talk about it later — but I’d still just like to know, uh, where I am. You know — what this place is, what you do here. That kind of thing.

Site: “Oh, you want to know, like, what sorts of things I write about, whether my content is worth your time — all that stuff?”

Visitor: “Exactly. Can you tell me?”

Site: “Why don’t you just read a few of my posts?”

Visitor: “Well… I’m kinda busy. There are about a hundred things on my to-read list. Why should I do you the favor of reading your content when you haven’t even explained what it’s about? It could be about model trains. I hate model trains.”

Site: “OK, yeah, I appreciate that. Here’s a compromise: you write a list of what I need to improve on the site, and I’ll take a look at it later in the week. Sound OK?”

Visitor: “Well… sure. That could be satisfying, in a way I can’t really explain. How do you want me to contact you when I’ve written it?”

Site: “You’ve got to ask me to tell you about myself. Then I’ll give you my contact details.”

Visitor: “That doesn’t make sense.”

Site: “Yeah it does. You can’t just ask: ‘How do I contact you?’ Oh, click on the contact page. That’s too simple. You’ve got to go to my About page again. You’ve got to read through that stuff about my snowboarding medals, then you get to my email address down the bottom.”

Visitor: “You know what… I think I’m just going to go check Google Reader. Maybe… maybe Kathy Sierra is blogging again. I just like to check sometimes.”

Site: “Hey — wait… you’re really going to miss out on some great stuff!”

Visitor: “Yeah — like what?”

Site: “If you’d just read my posts…”

* * *

I think the conversation shows how crippled a blog with bad usability really is. For all we know, poor Mr. Site could have created the blogging equivalent of the great American novel. What’s the use, though, if nobody feels compelled to read it?

Here’s the kind of conversation you do want happening on your blog.

Visitor: “Hi. You don’t know me. I was just wondering… what is this place?”

Site: “Hi there. You’ll see from the tag-line: “Making freelancers better,” that this blog is written for freelancers of all kinds. You can probably guess that the emphasis is on advice and tips. If you want some more information, just ask.”

Visitor: “Yeah, that would be good. You see, I’m a freelance coder. I mainly work on web apps and that sort of thing. I’m just wondering whether your content is written for people like me, or if it’s mainly for freelance writers, designers, those sorts of people. I’m just going to click on your About page — that will tell me, right?”

Site: “Yeah. As you can see from the first couple of sentences, the content I produce here is really written with all freelancers in mind. I actually worked as a freelance coder for about a year, but I do design mostly now.”

Visitor: “Right. And I see you’ve been working as a freelancer for nine years all up. You must really know your stuff.”

Site: “Well, I should hope so. You can see some examples of posts I’m really proud of towards the top of the sidebar. That’s all the stuff I think new visitors should get started with.”

Visitor: “Oh, wow. 101 Free Productivity Tools to Supercharge Your Freelancing. I’ve been thinking about my productivity a lot lately. Your other posts look great too. You know, I’m thinking of giving you a trial in my feed reader. How can I subscribe?”

Site: “You can see the orange RSS button just above those popular posts you’re looking at.”

Visitor: “That was easy. You know, I was also thinking about writing a guest-post for a freelance blog, and yours looks pretty popular. How would I contact you about that?”

Site: “There’s the Contact page, right next to my About page. There’s a form right on the page, so it should only take a minute.”

Visitor: “Fantastic. Will do. But first, I’ve got to bookmark your 101 Productivity Tools post. And you know what, for a change, I’m actually going to read it!”

* * *

What kind of conversation does your site have with every new visitor?

Find Your Flow and The Money Will Follow 941

The well-worn phrase “Do what you love and the money will follow” leaves a lot to be desired. Even if you could get paid to watch episodes of LOST (you can’t), you’d probably yearn for more rewarding work.

There is a marked difference between things you love that could make money and things you love that won’t. As a general rule, if it helps you enter a ‘Flow state’, it’s a winner. If it doesn’t, it won’t make for gratifying or lucrative work.

‘Flow’ (see Wikipedia page), a psychological phenomenon, is how you feel when performing a task that absorbs 100% of your focus. Time seems to run faster while in a flow state – hours can pass without notice because you are too focused to care about the passing of time. If you stop and think about it, I’m sure you can think of one activity that makes you feel this way, whether it’s writing a blog post, web design, exercising or developing new business ideas.

To enter a flow state while performing a task, the following criteria need to be met:

1. You must be challenged, but not too much. You’d be unlikely to enter a flow state as a beginner guitarist trying to learn Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’. Simply eeking out each note, let alone arranging them in the correct rhythm, would be extremely difficult and frustrating. You’d quickly want to bail out and try ‘Ode to Joy’ instead. Thinking about other tasks instead of the one you’re doing is not compatible with flow. On the other hand, a talented guitarist is not going to enter a flow state playing ‘Ode to Joy’ by the book. There’s no challenge in it, so her mind is likely to wander and not achieve the 100% focus required for flow.

2. You must be doing creative mental work. This includes problem solving, strategic thinking and thinking ‘on your feet’.

3. You must see great value in the work. I find my monthly accounts challenging but not too challenging to do, but this doesn’t mean I enjoy them. To find flow, the task you’re doing must have personal value to you.

No Flow, No Happiness

Psychologists have found that regularly achieving a state of flow is one of the primary determinants of happiness.

It follows, then, that the best possible way to make a living is to make money by doing tasks that put you into a flow state. The greatest thing is, because these tasks require specific skills to complete – skills that you have – ‘flow’ is the perfect way to separate things you love that people might pay you for (they require skill) versus things you love that are extremely hard to get paid for (watching LOST, which only requires a television!)

If you don’t feel that any of your current skills have monetary value to someone else, searching for ‘flow’ is an excellent way to discover new skills that you will love practicing. If I find myself 100% focused and losing track of time when reading beginner-level articles on stock trading, this is a signal that the skill is worth more investigation.

Two Ways to Fill a Life Missing Flow

If you’re interested in blogging, you’re probably familiar with the ‘Blog Profits Blueprint‘ school of thought, aimed at creating sources of advertising and affiliate income that require only a few hours of maintenance each day. Ideas around passive income and The Four-Hour Work Week come from the same angle – that you should minimize income ‘work’ to leave more time for non-work activities that help you achieve flow.

While possible, this setup is extremely difficult to achieve – and perhaps personal experience has shown you that! If working 2 hours a day on income generating activities and earning $5,000 a month, you still need to earn over $80 per hour that you work. Someone earning $5,000 a month with a four-hour workweek would need to earn over $300 an hour.

To me, this seems unnecessarily complicated and difficult. If the aim is to minimize ‘work’ to make time for activities that put you into ‘flow’, wouldn’t it make more sense to seek a scenario where your ‘work’ and ‘flow tasks’ were one and the same?

It’s true that you could never spend 100% of work time in ‘flow’, unless invoicing and clearing your inbox are passions. But nor could you make a living from AdSense and affiliates without spending some amount of time on boring admin tasks.

The laws of probability also make a case for earning money from your flow tasks. Working 40 hours a week doing tasks you find flow-inducing (and assuming all hours a billable), you can make $5,000 a month earning about $31 an hour. If you’re ‘working’ 2 hours a day and making money from affiliate marketing, you need to earn roughly 250% of that amount per hour. If you’re doing a 4-hour work week you need to earn a whopping 10x that amount per hour!

Needless to say, there are a lot more ordinary people earning $31 an hour (and more) as freelancers than there are people earning $80 an hour as bloggers and affiliate marketers, or $300 an hour as passive income gurus. Sure, they do exist, and congratulations to them, but only a very small percentage of people who try to lead the ‘passive income’ lifestyle succeed.

The biggest irony I see is people who work thousands of hours to set up modest passive income streams to support themselves while they pursue unpaid ‘flow’ activities using skills that have a going rate of $50 – $100 an hour! The could have earned more and saved months or even years of their lives making money from their skill directly.

Is Passive Income Really the Recipe for Happiness?

In an ideal world we could work 1 hour a day and spend the rest of the time at home programming apps or playing piano or whatever else puts us into flow. In reality, when left to our own devices we’ll often pick ‘junk food’ tasks over flow tasks because flow tasks are challenging while junk food tasks provide instant gratification. Examples of junk food tasks are things like aimlessly browsing YouTube, watching bad mid-day television or taking naps. As psychologist Dan Gilbert has shown, humans are often very bad at predicting and doing what really makes us happy. Without external motivators we may spend the rest of our day watching re-runs of Family Guy rather than working on the blog design of our dreams.

Instead, try adding income and reputation to the mix and it becomes much easier to motivate yourself to consistently perform tasks that put you into flow. The person with only self-imposed pressures to create their dream blog design will probably finish three months after the person being paid $60 an hour with a Monday deadline.

Lastly, working for ‘flow’ is a fantastic opportunity to become a genuine expert at something. Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes 10,000 hours of hard work before someone can call themselves an expert. Dabble in something on evenings and weekends for a total of 10 hours a week and you can gather 500 hours towards expertise each year (I’ve subtracted 20 hours a year for practice time missed due to unforseen events – this figure is being very generous though). Keep at it for 20 years and voila, you might just be an expert.

Contrast this with 35 hours a week of practice (say, in Flash game design), and you can hit that 10,000 hour mark in about 5 years and 9 months – roughly 1/4 of the time. If you’re being paid only the average rate for a Flash programmer (about $50 an hour) you’ve earned a total of $500,000 acquiring your expertise, instead of the $0 earned practicing in non-work time.

The Best Way to Make a Living from Blogging Is…

Selling a service that puts you into ‘flow’ is the best way for most people to make money from blogging. Even if you don’t have a skill that can be easily commodified yet, learning a new one will be much easier than making thousands of dollars each month from advertising and affiliate programs. The latter requires just as much practice and may never be rewarded at all.

While being an expert in a niche is valuable, being an expert in a professional skill is even more valuable. (Being an expert in both is better, and that’s what I hope to teach you.)

If Google decides it doesn’t like you, if AdSense changes drastically, if you lose your mojo and traffic dries up, so can your income if it is solely based on advertising and affiliate sales. But the skills you have, with continual practice, will last forever.

This is a topic I want to discuss much more. I feel that there’s an over-abundance of information on how to make a pittance with advertising and affiliate programs, but very few credible sources of information on how to earn a good living with a freelance business fed through your blog. I’ve done it, and I’m confident I can teach any person to do the same. That being said, I know this lifestyle is not everyone’s cup of tea and for that reason I won’t be devoting a lot of time to the topic on this blog. Instead I’ll be creating a newsletter on this topic, so only people who want to learn will receive the content.

I know some of you have been trying to earn an income through blog ads and affiliate sales and are getting tired of not being rewarded. I know some of you are interested in freelancing but unsure of how to make money from your skills or where to start. I know some of you are already freelancers but would like to get more clients, charge more and ween yourself off local work so that you can take your business anywhere. I’m confident the newsletter will teach you how to do all these things – and it will also be fun for me to try something different!

Stay tuned 🙂

37 Viral Post Ideas You Can Use Today 103

Viral articles are word of mouth worthy, and will grow your site more so than any other kind of content. Previously, I examined six strategies you can use when you want to create content with a decent chance of going viral. In this post, I want to focus on 37 concrete ideas for viral posts that should be readily applicable to your niche.

This post could be a useful port of call the next time you run out of inspiration, or if you want to try something different with your content.

What are the benefits of writing viral posts?

As part of the Simple Web post series I established the reasoning behind my personal philosophy of trying to simplify down to only taking actions with the potential to grow your site. In my experience, posts I’ve written that have gone viral (at least within this niche) have grown Skelliewag more than any other kind of post. From what I’ve observed, this seems to hold true across all blogs and websites.

Viral posts are rarely produced effortlessly. They take time and care to produce, and it shows in the finished product. Many of us like the idea of creating viral content but lament that we don’t have enough time. Luckily, more time is not what we need.

Time can always be made by changing the way you distribute it. Rather than writing short posts daily, what if you wrote three short posts and one carefully constructed, virally targeted post a week? Unless those short posts are quite profound, you are likely to find that the virally targeted posts grows your blog far more than the four short posts would have.

Won’t readers get sick of virally targeted posts?

Mason of SmallFuel Marketing gave an insightful answer to the question I asked at the end of Under the Microscope: Six Strategies for Building Viral Content: “How would it affect your site if every article you wrote was designed to go viral — even if it meant you had to post less?”

His initial response was: “I think if every post were written “to go viral” it would probably burn out the regular readers (and possibly yourself).”

In many ways, I agree with him, though I think there is an easy work-around. Constantly trying to go viral through the same methods will bore your readers, unless your site is built on a particular type of viral content (Smashing Magazine or Mashable and resource lists, for example). Any site needs varied and diverse content, so it’s important to approach viral targeting from an ever-changing angle.

A final point to consider is that calling something ‘viral’ is a catchier way of calling it word-of-mouth worthy. Creating word-of-mouth worthy content won’t bore your readers because what’s worth talking about is, in most cases, high quality.

As long as you explore a variety of possibilities for virality, working on viral posts is one of the best ways to grow your site.

The list!

  1. Assemble one sentence/paragraph answers to a question you ask key figures across your niche.
  2. Create a time spectacle: create content non-stop over a designated period of time (8hrs, 24hrs?).
  3. Write a review of the redesign of a popular blog/website in your niche. Everyone has an opinion on redesigns and will appreciate someone laying out some of their own thoughts.
  4. Assemble a directory of great interviews conducted with prominent/interesting figures in your niche.
  5. Construct a central hub of posts written on a specific, focused topic of great importance to your niche.
  6. Create a ranked list of products, services, people, or some other variable, within your niche.
  7. Offer a free service to everyone who asks, utilizing one of your skills. Then expect nothing in return.
  8. Write a history of your niche’s presence online. What have been its earliest blogs and websites? Its most popular? Are they still around?
  9. Begin a group writing project.
  10. Assemble a directory of tips on a topic, delivered in the form of quotes from other sites in your niche.
  11. Build a quiz for readers to test their niche knowledge.
  12. Offer to write a guest-post for anyone who asks. View it as a long-term commitment: could you manage one guest post a week? The task only becomes insurmountable if you want them all done at once. People will be patient if the service has no strings attached.
  13. Conduct a short interview, both containing the same questions, with two prominent figures in your niche, and display the answers side-by-side, allowing us to compare the answers.
  14. Assemble a large number of one-sentence tips on a specific topic.
  15. Simpsonize some key personalities in your niche.
  16. Assemble the most interesting or thought provoking quotes that apply to your niche, even if the person quoted was not talking about your niche specifically.
  17. Ask readers a question and have them answer it on their blog/website. Then link to the collected answers from a central hub post.
  18. Write a post carefully arguing a view that you feel many of your readers will agree with.
  19. Take reader questions and answer them in one post. These can be questions about you, your niche, or your site. Set boundaries if necessary.
  20. Link to online tools, software and sites any person taking part in your niche should know about.
  21. Organize an initiative and get other bloggers involved.
  22. Take a birds-eye view of your niche, analyze its strengths and weaknesses.
  23. Predict what your niche will look like in 5, or 10, or 50 years.
  24. Create a list of feeds you believe everyone interested in your topic should be subscribed to.
  25. Answer a question many of your headers may have, but have not asked because of its complex nature. Some questions of that nature that might be unspoken by readers in this niche, for example, are: What do I do if my blog isn’t growing as I hoped it would? How long will it take my site to start generating a worthwhile income? Is there ever going to be a big enough audience for a site in my niche?
  26. Address a general ‘want’ shared by most readers in your niche. What are the key three things readers of your site want? For this site, that might be: more traffic, more links, more subscribers. To address the want for more subscribers, I might write a post called: “Ten Innovative Ways to Get More Subscribers”. There have been plenty of posts on this subject, but readers are likely to have a look just in case there’s something they haven’t seen before. To make sure they’re rewarded, make certain you meet this need in an innovative/different way.
  27. The web is on a productivity/uncluttering trip at the moment. Can you write a guide to being more efficient or productive in your niche? Can you write a guide to getting organized in your niche?
  28. Visualize useful information and make it easy to share.
  29. Show readers how to construct a cheap object that will prove useful to them.
  30. Release a free ebook, packed with value.
  31. Write a post answering 5 important questions, then ask others to answer the same questions on their own sites, promising to link to the answers from a central hub post. Follow through on that promise.
  32. Take a famous/interesting person and ask: what approach would that person take to my niche? For example: The Leonardo Da Vinci Guide to Cooking.
  33. Create a ranked list of must-read books relating to your niche.
  34. Create a beginner’s tour of your topic. If you were showing a beginner the sights, what essential articles should they read to get a grip on your niche?
  35. Explore what you would change about your niche if you could. What are its short-comings?
  36. If you could only share 10 more tips with your readers, what would they be?
  37. Assemble a collection of amazing photos/images relating to your niche (some niches will be more suited to this than others).

The Pocket Sized Guide to Blogging 282

(A bit out of practice, but stick with me.)

If you’re like me, you’ve probably read the equivalent of a few books worth of material on how to run a successful blog. You’ve read about getting more traffic, getting more subscribers, getting more links, more comments, social media votes and so on. If triggered, you can probably remember (broadly at least) most of what you’ve read. But it’s easy to forget the steps involved, particularly when we consume so much new information every day.

The purpose of this post is to lay out the key principles of successful blogging in one place. The details of each point aren’t here — that’s where your own knowledge comes in — but I think it should be helpful in terms of reminding us about the skills and habits that are most important to what we do.

I could have added a dozen more sub-headings, but I wanted to take some of my own advice and simplify down to the eight areas that I believe are most important.

How to grow

  1. Self-promote until your posts start to get traffic with or without you.
  2. Then — produce something other people want to talk about.
  3. Always focus on building your blog’s vital signs: your comments and subscriber count — the marks of popularity that people can actually see.

How to write popular posts

  1. Time spent on the post is more important than your talent.
  2. Use your best idea — don’t save it.
  3. Highlight the best bits with formatting.
  4. Brainstorm headlines until you find the best one.
  5. Pour heaps of value into this one post. Don’t spread it thin. Impact is key.
  6. Use interesting images to attract attention.
  7. Use your (short) intro to tell them what you’re going to tell them.
  8. Social media users are spoiled for choice. Assume they’re impatient.
  9. Link out to spread the word.
  10. Ask for votes and links — just not too often.
  11. Use a blueprint. Look back into your blog’s history and emulate your most popular posts.

How to get more comments

  1. Respond.

How to create a blog that is well designed and usable

  1. Assume that a visitor will never spend longer than three seconds searching for a link.
  2. If you want people to see something, don’t put it in your footer.
  3. If you don’t have an easy to find About page, make one now.
  4. Your headlines could be bigger than they are. They’re doorways into your posts.
  5. Use an interesting image in every post you want to draw traffic to.
  6. Declutter your blog by keeping only what’s important. Clutter leaves less attention for what matters.

How to stay interested over the long-term

  1. Don’t be afraid to write about what interests you, even if it’s a break with tradition for your blog.
  2. Learn to enjoy blogging as a hobby. Any success is a bonus.
  3. Never stop connecting with your audience, whether it’s 10 people or 100,000.
  4. Don’t be afraid to take breaks. A break is better than burn-out, and your subscribers will stay with you. A blog that isn’t updating isn’t an interruption.

How to get more subscribers

  1. Do what’s necessary to maintain a very high content standard, even if it means posting once a week.
  2. The notion that subscribers unsubscribe if you post too little is a myth. If they like you, they’ll wait.
  3. Don’t overwhelm your subscribers with quantity (unless you’re Lifehacker).
  4. For someone to subscribe, they need to believe your blog will be useful in future, not just now.
  5. A big RSS button and other gimmicks don’t convince people to subscribe. Your content does.

How to make money blogging

  1. Focus primarily on growing your traffic — more traffic = more clicks.
  2. But remember, traffic isn’t worth anything if it’s not actually paying attention to you or your ads.
  3. Experiment. There are dozens of ways to make money with your blog. Scrap what isn’t working and move on.
  4. Your advertising space is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

How to think of great post ideas

  1. Write every idea down. Don’t assume you’ll remember anything.
  2. Always return to what matters most for your audience. It’s impossible to cover that too much.
  3. Strokes of brilliance take time. Give yourself the time to have ideas by sitting down and brainstorming.


In the 10 Trump-card articles post I shared in April I accidentally linked to the wrong article when sharing Bob Younce’s trump card post. Here’s the article I should have linked to. Enjoy!

How to Get 1050 Subscribers in 3 Months 151

By beginning this post with the above figure, I don’t do so to boast. I know there are thousands of blogs that have received more subscribers than this — and in less time.

I highlight this figure (1,050 subscribers in 3 months) to show that you don’t need to have big money, the perfect niche or a staff of writers to quickly develop a 1,000+ network of loyal readers. This blog exists within a mature and crowded niche, I’m its sole author and I’ve spent nothing on marketing and promotion.

I’ve learned enough from this experience to share how you can get 1,000 more subscribers in 3 months.

Subscribers are people, too!

A subscriber is a person who has elected to have every article published on your site delivered to them. That’s an impressive committment.

For a reader to make the decision to subscribe, they need to feel that your content is 1) unmissable and 2) tailored to them.

If you can’t quickly describe your target audience then you’ve just identified the key reason why you don’t have as many subscribers as you’d like. You’re writing about topics, when you should be writing for people.

What this means

Here’s the difference when it comes to subscribers. I’ll use a hypothetical personal finance blog as an example.

Firstly, let’s examine a personal finance blog without a target audience, writing on the topics of: Investing, Debt Elimination, Saving and Frugality.

Can we imagine a person for whom all these things are of a keen interest?

If you’re in a position to save, you’re probably not worrying about debt elimination. If you’re trying to pay off debt, investing and saving might not have much relevance to you. Even if you balance these topics equally, your readers will be skipping up to half of what you write.

Secondly, compare this with a personal finance blog written specifically for people in debt. With a target audience in mind, you can ensure every post you write is relevant. You can skip over talk of saving and investing and provide valuable advice on budgeting and frugality instead.

When an indebted person visits such a blog they can look across the breadth of the content and say: “Everything here is relevant to me.” They’re in a perfect position to decide to subscribe.

Once you work out who you’re writing for you can cut out the topics that aren’t relevant to them. When a visitor feels your articles are consistently tailored to their needs they’ll be much more likely to subscribe.

Hopefully you can see that each post I write is aimed at a target audience (look to the top right corner of the screen for a hint!).

Another key strategy is to make your target audience obvious. That way, each time a member of your target audience arrives they can see straight away (hopefully before they’ve even started reading your content) that your site is tailored to them.

Another blog that does this is Freelance Folder (which managed to gain around 1,200 subscribers in 3 months). You can see how below.

The Freelance Folder tag-line.


  • Focus on a target audience rather than a selection of topics.
  • Write every post for the benefit of that target audience.
  • Make it clear to new visitors who your blog is written for.

When more is less

The biggest misconception about getting subscribers is that you need to write a lot of articles each week (preferably daily) and that people will unsubscribe if you don’t post enough.

In fact, the opposite is true. Subscribers dislike being interrupted by content they don’t want to read. In terms of getting (and keeping) subscribers, one great post per week is better than five mediocre ones. That your content is relevant isn’t enough. It also has to be good. To fall back on a common but appropriate cliché: when it comes to subscribers, it’s quality over quantity. Of course, quality and quantity is ideal. If you can make the time, go for it.


  • When it comes to subscribers, quality trumps quantity.

So, how can I write good stuff?

My guiding principle is to fill each post with value for the target audience. For example, instead of trying to explain you how to get 1,000+ subscribers in three months, I could have written about a nifty new WordPress plug-in, or the current state of the BlogRush widget. There’s nothing wrong with either of those topics, but it’s clear which one would be more valuable to you.

One post with lots of value is better than a few posts with a little. For a reader to want to subscribe they need to be moved by the value you offer. They need to feel that your content is worth treasuring.

When creating content, let the value principle guide you. Ask yourself: what’s the most valuable thing I can give my target audience right now?

If you find it hard to find the time to write value-packed posts, post less. Yes — even if it means you only post once a week. One value-packed post a week will grow your blog faster than seven posts with only a little bit of value (Tim Ferriss writes at about this frequency and is in the Top 1,000 blogs on Technorati).

People simply don’t link to or vote for posts that aren’t sufficiently value-packed — regardless of how many you write.


  • Consistently value-packed articles are required in order to move people enough to subscribe.

How to source-out potential subscribers

Now that I’ve described the process behind creating the kind of content that motivates people to subscribe, the next (and crucial step) is sourcing out potential subscribers.

Potential subscribers are really just members of your target audience. They’ll discover your blog through either of two main paths: links, or social media.

A bite-sized guide to getting links

Breaking it down again, there are two kinds of links: links you make and links you get.

My subscriber count has always jumped when I got a bunch of links (or one link in a highly trafficked location). If you want to get links, you need to:

  • Write an exceptionally value-packed article.
  • Do something remarkable and word-of-mouth worthy.
  • Ask for them.

The second type of links (the kind you make) can be just as powerful. These include:

  • The by-line in your guest-posts.
  • Your forum signature.
  • The linked name that comes with the comments you make.

The most powerful links you can get are those on blogs, websites and within categories frequented by your target audience — preferably the most popular ones. Not all links are equal:

  1. A link with lots of targeted click-throughs is best.
  2. A link with a handful of targeted click-throughs is second best.
  3. A link with lots of badly targeted click-throughs is third best.
  4. A link with a handful of badly targeted click-throughs isn’t worth much.

All these links are better than nothing, but some are better than others. Links are doorways your target audience can use to discover your site. If you’re not getting links, you’re not getting subscribers.


  • If you’re writing value-packed content you will generate links naturally.
  • Exceptionally value-packed content will always get more links.
  • Make your own links by guest-posting on popular blogs.

A bite-sized guide to social media

Social bookmarking icons.

Articles will rarely do well on social media unless they’re exceptionally value-packed or remarkable. If you’re not focusing on value, focus on doing something remarkable.

Luckily, content people want to link to also has a tendency to do well on social media.

Being active on social media will help things along. People often vote for your articles if you vote for theirs: not because you’ve got some sort of reciprocal scheme going, but because it’s an easy way to repay the favor.

I’m certain that having an active StumbleUpon profile has played an integral part in this blog’s growth, for example.


  • Writing linkable content will also help you with social media.
  • Put effort into social media and you will be rewarded.

A bite-sized guide to networking

People who like you are more likely to link to you or vote up your articles on social media (and in doing so, source out new pockets of subscribers). The much-vaunted practice of ‘networking’ is ultimately made up of what you do to get people to feel positive about you.

Here are some simple principles I’ve stuck by:

  • Be nice.
  • Don’t ignore people.
  • Be friendly.
  • Treat every person you interact with respectfully.
  • Don’t view others as a means to an end.
  • Help out in the best way you can.
  • Be generous.
  • Don’t take up too much time.
  • Focus on mutual benefit.
  • Give more than you take.

Viewed in this light, every email, comment, message, IM conversation and social media experience is networking. They key is to help people out. Give them something valuable for free, whether it be knowledge, advice, or your time.

Just like we saw with the success of Radiohead’s In Rainbows album, you ultimately get more when you don’t ask for anything. In a world where people only want to give a little less than they can take, being generous will make you remarkable.

The little things

If a reader is moved enough by your content to subscribe they’ll find the button even if it’s hidden in your footer. In fact, I’ve subscribed to blogs that didn’t even have a subscribe button, either by burning their feed at Feedburner or getting the feed from the address bar.

Little things like button placement won’t make or break your efforts to get subscribers. It’s all the above stuff that matters most.

Despite this, the basic tenet of usability holds true: if you want someone to do something, you better make it as easy as possible.

  • Put your feed button above the fold. This is where people expect it to be and is also the first place they look.
  • Give readers the option to subscribe at the end of your articles. By doing so, you’re catching them when they’ve just read a value-packed post and are feeling most positive about your content.
  • A great looking design can increase a visitor’s disposition to subscribe. We inevitably associate a professional design with how seriously the blogger or webmaster takes what they do. First impressions do count.
  • You can offer another incentive to subscribe. I’ve written about this in detail at Blogging Tips.
  • When do I start showing the subscriber count? When you start to be proud of how many subscribers you have.


This is, in essence, a three-pronged strategy:

1. Work out who your target audience is and write your content exclusively for them.

2. Pack your articles with as much value as possible. If time is a problem, post less.

3. Source out your target audience by getting or making links and writing for social media.

By following this three-pronged strategy Skelliewag grew to 1,050 subscribers in 3 months. There’s no reason why your site can’t grow by just as much, if not more.

If you have any questions about this process please don’t hesitate to ask by leaving a comment.

Got a few seconds? A stumble, Digg or anything else is always appreciated (you can use the links below).

How to Get Piles of Links Subscribers and Comments 273

It’s easy to get caught up discussing high-level Digg strategies and complicated metaphors, but it’s important not to lose sight of the things that make the advanced stuff worthwhile.

Without the ability to gather links, subscribers and comments, your blog can’t grow. These three basic things are the lifeblood of your blog. It’s essential to be reminded (every once and a while) of how you can keep that lifeblood flowing.

Let’s get back to basics!

18 ways to get links

1. Create them yourself. The strength of this method is that it’s completely under your control. You don’t need to wait for others to create links because you’re building them yourself. You can place links in comments, a forum signature, an email signature, exchange sidebar links with other bloggers, add links to your social media profiles… the list continues. You can create a lot of them in a relatively short period of time.

2. Create a meme. Ever seen those post formulas repeated by several bloggers, who all link to each other? These are usually called blog memes, and they’re quite easy to create. The most basic meme model involves answering a few defined questions and ‘tagging’ a number of other bloggers for whom you think the questions would be relevant. This is done in the hope that they’ll answer the questions on their blog and link back to the originator of the meme. The key to success with this method is that your meme results in a relevant and entertaining post. If so, other bloggers will be happy to participate. Another tip: don’t tag really big bloggers, as they rarely, if ever, participate in memes. Instead, tag bloggers you’re friendly with, and make sure your meme is relevant to the audience of every person you tag.

3. Hold a competition. The most direct option is to make a link to your blog a condition of entry, but this is not always necessary. An interesting competition can create word of mouth in its own right, even if entry doesn’t require any kind of reciprocal favor. Just make sure (I mean really — make sure) that the prize you’re offering is not out of proportion to the rewards you stand to yield from the competition. I’ve seen a blogger offer a MacBook Air to a random person who linked to the competition post. He received all of eight trackbacks! Often, an interesting or useful prize is a better choice than an expensive one — and safer, too.

4. Write or exchange guest-posts. A larger-scale version of #1, creating your own links, guest-posting is still a method I stand by. It is, simply put, one of the easiest ways to get a prominent link on a popular blog. If the blog is well-targeted, you can expect a spike in subscribers after your guest-post is published.

5. Go popular on Del.icio.us. Many Del.icio.us users have set their bookmarks to publish to their blogs at semi-regular intervals. Going popular on Del.icio.us means anywhere from a hundred to several thousand Del.icio.us users have bookmarked your content, and a certain percentage of those will auto-publish your link to their blog or website. This can yield dozens of new links.

6. Ask for them. As editor of Freelance Switch, a really big blog with over 23,000 subscribers, I’m always surprised to see how few people ask to be included in our links posts. I get maybe one request a day. The truth is that most bloggers who like a post and think it will be relevant to their audience will be happy to link to it, but most of us assume we don’t stand a chance, or feel that asking for links is too audacious. It’s not — really. Remember this tip: your requests will carry more weight if you use them sparingly.

7. Create a viral graphic. If you can express an idea or make people laugh with a graphic, publish it and make it free to distribute. If you don’t link to your blog or website through the image, most of those who reproduce it will link to you to give credit where credit is due. You will actually get more traffic by not placing your URL on the image than you will by doing so.

8. Create viral content. This is a good opportunity to state that the suggestions on this list are not ordered by importance. Creating viral content is the single most powerful way to generate a pile of links to your blog or website. However, like most highly effective methods, it’s not easy to do. If you’re new to the concept, viral content creates a word-of-mouth chain reaction.

9. Give something away. Generosity creates word-of-mouth. Giving without expecting anything in return is quite remarkable. Ironically, giving something away without asking for a reward generally results in greater benefits than you would have received otherwise. Do remember that links are secondary here, though. Sometimes it’s nice to just do something good.

10. Ask for a response. Have you ever found yourself writing a post and wondering what another blogger would have to say about it? You can encourage them to respond to your post on their own blog by emailing them about it, or by asking their opinion within the post itself.

11. Start a debate. Similar to #10, but you won’t be calling upon specific individuals for a response. This method shouldn’t be confused with starting a controversy just to get a reaction, which isn’t very cool. Instead, argue a case, something you believe in — even if it’s likely to be something most of your audience disagree with. Opinions encourage responses.

12. Create a stickied thread in a forum. Unlike normal forum threads, stickied threads are permanently attached to the top of a forum. They have a few common traits: they’re timeless, they’re useful, they’re well-crafted, and they answer one or many recurring questions. However, it’s difficult to 100% guarantee your thread will be stickied, even if you put a lot of effort into it. If you’re pursuing this method, it’s best to do it on a forum you enjoy, and have fun with the process. If your thread doesn’t take off as you would have liked, it’s will still be a positive experience. Of course, the most important step in the process is making sure your blog’s URL is in your post signature, or you could even place it below the introduction to your thread. I was able to drive a steady stream of traffic to one of my older hobby blogs by having a thread stickied.

13. Buy advertising. It’s not uncommon to be able to buy a 125 x 125 banner ad on a well-targeted blog for around $30 a month. If you’re willing to pay higher rates, you should receive a greater number of impressions (the standard rate is around $1 – $1.50 per thousand). If your ad is graphical, make sure your ad describes what a visitor will find when they click on it, and design it with the blog’s target audience in mind. Vague banner ads can significantly reduce click-through rates.

14. Submit your blog or website to directories. While each link is unlikely to yield heaps of traffic, it’s possible to submit to dozens of directories in less than an hour. Just make sure they are not of too low quality, or the link may do more harm than good as far as SEO is concerned.

15. Submit your work to an online gallery. Most galleries featuring user-generated content will allow you to place a link on the page dedicated to your work. You can find places to showcase art, writing, tutorials, and so on.

16. Create a blog theme and link back to yourself in its footer. Some of the best free blog themes around are used by tens of thousands of people, and most of them come with a link to the designer in the theme’s footer. That’s tens of thousands of links. Though they’re probably going to have very poor click through rates individually, the collective figure might be much more worthwhile. This is also great from an SEO perspective, as well.

17. Create a You Tube video, including your URL. Create a videoblog for your site, but host it on You Tube. Judging by the view count on even very mediocre videos, You Tube viewers have quite a bit of attention to share (or time to procrastinate, depending on how you look at it). If you include popular, relevant search terms in your title or description, you stand to gain quite a bit of exposure.

18. Get Dugg. Going popular on Digg will generally result in dozens of new links. Once again, the most effective methods are the trickiest, but you might find these posts useful: Why You’ve Got to Dig Digg to Get Dugg, What I’ve Learned About Social Media Success.

10 ways to get subscribers

1. Make every post valuable. The impulse to subscribe requires a catalyst — the sense that the visitor has found something valuable: something for keeps. Placing a lot of value in one post will heighten that impact.

2. Hint at an un-missable future. Darren Rowse calls this ‘creating anticipation‘, and doing so involves creating post series, hinting at future content, and so on. In other words, this method makes the visitor feel like they will be missing out of they don’t subscribe. It reminds them that the blog they’re viewing isn’t a static thing — it’s ever-changing.

3. Prove your record with popular posts. A compelling list of popular posts in your sidebar makes the case that your blog provides consistent value. While one outstanding post on the main page is impressive, it’s no guarantee that the post isn’t simply an exception to your blog’s usual content. A list of great popular posts reassures potential subscribers that they can expect more of the same quality in future.

4. Write or exchange guest posts on highly-targeted blogs. A good guest-post on a well-trafficked, well-targeted blog is almost guaranteed to result in a spike in subscribers. This is because visitors are arriving at your blog from your guest-post with an already positive initial opinion of what you do. If your subscriber count has reached a plateau or even dropped, a guest-post is generally all it takes to kick-start the subscriber growth process.

5. Tap into new audiences. Exposing your blog or website to the same audiences over and over again is will guarantee that your subscriber count remains stagnant. You must always be searching out new audiences and moving to greener pastures.

6. Post less instead of posting filler. A potential subscriber will want to be reassured that you aren’t going to fill up their feed reader with irrelevant or low-value posts. When it comes to growing your subscriber count, posting less often with a greater emphasis on value can be a highly effective strategy.

7. Offer an incentive. This usually takes the form of an eBook offered only through a link at the bottom of your feed. While some people will subscribe only as long as it takes to grab your eBook, you’ll find that others decide that your feed looks valuable in its own right.

8. Publish full feeds. A simple measure, but an effective one. If subscribers are highly important to you, make sure you publish full feeds. Many people who regularly read feeds don’t like having to click through partial feeds. The partial-feed format also gives each feed article less room to grip the reader and draw them into your post.

9. Write a mini sales page for your feed. I saw this recently and thought it was a great idea! Persuasion works, and there’s no reason you can’t apply it to your feed!

10. Take a break! The post ‘25 Paths to an Insanely Popular Blog‘ remained at the top of the main page of Skelliewag for over a week during my recent mini-break. Expecting a slight drop in subscribers as a result seemed logical, but instead, I found that my subscriber count had risen by over 400! I suspect this is because new visitors were seeing the ’25 Paths’ post, which struck a chord with a lot of people, as opposed to a post which was a good but not great. It’s interesting to consider whether posting only high-effort, highly time-consuming posts, but much less often (say, once a week) might actually see your blog grow faster than if you posted several good but not great posts each week. It’s something I might experiment with in future. As you can tell, I don’t mind being a guinea pig for new methods!

9 ways to get comments

1. Listen and respond to your commenters. If reader comments never get a response, they have no way of knowing if their comment has even been read, and it may start to feel like they’re shouting into a vacuum. It’s not possible to respond to every comment on your site, but do make an effort to read all of them, and do let your commenters know that you read all of them. Commenters who feel listened to are much more likely to become regulars.

2. Get to know your commenters. Most of a blog’s comments are likely to be left by regulars — people who have developed the habit of responding to your and your posts — and much of growing the comment culture on your blog involves encouraging your regulars to come back again and again. Do this by getting to know them, and acknowledging their past comments, or past interactions they’ve had with you.

3. Ask for opinions (sometimes). People are easy with their opinions. Asking your blog’s readers what they think about something is a direct way to engage with them and encourage comments, but I’d suggest that you don’t do it all the time, or it’s likely to lose its impact.

4. Ask for advice (sometimes). Your readers are probably cool people with good ideas. I know mine are. You can repeat method #3, but try asking for advice instead of opinions.

5. Let them write the rest. One fun thing to do is to create a sub-heading in one of your posts and refrain from filling it out. Instead, ask your readers to write a paragraph each. You might even choose to update your post with the paragraphs contributed by your readers. It’s a neat way to increase interactivity and engagement, while adding new perspectives to your content.

6. Quote them. Quoting a comment in a positive way lets your commenter see their name in lights while also demonstrating that comments mean something to you.

7. Answer their questions in posts. This method can provide inspiration and post ideas while increasing commenter involvement. You might use one comment as the starting point for a post, or dedicate an entire post to answering reader questions.

8. Create posts as a vehicle for comments. This usually takes the form of a post centered around a question you then pose to your readers. By creating a post solely dedicated to creating discussion, you will help your readers become more comfortable with commenting.

9. Leave comments on the blogs of those who read you. This is something we should all do more of. Though time will often curb our good intentions, it’s a nice thing to do if you can manage it. You’ll often receive comments in return for the ones you leave. Most importantly, though, this simple act will leave an impression. If you’ve ever had a blogger you admire leave a comment on your blog, you know how nice this feels!