With the benefit of hindsight, I feel confident making a statement that you don’t hear often. There is no one-size fits all strategy to grow your blog or website. More specifically, the kind of work you do must depend on how far your blog or website has already grown to be effective.
I call this idea the ‘Butterfly Growth Model’ because, like a butterfly, your growth will move through two major stages. Each stage of growth needs to correspond with a very different promotion strategy. I’ll outline the secret to this model here.
The two stages
From a layman’s perspective, the two major growth stages of a butterfly are 1) chrysalis and 2) butterfly. The metaphor describes my own experiences growing Skelliewag over the last six months or so.
The chrysalis stage will be a familiar experience for anyone who has or is growing a blog or website without leverage. It’s not surprising that it’s tricky: your audience finds you through links, social media and search engines, but your audience is also largely responsible for creating this traffic. In other words, you can’t get an audience without an audience! In the beginning, you must inevitably function as a promotional army of one, laying down links to your blog like railroad track.
In a matter of days, or weeks, or months or years, your blog or website will enter the second stage of growth: the butterfly stage. You’ll know you’ve entered this stage when visitors tumble in and your subscribe count climbs incrementally even when you’re no longer self-promoting. You’ve developed an established audience who share the burden of promotion for you.
Some of you will identify yourselves as part of the chrysalis stage, when you’re really at movement number two. Your audience could share the burden of promotion alone, but you don’t let them. You’ve been pursuing the first growth method for so long that you don’t know anything else.
I discovered that Skelliewag was in the ‘butterfly’ stage by accident. For a period I found myself too busy to guest-post, leave comments elsewhere or pitch links to popular blogs. I stopped self-promotion completely. Despite that, readers continued to link and vote for the content, and new visitors and subscribers continued to trickle in at about the same rate they were arriving when I was spending hours on promotion.
There is a point when you realize that your audience no longer needs you to make things happen. Retrospectively, I think a chrysalis becomes a butterfly much earlier than most of us realize. I’m talking a few hundred subscribers, rather than a few thousand. Some of you may already be there, even though you don’t know it.
Which stage are you?
Here are the criteria that I would apply to the two stages:
- Fewer than 500 subscribers. I don’t include daily traffic as a criteria because it’s not a good indication of how engaged your audience is. Good SEO, for example, does not guarantee good content. Just look at the results for a search on ‘Make Money Online’…
- Trouble getting more than a few comments on your posts.
What you should be doing
Owners of a chrysalis stage blog or website should be dividing their time evenly between value-packed content and off-blog promotion. Here’s what I would suggest:
- Comment a few times on other blogs in your niche to demonstrate your knowledge and attract the notice of the blog’s owner. I don’t think even chrysalis blogs and websites should pursue a comments for traffic strategy. The rewards aren’t in proportion to the time spent.
- Guest-post as much as possible on the most popular blogs in your niche. You do this for visibility, profile and traffic.
- Create value-packed content and pitch your best links to popular blogs in your niche.
- Make friends and connections on your social media profile of choice.
You’ll grow fastest in this stage if you’re your own biggest fan. While it’s possible to grow without these methods (possibly by skipping straight to butterfly growth), I truly don’t believe you’ll grow as quickly in the beginning stages.
Having said that, part of using the chrysalis model effectively is knowing when to stop. Once you move into the butterfly model, it’s time to hand over promotional duties to your audience and concentrate on the things that make them passionate about you.
My criteria for the next stage:
- More than 500 subscribers.
While I practiced chrysalis growth until about December and 2,000+ subscribers, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made was failing to start earlier. A lot earlier. In fact, I’m suggesting that you should start butterfly growth once you hit about 500 subscribers.
This is the point where you acknowledge that your audience is more influential than you are. Give them great, value-packed content and they will champion it with or without you.
What you should be doing
It’s possible to grow a blog or website at an astronomical rate with only one element: value-packed content. But only once you’ve entered the butterfly stage. Value-packed content won’t stand for much if nobody sees it.
Great content + an engaged audience = all the things that grow a blog or website. Links, social media votes and search engine traffic. You don’t need anything else.
Pitching links to popular blogs is still worth the time because it only takes a few minutes to do so — work potentially resulting in hundreds of visits.
At this point, guest-posting needs to be carefully evaluated. If you’re already well-known in your niche, guest posting will only build your profile to a limited extent. You might get dozens of click-throughs, but social media could send the same post hundreds of visitors if it appeared on your own blog. The key difference is this: the traffic you get from guest-posts will be highly targeted if you’re writing on another blog in your niche. The traffic you get from social media is not nearly as well targeted.
I’d suggest only guest-posting on highly-trafficked, highly-targeted blogs, and not doing the same blog more than once a month. However, Dosh Dosh’s recent milestone of hitting 10,000 subscribers without ever guest-posting shows that this strategy isn’t a prerequisite for success in the butterfly stage. Great content on your own blog is.
The chrysalis stage work you did on a social media profile should be enough to have developed a cluster of readers who actively use social media and will regularly vote for your articles. From what I’ve observed, having an amicable relationship with a top Digger or other social media power-user is invaluable, but it’s something I’ve never chased and now that I have it, I don’t really know how to use it. In other words, I can’t provide much advice on this particular point because I’m still stumbling my way through it.
Changing your perspective
This discussion begs a fundamental question: could a butterfly stage blog or website grow quickly without any kind of off-blog promotion? I think so. In fact, I’d suggest that if you divert the time you’d usually spend on off-blog promotional methods into creating value-packed content, you’ll receive more links and traffic than you could have created yourself.
My overall argument is this: if your blog has 500 or more subscribers, let your audience take charge of what they do best — supporting and championing you. As a blogger, focus your energies on providing the value which creates a passionate audience who want to spread the word about you.
Stop talking about yourself and give other people a reason to talk about you.