21 Tips for Getting 500 Subscribers in 90 Days with No Blogging Experience

  • June 22, 2009 by Corbett Barr
  • 33 Comments

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If you’re trying to build a blog readership, you have probably already read some “get x thousand subscribers in x days” articles. Some blogs have signed up astonishing numbers of subscribers in a very short time.

Update: apparently the new answer to getting FeedBurner subscribers is to get FriendFeed subscribers. Google may have just killed the usefulness of the Feedburner chiclet. If you’re still interested in getting RSS subscribers, read the tips below.

The number of people who have subscribed to this blog so far (514 as of today) isn’t as impressive as some, but you might find this article more valuable than others. Why? Because when I started this blog 90 days ago, I had no blogging experience.

This is my first blog. I didn’t start with a throwaway blog or as a freelance writer or anything else. Other than reading blogs, the only other interaction I had with a blog was writing an article or two for the company I last founded. That should make the tips I share below interesting to you especially if you’re starting your first blog.

Many of the blogs out there that achieved huge overnight success relied on an advantage that you don’t have. They were started by already successful bloggers, and they used that success (rightly so) to spread the word about the new venture. TwiTip (started by Darren Rowse) is a great example of this, as are CrunchGear (Mike Arrington), Anywired (by Skellie), Smarterware (Gina Trapani) and countless others.

The first is always the hardest, in blogging and surfing, but everyone starts from scratch. Here are 21 tips that will help you sign up more subscribers (even if you don’t run another popular blog to help you spread the word):

  1. Realize that success will require hard work.

    If you’re hoping to become a successful blogger by spending a few hours a week on your new blog, maybe you should play the lottery as well. You’ll probably have about the same odds of success there.

    There’s no secret formula to success. You really have to work smart and hard. Blogging is no different. As Chris Guillebeau recently wrote in his Daily Ass-Kicking on Twitter: “don’t waste time learning the ‘tricks of the trade.’ Instead, learn the trade.”

  2. Pick a topic that you’re interested in that other people need help with.

    It’s important to get both parts of this tip. First, pick a topic you’re interested in. If you’re not interested, it will show to your readers, and you’ll run out of ideas quickly. Second, make sure that people also need help with or information about the topic. Don’t jump into something that either is already well covered (unless you have a good niche in mind), or no one cares about. Combine your interests with your readers needs.

  3. Start on a solid platform with good SEO capabilities.

    Do some research about blogging platforms before you jump in. Make sure you don’t rush in to a blogging platform that you’ll outgrow or be unhappy with later. Make sure you get your own domain name (as opposed to blah.blogspot.com or whatever) if you’re serious about blogging.

    As far as what I use here, I couldn’t be happier than I am with self-hosted WordPress + the Thesis Theme running at Dreamhost.

  4. Get a decent design.

    Does it need to be the best? No. There are plenty of sites with great design that go nowhere. There are also plenty of sites that become huge with a very ordinary design. A good design would help anyone, but content and promotion are more important.

  5. Don’t “launch” until you have published 6 to 8 articles.

    When you start your blog, you should keep it private until you’ve published some meaningful content. That way your visitors will have a better picture of what the blog will be about. It also makes it clear that you’re not one of the millions of blogs that are abandoned after one or two posts. If you’re using WordPress, the authentication plug-in is a simple way to keep things private until you’re ready.

  6. Publish consistently.

    You don’t need to write every day or 5 times a week or anything in particular. It’s most important to write consistently so people have a reason to subscribe and come back. If you don’t post for a week with a new blog, people will assume you’re not serious about it or that you’ve abandoned it.

  7. Plan, produce and promote. Rinse and repeat.

    There are three components that are essential to the success of any content creating business. Those are, planning (deciding what you are going to do), production (actually making the thing) and promotion (letting people know about what you created). They don’t necessarily have to be done in that order, but all three are important.

    I’m assuming you are a one-person operation at this point, so you’d better be honest with yourself about which areas you aren’t good at and work to improve. You can’t simply ignore the parts of blogging you don’t like. Too many great creative people languish in obscurity because they don’t promote their work adequately.

  8. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a lot of readers right away.

    About 80% of my subscribers have signed up in the past month. It took me a while to refine what I was writing about, and to write in a way that interested people. That process takes time (and you need to let it happen), but keep writing.

    Listen and adapt to reader feedback, but also give your master plan time to work. It’s a balancing act, and you don’t want to overreact if things don’t grow as quickly as you had hoped. Once you get traction, growing your subscribers becomes easier.

  9. Focus on the readers’ interests, not your own.

    This is probably the hardest part of blogging (and writing in general), and if you get this down you’ll be doing better than 95% of other bloggers. Before you start writing each post, ask yourself “why will a reader care about this article?”

    Put yourself in their shoes and imagine you’re reading your blog with no connection to the author. Avoid writing mostly about yourself, unless you happen to be one of the few people who is interesting or witty enough that people care to read just about your life.

  10. Don’t fear competition.

    There are literally millions of blogs out there. There’s nothing you can do to prevent competition. Your best strategy is to become an authority on your topic, and befriend other bloggers with the intention of cross-promoting content.

    Realize that as more people write about your topic (especially if it isn’t already common vernacular), it means you don’t have to educate your readers as much. They’ll be more ready to sign up as soon as they discover your blog, because they’ve already been turned on to the subject.

  11. Pay attention to your headlines.

    Headlines are very important, and you should spend considerable time in crafting them. Potential readers often decide whether to read your post based on a quick scan of the headline. Check out Copyblogger for more tips on writing great headlines.

  12. Write some “how to” and “list” posts.

    Certain types of articles are automatically more popular with readers. “How to” and “list” posts are good examples. Readers like them because they immediately understand what the benefits of reading the article will be.

    You may write some great content, but it won’t be popular if potential readers doesn’t know why they should read it. Not every post should be of these two types, but do some experimenting with different formats to see what your readers like.

  13. Write some guest posts.

    Writing guest posts for other blogs is a great way to expose yourself to a different audience. It’s also a great way to get on another blogger’s radar in a big way. That blogger might just help promote your content in the future.

  14. Interview people.

    There are a couple of reasons to interview people. First, to bring your readers a qualified perspective other than your own. It’s good to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Interview some people who can shed some light on your topic.

    Second, it’s important to associate yourself with well-respected people, both from a reputation standpoint and an SEO standpoint. Don’t be afraid to ask for interviews either. You’ll find that even well-known people are more willing to help out than you’d think.

  15. Reach out to other bloggers.

    This is probably the way I’ve generated the most qualified traffic to my site. When trying to build traffic, you have to find potential readers who will be interested in what you’re trying to say. Where can you find those readers? There’s a good chance that they’re already reading some other related blogs. If you can get those blogs to link to you somehow, you’ll get a stream of highly targeted readers.

    I’ve connected with dozens of other bloggers who write about lifestyle design and location independence. We’ve all helped boost each other’s traffic by working together on surveys, blog carnivals, guest posts, etc. It has really paid off. And again, don’t fear the competition. Write great content to keep your readers coming back.

  16. Interact with your readers.

    Spend some time interacting with your readers. It’s important that you let readers know that you value their comments, so they’ll be more likely to come back. I try to reply to most comments directly in the comments section. It doesn’t hurt to send a brief thank-you email to new commenters either.

  17. Ask people to subscribe.

    You want people to subscribe, right? The best way to get someone to do something is by asking directly. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but it’s reasonable to ask people to subscribe at the end of most posts.

  18. Make your best content visible.

    If you’ve worked hard to create some dynamite content, make sure your visitors can find it. Keep a list of your best stuff in a sidebar. Link to great related articles at the end of each post. Don’t assume that people will search or look through archives to find the best stuff. Show it to them.

  19. Invest in at least one social platform.

    After my first 30 days of blogging, I wasn’t sure if Twitter would ever be a significant source of traffic to this blog. It’s two months later and the story has changed completely.

    Twitter is now the #1 source of traffic to this site. Even big established blogs like TechCrunch are finding that Twitter is a top 3 traffic source. I hear from other blogs that other social media platforms like StumbleUpon, Facebook and FriendFeed are also sending lots of traffic their way.

    Don’t expect the traffic to come right away. You need to invest some time in a platform before it pays off. You also need to be genuine and helpful. Don’t just push your content. Make sure you are helping people solve problems too. Check out the guest post I wrote a TwiTip for more tips on how to grow an interested following on Twitter.

  20. Consider advertising.

    Spend money on advertising? Really? Yes, you might want to spend a few bucks ($100 would work) on advertising, both to jumpstart your readership, and to find out what types of content is best received.

    One of the hardest periods in blogging is when a blog is new and doesn’t have any readers. There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. To get over this, you can pay to have readers check out your site. I spent about $100 on StumbleUpon and they showed my site to 2,000 people. It was a great catalyst. Don’t just link to your home page, though. Advertise individual posts and you’ll start to understand what people like.

  21. Consider a professional site review.

    While we’re on the topic of spending money to improve your blog, you might also consider paying for a professional site review. Chris Garrett provides an amazing service that will really help you fine-tune things and see things from a professional’s perspective. A public review from Chris will also get you some additional exposure and improve your search engine rankings. I really can’t recommend his service enough.

That about wraps it up. I hope these tips are useful in helping you grow your blog readership. If you’re looking for even more, here are some other related posts from around the web:

photo by larskflem

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Dan June 22, 2009 at 8:09 am

Some really great tips there Corbett, with this and the advice Chris G gave in his review I’m working on defining and differentiating my blog right now and I’ll be taking action immediately so you’ll see some of it in the next day or two. I’ll send you an email about the LD forum too, have a bit of an initial idea to propose there. You’re doing a great job with your content, I’m really enjoying it so keep it up.

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 2:50 pm

I can’t wait to see what changes you make, Dan. I hope these tips help! Let me know what you’re thinking about the forums. I think people really want a place to have more conversations about lifestyle design.

Greg Rollett June 22, 2009 at 8:34 am

Great tips as usual. Essentially I think #10 is the most important. You want to befriend others in your field and grow together. There is room for everyone (or at least the good ones). Karma affects bloggers too!

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 2:51 pm

There is definitely room for everyone. Growing together is a great way to look at it. I think the lifestyle design and location independent communities have been a great example of this over the past few months.

Sean June 22, 2009 at 10:23 am

Great advice Corbett. Congratulations on building something so successful in such a short period of time! I think this is the kind of thing where doing a few of them will have an effect on your blog, but applying ALL of them in one way or another will really enable you to take your blog to the next level. Thanks for the thoughts!

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I agree, Sean. You can pick and choose, but doing most of these things together (and some other great common suggestions I left out) will have the biggest impact. The struggle for most people is probably finding the time to get it all done. I’ve had the luxury of not needing to work on much else over the past three months. On the other hand, other people have done much more in less time too. Anything is possible.

Dustin Huibregtse June 22, 2009 at 10:33 am

This is a great post! I will be taking these items into account when developing a marketing plan! Did Number 20 work as well as you had hoped? Did they get some solid return visitors? @Greg, I’d have to agree with you on number 10. It turns out that readers have eyes that scan over multiple blogs about the same topic…which can help you drive traffic accordingly. Your so-called “competition” are actually your best friends.

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Hi Dustin. Marketing (specifically through StumbleUpon in my case) works fine, but not nearly as well as connecting with people one-on-one, in other blogs, forums, through email, Twitter, etc. Visitors through advertising have a lower stickiness factor. I found it most useful to test what kind of content worked best, and also to help get over the initial period when you start with zero readers.

Cath June 22, 2009 at 11:07 am

Great tips, Corbett. I’ve found that linking up with other people (in my case it’s for joint teleseminars, amongst other things) has been the most important factor. Your recent LIP survey is a great example of linking up with others in the community. And I totally agree – think in terms of collaboration, rather than competition – especially with people who are in the same niches as you.

Great stuff – you’re doing a good job with this blog :)

Cath

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Thanks for mentioning the location independent / digital nomad survey, Cath. It was a fantastic way to connect with a lot of like minded bloggers, and those relationships are becoming more and more mutually beneficial. Collaboration (and content) is key!

Colin Wright June 22, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Amazing stuff as always. I’m glad to hear that your readership is booming more and more each month! Your story alone is valuable (especially for someone like me being only 6 weeks into running my blog), but the list of tips is very useful as well.

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Thanks, Colin. I hope your blogging adventure is going well. I appreciate when you share your opinions here in the comments. Let me know if any particular tip ends up helping you.

TwiHouse/Alan June 22, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I read this before when I saw your tweet around the lunch hour and now have it bookmarked. It really is hard to get started and noticed. I am thinking about trying 13, 14 and/or 15.

Corbett Barr June 22, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Hi Alan. It’s definitely hard to get noticed in this new world where everyone produces so much content. Don’t overlook the importance of creating great content that stands out. That’s the foundation that your marketing efforts will stand on.

Celes | CelestineChua.com June 24, 2009 at 12:59 am

Thanks a lot Corbett for sharing this! I don’t pay much attention to RSS subscription since my blog has a lot of local readers who don’t use RSS (they bookmark instead), but it’s still a measure I use. Can I ask how much the review by Chris cost?

Corbett Barr July 2, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Hi Celes. Readers definitely come from lots of sources (Search and Twitter are two big ones). I find RSS to be a good measure though, because it implies a commitment to regularly reading your blog.

As far as a review from Chris Garrett goes, you can get the full details here: http://www.chrisg.com/services/blog-critique/. I think they run around $250 currently. If you’re serious about blogging, it’s worth every penny. Chris also provides a great consulting call with the review.

Mark Dixon June 24, 2009 at 5:35 am

I have a suede leather notepad holder that my friends all recognize because I’m never without it. It’s where I scribble inspirations and essential information that I run across during the day. For the last two days, a printout of this article has been tucked inside the pocket of my notebook, and it’s already covered with my scribbled notes in the margins. Three days ago I thought I was ready to launch my blog, and anyone would have had a hard time convincing me otherwise. Now that’s on hold while I attend to some of the issues you brought up here. Thank you again, Corbett.

Corbett Barr July 2, 2009 at 6:00 pm

I’m honored to have been a fixture in your notebook for a couple of days, Mark! I hope you don’t delay the launch too much. Things will never be perfect, and the biggest step you can take is to launch. Use the 80/20 rule and prepare without going overboard. Let us know when it has launched!

Martin July 1, 2009 at 10:21 am

Awesome post. Thanks for the tips!

Best,
Martin

Blake July 2, 2009 at 7:43 am

“why will a reader care about this article?”

I especially like that piece of advice Corbett. I’m going to work on asking myself this from the moment of post brainstorming until I hit the publish button.

I keep seeing the Thesis theme pop up more and more. Is it pretty easy to work with?

Corbett Barr July 2, 2009 at 6:01 pm

I like to take it a step further and start by making some sort of “promise” in the headline about what the reader will get from an article. Then, just be sure to fulfill that promise with the rest of the post and you’ll be set.

Rasheed Hooda July 8, 2009 at 9:40 am

Hey Corbett,

What do you mean by advertise on Stumble upon? Can you elaborate on that?

Rasheed

Corbett Barr July 8, 2009 at 11:36 am

You can find more about advertising with StumbleUpon here: http://www.stumbleupon.com/ads/

Sean Oliver December 18, 2009 at 9:43 am

How did you make your related posts/subscribe box?

Corbett Barr December 18, 2009 at 9:57 am

Hey Sean, it’s a custom design. I had a designer come up with the layout, then I coded the box on the Thesis framework using just html and css. The related posts are from the Similar Posts plugin by Rob Marsh. Email me if you have any specific questions.

josep October 28, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Great stuff,
I just started out , so you suggest I get a site instead of a blog? Please tell more about this …. thx !

Thomas Moviel January 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Great tips, Corbett! It’s awesome to see how much your readership has increased since this post 1-1/2 years ago.

I’m about to launch my own blog and this is full of great content to help me.

I hope you’re having a blast in Mexico!

Best Regards,
~Tom

Corbett January 12, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Hey Tom, thanks for leaving a comment here, I hadn’t reflected back on this one since I wrote it. It is so cool to see progress on a longer-term scale. Good luck with the new launch!

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