Jacob Gube runs one of the hottest and fastest-growing web design blogs in the world. In just over two years, Six Revisions has attracted over 50,000 RSS subscribers and published over 500 useful articles for web designers and developers.
In this interview, you’ll learn how Jacob started such a phenomenally popular site and the strategies he has used to grow it so quickly.
Corbett: Tell us a little about your blog Six Revisions. Who is it for? Why did you start it?
Jacob: Six Revisions is a web publication that presents articles about design and development. The primary audience is web designers and web developers, but other folks do stop by, such as bloggers, tech enthusiasts, programmers, artists, graphic designers, software engineers, IT managers and CTOs. The site was launched on February 2008.
Did you have any experience blogging when you started?
I had absolutely no experience with blogging before the site started. I knew what blogs were, I regularly read blogs such as Lifehacker, and I’ve developed, designed and set up blogs and content management systems for other people, but I didn’t have one of my own.
When you started the blog, did you have any expectations or goals for its growth?
I didn’t have any expectations or goals when I started. I actually started the site on a whim. I had the idea to start Six Revisions one day, and by the end of that day, I had the site set up and a post already up.
I’m not much for planning or setting goals. I’m more of a person who works as hard and as passionately as I can on something I love and believe in. When you approach anything in life in that way, you don’t set limitations on the direction of your project, and growth is inevitable. I don’t want to spend time contemplating on the “what-ifs” and “by-this-time-I-should-haves” because with such a dynamic and constantly changing medium like the Web, things change so fast that, by the time you’re done planning, the situation has changed.
What would you say have been the keys to Six Revision’s explosive growth?
The biggest key factor is great content written by great people. When you have great content, you don’t have to do anything else other focusing on producing more great content. When you write great content that people find useful, they’ll share it and promote it for you. I’ve never bought an advertisement, a text link, or any other type of marketing scheme: I rely on the product — which is the content — to sell itself.
Another key factor is social media. But again, that goes back to great content. When you produce great content, people will vote and share it on their favorite social media sites.
And last but not least, being able to recognize shifts in the interest of Web users, and more specifically, your Web users. When your users want this and not that, you need to be able to know what this and that is so that you can respond accordingly.
Are you surprised that it has grown so quickly?
I’m very surprised by the growth of the site. I never expected to be in the situation I am now. Every day is a humbling experience. I look at the site and it continues to grow, but I know that only a sliver of that growth was due to me or my actions. Most of it comes from the amazing authors that have contributed their time, knowledge, and experience, in the hopes of educating and informing people who’re interested in the sames things we are: making awesome websites, as well as the readers who continually visit the site and push us to become better.
How did you grow such a talented team of writers? Where did you find them? How did you convince them to write for Six Revisions in the beginning?
To grow a team of writers, you have to produce great content first. When potential guest authors see good content on your site that inspires them, they want to be a part of that. Most of the writers on Six Revision contact me even though there isn’t a call-to-action on the site like “Write for Us” that a lot of content-driven sites have. When guest writers contact you, it’s on their own accord, and they’re usually already familiar with your site’s content and style. Those are the best writers on Six Revisions.
I do have to email some writers myself. I actively recruit writers to keep the content fresh. I find them through posts they’ve written elsewhere. If I read a post that I like, my automatic reaction is to find out that author’s contact information and send them a quick email.
I don’t have to sell the site very hard at this point. Usually, I’ll just say something along the lines of: “Hey, I liked what you wrote. Six Revisions is always looking for talented writers. Interested?”
Many say ‘yes’, others may say ‘I don’t have time right now’.
After the initial email, I work with them to make sure that their post idea hasn’t been been covered before. If they request it, I also work with them to develop their ideas to make sure that they’re covering the topic in a way that Six Revisions readers like.
Did you know that you wanted Six Revisions to be a multi-author blog from the beginning? Why did you decide to make the blog multi-author?
No, I didn’t always know I wanted Six Revisions to be a multi-author blog. I thought I was Superman and could do it all myself.
But as time went on, it was proving to be difficult to write posts on my own. What’s more is that the diversity of ideas and content types were decreasing — it makes sense, when you’re getting posts written by just one guy, the variety won’t be very high.
After the first guest-written post on Six Revisions, I knew that this was the direction I wanted to go. Not only do I enjoy interacting with like-minded people, but I also enjoy reading their posts. To be a host of great content is something I never anticipated of becoming, but now that I’m there, I feel very fortunate to have decided to take this path.
The diversity of the topics and style of writing, to me, is what makes Six Revisions what it is now. I couldn’t do it without the contributing writers.
How actively do you promote the site now? What tools and sites do you use to promote it?
I don’t do much active promotion. I’ll share the links on Twitter – and that’s about it most of the time. I may submit some stories to some sites such as Hacker News or Dzone if I think their community will find it valuable. I’d say 98% of the traffic is organic, in that, the readers themselves share the articles they’ve read and liked. The last 2% is sharing it on social news and networking sites.
I use HootSuite for Twitter and Facebook updates. On the site, we have the Digg and Twitter social media buttons at the top, as well as StumbleUpon and Delicious.
Some sites that I use to promote content:
- Hacker News
How has your promotion strategy changed since you started the blog?
In terms of promotion: The shift is towards Twitter and other real-time Web social networks like Google Buzz. It’s not as easy to become popular on Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon now that there’s a lot more sites that produce content. Twitter doesn’t take a lot of time, you share it to your friends, and you let them decide whether they want to share it and let it spread, or if they don’t.
What would you recommend people with newer sites or blogs focus on to build a large audience?
I recommend picking a niche that you’re an expert on; there are a lot of people of the Web, and you won’t be able to satisfy everyone’s needs. But, you don’t have to, you just need to build a community around a topic that you’re interested in.
I’d also recommend focusing on the quality of the content – that is the easiest and most reliable way of building a community and a larger readership on your site. So, for example, if you had a budget for marketing and promotion that you’d fork over to “SEO experts” and Google AdSense, I suggest using that budget instead to look for talented web writers. Not only will this be a better way of getting site traffic, but it’s also more organic, and you help the Internet by adding good content into it. Win/win for everyone, don’t you think?
What’s on the horizon for Six Revisions? Do you have any other projects you’re working on?
Well, what I want is to keep publishing great stuff on Six Revisions. I’m working on a re-design of the site right now, focused on simplifying the aesthetics, improving usability, adding improved user functions (such as a revamp of the commenting system), and also making older posts easier to find. We’ve also launched Design Instruct a few months ago, and its growth is phenomenal, so we’re still deep into growing that site as well.
Another project I’m working on in my spare time is a free web service that I think web designers and web developers will like. No catch: no registration, no limitations or paid subscriptions, just a self-funded, self-started pet project that I want to release to help make the lives of designers and developers just a tad bit easier.
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