The following guest post has been submitted by Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar
Hopefully, that title got your attention a little bit, but it’s true. I launched The Simple Dollar at the very end of October 2006. I had no pre-existing blog that I could use to drive early traffic, nor did I have any personal contacts that I could use. I also had zero advertising budget. But by June 2007, I had 12,000 RSS readers and was generating enough traffic that I had to switch hosting plans twice. How did I do it? Here are a few specific techniques that really helped me build my blog’s traffic over time.
1. Lay some groundwork before starting
By this, I mean plan out your blog. What is going to be your topic area? It should be clearly defined, but not too narrow. Who is your target audience? Look at their age, their ethnicity, their nationality, their cultural awareness. You should also establish some goals – I would focus on having initial goals stated in percentages rather than raw numbers. Something like 10% readership growth per month for the first six months is appropriate. Some people miss the value of laying the groundwork for a blog, but if you’re intending to be successful, you need to be very clear on what you are talking about and who you are speaking to.
2. Listen to del.icio.us
The most valuable content that a blogger can create is the type of content that readers want to come back to time and time again and also that they want to share with others. These pieces will continually provide value to you, and the surest way to identify such content is to know how many people have saved a particular post at del.icio.us. I keep track of this by using Feedburner’s site statistics package and enabling the “flare” that shows this information. Posts that have del.icio.us bookmarks are usually the ones I use as guidelines for what works on my blog – if I try something different and no one bookmarks it, I usually realize that it’s a bad idea. I’ve found that time and time again, del.icio.us is the best barometer of good content.
3. Find your community
When you begin blogging, you may feel rather isolated from other bloggers. Try to communicate with other bloggers in your niche just to exchange ideas and build a framework of connections. Don’t initially go for the most popular bloggers in your niche – some of them are often so inundated with contacts that by sheer necessity they have to filter what they respond to. One good way to get started is to find blog carnivals in your topic area and contact the people running these carnivals.
4. Immerse yourself in a social bookmarking site
Many people have a hard time getting their foot in the door with social bookmarking because they just try to use it without giving back. Most social bookmarking sites are a community of people who enjoy interaction and discussion – if you just pop in long enough to toss up some links and then wonder why you’re not successful, you’re simply fooling yourself. If you want to be successful on a social bookmarking site, get involved. I’m involved in several – I post links to both my own articles and to other things and I’m also involved in many discussions on what others submit. Over time, people start checking in on what you submit on those sites and tend to be predisposed to voting them up, which can in the end merit you a lot of legitimate attention.
5. Don’t give into negativity
At some point, you’re going to be jealous of the success of another blogger. At some other point, you’re going to believe that the game is rigged against you – that there’s no way you can become really popular. Don’t believe a word of it. The blogosphere is the closest thing to a meritocracy that exists for sharing ideas – the things that get you ahead are working your tail off and having good ideas. Whenever you get jealous of someone, think of the time they’ve invested to reach their level of success and respect it instead. Whenever you get down on yourself or on the blogosphere as a whole, remember that by sitting there being negative, you’re wasting time that you could be using to directly or indirectly get your voice out there.
6. Keep an idea box
There are going to be times where you don’t have any ideas. These are dangerous times – ones that can make or break a blogger. To get me through these times, I maintain an “idea box,” which is for me a small collection of items that regularly inspire me. Most of these are books of various kinds, but a few are creative thinking puzzles and games. I usually find that a simple free association helps get me started – I basically just dump everything on my mind right now on a piece of paper, then spend a minute trying to connect that thing on my mind to the topic of my blog. This usually yields two or three avenues to follow and research.
7. Clear your schedule when you’re in the flow
I generally find that there are some periods where I can just pump out content all day long, while other times I have difficulty writing even a word or two. When I’m feeling it, I try very hard to clear my schedule for an extended period of time so I can ride the wave – I’ve even cancelled appointments because the writing flow was so intense. If you’re serious about blogging and get in the writing zone, ride it for as long as you can.
8. Keep a posting schedule – but make it slow at first
Many bloggers make the mistake of starting off with a posting schedule that they just can’t maintain – I almost did this myself early on. What I’ve found is that over the first few months, you’ll find out that you can write quality posts at a certain rate – your actual posting schedule should be somewhere around 60% of that. Why? You’ll want to use those extra posts for guest blogging on other blogs, getting ahead a little bit, and so on. If you don’t know what your schedule should be at first, try shooting for five posts a week and then adjust it as needed over the first month or two. Once you’re established, though, readers will have some expectations and it will be much harder to switch things around.
9. Get ahead – don’t fall behind
So many bloggers rush to post the latest, greatest idea that they have, but then when something unexpected happens in their life or when they’re having writer’s block, their blog goes dead for long periods before popping up with some lame excuse about why they haven’t posted in two weeks. My solution, one that’s worked well for me, is that I have a large handful of completed posts that I hold onto. When an emergency happens and I won’t be able to post for a while, I set these up to post automatically by setting the date in the future. Similarly, if I’m having a bad case of writer’s block, I post one or two of these to help me over the hump. Then, during my writing sessions, I replace the used ones.
10. Email readers as much as possible
Make it easy as pie for readers to contact you and email them as much as you can. When you’re starting off, I would even recommend emailing people who comment, though that becomes much more difficult as time wears on. Why? These early adopters will likely stick around and regularly comment on your posts, and then new readers will see that you have active commenters and will perceive your blog as an active and lively place. Even better, quite often these commenters will turn out to have great ideas of their own, which can often develop into posts.