If you’re like most bloggers, you probably want to grow your readership as quickly as possible, but don’t have much time.
Unfortunately, blogging usually takes a lot of time — writing blog posts takes up a fraction of most bloggers’ time, as they also check their stats and earning multiple times a day, customize their blog design, try out new blog ad systems, comment on many different blogs, spend a lot of time doing email, and so on.
If you let it, blogging can become two full-time jobs. But get this: you can grow your blog quickly on very minimal time, by setting limits and focusing on the essentials.
I’m just one example: I grew Zen Habits into a Top 100 blog within its first year even though I was working a full-time job and doing free-lance writing on the side — giving me only about an hour a day to work on my blog, total. I probably could have spent more time blogging by working in the evenings or on weekends, but I have a family that’s more important to me than blogging.
So how did I grow Zen Habits so quickly on so little time? Well, I figured out through experimentation what grows a blog the quickest, and I learned to focus my time on those things. And guess what? Checking your blog stats and earnings — even though it’s the thing than many bloggers do most throughout the day — doesn’t really grow your blog, at all. What does? More on that below.
The key to growing your blog with minimal time investment is to set limits on how much time you’ll spend blogging. As I said, blogging can easily expand to fill your entire day, if you let it. In fact, whatever time you allocate to blogging is the time that blogging will take.
So limit your time to something manageable … for me that was 1 hour a day, for others it might be two hours or even three, and for still others it might only be 30 minutes. It really depends on how much time you have. Don’t spend less than 30 minutes on blogging, though, if you’re really serious about it. I’d say an hour to two is ideal. Any more than that and you’re not really setting limits.
So what happens if you set a limit of say, 1 hour? You could waste that hour by doing fruitless tasks, and then your blog will get nowhere. But if you’re smart, you’ll focus on the key tasks that will really help your blog, and nothing else. By setting limits, you’ll force yourself to choose only the most essential tasks.
If you gave yourself 4 hours a day, you could do a lot of tasks, but maybe only 1 out of 4 of those tasks would really grow your blog. If you gave yourself 1 hour a day, you’d have to eliminate 3 out of 4 of those tasks to fit within the time limit, and (again, if you’re smart), you’ll choose the most effective tasks.
Set a timer each day and work within the time limit. And while you’re doing so, be sure to do the most effective tasks first, and if you have time left, go to the next most effective tasks, and so on.
So what are the most effective tasks for growing your blog? It depends on your blog, your goals, your niche, your target audience, and other such factors, but below I’ll share the things that work best for me. Other top bloggers might have different findings.
Experiment to find your essential tasks, and once you’ve found them, focus on them completely. Here are my essential tasks for growing a blog:
1. Writing outstanding articles. This is the No. 1 essential, by far. If you only do one thing each day, this is it. A great post might take more than an hour — that’s OK, do half of it today and half tomorrow. The main reason people come to your blog, and the main reason they’ll keep coming back or subscribe, is because your content is amazingly useful (or interesting, or both). So focus on creating those posts they’ll really want to read. You should be coming out with outstanding posts, with catchy titles/headlines, at least once a week, and probably 2-5 times a week (I am for 4 these days but had 5-6 in my early days).
What is a useful post? Well, this post is an example, I hope — it contains a lot of valuable info and tips on something that people really want to do. Check out Zen Habits for more examples — I try to make almost every post an outstanding one.
2. Linking, and link-bait. This could fall under the same category as the above tip, but sometimes it gets overlooked. Linking to other blogs is a great way to help out your fellow bloggers, get them to notice you, and build up some link karma. You could do it with a daily or weekly links post, but too many of those can get tiring for readers, so I recommend you keep it to weekly at most. Instead, link to other blogs from within your useful posts, and sometimes you might consider doing “linkbait”-type posts where you do a really useful post that links to a lot of other bloggers — for example, my “Top 50 Producitivity blogs” post that I did more than a year ago … a lot of bloggers appreciated being in that post, and just as I sent a lot of traffic their way, they sent some back. Everyone wins.
3. Guest posts. If you’re not writing guest posts every week or two, on blogs that are bigger than yours (even just a little bigger is good, but the bigger the better), then you’re not really trying to promote your blog. In my early days, I did 2-3 guest posts a week on other blogs, and as a result I was everywhere. It’s the best way to promote your blog on other blogs, because you’re showing the other blog’s readers how good you are. Be sure to write your absolute best whenever you do a guest post.
4. Commenting. First, be sure to read through the comments on your blog and respond if you can — this could take just 10 minutes if you do it quickly. Second, spend another 10 minutes if you have the time to comment on other blogs — and don’t just spam them, but actually say something relevant, useful and interesting. It helps you get noticed, and helps you become a part of the network of blogs (especially in your niche).
5. Email and networking. It’s important to respond to reader email, and to network with other bloggers through email, IM, Twitter, etc. Networking helps you to grow, definitely, but if you let them, these connectivity tools can overwhelm your day. So put them last, and limit them if you can. If your time is limited, just do the emails you can process in 10 minutes. Increase that to 20-30 minutes if you have more time, but don’t spend hours on these tools.
Just as it’s important to focus on the essentials, it’s crucial that you limit and try to eliminate the non-essentials as much as possible. While you have to work on these things a little, now and then, don’t let them fill your allocated blog time.
1. Blog stats and earnings. Sure, I like to check my stats daily — but only once a day, and only for a minute or two to make sure everything’s OK. In the early days I became a little obsessive about checking blog stats and earnings, but after a little while I figured out that it wasn’t a smart use of my time. Blog earnings (from ad networks such as Google Adsense) are fun to look at, but if you’re like most blogs you won’t make a lot of money in the early days, until you have a lot of readers. So focus instead on growing the readers, and worry about the earnings later.
2. Ad networks. Many bloggers get excited about earning a side income (or even a main income) from their blog and throw every ad network possible on their blog — in fact, the ads often overwhelm the content. But that’s counterproductive — readers don’t go to a blog to read the ads, and if there are too many ads, the readers might leave or unsubscribe, never to come back. Instead, consider putting no ads, or as few as possible, in your early days … you’ll miss out on very little in terms of earnings, and you’ll probably grow even faster as a result. At any rate, fiddling with ad networks is very rarely worth your time — it does nothing to grow your blog.
3. Blog design. A good blog design can definitely help grow your blog — if it’s clean, uncluttered, attractive, and professional-looking, I think a lot of readers will be more likely to stick around. But spending a lot of time on your design when you could be writing great posts is not a smart use of your time. Instead, pick a clean, uncluttered theme, customize it as needed, and leave it alone. Maybe once in awhile you can remove a little clutter to make things more attractive, but most of the time. leave it alone.
4. Blog memes. As far as I can remember, I’ve only participated in one blog meme — those things where bloggers answer the same 5 questions (or whatever) and “tag” other bloggers to do the same. That’s not because I’m stuck up, or think these memes aren’t fun. They are fun. But they’re rarely of much interest to your readers, as they’re not that useful. Sure, they like to read a little about you, but too often and you’re just stroking your ego. Stay away from these memes if you’re looking to maximize your time.
5. Reading lots of other blogs. Don’t get me wrong — you have to read other blogs, especially in your niche, to stay on top of things. But if your time is limited, your reading time should be limited too. Reading 50 blogs instead of 10 doesn’t grow your blog any more.
6. Plugins and widgets. WordPress plugins and widgets, while fun to play with, don’t grow your blog very much, if at all. Don’t mess around with them too much. Focus on content.
7. Social media. Some bloggers spend a LOT of time on Digg, StumbleUpon, and other such social media. And while it can help tremendously to have a popular post on one of these social media, spending time on them isn’t the best investment of your time. Very, very few bloggers ever become a top user on these sites — it’s really hard, and worse yet, it takes a lot of time. A better use of your time is to write a Digg-worthy post, or a post that will spread like wildfire on StumbleUpon or Delicious — not because you’re friends with lots of the users, but because it’s insanely useful, interesting, controversial, or what have you.
Even if you’ve set limits and identified the essential and non-essential tasks, it’s easy to get distracted. It’s important that you learn to clear away distractions, such as email, Twitter, IM, social sites and even general Internet browsing, so that you can focus on the important tasks.
If you look at the essential tasks that I listed above, most of them are writing — which means you could do them with the browser closed, in a word processor or text editor (this post is being written in TextEdit, for example). This really helps you to clear away distractions and focus.
Once you’re done with the writing, you can connect and comment and do email, but even then try to stay away from the distractions until you’re done. Then if you have spare time, feel free to go wild.
Read more from Leo Babauta in his new best-selling book, The Power of Less: The Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essentials … in Business and in Life.