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2 Different Tales of Blog Growth

“What was ‘the tipping point’ for your blog?”

This question is one that I’m regularly asked in interviews, and it is one that is challenging to answer. The assumption behind the question is that there is often some kind of event that pushes a blog into the limelight. The reality is that it’s not always this way.

Let me illustrate this by telling the stories of my two main blogs—ProBlogger and Digital Photography School.

ProBlogger’s tipping point: dramatic growth

Here on ProBlogger, the only real tipping point-type event that I can identify is when I mentioned in an interview I did on another blog that I was earning six figures a year from my blogging. Back then (it was 2005), nobody was making money from blogs (or if they were, they weren’t talking about it) so it was news that quickly got passed around.

It was picked up by quite a few other bloggers but also went viral on Slashdot, which was the closest thing that there was to social bookmarking back then.

While I didn’t really consider that there would be much effect from saying I was a six figure blogger in that interview, the impact was pretty significant (in terms of traffic but, more importantly, in terms of profile/brand) for a few reasons:

  • The statement was somewhat controversial (the idea of monetizing the “pure” medium of blogging was something that some were dead against) and that caused some buzz. But being the first to announce I was a full-time blogger also created a desire for others to do likewise.
  • The idea of blogging for money was sown in the minds of many. As I was not only making a living from blogging, but also writing about that journey here on ProBlogger, I guess there was some credibility built from that statement.
  • Coining of the term “ProBlogger”—again being first and having a site called ProBlogger meant that people started to talk about making money from blogs as being a pro blogger, which just grew the site even more.

While all this was fantastic for the growth of ProBlogger and for building my profile, it was all fairly lucky. I didn’t make the statement with any intentions of leveraging it, but once the groundswell of reactions started, I did act fast to make the most of it.

Digital Photography School tipping points: slow but steady growth

Digital Photography School (dPS) on the other hand was a different story. I can’t really think of a single tipping point moment that really stands out as being one that boosted the site to becoming popular (and today is is six or seven times the size of ProBlogger despite being a couple of years younger).

Instead, dPS had a much more steady growth, mainly through a variety of smaller events:

  • I did have ProBlogger and a previous camera review site linked to dPS, but after the initial launch, traffic from these sources wasn’t significant.
  • We were featured in some mainstream media publications in the early days (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, etc.) but none of these caused any significant jump in traffic.
  • We had days of significant traffic from sites like Lifehacker and social bookmarking sites like Digg, but in general this type of traffic didn’t hang around.

These events certainly didn’t hurt us, but none of them stands out as a tipping point that we never looked back from. Rather, traffic and the brand slowly grew over those first few years from launch.

More significant for dPS than any of the above in mind mind is that I put real emphasis upon a few activities for the first couple of years (warning: none of these are rocket science or spectacular … but they worked):

  • Regular useful content: Daily “how to” posts that solved problems, showed people how to achieve their goals and improve their photography was 90% of the content that I produced.
  • Shareable content: Content that I knew was more likely to be shared (inspirational posts, breaking news, humor, controversy (I didn’t really focus on this), grand list posts, and so on. This type of content was around 5% of what I produced.
  • Community: The other 5% of posts was more focused upon community activities like reader discussions, giving readers a chance to show off their photos, debates, polls, etc. We started a forum in time, too, to build this community further.
  • Email newsletter: If there’s one thing that grew the site more than any other, it was that we started collecting people’s email addresses early and began sending them weekly updates/newsletters.
  • Promotion: I defined who I wanted to read my blog and did the exercise of asking where they gathered. This lead me to sites like Flickr, other blogs, and some social networking sites where I developed presence, was useful and in time shared our content.

These tasks took almost 100% of my focus in the early days. I didn’t spend a heap of time on social media, did limited networking with other sites (although did develop friendships with a few in time), and focused little upon SEO. The promotion I did was focused to those sites where I knew potential readers were gathering, but the main effort was upon content creation and looking after the readers I already had.

Note: I share quite a bit of the story of how I grew dPS in the 2nd edition of the ProBlogger Book (and have updated and expanded it a little in the soon to be released 3rd edition).

The resulting growth on dPS was far from dramatic or explosive, but in the long term, it was on a far greater scale than here on ProBlogger.

Did your blog have a tipping point for growth?

There is no one way to grow a blog. They come in all shapes and sizes, and their growth cycles vary considerably. I’d love to hear your own story. Did your blog have a tipping point, or was it a slow and steady process? Or do you have another experience all together?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Hi Darren

    My site is still only a few weeks old and although I am getting subscribers. My traffic is minimal…any suggestions of how to get it running correctly? Hire an SEO expert?

    Thanks
    Nate

  2. ttdub says:

    Traffic on my blogs are non existent. :(

  3. Thanks Darren. Your article shows once again that every blog is just like the individuals who is running it. One blog is different from the next one. Each has different characteristic and feel. Yes, we need to put consistency and value always. That’s a must. But the way it grows is just like a unique life form. It has a unique way of maturing that is a little bit beyond our control.

  4. Peter Palme says:

    My tipping point was a list of all the radiation monitoring websites I created during the Fukushima crisis. It got a lot of attention on twitter.

  5. Mary Corbet says:

    My tipping point? There were two: the first was about 2 months after I started blogging, and a photo I posted was picked up by one of the few (at the time) prominent writers in my niche. I jumped from about 75 readers to about 400 in a month. From there on out, over about 4 years, it was the “steady growth” story, with a fairly strong and loyal readership in a narrow “arts & crafts” niche. By being consistent, identifying my readers’ needs, and writing decent content (and always using photos), the website grew fairly well, as did my google rankings and my e-mail list. My next tipping point was when I finally turned to a professional design team and had my website overhauled. In less than a year, my readership doubled. I love my blog – it’s like my home. I love building it, living in it, keeping it clean, and having lots of visitors drop by!