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5 Fundamentals That Determine How Fast Your Blog Grows

This is a guest contribution from Tim Soulo.

This year I’ve managed to grow a photography blog by 500% in about 6 months and I think I’ve learned something along the way.

I was following five fundamental things that you can learn from any marketing blog, but I like to think that I’ve made a few personal discoveries about each of them.

And the most important of all the discoveries is how these five fundamentals unite into one solid strategy. Once you comprehend it ­ your blog will start growing.

So let’s see if I’m good enough in sharing what I’ve learned.

1. Write Mind Blowing Content

Writer's warm-ups

Image copyright Robert Kneschke – Fotolia.com

I know it’s been said thousands (if not millions) of times how much the quality of your content matters. But let me try and give you a deeper understanding of this matter.

Poor content doesn’t get shared on social networks.

Of course you can always trick people into sharing your articles with all these “Social Locker” plugins (those will hide the content from readers unless they click on social sharing buttons). But this will only get you so far.

If your content is poor ­ there’s no motivation for visitors to click the “tweet” button.

Unless of course you have a raving community of fans, who will support just about anything you do. But…

Poor content doesn’t attract fans.

How can you expect a person to stick with your blog if he can hardly make himself read the first few paragraphs of your boring article?

Remember this: every time you allow yourself to publish a mediocre article, you lose a few potential fans (and maybe a few existing ones as well).

Most free content is poor content.

I think many blog owners will support me on this one. How many guest post offers do you guys get per week? And how many of them are actually worth being published at your blog? Hardly a few.

And that is one of the reasons everybody hates SEO guys.

They order cheap content from freelance copywriters (like $5 for a 500 words article) and then send out canned emails to every blog they’re able to find, offering this poor content.

In their turn, lazy blog owners are often tempted by the chance to publish a ready­made article on their blog. Somehow many of them still think that the more posts you publish, the better your blog performs.

And, to be honest, it’s not just SEOs. Many bloggers will challenge themselves to something like “write 3 guest posts per day for 30 days” in order to promote their blog.

But can one write 90 awesome articles in a month? No. Maybe 30? Sorry, but No. I guess this very post will take me 2­3 days to be finished (but I’m not doing this full time of course).

Even the content you pay for can be lame.

At a certain point you may feel you need to hire a few people to help you with your blog. Well, the fact that you pay them doesn’t mean they will write great articles.

Unfortunately most of the so­called “freelance copywriters” will treat their work as a routine, where they exchange a certain amount of words to a certain amount of money. While in an ideal world, they should be looking for someone to pay them based on their level of expertise and the amount of effort they put into their work.

So now you understand why poor content won’t get you anywhere. Here’s what you can do about it: learn to write awesome articles.

2. Get Serious About SEO

SEO flow chart SML

People should be able to find your awesome articles. And Google is where they will search for them.

But you have to do quite a few things to make your articles rank well in Google.

On the photography blog, that I was talking about earlier, the traffic from Google was growing by 10­15% each month. And surprisingly I didn’t do much to achieve that.

So what are the basics to get you started?

Learn to pick relevant keywords.

As they tap into SEO, most bloggers will always go for very broad and popular keywords… and fail miserably.

I mean for a post titled “10 Leather Camera Bags Reviewed”, newbie bloggers will pick the keyword “bags” ­ as it’s more popular and should bring more traffic once you’re on the first page of Google.

But what they don’t understand is:

1. Shorter, broader, more popular keywords are much­much harder to rank for. So you’re doomed to stick somewhere at page 15 of Google’s search results with no visitors.

2. A person searching for “bags” is not necessarily interested in “camera bags”, with even a smaller chance of being interested in “leather camera bags”. So why do you want to show him your article anyways?

Think logically. You want to show your post to people that search for “leather camera bags” or, to be even more precise, “leather camera bag reviews”. That’s the keyword you should go for.

Learn to optimise your articles.

I guess the majority of you guys know it already, but I can’t just make gaps in this article, so…

In order to optimise your article for a certain keyword, you should put it to:

  • Title of your article;
  • Headline of your article;
  • URL of your article;
  • Meta Description of your article;
  • Content of your article.

And there’s a handy free plugin for WordPress that will help you do this ­SEO by Yoast.

Build links.

The last ingredient of your success in Google is links pointing from other sites to your article.

Where do you get them? Just reference your articles all the time!

  • Writing your next post? ­Reference a few of your past articles.
  • Writing a guest post for another blog? ­Put a few links to your own articles.
  • Writing a comment somewhere? ­See if a link to a post of yours would be relevant.
  • Writing a post on forums? ­Well.. you’ve got the idea.

The more trusted links your article has coming in, the better it ranks in Google. So you should get serious about your SEO starting today!

Ask any blogger and he will tell you that Google is responsible for 40% to 70% of his total blog traffic. That’s definitely something worth investing some of your time.

3. Master the Art of Guest Blogging

jimmy-stewart.jpg

Google is huge, but it takes lots of time to build traffic from it. How about some instant visitors?

You can get them quite easily by tapping into the existing audience of relevant blogs that dominate your niche. How? Just write them a guest article.

But not every guest article will bring visitors to your website. Only those that follow the next two principles:

Make readers care about you.

Your writing style is super engaging ­ good for you. You’re sharing tons of tips and giving out lots of value ­ well… I guess… thank you? But why should readers care about YOU anyways?

Here’s the thing: people won’t read your author byline and follow the link to your personal blog, unless they are interested in you.

Take Problogger per se. There are dozens of people, who write exceptionally well, but do you remember all their names? Most of them share super valuable advice, but again, can you recall if they have personal blogs?

So how do you make people care about you? The answer is damn easy: tell stories about yourself!

Did you notice how I started this article? ­ “This year I’ve managed to grow a photography blog by 500% in about 6 months…

This is a part of my personal story which helps me to differentiate myself from the rest of the guys who share cool articles at Problogger.

To be honest, this particular fact is not too memorable, but you can always add some extra information about yourself later in the article.

So since we’re speaking about guest blogging… The very first guest post I wrote got published at Moz.com (a very popular SEO/Marketing blog) and to my sincere surprise it became a Top Post of 2010 in three categories: “thumbs up”, unique visits & retweets. Which makes me kind of a big deal (just kidding).

See how it works? Now you are interested in my persona a little bit more, so there’s a better chance you will check my author byline.

It’s not that hard to tell stories about yourself, unless of course there’s nothing too exciting that you can share. Well, why don’t you DO something exciting, get some impressive results and go tell everyone about it?

PS: I didn’t know about the storytelling trick back in the days, so sadly this huge guest post I wrote for Moz.com didn’t land me much traffic.

Reference your articles.

Most bloggers don’t like it when you “self promote” too much. But hey, everyone understands that the primary reason why you’re contributing an article somewhere is to promote yourself and your own blog.

So just don’t go overboard with linking out and you’ll be fine. Make sure you’re referencing only articles that truly deserve attention and make sure they fit nicely into the post.

I think the best way to link out is when you mention something that deserves an article of its own and by a lucky coincidence (hint! hint!) you already have that article published earlier on your own blog.

And yeah, the actual article that you’re contributing should be perfect in all senses! This way the blog owner won’t resist, even if there are a few of your links here and there.

Just to wrap it up, don’t waste your time writing numerous guest posts if you don’t know how to make readers interested in you and don’t have any solid articles on your blog to reference.

4. Outreach Is Your Gun Powder

Let’s say you have a friend with 100k followers on Twitter. You’ve just published a new article and you ask him for a tweet…

Bam! A couple hundreds of visitors land on your newly published article immediately! You wish you had more friends like that, right? So just work on it!

Connect with other bloggers.

I’m not necessarily talking about the big guys. They are already overwhelmed with people, asking them for “small favours”.

You can start with bloggers that have the same size of the audience that you do, or maybe a little bit bigger. They are much easier to connect with and who knows, maybe in a year some of them will grow really big.

Oh, and by the way, once you contribute a guest article somewhere ­ that’s a perfect way to start building a relationship.

Later you can exchange tweets, reference each other in your articles and maybe even mention each other in your email newsletters.

Mention people and let them know about it.

Surprisingly enough this doesn’t necessarily refer to mentioning other bloggers in your articles (though this tactic has proven to work really well).

When I was running a photography blog, we did a series of articles like:

  • 50 Brilliant Photo Sites of Professional Photographers
  • 50 Awesomely Inspiring Tumblr Blogs for Photographers
  • 100 Incredibly Tasty Instagram Accounts for Foodies to Follow

And then we went ahead and reached out to everyone saying that they were featured in our article.

As a result, most of the guys “liked” and “tweeted” the articles they were mentioned in. Their friends saw that and did the same, which was kind of a chain reaction.

In other words, when you mention 100 people in an article and let them know about it ­ prepare for a noticeable traffic spike.

But remember, at the end of the day it all comes down to the quality of your content. If your articles are lame ­ people won’t care about them, even if you point them personally.

5. Make Your Visitors Stick

stickier-velcro.jpg

Most bloggers refer to it as “community building”, but you won’t build a community unless you make your visitors stay at your blog right after their first visit.

When you’ve mastered the first four fundamentals that bring a plethora of visitors to your blog, it would be really silly to just let them bounce and never come back.

Take their email address.

Once you have it, you can bring back a person to your blog anytime you want (and do all sorts of other cool things).

But most people won’t just give you their email address for nothing. That is why most pro bloggers are offering tons of free stuff in exchange for your email: pdf ebooks, email courses, free downloads, exclusive updates, etc.

Three best locations for your email capture form with a freebie are:

  • pop­up email form upon first visit;
  • sidebar email form;
  • email form below the post.

If you ask me, I use all three of them on my own blog, with pop­up form bringing me the most email subscribers.

Interlink your articles

Remember the trick with mentioning something that deserves an article by itself and actually linking to your own post?

Well, each article on your own blog should be full of such cliffhangers that make it impossible for readers to get a feeling that they’ve already learned everything they needed.

Show them your best content

Most visitors are likely to leave after reading the article they’ve landed on. So your job is to advertise them your most amazing content till they’re still here.

I’m talking about:

  • “popular posts” section in your sidebar;
  • “related posts” section at the end of your article;
  • resource pages that list the best articles of your blog.

Once they read your best work they are much more likely to stick around and follow the future updates of your blog.

Get rid of the clutter

I don’t remember where this thought comes from, but I like it a lot:

“If people don’t click a certain element on your website you should either replace it or remove it.”

Learn analytics and put tracking everywhere. Try to make your website a black hole where people can easily get in, but can’t get out. Everything on your blog should be carefully crafted to make people stay longer.

That’s all Folks!

I honestly believe that these five fundamentals will make your blog grow once you put enough effort there.

And I hope I was able to demonstrate that they heavily rely on each other. Once you drop one of them, the whole system will slow down.

Want to talk about that further? See you in comments!

­­­­­

Tim Soulo is a blogging experimenter and conversion junkie. Check his free email course if you want to grow the traffic of your blog or check his free online tool that will show you the most popular articles of any blog you put there.

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This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above. If you'd like to guest post for ProBlogger check out our Write for ProBlogger page for details about how YOU can share your tips with our community.

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Comments

  1. marty says:

    I think these are excellent pillars to work everyone know thats content is king! But the other stuff falls by the way side personally SEO confuses me and most other beginners.I have done guest posting but it scares the crap out of me..But the most important thing for my success that I think you nailed perfectly was connecting.Connecting with other bloggers is the best way to learn and grow since they know things you don’t and sometime vice versa.No blogger wants to feel like they are on an island

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Marty.

      Actually the strategies may vary.. You may publish just a few posts on your blog and get traffic from reaching out & guestposting OR you can publish lots of articles targeting different keywords in Google and get your visitors without the need to contact anyone or write guest articles.

      I prefer a mix of both strategies ;)

    • Hello Marty,

      The tricks to a better blog are very fluid and not static as most bloggers believe. Check out what works for you and stick to it! You’ll literally be amazed at the success you’ll be at the end of the day!

      But first, you must be willing to try out all possible ideas…

      Do have a great day!

      - Terungw

  2. Sally Akins says:

    Really useful article, thanks! I’m still at the point of building my blog, and I’m really keen to increase the community on the site, so there is a lot of info in here for me

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Sally.. Community really matters.. if people don’t stick with your blog – you must be doing something wrong

  3. PJ says:

    Content is king, but don’t dress it up like Liberace!

    The beautiful thing about a blog is that its yours. You write a post because you have something to say. Yes its great having thousands of readers and millions of subscribers because all that could translate into earnings. The problem is when you write content solely to attract visitors or subscribers through overly rich SEO posts.

    I remember reading a post recently that made no sense whats so ever, because the writer had every key word he could think of, at least 20 times in the text.

    That’s not the way forward. At least I hope its not the way forward because blogging would be doomed then. A few bits of SEO can go along way. You just need to choose correctly.

    Tim has hit the nail on the head with his SEO tips. Very nice post.

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Thanks PJ… I think each year this thing called “keyword density” matters less and less..

      So your SEO success is more about how good is your content and if it will attract links from other bloggers.. rather than how many keywords you put in.

      And, as you may guess, bloggers won’t link to crappy articles overstuffed with keywords

  4. Hey Tim,

    This is an awesome post man! I love the way how you go about delivering your content.

    Writing high quality content is a must if you want to get great results on your blog. I have learnt that over the years of blogging.

    When your blog visitors come to your blog, they don’t want to come to read crap. They need something beneficial which help to better them.

    Also keeping hold of your blog readers to build up your community is a must. So this is why it is important to start a mailing list as soon as possible so that you can get hold of them.

    Networking and outreaching to other bloggers in your niche is a great point that you have mentioned. I have done this and this made blogging much easier for me as well.

    All the points that you have written about here is valid and will work for any blogger who applies them to their blog. Love the post!

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Kharim.. I’m glad that you agree with me on these fundamentals..

      I think that anyone can quite easily grow his blog, if he’s following all 5 fundamentals… skip one of them – and you will grow much slower.

  5. Himanshu says:

    Hello Tim,
    I am informative and nice post about blog growth. I am already using some of your fundamentals and had a great experience with the help of these fundamentals. Mentioning peoples in a post is one of the best technique to grab other popular bloggers/ people attention towards our blog. I will surely use these fundamentals to grow my blog.

  6. Great article. You really have figured out how to write great content. Starting off with stats and telling people that you increased a blogs traffic by 500% in 6 months gives you instant credibility. Then the reader is glued to what you are saying and what to learn all they can. This can be done in many forms for all types of posts but I think it really is key, especially when you are guest posting and the readers don’t know who you are. You really have to hit them quickly and show that you know what you are talking about. Thanks for the post!

  7. Tim,

    Comprehensive post! It’s rare to find this much great information in one place (as we’re all trying to get out as much content as we can). I agree with everything you’ve mentioned, but I’d probably add the increasingly important social share buttons in your SEO section. I think it was a Jon Loomer article a few months ago where he found 700% increases in virality with social share buttons on his blog articles. Sometimes it’s the little stuff that makes the huge differences. Have you found something similar? Cheers!

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey James.. never thought about this…

      Probably because I’ve always been using social sharing buttons on my blogs :)

      But look at Problogger – they only have “like” & “tweet”… what about G+? LinkedIn? I wonder why they don’t use them.

      But if you check Problogger with my tool: http://bloggerjet.com/strip-the-blog/ you’ll see that they’re getting G+ and LinkedIn shares even when they don’t have these buttons on their posts.

      Thats because they have tons of raving fans, who do it for them!

  8. Candice says:

    I’ve decided to target a couple blogs that I love to read to write guest post for. I’m coming up with the idea, writer the bare bones of the article and then pitching it.

  9. Thanks for the great post Tim! I’m definitely going to incorporate your strategies into my own blogging campaign. One thing that I noticed is that the Written by: at the beginning of the article simply says “Guest Blogger.” Originally, I found your article through the app Prismatic, a content curating app like Zite or Pulse. Sadly, it also only says Guest Blogger where as almost every article I read has their name. Just letting you know.

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey James,

      I wish I could control things here. But I’m really only a “guest blogger”.. so it’s up to Problogger staff if they will fix it or not. But thanks for outing the issue anyways!

  10. Bill Davis says:

    Outstanding advice about blogging, Tim. The *one thing* I wish I had done when I began blogging is capture email addresses. I went a few years without doing it. Lost opportunity…

  11. Michelle says:

    Tim – great article; love the idea of mentioning others in an article and then letting them know you’ve done it! That’s brilliant!

  12. Wonderful tips, Tim! I hear many people complaining about the opt-in pop-ups, but I guess they are working :) I chose the less intrusive box on the bottom right with good results. Used to have a popup but it was acting up on mobile devices so I decided to take it out.
    Can you tell me what are you using for opt-ins at the end of a blog post? Thanks!

    • Tim Soulo says:

      There are two well known plugins for email capture forms.. both premium though
      1 – PopupDomination
      2 – Optinskin

      I use both on BloggerJet.com

  13. Dan Erickson says:

    You say you use pop ups, sidebars and footers to get people to sign up for your email list. I know this is the norm, but then in the next paragraph you say to get rid of the clutter. To me a pop up and crowed sidebar are the biggest forms of clutter. I prefer a minimalist approach to design. But I have also come to a point where I do not care about numbers as much as I once did. But I m interested in alternative methods of attracting numbers that would accompany minimalist sites.

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Minimalism is about leaving only the things that matter… in case email signups don’t matter for you, I wonder what does :)

      My “get rid of the clutter” refers to things that don’t work. If something doesn’t work (people don’t click it) – just get rid of it.

      In case it DOES work, probably you should have more of it.

      Makes sense?

  14. I’m surprised, but pleased to know that I’m doing all of these things for my newest site. However, I must say that it’s best to pace yourself. Start with one effort, then expand to others as you see the first one beginning to work . That’s how I’m doing it the second time around because I just got overwhelmed trying to take on all of the advice at once as a new blogger.

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Absolutely! The first thing you should start with is create amazing content and make sure it’s well optimised for search… and only then you can move on with other 3 things

  15. Karen Main says:

    Brilliant, informative and easy to read. Thank you

  16. Drewry says:

    the content I create on my website and in articles have personality to them. At times, people scratch their heads in wondering what I’m talking about or what point I’m trying to get at. Though it may not make sense to them in the moment in reference to some of the articles I’ve publish short article directories or web forum pages, the writing still displays my personality. For example, instead of saying the word money in most instances, I like saying “$ gUaP $,” as people query me from time to time wondering what that means. It’s a little silly stuff like that that sets my Internet writing personality apart from the average, and also, in a positive light, keeps website traffic coming back to read more content.

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Drewry.. not sure if confusing people is something you should do, but adding personality to your writing is an absolute must! :)

  17. Caleb says:

    Making sure visitors don’t get out takes a degree of savvyiness and I recommend an exit message pop to add to your arsenal. Also, when it comes to guest posting be sure to weave in things about the blog your guest posting on along with it’s owner.

  18. Hello Tim,

    I completely agree with you. I think that in this day and age it’s an absolute must to show your personality on your blog. I feel that quality content is still very important, but there are plenty of others who have the same knowledge. But there’s only one me, thank god ;)

    Just curious, what is your take on video marketing? I personally think it’s an invaluable tool, but I’d like to hear what you think about it.

    Kind regards,
    Maikel Michiels

  19. There is no easy way to success in the blogging world. We all have to focus on writing quality posts and also do obeisance to google by giving google what it wants. While it is easy to drive traffic to a blog the most reliable traffic is from people who have fallen in love with your content and want to come back. Those are the people that buy. You are therefore spot on in putting content at the top of the pile.

  20. Thank you for sharing tips to help your site grow! I will be sharing this post with my blog community!

  21. Ivette Lopez says:

    Great insightful information! Thanks for the share.

  22. So much useful information for a newbie like me, Tim. Really enjoyed this; particularly the tip on interlinking your articles. Love these guest blogs. It was something I was considering, myself, as I have a lot of friends who travel & love photography. They’d be prefect guest contributors for my blog. Glad I check in here every day :)

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Erin,
      Yeah.. this article is actually targeted mostly at newbies. I tried to help them see a bigger picture of the overall blogging strategy that leads to success. Glad you’ve enjoyed it :)

  23. [ Smiles ] I believe that the real ingredient to one’s successful blog is to connect with other bloggers; without that everything else fails.

  24. James H. says:

    Well, isn’t that the truth! If you want good content — pay for it! And not just from the cheapest seller! That’s exactly why content is lame. Once businesses stop viewing content creation as “easy bulls**t,” it’ll actually do them wonders.

  25. Great post, Tim! I especially like you bit about becoming a good guest blogger. That is where I need to work on the most. Its hard though because when you’re guest blogging, you almost have to put on someone else’s shoes in a way. You can’t write exactly how you want to write, you write how the blog author needs you to write. Great post, again!

  26. Angela Booth says:

    Tim, thanks for the excellent post.

    Re emails, I’ve always been wary of popups for subscribers; I just use a sidebar form on my blogs. But you’ve inspired me to look at them again. I’ll try a popup for 30 days, to get over my prejudice against them.

  27. Jafar Dhada says:

    Good points to be noted (as of me) from this post is

    * Make readers care about you.
    * Shorter, broader, more popular keywords are much­much harder to rank for.

    thanx for sharing

  28. Some solid points you made here but something new to watch out for is guest posting on a large scale. With Google updating their guidelines once again, they’ve made it clear that they’re not too fond of it.

  29. Hi Tim! Thanks for putting together this article. I need all the help I can get! I do have a question…
    How do you go about getting guest articles on other blogs? I know that networking is very important and I am pretty active in having conversations and comments on other blogs, but how do I actually go about asking for a guest post?
    Any tips are very much appreciated, thanks!
    -Christine

  30. Austin says:

    Great article! I’m very new to blogging and these tips were helpful. The one I most liked was “mention people and let them know about it.” I’ve never heard that strategy, but immediately after reading it I began thinking how I could apply it to my own blog.

    Right now, my biggest hurdle to traffic is the tech stuff. It takes me hours to make minor changes or mess with the code. But I’ve been forcing myself lately to work on building traffic. Thanks for the article. It has inspired me. Back to work!

  31. Nathan Brook says:

    Great point. You have to capture your audience’s attention the best way you can to get people to crave your content.

  32. tom says:

    Great tips.

    I wonder what good content is. Today it seems everybody does great content. :)

  33. JR John says:

    About #2 – meh.

    CopyBlogger recommends that you get to learn the ropes of blogging BEFORE you start actually going crazy with SEO. It’s so easy to get all held up on all of the different aspects to SEO.

    Creating content with the reader in mind always turns out to be a win-win. Always.

    Regards,
    JR John

  34. Nathan Neely says:

    Thank you for the info.. I’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to blog frequently and consistently. I’m in it for the long run so I need all the help I can get!

  35. KC says:

    Hi Tim – what is the link of your photography blog? ;)