This post is from Nick Amann, the founder of SpecificFeeds
As bloggers, we tend to be a little obsessed with numbers – we check our stats compulsively to see how many more hits we got today than yesterday and freak out if we lose a couple of followers on Twitter or Facebook.
However, most bloggers are focusing on the wrong numbers. Having a highly trafficked blog sounds great and it may well be, but what’s even more important that having lots of visitors to your site is ensuring that a high percentage of them are recurring visitors.
There’s a lot of advice out there on how to improve your blog’s SEO to bring in more search engine traffic, how to get more likes on Facebook and so on. All of this is great advice but a web visitor who clicks through to your site, stays for five minutes and leaves forever is probably not very valuable to you.
What we really should be concentrating on is encouraging our readers to come back to our site and read our content on a regular basis.
Why Recurring Readers Are More Valuable
Blogging is not so different from any other business – to be successful it’s important to gain a sufficient number of customers (readers). As with many other industries, selling to pre-existing customers is not only easier but is also likely to be more successful.
A high customer retention rate means that you don’t need to spend as much time and effort in trying to win new customers, as you can spend most of your energy focusing on your existing clientele.
Your regular readers don’t need any convincing to click through to your content. They are eager to read anything new you publish and they value your opinion and recommendations. A blog’s subscribed readers are its most valuable asset.
How to Encourage Subscriptions and Recurring Blog Visitors
Creating a blog that people want to come back to time and time again always comes back to the keystone of excellent content. If you’re not producing content that is helpful, entertaining, easy to read and interesting, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and start again.
That being said, there are a number of ways that you can encourage first-time visitors to your blog to become regular readers. Human beings tend towards laziness so you need to make things as simple and accessible for your readers as possible. If you don’t make it easy for people to access your content on a regular basis, the chances are they just won’t bother.
To encourage casual visitors to become regular readers, you should offer a number of different ways to follow your blog that are clearly visible within the design:
1. RSS Feeds – Still Alive and Kicking!
RSS is not dead, despite what the naysayers may claim. After Google Reader closed, the most popular alternative RSS reader, Feedly, gained an additional 3 million new users. If your blog doesn’t have a working RSS feed, you’re forcing your readers to come directly to your site to read your content and for many people, that is more effort than your blog is worth.
2. Email Opt-in Form – The Money is in The List!
In general, email subscribers are worth much more than RSS subscribers as there is a higher likelihood that they will read your posts. People tend to dip in and out of their RSS readers for entertainment and it’s easy for them to skip over posts when they’re busy. Emails have a higher perceived importance and are much more likely to be read.
Emails also feel a lot more personal than blog posts and allow you to customize your messages to each individual reader (e.g., by addressing them by their name). This can really help your followers to feel like you are talking directly to them and can help to increase your conversion rates.
3. Social Networking – The Future Present is Social!
Since Google Reader bowed out, its former users have had to hunt out alternative ways of keeping up with their favorite blogs and some have abandoned RSS readers altogether. Publishing links to your blog posts to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ provides an easy way for people to follow your blog, as well as encouraging reader interaction.
Like email, posting updates to social media has a more informal feel than using your RSS feed and people are more likely to read your posts when they’re mixed in with other updates from their friends and family.
Having social media accounts for your blog and making your posts easy to share is also an excellent way for growing your fan base. When someone likes your page on Facebook (or Google+ or whatever) it acts like a recommendation from one reader to all their friends and followers. This is a great way of getting new readers who are interested in what you have to say.
And if you’re a site where users can sign up as members, social media integration is a no-brainer anyway. Signing up through an existing social account takes much less time than filling out a form and avoids the problem of lost login credentials – that’s why the majority of social media users prefer this option.
4. New Emerging Technologies – Keep Your Finger on the Pulse!
Internet technologies go in and out of fashion extremely quickly and it’s not always possible to predict what will be the ‘next big thing’. However it’s never a bad idea to experiment with a couple of newer subscription technologies, particularly if they make life easier for your blog readers.
There are a couple of interesting options that are starting to make a name for themselves since the demise of Google Reader. One of these is SpecificFeeds which resolves many of the weaknesses with RSS by allowing users to customize feeds to their individual needs. Check out the Problogger specific feed to get an idea for how the service works.
The Pros and Cons of Pop-up Opt-in Forms
Pop-up windows went out of favor in the early 2000s but they are now back with a vengeance as technology has allowed them to be more user-friendly and they’ve been proven to improve conversion rates by an impressive amount.
There’s still a fair amount of controversy surrounding pop-ups – some people say that you should always use them in order to maximize your newsletter sign ups, while others claim they are an abomination that should be struck from the internet.
For a compelling argument of why you should use pop-ups, have a read through this article right here on Problogger, in which Darren illustrates how using a pop-up signup form caused his daily subscribes to shoot up by over 800%, overnight.
Pop-ups are of course intrusive by nature, and you do run the risk of annoying your readers and causing the opposite effect to what you intended. This article at Copyblogger discusses the downside of using pop-ups, ponders whether it is worth the risk, and offers some viable alternatives.
In the end It comes down to personal preference whether you use pop-ups or not, but there’s no denying that they are incredibly effective when it comes to increasing your email signups.
Perhaps an acceptable compromise is to make use of the sophisticated pop-up technology that is now available for blogs and show pop-ups only to first-time visitors or have the pop-up appear only when the user has read an entire article and scrolled to the bottom of the page.
Growing Your Subscribers is The No.1 Way to Grow Your Business.
The arguments for focusing on your existing readers are compelling. It’s said that a business needs only 1,000 true fans to be successful. What is a true fan? Someone who wants to consume everything you produce, whether you are an author, singer, artist or blogger.
Rather than focusing on trying to increase your blog traffic, instead shift your focus to converting your existing occasional readers into subscribers. If your blog can manage to obtain 1,000 truly engaged subscribers, you can safely call yourself a successful blogger, whatever niche you write in and whatever your method of monetization or business model you use.
Growing your subscribers is not something that happens overnight but with consistent effort and a well-thought out plan, it is possible.
To sum up:
Publish excellent content
Engage with your readers and be approachable and friendly
Offer a highly visible link to your RSS feed
Include an email subscription form
Add sharing buttons for the social networks you want to focus on
Look into new subscription technologies like SpecificFeeds
Consider a popup signup form.
Do you have any other tips for optimizing your blog subscribers? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the importance of site traffic versus RSS and email subscribers so join the discussion in the comments if you have any opinions or further points to add.