Today I want to feature an interview with Mehdi from Strong Lifts – a good example of a blog that is focusing upon a niche topic and growing a readership quickly over the last 12 months.
Tell us about your blog – what’s it about, why and when did you start it, who reads it?
StrongLifts.com is a blog about how to build muscle & lose fat through strength training. Topics include how to go from chubby to muscular, how to go from skinny to muscular, how to get stronger, how to perform exercises correctly, how to avoid injuries, how to improve your posture, how to eat healthier, etc
There are articles about body-weight exercises too, but the blog is mainly about weight lifting. It’s not bodybuilding: it’s not about working out for aesthetic purposes only. It’s about training to get stronger. This increases muscle mass, testosterone levels, cardiovascular fitness, strengthens bones & joints, lowers body fat, increases self-confidence, and much more.
I started StrongLifts.com for 2 reasons:
1) I was doing a job that wasn’t me for 5 years and had been looking for a way out. Summer 2006 someone sent me Steve Pavlina’s post how to make money blogging. I had never heard about blogs before, but this got me interested.
I looked for more info on blogging. Came across John Chow who got serious about blogging around the same time. I followed how his blog got big in a few months. This stuff seemed so easy, I decided to start a blog too.
Through John Chow I found Problogger. I printed the “blogging for beginners” series and studied everything (Darren is not paying me to say this. I don’t read Problogger anymore, but this really happened).
So my 1st reason was to start a blog that makes enough money to leave my day job. I wanted to be self-employed, and set the rules for myself. I knew I liked to teach people things, so blogging would fit. But I needed a topic.
2) I’ve been training for 10 years and often get questions about it. Friends, family, co-workers see how I look. They want the same thing. They’re often surprised I can eat so much without gaining fat by training 3-4x/week for 1 hour.
There’s a strong bias against weight lifting: unsafe, unhealthy, gets you bulky, etc. So you do other things like running, because “you have to exercise”. But you hate running. And that makes it very hard to do it consistently.
Be open minded, forget what you think you know about weight lifting and give it a try. You’ll never go back. Because once you try it, you’ll realize this stuff is so easy, it’s laughable. Whatever your age or gender.
Weight lifting & strength training made me who I am today. I believe everybody would be better off if they did it. That’s why I started StrongLifts.com: to give more people information on how they can easily build muscle & lose fat: like I do.
The guy with whom I started training 10y ago gave me idea to make a website about all of this in February 2007. StrongLifts.com went online May 1st 2007.
The majority of the 200k monthly visitors are males between 20 & 35y old. But there are females, teens and 55y old readers too. I remember getting an email from a 72y old guy who did Squats & Deadlifts and felt great.
Most readers are from the US, but there are readers from all over the world. What they all share is a willingness to change. To change their lifestyle, to live healthier, to be more active. It’s definitely not easy when you have a business, career, family, social life, … But where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Where does most of your traffic come from?
60% from search. I get a lot of traffic from Google. 10% is direct traffic. 13k RSS readers means a lot of readers will click back to the site to check comments, click link inside the articles, etc
The rest comes from social media & referrals. Digg doesn’t work well with my content, although I hit Digg front page once. Stumbleupon does better, I’ve had spikes of 3-4k visitors/day in the past.
I get daily inbound links from forums. Several articles are “flagship content” (I got that one from chrisg). Readers link to these articles to answer questions on relevant forums. This is targeted traffic.
Note that relying on Google for traffic is a bad business model. That’s why I focused on converting traffic to RSS from the start.
You’ve managed to build up your RSS readership to 13,000 in 12 months (it’s now 14,000) – that’s 1000 a month and a good strong rate – how did you do it?
Well it didn’t really went like that. StrongLifts.com went online May 1st 2007. It reached 1k RSS in November 2007. 5k in January 2008. 10k start of May 2008, ending the month at 14k. Check the graph below.
A lot of bloggers only care about generating traffic. Any business is about generating AND converting leads. I decided to convert traffic not to money, but to RSS. So I read & tried everything about how to increase RSS.
Most of the stuff I tried didn’t work for StrongLifts.com. Example: most traffic comes from google/forums. Often these readers don’t know what RSS is, they don’t know what the ticker stands for, neither what a blog is. They don’t know, because I didn’t know before I started a blog.
So these tips “put RSS high on your blog, put a big button, ask them to subscribe”, only works if your traffic consists of readers familiar with RSS (traffic from social media or blogs). I know this, because I tracked everything with google analytics.
But I still wanted to increase StrongLifts.com’s readership. So I thought about other ways for many weeks. Thinking outside the box, checking what other sites, non-blogs, did. Then the solution came pretty easy.
Check back the graph above. RSS started to increased mid-December 2007. That’s when I started to offer a 52 pages free ebook to anyone who subscribes. Since then I’ve optimized the sales letter, link placement, etc (use google analytics). It’s far from perfect, but RSS now increases by 3k/month. Which means I’ll reach 40k RSS by the end of the year. And that’s assuming the traffic doesn’t increase.
How do you make money from your blog? Is it your full time job? If not, is that a goal?
StrongLifts.com isn’t generating a full time income yet. I never, and still don’t, focus my efforts on making money. Building experience, building a reputation and building a readership is more important in the long-term. It’s easier to monetize a blog once you’ve built a foundation.
StrongLifts.com generates money through:
- Amazon & Affiliates. Products I own and recommend my readers get. Good things aren’t free. You learn faster reading books than reading blogs.
- Google Adsense. I have one block above the comments. Don’t want ads inside the content. It doesn’t make much money that way, but it also sends less traffic away from the blog. I’ll remove this in the future.
- Personal Training. Whatever business you’re in, you’re always selling something. Selling your own product is smarter than selling someone else’s. I started with personal training recently, not only for the money but because I enjoy it more than writing.
StrongLifts.com is my full time job. I worked 5 years in an IT helpdesk. Quit the job 12 days after the blog went online because:
- 5 years doing the same job was the limit.
- I couldn’t combine blogging with my day job.
- I wanted to burn my bridges.
Even though I lost a good income, I never regretted resigning. Regaining freedom and doing something I like mattered more than a paycheck. I couldn’t do what I to do today if I hadn’t done that job. But it was “time to move on”.
What’s the biggest blogging mistake you’ve made in the last 12 months and what did you learn from it?
Underestimating blogging. Although I got somewhere during the last 12 months, I thought it would be easier. Blogging is harder than it looks: copywriting, marketing, customer service, … You have to learn a lot of things.
I made a lot of other “mistakes”, but don’t really see them as such. Failure is part of the learning process. You have to make mistakes to get somewhere in life. “Failure is life’s best teacher” - Napoleon Hill.
What 3 things have contributed the most to the success you’ve had so far?
- Determination. I wasn’t going to “try”. I DECIDED I would become a blogger. Quitting my day job guaranteed I had no way back. When you REALLY want something, everything you need to get it comes your way. Including the answers to how to get there.
- Walking The Talk. I’ve been lifting weights since 10 years and still do. I’ve trained in commercial gyms and now own a home gym. I’ve combined lifting weights with working 2 jobs and night shifts. I’ve combined it with relationships and social life. I’ve been able to eat healthy on a tight budget. I’ve injured myself dozens of times. I’ve trained when ill and injured. I’ve trained after a night drinking alcohol or a 4 hour night sleep. You get the point. Readers sense I’m not bullshitting them. And they understand that a) it’s not meant to be easy b) you’ll never achieve perfection c) if I can do it, you can definitely do it too.
- Giving. Free articles, free ebook, free coaching, … Some people don’t like working for free. Truth is that you always get something back. Yes I’ve helped people who didn’t even say thank you. But I also had readers who optimized the blog and proofread the ebook for free because they felt they had to return the favor. But here’s what I always got back but what most people fail to realize: EXPERIENCE. You can lose your whole blog, you can lose all your money on your back account, but one thing no-one can ever take away from you: the knowledge & experience you’ve built by helping people. That is priceless.
Can you give ProBlogger readers 3 practical tips of what to do to grow their readership
- Write Good Content. Find out what people’s problems are. Give them the solution to their problems. How do you find this? 1) by walking the talk so you experience the same problems b) by interacting with your (potential) readers: friends, familiy, co-workers, forums, emails, comments, … Ideas are everywhere, you just have to pick them up.
- Guest Posts. Make a list of blogs with a high amount of readers and who often get on digg/del.icio.us/stumbleupon front page. If it’s a blog in the same niche, easy. If it’s a blog in a different niche: think outside the box (Example). Write a how-to post, your best one. Include relevant, non spammy back links to your own site, with anchor text optimized for search engine. Send the post to the blogger. Be blunt, don’t ask for permission “will you let me guest post”, just send the whole post, tell him to read it and publish it if he likes it with the only condition that he must keep the non-spammy relevant back links with anchor text. If you wrote a good post, every bloggers will say yes, because it’s like a day off. Hope it gets dugg, will get you back links (anchor text) from the blog and other blogs that copy-paste posts increasing long-term google ranking while creating short term traffic. If the blogger says no to the back links or to your post, send it to the next blogger on your list. Don’t give up, keep trying. If 5 bloggers say no, question your article.
- eBook. Write an eBook that has the solution to your readers problems. Give it away for free, but only after they subscribe by RSS (download link available through feedburner only). Mention you give away an ebook at the bottom of each post. Make a salesletter for the eBook. Track conversions using google analytics. Tweak it constantly.
What tips do you have for people who want to start a blog?
- Read. Knowledge is power. Throw your TV out and read everything you come across: copywriting, direct advertising, marketing, business, self-improvement, … Read 1 book per week and you’ll get ahead of 80% of the population.
- Believe. Watch out for The Crabs. Some people will tell you that you can’t do it, that you will never make money blogging, that you do not have the skills/knowledge to get there. Ignore them. Several people make money blogging, you could be the next one. No-one can tell you if you’ll succeed or not. It all depends on you. So want this and go for it.
- Don’t Do It for The Money. Blogging looks fun: waking up when you want, writing some blog posts, answering emails, making money online, … That’s indeed how it will look if you stick with it. But not during your first months. i’ve worked 70h on average during the past 12 months, and I’m not “there” yet. So if you’re looking for an easy way out of your day job or if you’re looking for easy money: don’t do it, because you have the wrong mindset and will fail. Blog about something you like, add value to the world, pay your dues. And yes one day you’ll get there.