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How to Keep Your Subscribers Forever

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.One thing you may have noticed is that your blog’s feed count is volatile: it fluctuates on a day to day basis.

While much of that depends on how many people read your feed in a given day, some of that is also people both subscribing and unsubscribing. If you could stop people unsubscribing, your subscriber count would always grow exponentially.

While a lot of emphasis is placed on getting more subscribers, it seems to me that keeping the ones you have is just as important.

What is the key reason why a person might unsubscribe? They’ll do so when your posts become clutter: when they stop reading your posts.

Darren has previously listed 34 reasons why readers unsubscribe from your blog. In fact, each of these reasons causes readers to stop reading your posts, which then causes them to unsubscribe.

The question this post seeks to answer is: how can I get subscribers to keep reading my posts?

As long as your subscribers are reading what you write, they’ll never unsubscribe.

Create a gripping headline

The ugly truth is that many feed readers make the decision to either skip or keep reading a post before their eyes have reached the end of the headline. There are plenty of great articles written about honing the ability to write headlines that draw readers into posts — articles every blogger should read. Here are a few of my favorites from Brian Clark and Leo Babauta:

Headlines are your weapon in the constant battle for attention, so it’s crucial that you use them well. A simple hack I often use is to take the headline formula behind a popular article and adapt it to my own post.

Start with a knock-out opening sentence

Once your headline has done its work the subscriber will start with your first sentence. If you waffle, or go off-topic, or write in a bland way, the reader will drop out of your post.

In my experience, there are seven key routes to a gripping opening sentence:

  • A tempting offer.
  • An irresistible question.
  • A curious connection.
  • A controversial claim.
  • An engaging anecdote.
  • A problem.
  • A tricky question.

I’ve covered each of these methods in detail here: Grip Your Readers With These 7 Knock-Out Opening Sentences.

Use consistent imagery at the beginning of your posts

If you hold a particular blog in very high standing you’ll be likely to stick with a post even if it starts with a fizzle rather than a bang. If readers knew who was behind a particular post they may well be more likely to read it.

I don’t think readers always do know, however. Most of us group feeds by folder or lump new content into one stream of news. If we make the decision to read or skip based on the headline alone, we may end up deciding not to read an article before we even know which blog it originated from.

One incredibly effective way to brand your posts is to use consistent imagery right at the start. Almost every single post at ProBlogger begins with a distinct image in a unique style. Even if you’re focusing on the headline, it’s impossible to miss that the post originates from ProBlogger (because the image is right below the headline).

Using consistent imagery at the top of your posts will instantly let subscribers know where the post originated from. Here are some strategies you can use to make your imagery unique:

  • Use of images of a consistent type or style.
  • If you write on them, try to use similar fonts.
  • You could also use images of the same size and position.

This strategy is also effective in another way: images slow the eye down. We can scan text rapidly, but it’s a lot harder to scan an image.

A table covered with pens and a notebook.
Photo by Lost in Scotland.

Use interesting formatting in your own style

Give your posts texture — Your posts might look fantastic as they appear on your blog, but subscribers see them without any of the bells and whistles. Plain text without any formatting can be visually interesting when laid out on a vibrant page. Not so in a feed reader. If your posts are boring to look at it becomes easier than ever for subscribers to ignore them.

Sub-headings, bolded sentences, box-quotes and in-text links all help to add texture to your posts when they appear in a feed reader. Visually interesting posts will excite the eye and help draw readers into your posts.

Brand your posts with formatting — Developing your own formatting style, in combination with distinct imagery at the beginning of your posts, can ensure that it’s immediately obvious where your posts come from.

If you’re reading this in a feed reader right now, you’d probably agree that you recognize ProBlogger posts straight away. If a reader trusts that your blog provides good content then being recognizable is priceless.

Use short paragraphs

Big chunks of text aren’t inviting to a reader. Your blog might display your posts in a generously-sized and well-spaced font, but feed readers tend towards fonts that are small and narrowly spaced. It’s important to use paragraphs liberally to open up the text in your posts.

If your post is broken up into bite-sized chunks it becomes a lot easier to tackle. If your post looks easy to read a subscriber will be more likely to give it a chance.

Break up your text with images

Feed readers are also lacking when it comes to color and shape. A stream of text can become monotonous. You can help your posts stand out by breaking up the text with relevant images.

Always provide value

If you follow the above steps every post you publish should look unique when it appears in a feed reader. It will be immediately obvious that it came from your blog.

This will only be a positive, however, if the subscriber consistently finds value in everything you write. If that’s the case, she or he will probably stick with your post even if it comes with a snooze-inducing headline and a waffly opening sentence.

The essential point to understand is that, while the above tips will draw feed readers into your posts, the strategy will only be effective if your subscribers consistently feel rewarded when they do so.

A subscriber who is reading and appreciating your posts is more likely to link to you, comment, vote on social media and recommend you to friends. That’s something we all want.

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. You can subscribe to Skellie’s feed for more useful blogging advice.

5 Powerful Techniques to Help Your Posts Stand Out

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.In this post regular contributer Skellie from Skelliewag.org helps you differentiate your content.

Blogs are now so popular that it’s very hard to find a niche that isn’t already saturated. There are probably dozens or hundreds of other bloggers writing on the topics you cover.

Being unique has never been so important.

We already know that ‘differentiation’ is a worthwhile goal for any blogger. In this post, I want to explain why it’s important to differentiate your posts, and give you five strategies you can use to do so.

What’s so good about being different?

By differentiating, you give readers a compelling reason to give their attention to your blog over others. After all, if you can’t offer something different, if you can’t fulfill different needs or solve different problems, potential readers simply won’t pay attention to what you’re doing.

Differentiating can sound like a hard task. It’s best to tackle “being different” one area at a time.

Here are five strategies you can use to set your content apart.

#1 –Develop a recognizable and consistent voice

One thing you might have noticed about top bloggers is that they have a very distinct writing style, or ‘voice’. One of the simplest ways to stand out in your niche is to write differently to other bloggers covering the same topics.

The key is to write naturally and consistently.

Be natural — don’t impersonate the writing style of successful bloggers. Even your flaws can help you stand out in your niche. If you’re a funny person, don’t suck the humor out of your writing simply because it’s uncommon. If you write and speak informally, don’t break into formal language because that’s the standard in your niche.

You’ll always perform better when doing something that comes naturally to you. Readers will be able to sense when you’re not being authentic, or otherwise trying to hide your natural voice.

Be consistent — readers won’t come to recognize your writing style unless it’s consistent. Don’t chop and change between funny and serious, formal and informal, easy-going and aggressive. Staying away from extreme voices will allow you more room to move. For example, moving from neutral to light-hearted is a lot smoother than moving from angry to light-hearted.

#2 — Put yourself into what you write

One of the nicest things about being human is that we’re unique without trying. No-one else has exactly the same experiences, biases, tastes, physical features and perspective as you do.

On the other hand, there are millions of blogs out there, many of them writing on the same topics. The tips, opinions, news and advice you write have probably been written many times before, albeit in different ways.

One effective way to make your content unique (which is also another way to turn readers into raving fans) is to put yourself into what you write.

  • When sharing a tip, what caused you to discover it? How have things changed since you started using it?
  • When you argue an opinion, explain what influenced you to adopt it.
  • When you give advice, explain what the results of following that advice have been for you.

The key is to weave relevant personal anecdotes into your writing. It’ll add strength to your posts while also helping to make them unique.

Photo by theforbzezPhoto by theforbzez.

#3 — Develop your own formatting style

If your writing looks a certain way, readers will begin to recognize it wherever it appears. In an instant they can say: “I know who wrote that.” You can think of the way you format your posts as your own personal watermark. Some different ideas:

  • Use box-quotes to emphasize your key points or the most interesting sentences in your post.
  • Sum up each post with a bullet-point breakdown of your key points.
  • Use unique looking sub-headings and emphasis.
  • Develop your own way of presenting information.
  • Get creative with the way you use links.
  • Use the footer of your posts for asides and unrelated notes.

#4 — Use imagery in a unique way

I think it’s important to have a unique image near the top of each post you write. You can see this strategy in use at ProBlogger: most if not all posts contain an image with rounded corners in the top-left corner.

This is particularly useful when it comes to drawing feed readers into your posts. The image immediately indicates the source of the content. Though the headline you’ve used probably won’t tell the reader which blog the post is from, the image will.

If the reader trusts that you provide good content, they’re much more likely to put the brakes on their scroll-wheel and see what you have to say.

Without the help of images, subscribers may not slow down long enough to work out which blog a particular post is from. Unique imagery makes the fact unmissable.

#5 — Break with tradition

A great idea-sparking suggestion from Seth Godin is to “do the never” — in other words, to work out what your niche always seems to do, and then do the opposite.

Maki, a blogger who writes about making money online, recently started publishing very long, value-packed posts. Why? Because most other bloggers covering the topic write short, newsy posts. He’s doing the never, and he says it’s working great for him. That’s his content differentiation strategy.

  • If everyone in your niche is posting news, why not focus on analysis? (or vice versa)
  • If your niche is full of long posts, why not write short, pithy ones? (or vice versa)
  • If blogs in your niche are quite formally written, why not write informally? (or vice versa)
  • If blogs in your niche update all the time, why not focus on quality over quantity?

The great thing about this strategy is that there’s almost always an audience craving for the ‘never’. The never represents a demand that isn’t being met.

Points to review

  • A consistent and natural writing style can help make your content more distinctive.
  • You’re unique, so put yourself into what you write.
  • Using formatting and imagery in your own way can set your posts apart visually.
  • Doing the opposite of what others are doing can be a powerful way to differentiate your posts.

Use Feedburner Statistics to Interpret Reader Habits

Can your Feedburner stats reveal habits of your readers that could help you make your blogging more effective at reaching them? Guest poster Max Pool finds out.

As we know FeedBurner counts can naturally fluctuate.

But what about when they fluctuate unnaturally? Can we find trends in our statistics? Interestingly, your FeedBurner stats can tell stories about your readers’ habits.

During the first few months of my first blog, I attempted to try and notice trends and patterns as seen below:

Feedburner-Stats

I immediately found 3 points of interest as highlighted on the chart.

  1. Readers were most active at the beginning and end of work weeks
  2. Weekend reading was minimal
  3. A new pattern during a holiday week

After finding some patterns in the charts, I started to hypothesize what caused this pattern to occur. Was it my posting frequency? Was I posting on the wrong days? I started to think about my personal feed reading habits and was able to produce some reasoning.

1. Start and end of week was most active

Most bloggers have been told that Mondays tend to be the best day for readers. It is not hard to imagine your readers, spread out with their coffee mug plowing through weekend feeds. The opposite holds equally as true, readers want to digest all of their feeds before they leave for the weekend.

2. Minimal weekend reading

This will not surprise anyone; people are away from their computers and are doing very little reading. The consistency between Saturday and Sunday is caused from the web-based readers reporting in and the exclusion of the on-demand readers.

3. New holiday pattern

The inverted ‘U’ comes from a recent American holiday – July 4th. Iexpected numbers to be down this week, so low counts were not surprising. I expected Wednesday, July 4th to be the slowest day, instead the opposite held true and a number of readers returned. I will post these next holidays and anxiously await to see the trends during Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

There are many reasons why readers unsubscribe, but remembering that external human factors are involved can help you rationalize fluctuating counts and react accordingly.

This is a guest post by Max Pool, a software engineer by day – aspiring SEO expert by night. More ideas can be found at his blog codesqueeze.com.

Grip Your Readers With These 7 Knock-out Opening Sentences

Keeping you posted, by Skellie.

In this post regular contributer Skellie from Skelliewag.org explains how a great opening sentence can draw readers into your blog posts.

You might not want to hear this, but a killer headline simply isn’t enough.

To be effective, every great headline — like the punch of any legendary boxer — needs follow-through.

In this post, I want to suggest seven tried-and-tested methods to craft a gripping opening sentence.

This could mean the difference between someone reading your post from start to finish or skipping to the next item in their feed reader (or browsing to another blog).

These seven methods should also be a source of inspiration when you’re unsure how to start your next post. In that sense, they have the potential to benefit both you and your blog.

#1 — The tempting offer

A simple and effective way to grip readers in your first sentence is to tell them what you’re going to tell them.

Huh?

This is why news broadcasts always begin with a preview of the stories to come. It’s why the commercial for a TV show will, as a rule, highlight the best bits. People are always more likely to stick with you if they know what they stand to gain.

A fictional example:

If you’ve ever wanted to get fit, save money and work less… this post is for you.

When using this method it can be useful to think of your first sentence as an advertisement for what’s to follow. What could you say that would entice readers to keep reading? How could you make reading the post seem as attractive as possible?

#2 — The irresistible question

Questions are powerful because they coax the reader into giving an internal answer. Another effective way to start a blog post is to ask a question you’re confident most readers will answer yes to. An example:

Want to convince your readers to do something or agree with your point of view? [Source]

After answering “yes, I do want that,” the next logical step is to continue reading.

#3 — The curious connection

This model appeals to the reader’s sense of curiosity. It links two seemingly unconnected ideas together and invites the reader to stick with the post and see how the connection was made. An example:

What do Thom Yorke, Tim Ferriss and successful new media publishers have in common? [Source]

By linking together a famous author and a famous musician the reader’s curiosity is piqued. She or he will want to know what these two very different figures have in common, and will (hopefully) keep reading in order to find out.

Two boxers in the ring.

Photography by neurmadic aesthetic

#4 — The controversial claim

Confronting or strong statements engage readers because they’re curious to see how the author will justify their claim. An example:

Chances are I’m not reading your blog. [Source]

Strong statements work, but they need to be carefully justified and qualified within a few paragraphs. You don’t want to risk putting any readers offside by not explaining yourself properly.

#5 — The engaging anecdote

Anecdotes are miniature stories you tell about your experiences. The best anecdotes, apart from being entertaining, are enlightening for the reader. They don’t just say something about you: they speak to the experiences and struggles of the person listening or reading, too. A fictional example:

Yesterday, after 35 years working in the PR industry, I came within an inch of quitting my job in order to write the novel I’ve always wanted to write.

If used on a blog about writing this anecdotal sentence would appeal to most readers because it speaks to a common concern: how much should we be willing to sacrifice in order to achieve our goals?

Anecdotes help readers get to know you. They appeal to our natural love of stories. They also encourage readers to keep reading and find out how the story ends.

#6 — The problem solver

Everyone has certain things they struggle with, and we’re always willing to lend an ear to anyone who might help us resolve one of those struggles.

When bloggers highlight a problem this is often followed by an attempt at a solution. Readers know this. Here’s an example of this method in action:

We all know that .com domains are the best option, but it is also difficult to find good ones that have not been registered yet. [Source]

That statement will probably draw nods of agreement from many, prompting readers to continue with the post in the hope that a workable solution is offered.

#7 — The tricky question

This one’s a twist on the ‘problem solver’ model above.

Everyone has unanswered questions, and particular niches attract readers with certain types of questions.

ProBlogger readers might come here because they want answers to the following: how can I create a popular blog? How can I generate a full-time income online? Or, an example from another niche:

Should I wait until I’m rich to give back? [Source]

Beginning with a tough question works because, even if you don’t have a complete answer, you’ll probably have some advice or useful thoughts on the matter. Readers are always eager to get help with tough questions they struggle with.

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. You’ll find more practical blogging advice at her own blog, Skelliewag.org.

Your first 10,000 Blog Posts are Always the Worst

Practice“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson – Photographer

I came across this great quote today and as a photography nut it rang true.

However I quickly realized that the quote could easily be applied to the medium of blogging.

“Your first 10,000 blog posts are your worst”

Like anything – blogging is something that the majority of us are not brilliant at in our early days. I look back at some of the posts I wrote in my first year of blogging and shudder with embarrassment. The mistakes were spectacular and frequent.

However with each mistake and failure comes a lesson, with every post comes comes a new skill and with each experiment comes a discovery of a technique that works (or doesn’t work).

If you’re a new blogger – don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t ‘click’ for you straight away.

Practice, Practice and Practice some more.

Finding Your Blogging DNA

GlenstansberryThis blog post was written by Glen Stansberry, co-founder of the blog network LifeRemix.

No two bloggers are alike. Everybody works differently, and everybody has their own routine when it comes to posting. Some work best on a routinely basis, posting every day. Others work best as the inspiration strikes them, cranking out an entire series in one sitting. However, not everyone works best under the “post-every-day-as-the-rooster-crows” formula. At least I don’t. This post should help bloggers identify what type of posting style to use, depending on the type of blogger they really are.

[Note: This brilliant “formula” that I’ve concocted is by no means The Gospel, and might only work for me. As with everything I write, take it with a grain of salt. You’ve been warned… ;) ]

Whatever your posting style, there is usually an optimum “routine” for posting to your blog. I’ve broken these types of bloggers into two (very) generic categories: Musers and Reporters. These two broad categories loosely describe our blogging “DNA”.

MusersMusers like to take information and extrapolate. Or abstract ideas. Or nothing related at all. But that’s ok… their readers know and expect this whimsical style from the writer. (Think Kottke, SvN, Seth Godin.)

Reporters– Information junkies that think structurally. Information is currency, and these bloggers are stinking rich. (With information, that is.) Reporters typically don’t deviate too much from the facts, and like to be the first to spread the word. And boy are they regular. They’re like prune juice of the blogosphere. (Think Techcrunch, Micropersuasion, GigaOM.)

Both of these categories have typical posting patterns. (Again, see above disclaimer.) Reporters typically post every day. At the same time, if possible. It’s a methodical approach, and they can hammer out a post at will. They’re blogging machines, and they thrive on regularity.

Conversely, Musers tend to have more of a “flighty” approach to blogging. Rules and posting patterns? Who needs them?! Inspiration is the main ingredient to their posts, and they tend to write only when inspiration hits. But when it rains it pours, and sometimes ideas for posts just come in torrents, leaving the Muser no choice but to hammer at them all in one sitting.

The Mindset

Ok, so we’ve got 2 different types of bloggers that typically post with different styles. Hopefully you can at least somewhat identify yourself with one of these categories. Now that you know what your mindset is, don’t try to hide from it. Trying to pose as a blogger that you’re not only spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E. It’s like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

If you’re a Muser, don’t feel like you need to have a regular posting pattern. Sure, you’ll probably feel guilty for a while, but it wears off. Trust me. It’s all in embracing the mindset of your “category”. Post when you feel like it, as inspiration strikes. If you get a flurry of ideas, start a series or set the extra posts to publish in the future, so as not to totally freak your audience out with 5 posts in a day, and none for the next 4.

The same applies to Reporters. If you haven’t already, carve out a regular posting schedule within your day that gives you time to blog every day (or some other interval). You’ll find it liberating to sit down and read/comment on the days news. The regularity is key here, as you won’t have as hard of a time finding topics to blog on as there’s never a shortage of news, unlike the Musers.

Embracing Your Blogging DNA

Embracing my blogging mindset was a pivotal point in my blogging career. Previously, I had resolved to post twice a day on LifeDev. Unfortunately, I usually didn’t make my set quotas. Why? Because twice a day was too often for my blogging “style” (definitely a Muser). I felt that I was forcing my posts, and they didn’t receive the proper time and energy because I was too worried about quota than quality. I had tried to post like a Reporter, when really my blogging style was that of a Muser. Now that I’ve embraced my blogging DNA, there is a lot more freedom built into my posting schedule. While I may not post as regularly, my entries have a little more “love” mixed into them. Plus I don’t feel guilty that I didn’t post every day.

If you’re finding it hard to keep up with a posting regimen, carefully think about your blogging makeup (think biology, not mascara), and how it affects your posting schedule. By embracing the type of blogger you really are, you can adjust your posting regimen accordingly.

Editorial Calendars and Professional Blogging

This post on Editorial Calendars And Professional Blogging was submitted by Gerard McGarry. Gerard is a web designer from Northern Ireland and runs a popular music blog called Unreality Music.

Professional publications use editorial calendars to plan features and stories for future editions. Steve Rubel talked about this a while back and I know a few people who thought it was a great idea for running a more professional blog.

Why? Because it forces you to think about what you’re posting in advance and to try to structure your writing. You might consider writing a series of related posts and running one every Tuesday. Or possibly having a theme for certain days. I know a couple of bloggers who have “Friday Links Round Ups” or “Ask The Author” days where a dialog is started between the blogger and readers and plays out in the comments of a post.

Who Would Benefit From An Editorial Calendar?

Bloggers, because the calendar would introduce an element of consistency into their blogging, and would encourage them to think about the bigger picture. You don’t have to be locked into the calendar – if a topical news item breaks, then you have a duty to cover it if it’s important to your readers.

Readers would also benefit, because posts would appear more regularly, and by using themes they know what type of content to expect on any given day.

Some Ideas For Blogging Themes

There are tons of techniques that you could tie to particular days in your blogging calendar. Here are a few:

  • Link round-ups – put together a list of the best posts you’ve read within the week (always good for Fridays)
  • Interviews with other bloggers in your niche
  • Reviews of products/services/websites in your niche
  • Tutorials or how-to articles – pick a day where you’ll share your expertise with your readers
  • Ask Me – create a post where you answer open questions from your readers in the comments section.
  • Blog Carnivals – host a blog carnival on a regular basis.

I’m sure there are other ideas you can use (share them in the comments if so). I have some ideas that are specific to the sites I run that I’ll be experimenting with soon.

You don’t have to have a plan for every day of the week either. There’s nothing wrong with spontaneity in blogging. But sometimes it’ll help you if you have to think ahead – you’ll see themes and relationships between your posts that will give your blog more flow. Forward planning rocks.

Editorial Calendar Resources

You can create a basic editorial calendar in a number of ways – tables in a word processor, or a spreadsheet. Steve Rubel used a Google calendar for his, on the basis that prospective advertisers could see what was upcoming and purchase ad space.

If you’d like an editorial calendar template, Andy Wibbels has a spreadsheet version available for download which is worth a look.

Do You Use American English, British English or do you Swing like the Canadians?

Spelling-AmericanHere’s a question that I get asked a lot – particularly by non US bloggers who find themselves writing primarily for US audiences:

“I am English so of course spell words such as ‘colour’ the English way. However, I also know that my largest audience is likely to come from America.

My question is this – would I be better off using English or American spelling on my site? My first instinct is to ‘be myself’ and use English spelling, but I was wondering if I would be better off from an SEO and audience point of view using American spelling.” Submitted by Pete

This is a problem that I face constantly in my own blogging. I find that no matter which I go with I tend to get ‘corrected’ by readers. If I use the Australian spelling I find US readers tell me that I’m wrong, but if I use the US spelling I get picked up by Aussies, the English and readers from other countries.

Colour is just one example:

In Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK it’s spelt ‘colour’. In the US it’s color and in Canada it’s both (they tend to swing quite a bit over there).

Another common one that I get picked up on are any words with ‘ise’ or ‘ize’ at the end. Recognise or Recognize? Analyse or Analyze?

Center or Centre, Gray or Grey, Catalogue or Catalog, Defence or Defense, Aluminum or Aluminium? The list goes on….

And of course the most confusing one:

  • it’s fulfil in ‘English’ and fulfill in ‘American’
  • but – fulfilling in ‘English’ and fulfiling in ‘American’
  • and to further confuse it – it’s fulfilment in ‘English’ and fulfillment in ‘American’

My spell checker doesn’t know what to do with this post!

What spelling do I use?

To be perfectly honest I don’t have a policy on it. If anything I probably take the Canadian route and swing back and forth (after-all I’m a cofounder of a Canadian company and pay income tax over there – so I figure I’m entitled to).

What spelling do you use?

I’d be interested to hear how different bloggers approach this and want to open it up as a reader question. Which spelling do you use? The spelling of your own country, your readers or some combination of both?

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip”

I recently wrote a post with 8 things to do with your blog when you get sick – number five on the list was to find a guest blogger to lend a hand.

This week on noticing a fellow blogger, Blog Bloke, was having a bad run with illness I decided to drop him a note asking if he could do with a guest post to lighten the load and help keep the blog ticking over.

BB accepted and the post just went live. It’s a post on brevity in writing a blog and being selective with what you publish. You can see it at Leave Out the Parts that People Will Skip. Feel free and leave your comments on that post.