Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How to Grow your Blog Platform: Essentials for your success

Note: This is Part Three in my series on growing your blog platform. You can catch up here on Part One: How to Grow Your blog platform and Part Two: Guerilla Facebook marketing tips.

You're setting up for a big concert, and your task is to erect the platform. You're impatient to get this show happening, so you get straight to work, stacking up bricks and building debris in random piles to create the supports. Some of your piles are lopsided, so you shore them up with a few old planks of wood you found lying around. A bit of gaff tape wound around the teetering supports, and your work is done. The skirt will cover all the ugly bits anyway, so who cares - right?

It seems ludicrous, doesn't it? And yet... when it comes to your blogging presence, have you ever been an impatient platform-builder? It's human nature to want the big pay-off for very little effort. We're too impatient to build a proper foundation, and then wonder why others seem to have more success than us.

Today, we're getting back to the basics of platform building. These are the essential tools you'll need to set your blog up for success and begin building a following.

Set your blog up for success

1. Create an opt-in incentive.
From day one, you should have a free product on offer when someone subscribes to your blog. Without an "email magnet" such as this, your blog is like a leaky boat - the traffic comes, and the traffic goes. Your product should be tailored to meet the felt need of your target demographic. It could be a resource list, a cheat sheet, a free printable, an e-book, a special report, or any number of other products. After a year of blogging, I'd amassed just 150 email subscribers. I offered a book to my followers and gained 1000 new subscribers in the space of three days. Incentives work!

2. Create a landing page.
This is the page on your blog that showcases your opt-in incentive. You can see mine here. You'll see why you need one soon.

3. Own your list.
Don't rely on Feedburner - your email list is your most valuable asset as a blogger, and you need to own it in case you ever need to migrate. Rumours have been floating around for a couple of years now that Google is going to shut down Feedburner altogether. I don't know about you, but I don't want my number one asset at the mercy of the capricious Google gods. I recommend Mailchimp, which is free until you reach 2000 subscribers. With this program you can set up an RSS feed to email campaign, so your blog posts will be delivered automatically to your followers. Once you have a solid list, your need to "hustle" in order to promote your blog will markedly decrease!

So you have the ground work in place... now how do you get the subscribers?

Get your name out there

1. Comment on blogs.
Find blogs that speak to your demographic and become a part of the community. When you comment regularly and contribute something valuable to the conversation, bloggers get to know who you are, and so do other readers. Quick tips:

  • If the comment form includes a place to add your blog link, link back to your opt-in incentive landing page, rather than your home page.
  • Create a system for commenting. You could bookmark a list of all the blogs you wish to hit in priority order, or try using a blog reader such as Bloglovin' or Feedly. Consistency is key.
  • Comment on both big and small blogs. It could take a long time for a "big" blogger who gets lots of comments to notice your presence, but the traffic payoff could potentially be bigger. It's also worthwhile to connect with smaller bloggers and those at around your level. They'll appreciate the comments, and networking can lead to genuine friendships as well as opportunities to help each other grow.

2. Post in subject-specific forums.
I started out frequenting the online forum of a popular blog, and to this day have followers who "found" me there and still loyally read my blog. Once again, the golden rule is to contribute something worthwhile, and don't be a "me monster." Take the time to interact with and promote others, too.

3. Guest post.
It's the number one way to increase your exposure online. You're essentially leveraging your online presence by tapping into someone else's hard-earned audience. Find blogs that target your ideal demographic, and become an active commenter first. Once you've established yourself as a community member of substance, write a killer query offering to guest post on a topic of value, and follow through with a post that delivers the goods. Lastly, in the bio of your published piece, you guessed it - link back to your landing page.

4. Become a contributor.
The longer you network in blogging communities, the more opportunities will come across your path. Bloggers will sometimes put out an open call for new contributors (that's how I landed my first contributor spot for my DIY blog), or you could try pitching yourself as a possible contributor to a blog you've regularly interacted with or guest-posted for in the past.

5. Join up with linky parties.
I have a bookmarked folder of link parties for every day of the week. If I publish a post on a Monday, I jump into Monday's folder and link up at all the parties that go live that day. Link parties are a big thing for DIY and home bloggers such as myself, and can lead to special features and lots of click-back traffic. Whatever field you write in, there are likely linky parties relevant to you. If you can't find any, why not join forces with a group of like-minded bloggers and start your own? InLinkz is a great tool for this.

The task of building your blog platform can sometimes feel like filling a swimming pool with a drinking cup. For the longest time, it's going to seem like you're not getting anywhere at all. Just keep at it. Those drops of water all add up, as long as you stick to your strategy and don't give up.

Let's chat: Which of these ideas do you already use? How do you think you could you do them better? Are any of these strategies new to you?

Find the rest of the series here:

How to Grow your Blog Platform
Guerilla Facebook Marketing
Supercharge your Stats

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she mothers by day and transforms into a fearless blogger by night. Her popular creative home-making blog, A house full of sunshine, reaches over 150,000 readers a month. She's a Genesis finalist for women's fiction and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on TwitterGoogle+Facebook and Pinterest.


kaybee said...

OKAY, I know I'm going to sound like a broken record or whatever the metaphor is when we don't USE records any more, but How Do You Find The Time?
Kathy Bailey

Kimsea Sok said...

Thanks for sharing..! Honestly, it is really interesting article to me. Actually, when the first I time I start my blog I am careless about build email list but I knew that it is a big mistake to me since Mailchimp is free to get starting. Also, skip the building of the community since I spent less time to read other post and comment. But now I learnt about blogging start to manage some mistake and make it better. Also, I have tried Blogvin but I don't how to use that.

Tori Starling said...

Great post. This series has been very helpful for me. I've been blogging for 3 years, but just now really trying to grow my platform for marketing purposes.

Tip #1 - I must be naive, but I never knew that's why folks are offering a free product on their blog! ha, ha. Thanks for the wisdom.

Tip #3 - I'm with and I've always assumed I could get a list of my email subscribers if I wanted them. Is this the case? Or do I need to go with another service like the one you recommended?

Last, I really like that the emphasis in this series has been you have to hustle, but it also takes time, so be patient. That aspect of it has helped me view platform building - something I've really been stressing about - as continuous work I put in to eventually grow something bigger. It's easy to get caught up in wanting instant results. This series has really helped me chill out a bit! :) Thank you!

Jen said...

Thanks for an informative article! I'm just beginning to get my feet wet when it comes to building a blog platform, and while I know it's a great tool for networking, etc., I've been pretty clueless about how to do it. I'll definitely be trying out some of your tips, though, so thanks again!

Savanna Kaiser said...

I'm really enjoying this series, Karen. Thanks for sharing! You made a good point about email subscribers and feedburner vs. mailchimp. Right now I'm using feedburner, but I think I'll look into switching over to mailchimp soon. It seems like it has a better format anyway and is easy to use. Thanks again! Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for putting this list together. Platform is an intimidating and demanding beast that must be tamed. I saved this link as a helpful reference. Much appreciated.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

KATHY - I hear you, lady! TIme is the number one struggle with doing anything well - not just blogging. I guess what I'm really trying to communicate here is that there's no way around the need to invest time if you want to see results. If you don't have the time to put in, that's fine and understandable, but you can't expect the same results as someone who's willing to sacrifice time and effort in order to make it happen. This is true of any significant endeavour in life, whether it's earning a degree, starting a small business, writing a book, learning an instrument, or running a successful blog. What I see so often is people looking at others' blogging success and feeling this stab of jealousy - "why are they doing so well and I'm not? It's not fair!" But actually, usually speaking, it is fair. You get out what you put in. I don't say any of that to make you feel defeated, I say it as an encouragement. What I'm trying to do here is level the playing field. Success is not a random variable that happens to some people who just get lucky, it's achievable by anyone, IF you are willing and able to invest the time required. There are sacrifices involved - I gave up downtime and quite a bit of sleep this year to pioneer my blog! It's up to each individual to decide on how important a goal is to them, and whether they're willing to make the sacrifices required to get there.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

KIMSEA, I'm so glad this was helpful to you! I'd encourage you to give Bloglovin' another try - it's the system I use personally to read a high quantity of blogs, and it's very easy to use once you get the hang of it. Thanks so much for commenting today!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Tori, I'm so thrilled at what you've taken from this series so far! You've hit the nail on the head - it does take hard work, but it also takes time, so your attitude of chilling with it and seeing where the road takes you is perfect.

As for using Wordpress to deliver email, I would definitely recommend against it. Here's a great article that explains why:
Why you should never use wordpress to send newsletter emails

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

JEN, wonderful to hear - good luck with the blogging! xo

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

SAVANNA, that's great! I think you'll love Mailchimp - I've found it to be fantastic. xoxo

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

CARA, you're so welcome! I hope this series will be a valuable resource for you.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Yesterday was one of THOSE days, and I didn't get to stop by the Alley. I'm glad i had a little more time today. Karen this is so helpful! I've only got my email list from wordpress. I never even thought to set up a separate account. I guess that will be one of my priorities. After Christmas. :)

I'd love any ideas you can offer for coming up with freebies. I want to have something to offer, but I feel like I don't have much. :)

I've loved your series! Definitely bookmarking them!

Preslaysa Williams said...

Great post, Karen! I am currently working on building my blogging platform after reading your earlier posts. Right now, I want to work on making it easy for readers to subscribe to my blog. So I want to do a landing page and have reader have the option to subscribe at the end of every post. Do you have any plugins that you recommend for that?