September 22, 2014

To Gain Subscribers, Focus on What You Do Best

This post is part of a group writing project organized by Jacob Share to coordinate with the Blogging Idol competition.

Most of you reading this post are probably blogging in fairly competitive niches where there are other blogs covering the same topics as you. If you have a newer or smaller blog and you try to build up your subscriber base by simply doing the same things that other successful blogs are doing, you’re unlikely to stand out. Instead, try taking another angle at the subject, find what it is that you do best and have a unique approach.

To illustrate my point I’m going to go over some examples from the niche of my primary blog, Vandelay Website Design. When I started blogging there I was mainly interested in writing posts that would be of interest to potential clients, which hopefully would help with search engine rankings and inquiries for new design projects. In the early months I covered all kinds of subjects including marketing a website, blogging, gaining exposure for a blog, building a successful website, SEO, social media, and more.

Although the blog was growing and gaining subscribers weekly, I noticed that all of my most popular posts in terms of visitors and inbound links were the ones that covered topics directly associated with web design and were applicable to designers rather than to potential clients. While the posts on blogging and other subjects usually got some good discussion and seemed to be of interest to some readers, they just didn’t get the results outside of the comments.

During the first 6 months of active blogging (it sat for a few months before that with only an occasional post) I gained about 1,000 subscribers. It was around that point that I made the decision to focus on the content that was getting the best results, which was the stuff that was aimed at designers. During the following six months I’ve cut back my number of posts each week, focused on targeted content that draws results, and I’ve been able to add about 3,000 new subscribers in those six months.

When I made the decision to stop posting articles on blogging and social media (which is one of the main reasons I started this blog) I had to take a look around at other web design blogs to see how I could find a place in the niche. I already had my foot in the door, but my content was scattered and many people saw the blog as more of a marketing blog than a design blog.

What I saw when I examined the niche of web design blogs is that there are a few that are hugely successful (i.e. Smashing Magazine), a pretty large number that have a good-sized audience and provide excellent content (i.e CSS Tricks) and a very large number of pretenders that are struggling to get noticed. In order to be successful I needed to make sure that I could find a place in that 2nd tier. The quality of these blogs is very high and several others have thrived in recent months, including Noupe and Six Revisions.

By looking at those blogs that comfortably established themselves in the niche, I saw that each one has a slightly different approach to providing content that gets noticed. Although they all focus on the subject of web design, each one goes about it in a different way. Some like CSS-Tricks, CSS Globe (and more recently NETTUTS) appeal to readers by publishing original and detailed tutorials. Others like A List Apart publish thought-provoking and cutting edge articles that can have an impact on the entire industry. Still others like Smashing Magazine, Noupe and Six Revisions publish bookmarkable content that provides readers with a ton of resources and saves them some time when working on their own projects.

When looking at these different approaches I needed to identify what would help me to establish myself and my blog in this competitive niche. With other skilled and highly knowledgeable tutorial writers out there, I didn’t feel like I could offer much in this area that would stand out from what they’re doing. I’d like to improve my writing ability when it come to tutorials, but for now I’ll leave that to others that do it better than I can. If I were to attempt to succeed by focusing on tutorials, I’d probably wind up in the lower category of pretenders. Even though it is one formula for success, it’s not my formula for success.

Another option of writing the types of posts that are published at A List Apart is also not in the cards for me at this point. That’s not one of my strengths, and to be honest it’s not the type of writing that I would enjoy anyway. When looking at the bookmarkable content published by blogs like Smashing Magazine I saw something that I had already been doing for a while with good results. Most of the 1,000 subscribers that I had at that point were a result of several popular list or resource posts.

In the end I decided that to have my own place in the niche I would need to focus on continuing to provide some resource and list posts (a few per month, not every post) and mix that in with my own style and content on the subject of web design. I found that what I do best is not to write detailed tutorials, but rather to write helpful posts about various aspects and general principles of design. For example, a few successful posts include 21 First Impression Factors, What Makes Good Blog Design?, 11 Ways to Gain Exposure as a Web Designer, and 12 Realities of Pricing Design Services.

By consistently publishing a few of these types of articles per week along with bookmarkable resource lists, I’ve been able to cut out posts that are off the subject of web design and my subscriber count has grown much faster as a result. In order to be successful I needed to find what I do best and what I can offer to the design community rather than trying to duplicate what works for others.

Tips for Applying This to Your Own Situation:

1. Observe Your Niche

What different strategies are blogs taking in your niche? What’s working and what’s not? Do you see a lot of pretenders that are simply trying to duplicate the bigger blogs without much success? If so, you’ll want to avoid falling into the same trap.

2. Think About What You Can Offer

In order to gain subscribers and make your mark on the niche you’ll need to have something to offer to readers. What is it that will make readers want to subscribe to your blog? What is it that you do best? Think about your knowledge of the subject and your abilities. I’d encourage you to avoid trying to be something that you’re not. Don’t follow others just because it works for them. If you can’t do it better than they can, you won’t be more successful. Instead, realize what you have to offer that others are not providing.

3. Decide on Your Angle

Once you know more about your niche and where you fit in, develop a strategy of providing content that will attract subscribers and draw interest from other bloggers. Think about the types of content that you will publish, how frequently you will publish it, how you can get it in front of readers, and how it will help you to build a successful blog in the long-term.

About Steven Snell

Steven is a web designer, blogger, and freelance writer.

9 comments

  1. Thanks Steven. It was very interesting to read about the growth of your blog and what changes you have made along the way. Being flexible is clearly very important here, especially as the number of blogs swells and the competition increases.
    I have been blogging for a few weeks and am developing some ideas on my own niche; it will be interesting to see how things go over the next few months.

  2. I think its very important to know your niche well yourself, so that you don’t waste time in research but spend the time wisely in writing new more effective posts….

  3. Tracey,
    I agree, flexibility is key. Especially when you’re trying to get established in the niche. I’m glad to hear that you’re getting some new ideas. Keep an open mind and be willing to do some experimentation.

    Prem,
    Good point. I still spend a good bit of time researching, but that’s partly because of the types of posts I write.

  4. What a great read! I think so many people do not even consider their niche and what they want when they start blogging. Knowing what your target market wants is the key to a successful blog.

  5. This is a fascinating post. It’s interesting to hear the thought process leading up to a content strategy. This is bound to help me and I would imagine just about any blogger. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Brad,
    Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad it helped.

  7. i wanted to create a blog and i neend the information how to create it.

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