How We Grew Our Blog to 5,000+ Subscribers in Five Weeks
We were struggling to get traction on our blog. Here’s exactly what we did to go
from 200 to over 5,000 subscribers...
This is part six in our ongoing series, Journey to $100K a Month. Earlier posts can be found here.
"Our blog sucks. Let’s discuss at 10AM tomorrow."
That’s the email I sent to my guys at 2:11PM on August 24th, that sparked a month long sprint to launch the series you’re reading right now. In just five weeks, it's brought us 82,629 unique visitors, 5,256 email subscribers, and most importantly 535 new trials.
Today, I’m pulling back the curtain on the most important lessons we learned along the way.
Disclaimer: Yes, it has only been five weeks. Yes, this effort could crash and burn spectacularly at any time. No, I’m not an expert at this. But the goal of this series is to offer an unfiltered view of growth as it happens. And while I can’t tell you what will work for your business, I hope that you can learn a lot from what’s working - and not working - for ours.
Finding Our Identity
When our team met the next day, we spent an hour looking at our blog. No discussion, no strategizing. Just reading every post in its entirety.
This simple exercise - which we hadn’t done in months of publishing - made one thing very clear: it had zero chance of being a serious marketing channel.
While we had around 1,000 pageviews a day and a few posts that had been shared a handful of times, there was nothing that made our blog unique. We were simply writing lowest common denominator posts about general customer support and startup advice. Commodity content that would’ve looked equally at home on about a thousand other blogs.
We had no focus, no hook, and worst of all no identity.
Look at some of the most successful content marketers out there:
- HubSpot takes a unique approach to inbound marketing.
- Copyblogger focuses on high-impact strategies to make your writing more successful.
- Helpscout is a direct competitor of ours, but I’ll swallow my pride to say that they do a terrific job blogging in the research-backed customer loyalty niche.
Trying to beat these guys at their own game would be a sucker’s bet. We can’t be a better version of Copyblogger. They’re just too good and too entrenched.
We needed to carve out our own space. To find that unique Groove voice, and amplify it.
Takeaway: You must tell your own story to stand out. Learn as much as you can from successful blogs, but don’t try to copy their angle. Take the strategies that helped those blogs grow, and apply them to the voice and content that makes you unique.
What Makes a Blog Great?
All successful blogs we studied had two things in common:
- A ton of free value for their audience.
- A great unique selling proposition.
I’ve found that it’s helpful to think of your company's blog like any other product you build.
If your product doesn’t deliver massive value to your users, then no amount of growth hacking will help you succeed. Our topic had to be useful to our audience. It had to provide real, actionable advice; not just the soapbox philosophizing that we - like many other business bloggers - had been guilty of in the past.
Beyond that, just like great products, the best blogs have a clear and unique value proposition that makes it obvious why you should care about them.
For a great example of this, see Optimizely’s fantastic CRO blog:
There are a lot of great blogs, but fortunately there are lots of unique angles that have yet to be covered...
What Would Make Our Blog Great?
What content could we, an early stage startup, possibly have to offer?
We didn’t have Ten Tips for Building a Successful Business or A Guide To Making Millions; because, we hadn’t lived those stories yet.
But the more we discussed it, we realized that the reality we were living in - that long, slow startup haul - was something that a lot of people struggle with.
And as deep as I dug, one thing I couldn’t find was a completely transparent, authentic look at that long, slow road to startup success. Most of what's out there is written after the fact. And while hindsight is 20/20, real-time vision is raw, unadulterated, and ultimately far more relatable for those of us in the trenches.
That’s a story that we could tell. The one about our own journey to success. About going from where we were (a $30K/month startup) to where we had set our sights for our next milestone: $100,000 in monthly revenue.
The content would be relatable and valuable. Nearly every startup and small business struggles with growth. If we could relay our experiences and how we overcame specific challenges, other businesses would be able to learn a lot. And even when we failed, startups could still learn from that too. It was a topic uniquely suited for our audience.
(That assumption turned out to be right, but also wrong. While many of our readers are startup and small business owners, I get a lot of emails from funded companies, investors, and even college professors about how much they’re enjoying the journey.)
So our Journey to $100K a Month blog was born.
Takeaway: Don’t underestimate what you can teach others. Things that seem obvious to you are probably completely new and scary for others. Sharing your experience and the lessons you've learned can be incredibly valuable.
What Did Great Blogs Have That We Didn’t?
As we got to work putting together the first few posts for our new blog, we began to apply a few of the other elements that the most successful blogs we studied had in common:
1. High quality visuals: Aside from breaking up walls of text and making content easier to digest, we noticed that well designed visuals added an air of authority to blog posts. I committed one of my designers to making the blog images beautiful and easy-to-understand. The images for the first post took about 16 man-hours to get right. Next week, I’ll lay out exactly why I think that investment was worth it.
2. A reason to subscribe: With only a few hundred subscribers in six months, the half-assed sidebar subscription form we had in the past wasn’t cutting it:
Of course, neither was the blog, but the poor call-to-action certainly wasn’t helping.
If our blog was going to become a true business asset, we needed to capture every possible lead that we could. Our subscription form had to be persuasive and give readers a real reason to sign up.
While we’re still testing and optimizing, this form has converted around 5.3% of new readers so far.
3. Influencers: Blogs like KISSMetrics are constantly being shared by people with massive audiences. Clearly, influencers hold the keys to an incredibly valuable kingdom. And like the most successful bloggers out there, we wanted access too.
Making It Happen (Plus, Are We Crazy?)
The strategy we ended up executing helped us get over 1,000 email subscribers within 24 hours of publishing our first post.
Hint: It started well before that day.
The gears of engagement started spinning around four weeks before we launched our blog. I wish I could say that I managed the process like a puppet master, knowing that if I do x, y, and z, I’d get the results I want.
But to be completely honest, while I had done a TON of research, I still had no idea whether we would be successful or not.
And beyond that, I was scared.
When you stop and think about it, it’s crazy for a business to be this transparent. What happens when we hit a bump in the road? What will our customers think? Our investors?
Fortunately, I found a great way to validate our approach before we launched, and to improve our content in the process. The best part is that it’s a technique that anyone can use. And in my next post, I’ll be laying it out for you step by step.
Engineering (and Not Just Hoping For) a Successful Blog Launch
Next week, I’ll share the strategies and techniques that got us those first 1,000 subscribers within 24 hours, including the exact email scripts that helped build relationships with some of the most influential people in the startup world.
We’ll also cover:
- How we validated our idea for the blog with a single email.
- The influencer outreach spreadsheet that got our first post (and subsequent ones) shared by guys like Dharmesh Shah and Andrew Chen.
- A simple email hack that increased the number who shared our blog post by nearly 50%.
We’ll be releasing a new post each week. To get each post emailed to you as soon as it’s published, sign up for the $100K mailing list below.
See you next week.