Witnessing the launch of a blog as successful as Performancing’s first two weeks might lead you to think that launching a successful blog is easy… well, it’s NOT. Thousands of new blogs are launched every day, but only a handful ever get read by more than a few hundred people, and even fewer ever make a dollar’s profit. While a site can survive a terrible launch (see Instablogs’ surprising turnaround) the cost is high, and the truth is, most never recover. With no money coming in, and a readership which can be counted in the dozens, it’s no wonder that the vast majority of bloggers give up and shut down their site within a year.
The 21 points included in this checklist will cover the basics of what you need to do during those all-important first two weeks of your blog’s life. While there are no guarantees in the blogosphere, if you follow these launching tips closely, your chances of success are greatly improved.
The First Impression
1. Connect with your readers through an about page and welcome message. One of the best ways to make a lasting impact is to connect on a personal level with your readers. That means letting them know who you are and what your background is. Darren from ProBlogger does this well by including an image of his ugly mug and an ‘about page’ link above the fold. You don’t necessarily need an author pic to relate to your readers, but you should find some way to allow readers to connect with you on a personal as well as a professional level to develop some rapport.
2. Don’t get seen naked: Never launch a blog with fewer than 5 posts. In the blogosphere you typically get just one shot at impressing a visitor or fellow blogger. Too many new bloggers throw up two posts and then start working on promotion. In the world of blogging, you are selling yourself and your writing. If you can’t give people a fully dressed picture of what your blog is all about and what type of writing will be on it, then why should they throw a link your way, or subscribe to your RSS feed? When someone links to you or subscribes they’re giving a vote of confidence that your site is worthwhile, so give them something to grab on to, and let them know your space won’t be “just another abandoned blog.”
RSS & Subscriptions
3. Make sure a link to your RSS feed is available above the fold. Though they won’t help your AdSense revenues much, subscribers are the lifeblood of any successful blog. These devotees are often the ones providing you with regular comments, and are far more likely to be webmasters themselves (meaning more links). It should be obvious to anyone launching a blog, but its amazing how many new bloggers do not make a link to their RSS feed readily available. New bloggers often don’t want to devote space on their site to an RSS feed when they could squeeze in a bit more AdSense. While this thinking is understandable, it is simply wrong. The returns of having subscribers are much more valuable because subscribers drive long-term traffic organically, while an additional AdSense block provides at best a marginal short-term gain.
4. Make RSS easier still: Add subscribe links to the most popular newsreaders. Again: we want to make it easy for people to subscribe. No one reads RSS raw. Provide readers with above the fold access to some of the most popular newsreaders such as Bloglines, MyYahoo!, Google Reader, and MyMSN.
5. Offer an email version of your RSS feed. According to Copyblogger, offering an email version of your RSS feed can as much as double your subscribers. We have already covered the reasons why subscribers are essential to a healthy blog (links, comments, buzz). Feedblitz offers this service for free, as does Feedburner. But beyond simply offering the email RSS feed, you need to make sure that signing up for it is easy. A study by Marketing Experiments reveals that reducing the steps to signing up for both your RSS feed and your email subscription will increase signups by over 700%. That means more than 7x the number of repeat readers and over 7x the benefits that subscribers provide to your blog.
Social Bookmarking (aka Going Viral)
6. Put chicklets in your template. Chicklets are ugly, and having too many “If you liked this story, submit it to Delicious” lines in a post looks plain spammy. That said, when you have a top-notch post that you hope is going to go viral, there is no better way to boost your votes than to add the Delicious link and Digg button right onto the post. When used correctly, chicklets can get you the coveted ‘double vote’ (when visitors who came to your post via Delicious, for example, then drop you a Digg vote once they are on the site). When you consider the tens of thousands of visitors that visit a good linkbait, those ‘double votes’ can be enough to carry you to the popular page of a second site, just by leveraging the traffic of the first.
7. Be your own promoter: Seed your best posts. Hundreds of thousands of content hungry readers are using social bookmarking sites every day, and many track specific keywords. By seeding your best articles, and by using a mixture of both popular and specific keywords as tags, you can bring a new crop of readers to your site on a weekly basis. The best way to select the tags for your article is to think of social bookmarking sites as a form of search engine. By including both broad keywords and narrower keywords you are certain to get a blend of both low quality/high volume readers (AdSense baby!) and high quality/low volume readers (links). The following is a list of the top 10 bookmarking sites which you should submit your top articles to:
- Digg: Mammoth traffic; tech-focused; savvy users
- Delicious: Pretty big traffic; somewhat tech/design-focused; a lot of bloggers browse Delicious for “things to link to”
- Netscape: Pretty big traffic; a mix of topics; less savvy users
- Stumbleupon: Medium traffic; weird stuff/literary articles; normal users.
- Yahoo MyWeb: Medium traffic; general interest; normal users
- Reddit: Lower traffic; politics/random stuff; normal users.
- Furl: Lower traffic; tech-focused/some random stuff; normal users
- Newsvine: Lower traffic; politics and news; normal users.
- Lookmarks: Low traffic; gets spammed a lot; less savvy users
- Blinklist: Low traffic; gets spammed a lot; less savvy users
8. Leave highly valuable comments on other blogs in your niche. Every niche within the blogosphere is made up of a few tightly knit communities. Like all communities, so much of what is actually going on (passing links, giving tips, etc.) is all done behind the scenes through email and IM. As a result, getting integrated into some of the communities in your niche is essential to growing your blog. New bloggers often try to integrate themselves through email solicitations, “Hi my name is Newbie, will you be my friend?…” This rarely works. You need to first make a name for yourself and make yourself valuable to the community. One way is to start commenting on the sites of community members within your niche. By being an initiator of, or contributor to, good conversations on other blogs, other webmasters will come to recognize your name. Note: This takes a bit of finesse, so don’t go around dropping your blog’s URL in the comments themselves. Rather, just type your URL in the URL field and let your ideas speak for the quality of your writing and your site.
9. Reload quickly: Take advantage of your initial launch buzz. A successful blog launch will give you two or three days of buzz (yes, that’s all you’ll get in the blogosphere). During that window, other bloggers in your niche will be checking out your site. Take advantage of those extra visitors by putting up some top-notch content within the first couple of days and updating your site frequently. Many webmasters will stop by during the first week to check out the ‘new kid on the block,’ so make sure they see you at your best. Launch buzz is a unique opportunity to gain easy links with no real extra marketing work, and it will not happen a second time. So don’t waste the opportunity by putting up garbage or sporadic content during your first week.
10. Include tons of outbound links in your posts. As a new blogger, your target audience is other bloggers. They have the links that you need to get to the top of the search engines and to get in front of other readers. So a big key is getting other bloggers in your niche to notice you. A good trick is to use website referrals to your advantage. Almost every blogger checks their site referrals list on a daily or weekly basis (which tells them the last page a visitor was on before they landed on their site). They use this list both to track new links and to see who is talking about their site. By putting a lot of outbound links in your posts to other blogs in your niche, you can start to raise your profile. When your readers click on those links your site will appear in the referrals list of the bloggers you link to. This is free marketing for you. When other bloggers see your site in their referrals list they will often visit your site and are also much more likely to return a link to you.
11. If you have something to give, give it away! Give people a reason to visit your site which goes beyond the typical content. If you’re a designer, give away a free HTML design or WordPress skin. Are you a programmer? Make a cool FireFox plugin. Are you an expert at XX? Give away a free 8-page report, in PDF style, called “Secrets of XX Revealed”. The point is, by giving away something, even something small, you can create buzz.
12. Start real relationships with bloggers in your niche. One of the biggest misconceptions new bloggers have is that because you are online, somehow the way business is conducted has changed. It hasn’t. Just as in the offline business world, much of what is really going on in the blogging world takes place between colleagues. That means that the most helpful tips, links, assistance, and so on are given on the basis of a preexisting friendship or relationship between you and another blogger. So after spending some time getting a lay of the land within your blogging niche, send a few relevant emails out to other bloggers within your community. Let them know that you are an avid reader of their site (and actually be one), and then ask advice, suggest something, etc. The key is to: 1) Not ask for a link, and 2) Have something interesting to say. Networking (which is just a fancy way of saying making friends) is maybe the single most important difference between an average and a successful blog. So do it.
13. Submit your blog to blog directories. Incoming links help your site to get spidered, indexed and ranked better by search engines. Conveniently, there are many blog directories that specialize in categorizing and linking to quality blogs. You can find a comprehensive list of them at the RSSTop55.
14. Submit your blog to general web directories such as DMOZ and Aviva. Links from DMOZ (The Open Directory), Yahoo! Directory, Aviva Directory and other quality general web directories provide you with what are considered “trusted links” by the search engines, a key to ranking well. Search engines value links from quality web directories because it means that your site has been checked and selected by a human being. But not all web directories are equal, and you want to be careful when submitting your site to not just throw good money after bad links. Another nice thing about the top web directories is that they will send you relevant traffic, just like a search engine.
15. Leave your blog’s URL as your signature when you participate in forums. When you make a good comment on a forum, people will not only remember your URL and begin to associate it with quality information, but also a number of forum readers looking for more information will click the link and visit your site.
16. Use your URL in your email signature. If you’re like most new webmasters, you will be writing hundreds of emails in your first few months of blogging. You can easily and subtly convert these emails into marketing efforts for your blog by simply including your URL below your name in your signature line. The setup takes only a minute, and once it’s done you won’t ever have to think about it again.
17. Myspace or Facebook members: Put a link in your profile. Putting a link in your Myspace or Facebook account is a nearly effortless way to market your site. Again, the response won’t be hundreds of new readers, but picking up a few dozen new readers here and there (even just your friends) never hurts. Also, consider sending out a bulletin (bulk mail) announcing the blog to all of your Myspace and Facebook friends. Even if just a couple of your friends drop you a free link on their own pages or blogs, it’s worth the two minutes it takes.
18. Submit guest posts at other blogs. Few experienced bloggers can resist the appeal of good free content. But most new bloggers simply don’t take advantage of this, because the first few weeks after the launch of their blog are so hectic that they don’t have time to write additional posts for someone else’s blog. With a little planning, however, you can overcome the time crunch and pick up some great links. Save up a half dozen good posts before you launch, and submit them to related blogs as a way to introduce yourself and your blog to their audience. (It’s usually better to only do this when the blogger is actively seeking submissions; you probably shouldn’t submit posts unasked-for.) Of course, link back to your own blog in the “author’s bio” at the bottom of the post. It’s not good form to submit the same article to multiple sites, so don’t cut corners here; instead create a good unique post for each submission you make.
19. Ask friends for feedback on your site. Ask some of your webmaster friends to review/critique your site a few days before its official launch. The blogging world is largely comprised people who consider themselves somewhat entrepreneurial, and as a result, bloggers tend to respect (and want to help) people who are out there trying to start up their own site. By asking other bloggers to give you feedback, you put them in the role of expert and create in them a sense of ownership in your site (which means they will be more likely to give you a hand when you need it). Not surprisingly, this technique usually does provide some valuable feedback from people who have experience, if not expertise, in running a blog. But in addition, by putting your peers in the position of expert, you dramatically increase the chance that they will follow your launch and drop you a link once you get off the ground.
20. Go ‘Real-World’ with other bloggers. If you live in a major city (or visit one occasionally), invite other bloggers to join you for a drink or dinner. While friendships can be developed in cyberspace, the most fruitful business relationships, even in the world of blogging, tend to flourish only after face-to-face interaction. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just send a few individualized emails to some specific bloggers in your city asking them to meet up. You can frame it as an opportunity to learn from their wisdom (bloggers love to consider themselves experts), or simply a meeting of the minds. Either way, having a relationship bolstered by face-to-face contact can provide countless benefits over one maintained entirely online.
21. Dress up your comments. Even if you don’t have any readers, you can be assured that comment spammers will find you. Comment spammers are the guys dropping off-topic advertisements for Viagra and weight loss pills in the comments of your blog. Nothing kills the ability of a blog to attract new links like a spammy site. And nothing says ‘spammy site’ like a comments page full of irrelevant comments and links. So monitor and delete spammy comments on a regular basis. In addition to deleting the garbage comments, you need to foster a positive community. People want to participate in and link to a vibrant site. So create one by encouraging your friends to comment on your blog. The key is that you want to create the impression of an energetic and participatory group of readers. Nobody wants to be the first guy to comment on a post, but everyone wants to chime in on a hot debate.
The bottom line: if you follow the preceding tips, you’re not guaranteed to have a successful blog, but you are guaranteed to have a strong launch, and a fighting chance to make it big in the blogosphere.