How I got 6000 RSS subscribers in 12 months

This isn’t a recipe.

I’m not saying “If you do it my way, you’ll succeed too.”  These aren’t tricks.  This isn’t necessarily repeatable exactly this way.

[Update: A year later, my RSS count is north of 20,000. Yet everything here still applies.]

I’m not arrogant enough to think luck didn’t play a big part — maybe the biggest. Still, here’s my RSS/email subscriber chart from FeedBurner:

RSS Subscribers

The short version: I don’t know which of the following techniques were responsible, or what percentage of the effect was pure luck.

All I can do is tell you what I did, and what I still do.

Make your own rules

Birds not allowedInitially I was obsessed with the “rules” of blogging, but none of those rules actually got me more readers. What worked in the end was just doing whatever I was most proud of; something that reflected my personality and perspective.

Examples:

  • They said to build readership you have to blog at least a few times a week (5-10 times is better).  I post at most once a week, sometimes skipping a week.
  • They said anything over 700 words is just skimmed and will intimidate most people to the point of not reading at all. I don’t disagree, but I write for those who want more than just a snippet of a concept or a shallow list of 10 ideas with no meat.  I’d rather engage a few people in interesting discussion than a lot of people with no depth.
  • They said content is important, but so is writing a lot; you need to build a large corpus of posts for cross-linking, SEO, inbound links, etc..  But I feel that posting frequently necessarily means lower quality. I’d rather post infrequently but obsess over each article. I’d rather get 100 re-tweets on one article (because people really enjoyed it) than 10 on each of 10 articles.
  • They said you need a variety of posts — lists, essays, links, guest-posts, videos. I posted just essays for a while. More recently I’ve started adding some how-to’s but I feel no need to e.g. make a video.
  • Some say you should do guest posts to involve other people and lighten your own load.  I want my blog to reflect my own voice; folks can subscribe to other blogs for other voices.
  • Some say you should use short, choppy sentences, never use fancy constructs like semi-colons, always structure for skimming (section dividers and bullets), and have a picture even if it means nothing. I mostly use essay-form (although sometimes I use sections/bullets — like in this post — but always with further discussion), I love semi-colons, and I like the rhythm a long sentence provides.

I’m not saying any of these rules are wrong! I’m saying you need to decide for yourself what kind of blog you want, and go for it.  Don’t blindly apply any rules.

Wouldn’t you rather make something you’re proud of than something that has X readers?  Of course “both” is best, but for me the former is more important. I’m coming to believe that the latter comes more easily when you work on the former, because the former means good content, written from the heart. And content is everything…

Content über alles

No surprise — most blog advice says that “great content” is the most important thing, and I agree.

But then it’s often tempered by other advice like the necessity of a posting schedule, how you need multiple channels of presence (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, forums), how you need a good blogging platform with various widgets and “subscribe now” prompts, and so forth.

Those things are fine, but secondary. Without any doubt, content beats them all. Many of the following sections are really variations on this theme.

My biggest argument for content being paramount is embedded in the subscriber graph above.  Upon seeing that graph, your first question is probably: What happened around Jan 09, May 09, and especially Aug 09 that caused a sudden jump in readers and increase in slope?

Answer: Nothing. I did nothing.

Real answer: Articles went viral by the grace of readers.  The new influx of people not only subscribed but read some older posts and helped revive them. As time passed there were more and more “older posts” that could be spread and more people to spread them, causing a virtuous circle.

But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t pay for traffic, I didn’t submit an article to the right place, I didn’t convince someone to post it on their blog, I didn’t get credibility with a link-sharing site, … I didn’t do anything.  Other people did stuff (more below), and they did it on their own only because they loved the content.

The only thing under my control is content.  The rest is luck, and maybe a few techniques described below.  But mostly luck. And without good content, luck won’t help you either.

Spreading links yourself doesn’t work

Link Sharing SucksThere are great articles about getting on the front page of Digg, developing a consistent culture of link-sharing, the recurring swarms of traffic from StumbleUpon spurred on by paid views, and the chaos of Reddit.

So naturally after every post I ran out and posted my article on a myriad of link-sharing sites (and others).

And naturally, no one cared. Sure I got a few votes here and there, and a few dozen inbound hits if I was lucky, but it didn’t move the needle.

But every once in a while an article would take off — on one of the sites above or on a site I had never heard of (and wouldn’t hear of again) or some reasonably popular blogger would mention the article.

On those days traffic would be 100x normal! And frequently I’d see a sizable bump in subscribers. Hurrah! But never did that bump come from a link-share I initiated myself. It was always someone else who posted the article and started the snowball of votes. Always.

The lesson: Content content content.  Because content is the reason that someone would post it or link to it, not because you spread it yourself.

And anyway, link-sharing traffic sucks

Here’s what I’ve found empirically from “going viral” on the various link-sharing sites:

  • It’s really hard to get any Digg traffic.  Even when I’ve gotten 100+ diggs, the referring link count from Digg is typically only 10% more than the number of votes, which means essentially no new traffic.
  • Digg traffic isn’t sticky or active (subscribing, commenting, clicking ads, …)
  • It’s easy to get 30-300 hits from Reddit even from the front page, so long as you have a reasonably interesting post title. But hard to get more.
  • StumbleUpon is the best in terms of total amount of traffic, because besides the initial influx you get a recurring “long tail” of traffic forever more. This has been observed by others. I’ve not only witnessed a long tail trickle but, as in the case of my more general post about Susan Boyle, recurring big bumps in traffic resulting in over 100,000 hits over 6 months.
  • But it doesn’t matter because none of it sticks. My web analytics tells me fewer than 1 in 1000 StumbleUpon visitors subscribes.

Bottom line: You can’t force a post to get shared, and even when it does the traffic isn’t that good.  Every second spent screwing with a link sharing site was always a waste of my time.

When I wrote good posts I had a chance to thrill someone, possibly getting a valuable referral from Twitter or another blog.  All the time I spent failing to force posts to be noticed could have been used to write more, better posts.

Except Twitter.  Twitter is good.

Twitter BirdThere’s something magical about Twitter traffic. Twitterers like to comment, like to spread the word, and like to subscribe to stuff.

Maybe it’s because Twitter is so personal compared to those other sites. Maybe it’s because identity leads to accountability which leads to trust. Maybe because the attitude is “This is a good read” rather than “Who has the most votes.”

In any case, encourage Twittering.  Take the time to add one of those “Tweet This” widgets; I (like most bloggers) use TweetMeme, although I wrote some custom PHP code to get it to work just like I wanted.

(See, from my own advice I probably shouldn’t bother with custom Twitter code, but I’m still a geek… sometimes I have to reinvent the wheel, or spin my wheels, or otherwise screw with wheels…)

Guest posting, done right

Some of the big initial bumps of traffic you see on the chart came from guest-posting, but sometimes a guest-post didn’t move the needle at all.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Your guest posts have to be your best work. Don’t save your best article for your own blog — use it for a guest-post!  I know that feels wrong, but every time I’ve gone ahead with a post that I felt I ought to “save for myself” I’ve gotten a ton of traffic — far more traffic than I would have gotten otherwise, and traffic that’s highly sticky.Three examples for me: Why you shouldn’t copy 37signals or FogCreek (OnStartups blog), How to write a cover letter that actually gets read (WorkAwesome), and 4 ways to get instantly rejected by an angel investor (VentureBeat).  In my own opinion some of my best writing, and none of these articles are republished here, but I can attribute hundreds of subscribers to each of these posts. Remember, a guest-post is going in front of thousands of people who couldn’t care less who you are, so your goal is to completely and utterly thrill them. I’ve had people say “I immediately subscribed to your blog without reading any other articles, just because I loved that article so much.”
  • Have a great post featured on your own blog before a big guest post goes live. You want that influx of high-quality traffic to see something solid. For example, don’t show them a general announcement or a “vote for me in this contest” post. More specifically, do not say “I just published a guest post.” Say that later, or have a “guest post round-up” later in the week.
  • Get to know the blogger first. Meet in person, link to that blogger a few times, send genuinely useful stuff to them over Twitter, review something that blogger is doing, mention a blogger in a different guest post, etc..  All this opens the door to a real relationship.  Remember that popular bloggers get guest-post offers all the time, so it helps to make yourself known.  I’ve done all of the above.
  • Maniacally follow the “guest post guidelines if there are any. Sounds obvious I know, but popular bloggers constantly complain that people don’t do this.  Duh.
  • If there are no guidelines, send a fully completed ready-to-post article with your initial email. “Ready” means using plain-Jane HTML (so it can be copy/pasted into any blogging platform), including good images (attached to the email or hosted), a catchy title, outbound links, and a good question at the bottom to encourage comments.
  • Write posts specifically for the target blog. That means appropriate content, the right length, and a subject they haven’t talked about lately.  A good way to get an idea for a post is to look at one of their posts from at least 12 months ago.  That subject matter is probably still relevant, but the specific topic is now old enough that it could use a refresh.  Don’t worry about wasting your time — if the guest post isn’t accepted, try for another blog or just post it on your own blog!

Reveal

Everyone says to “be authentic” and “admit faults” and “tell stories.”  All good advice, but repeated so often it’s hard to know what it means anymore.

With few exceptions, my most popular posts reveal something typically kept secret.

If it’s embarrassing, that’s a good sign.  If you’re scared that people will think less of you, that’s a good sign.  If you know a lot of people will disagree, that’s a good sign.

It’s the controversial sentiment that thousands of people themselves secretly agree with but never had the courage to say.  They appreciate and love you for your courage.

It’s the embarrassing underbelly people love to read about — a peek into a world normally hidden, a peek into a story people don’t want to talk about.  When it’s embarrassing it’s honest, and when you tell the truth even when it’s difficult, everyone appreciates it.

It’s the story that makes you seem weaker, dumber, more scared, less sure — that’s the story everyone can relate to, though few will admit it. Be one of the few.

What’s more inspiring: Me confidently instructing you how to run a company, or me admitting that I was scared, unsure, almost gave up more than once, didn’t know what I didn’t know, and yet persevered?

Of course there’s a line between personal and professional, between appropriate and inappropriate, between revealing other people’s secrets and revealing your own. You need to decide where that line is, and it’s not true that you have an obligation to talk about home life in order to be authentic.

The blogging software doesn’t matter

Blogging platformsBlogging software is like web application frameworks — there are plenty of major and minor successes with any of the choices, so the choices don’t matter.

If you forced me to lay down a set of rules — even though I really think it doesn’t matter — I’d say this:

  1. Start with hosted WordPress. You can customize enough, and you can move to your own server later if you really feel like it. WordPress is the biggest platform with the most plug-ins and the largest community. Sometimes bigger isn’t better, but in this case it is.
  2. Use your own domain name, not yourname.wordpress.com.  Not because it looks better (e.g. sethgodin.typepad.com proves it doesn’t matter) but because it allows you to move off the hosted platform in future without changing your URL.
  3. Don’t host yourself at first — you’ll spend a ton of time messing with the server instead of working on your blog.
  4. Only use plug-ins or features that clearly contribute to the quality and spreadability of your content or joy of your readers. For example, I use a “related posts” plugin because I found (empirically) that new readers do find other posts that are interesting to them, which increases the chance they’ll want to subscribe or re-tweet. I use a “recent comments” plugin for the sidebar to highlight commentors, because that rewards folks for commenting. But I don’t have an automated “newsfeed” widget, because people don’t come to my blog for news. Indeed, I actively want to differentiate this site from a news site.

But really, none of this is as important as:

Time × Luck × ( Being there ) == Success

Since I didn’t mastermind the spikes and cusps in the subscriber graph above, you have to chalk it up to luck (that a story was spread) and content (to have a story worth spreading).

Here’s my (completely out of my ass) theory:

  1. You have to have great content even if no one is looking, otherwise the engine never starts.
  2. Then when you get lucky, something will happen.
  3. As time passes, there are more chances to get lucky.
  4. As you add more great content, there are more chances to get lucky.
  5. Ergo, the equation above.

It seems from the graph that “time” is a major component; nearly two years are represented. This leads me to the frustrating conclusion that a major component of your sure-fire, hands-on, proactive strategy for success is… waiting.

Do it for yourself

In the end, a blog is a labor of love. It’s hard work, it takes lots of time, it’s frustrating, and the only thing you can control is what’s on the page. (And half the time I second-guess myself so much, I’m not so such about what’s on the page either.)

If you’re doing it for subscribers only, it’s probably not worth it. Rather, try being a guest-poster on an already-popular blog. The readers are already there and you don’t need to worry about things like posting schedules or blogging software.

Write a blog because you want to get better at writing. Write a blog because you want to discover what you think about the world by forcing yourself to hack it out in front of other people. Write a blog because you want to make an argument and see how others respond.

Seek yourself rather than seeking the approval of others in the form of “hits” and “RSS.”

That way, even if you fail at everything else, you can’t fail at improving yourself.

What are your tips for blogging? Do I have something wrong? Leave a comment.

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  • Chris

    One thing that may have added to your traffic is that you are automatically bundled into Google’s “The Daily WTF” RSS bundle. I had never heard of you before but read every article you write now. The quality of your articles keeps you in my list, but the bundle put you there.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Thanks for pointing that out — you’re right that might have a lot to do with it.

      • http://www.getinthehotspot.com/ Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

        WTF is Google’s “The Daily WTF” RSS bundle?! Please can you provide a link to it for us non-geeks. I looked for it but don’t think I have the right thing. Thanks!

  • http://www.seowizz.net Tim

    Hi Jason,

    This post is quality, not much more to say. I love your point of view on social traffic (with the exception of twitter). When I first started blogging I committed to so many social hours a week and quite frankly wasted my time. I have found through my analytics that search engine traffic converts around 1:50 social traffic is nearer to 1:1500, if your aim is to make money with your blog social energy is wasted energy.

    It’s due to this fact that my social activity is now limited to twitter and the odd bit on Stumble and I only post when I have something to say or some advice or research to share, my traffic is consistent despite the posting frequency.

    Anyway, really excellent post!
    .-= Tim’s latest blog post: Widgets, Blog Comments and Top Commentator Links =-.

  • http://www.redcort.com/ Keith DeLong

    Alright Jason, you’ve inspired me. After well over a year of saying ‘I will not blog’, I’ve run out of excuses. I’ve read the ‘rules’ and the countless articles. Frankly, they’ve prevented me from giving it a go with any enthusiasm. Your tips and insights fit my style so I’ve made the decision to give it a go. Beginning in December. I’ll either have you to thank or to blame.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Congrats! If you think about it, it’s lame to allow others to dictate whether it’s fun or useful for you to write.

      Would you choose whether or not to keep a private journal based on what others’ said were the “rules” of a diary?

      Of course I 100% relate to what you’re saying, so don’t think I’m belittling you, but rather sharing your joy in liberation!

  • http://www.thricearoundtheblock.com Edwin Oh

    Thanks for the inspiration and advice. As a new blogger, this was very helpful both in setting my internal expectations and telling me where not to spend time. (P.S. I like semicolons too; it’s the mark of the literate!)
    .-= Edwin Oh’s latest blog post: What Kind of Entrepreneur Are You? =-.

  • http://www.RegScheepers.com Reg

    I love the section about making your own rules. I have a blog post called “Rebels Rule the World” which is exactly along those lines. I love the idea of challenging conventional wisdom by doing it your way.

    Either you fail and confirm conventional wisdom, or you succeed and carve out a new, better way of doing things.
    .-= Reg’s latest blog post: How to Become a Make-It-Happen Person – Part 2 =-.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      True — you can’t help but learn something. And if you write about things you care about, you can’t help but learn about yourself. Sounds cheesy I know, but really is true.

  • http://ricardodsanchez.com Ricardo Sanchez

    You are correct about content, that is the reason I am always waiting for your next post, I read almost all of them, and sometimes I learn something I can apply right away to my blog and/or business.

    I found your blog while searching on information related to start-ups in Austin, TX.
    .-= Ricardo Sanchez’s latest blog post: Using LinkedIn to improve your business =-.

  • Brian

    Chris hit it on the money. I’d never even seen your blog but I’ve been subscribed to it as it’s included with The Daily WTF on Google Reader.

  • Cade

    Jason,

    I am the lead engineer on a content management system targeted to local media companies and I can attest to the fact that content does drive viewership in this arena as well. A lot of the television stations I deal with do an abysmal job of taking their content onto the web (video alone doesn’t cut it), and generally see poor numbers as a result. The stations that have put forth an effort to improve their content online have seen decent increases in traffic.

    On another note, how closely related is the major spike in your subscribers to the talk you gave at StackOverflow DevDays Austin? I actually subscribed to your RSS feed after witnessing your talk at Dev Days, and saw very positive remarks regarding your talk on twitter.

    Thanks for the excellent talk and the engaging post!

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Thanks for the kind words! There probably was a bump from DevDays — certainly there were some nice emails and exchanges over Twitter — however it’s hard to tell which subscribers come from where, especially with the large slope of the line recently.

  • http://jvdveen.blogspot.com Jonathan van de Veen

    Great post, Jason.
    One other thing I’d like to add. Don’t get in it for the money. If you think you can actually make a nice extra buck out of it, you’re dreaming. It takes staggering amounts of hits to actually make some money that would actually be worth it. The real rewards are not in funding, but in stuff like being linked by some website you love, being interviewed, being invited to do guest posts and above all, to get that comment saying, “great post”, or “you saved the day”.
    .-= Jonathan van de Veen’s latest blog post: Adventures while building a Silverlight Enterprise application part #29 =-.

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  • http://c3sart.com Cesar Torres

    “How I got 6000 RSS subscribers in 12 months” = I made something of value, sold it, therefore proving myself worthy, so what I’ve got to say probably means something, right?

    Good stuff. Keep on truckin’.
    .-= Cesar Torres’s latest blog post: Overcoming failure through good design =-.

  • http://creya.com/blog venksster

    woww, woww, woww.

    i loved every bit of this post, especially the end –

    “Seek yourself rather than seeking the approval of others in the form of “hits” and “RSS.”

    That way, even if you fail at everything else, you can’t fail at improving yourself.”

    im at a stage where im trying so aggressively to market my app that i almost forgot this very basic :)

  • http://twitter.com/ericnsantos Eric Santos

    Great post Jason.
    It reminded me of the core advice given by Marc Andreessen at Startup School 2008: “Be so good that they can´t ignore you”.
    If you consistently show up and make great content, eventually you´ll get ´lucky´ ;)
    .-= Eric Santos’s latest blog post: ericnsantos: Outstanding post by @seanellis: http://bit.ly/7TRaLp Startup Marketing roadmap in a nutshell =-.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Nice quote. Good way to phrase the luck/content bit. I’m not sure if you “make your own luck,” but you certainly can control how well you can take advantage when it comes around.

  • http://softwareprototyping.net John Clark

    This is a really useful topic, and I am glad I found it. Strangely enough, I have also been trying to get a blog going and I made the mistake of starting off with a self-hosted solution (on our company server) which gained a bit of Google exposure and so on, but then something went a bit wrong with the database and of course the backups… what backups, for a blog? Yeah, right.

    Anyway, I had a hard-copy of the blog and (believe it or not) had to re-build it from scratch, this time choosing a hosted solution. There is, as you say, a lot to be said for letting someone else look after the nuts and bolts of the blog engine, leaving you to concentrate on adding content.

    So, my blog (which I shamelessly plug here as an example of somebody else trying to do it his own way, and not quite succeeding – yet) is slowly gaining some traction – nowhere near 6000 subscribers or even 600 – and it is a bit of a labour of love. What *is* great, however, is knowing that someone out there might just find a bit of inspiration in what you do and what you write, and even if only fifty people visited my blog in a week, if it helps even one of them then that makes me feel just a little bit better about what I do.

    So, yeah, if you are into software design using rapid prototyping, please feel free to pay me a visit – http://softwareprototyping.net – but even if you don’t, pay *someone* new a visit from time-to-time – you never know what early-phase blog you might stumble across, and your support might be just enough to persuade them to keep at it.

    After all, it’s all about adding good content to the web – but we all like to at least have *someone* reading what we write, from time to time…

    Kind regards,

    John
    .-= John Clark’s latest blog post: Individual versus Conforming design =-.

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  • http://www.installace.com VC

    Great work Jason.

    I have read almost all of your articles (don’t think I have spent this much time in reading all other articles in last 2 months on Web) and all of them are great & inspiring that I believe only because you are writing with pure intentions and not for traffic. For me an exciting series would be if you write few articles on your journey from startup >> King >> Rich :)

    Regards
    VC

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Thanks for the kind words! I’ll take you up on your topic suggestion — always nice to know what you want to hear about.

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  • Steve

    Interesting read… being a reader not a blogger, i would like to add that if your RSS feed hadn’t been the full version of the post i would have unsubscribed.

    But as it is here i am reading it, im with Chris and Brian in that i subscribed via the Daily WTF pack on Google reader. But agree with your post that if the content doesn’t appeal, is not intelligent or doesn’t have enough content for me to invest my limited time in reading to its a instant unsubscribe.

    Thanks for the article.

    Steve

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Great point about the full content. You’re right — I’m the same way, especially since I do a lot of reading from an iPhone. If I have to navigate to the original site, feh.

      Lots of advice says to post just the teaser, so that you “get more hits” on your blog and so that they can see your formatting, images, sidebar, and whatever in full glory. But I think a lot of people feel like you and I do. I think that advice is OK if you’re trying to get hits for ads, but still….

  • Rick Mason

    Didn’t your September 2009 rise in subscribers coincide with the highly publicized launch of Building43, the Robert Scoble and Rackspace joint venture which posts regular links to your articles?

    I greatly enjoy your posts but we should all be so lucky to have Scoble flacking our blog ;<).

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Ha, good point. I do see good, consistent traffic from Building43’s republishing it’s true. Some folks however figure they don’t need to subscribe to this blog since they see the articles there! So perhaps that cuts both ways.

      Nevertheless, you’re probably right. It’s so hard to know where subscribers come from — are you listening FeedBurner??

  • http://www.bidsketch.com Ruben

    I actually got more useful information about blogging from this post than most every other post that I’ve read that rehashes the same blog tips that you mentioned earlier. This post is part of the reason why I look forward to the posts you make on this blog — it’s insanely useful information without the BS.

  • Dan

    You’re absolutely spot on. Of all the blogs I have in reader, you’ve got the balance just right: Longer articles, less often. As soon as I see one I’m happy to spend the time reading it as I know it’ll be quality.

    Wish I could subscribe again after reading this, just to show my appreciation for such a great post.

  • Dan

    Also … seconding VC on the topic suggestion. Would love to hear more about your journey from A to B.

  • http://www.getinthehotspot.com/ Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

    Well, just spent far too long here when I should have been writing compelling content for my own blog but this stuff was too compelling to drag myself away from:)

    Thanks for sharing all your clever and hard won tips. I don’t think it’s luck. What I have gleaned is:
    1. Being well known helped – people saw you as an authority as you’re a proven entrepreneur.
    2. Getting in the WTF thing helped and maybe you can share howTF you swung that one… probably related to no.1 above?
    3. The full version RSS is a good tip.
    4. I think it’s interesting that despite everything in your first year of blogging you barely amassed 500 subscribers. Then in the next 12 months you got over 6000 to join them. It gives me hope as I’m trying to get 1000 in my first year of blogging. Almost up to 500 now.
    5. Since I’m very nosy I want to know what’s next with you and the blog? I guess you want to make some money out of it and may introduce some products to sell your readers one day? Or not?!

    Whatever the answers are blogging is definitely a labor or love and you clearly deserve the success you’ve had in it so far. I look forward to seeing where it takes you!

    Oh, and you’ve got one more subscriber now:) Via your gp on copyblogger. Thanks!

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Nice analysis; hard to argue with.

      Except #1. I wasn’t well-known as an entrepreneur. Just for code review software and a book, but that was a niche, and as you pointed out during that period I didn’t get a lot of readers, so that in itself wasn’t it.

      What’s next? Dunno. Not sure about the making money thing, although several folks have asked for a book. Still, nothing like that would be for money, since that’s really a labor of love too.

      My experience is that startup folks need more free stuff, not more people taking money from their pockets.

      Thanks for your encouragement and support! Cheers.

  • Alejandro Cabrera

    Nice.

    This is truly inspiring (specially the last part)…”Write a blog because you want to get better at writing”.

    I am going to suscribe to your RSS =D

    Greetings.

  • http://www.workinonaramp.com Jenny

    I read this with glee. Thank you for showing that “the rules” that are often regurgitated over and over and over on blogging how-to sites are not set in stone. They can be broken and the result can be remarkable. I’m a big proponent of karma-ish blogging. Create valuable content. Do not over promote. Create real relationships. I just wonder, all the people out there writing not-so-great blogs and spamming on Twitter and such, what is their goal? Mine is that blogging will become my lifestyle. If that is theirs, their “dream come true” sounds like a nightmare.

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  • http://www.camerondouglas.com.au Cameron Douglas

    Great Post – Lots of relevant information in here. I too question blogging 10 times a week – surely theres a lot of rubbish going into a website if your doing that. Particularly if you have a subscriber base and send out updates – you don’t want to be spamming people…

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Of course it can work. Seth Godin’s blog is a good example of 10 posts/week but it’s not rubbish. He also has lots of good ideas and keeps it brief rather than pretending each post is a work of literature.

      But right, most people can’t produce 10 written snippets (even 300 words) per week and have it be worth reading it all. Generally more quantity does mean lower quality.

      • http://localmarketingtucson.com Jake Jacob

        Jason,

        I agree with the word “most” however I have bi-polar and when I’m depressed the 12 ft. from my bed to toilet are a thousand miles.

        When I’m manic I carry a good old fashioned clip board with scrap paper from my copier mishaps and can fill a page with ideas at a page per hour clip. I then wait for the “tween” time between swings and with a really good cup of coffee out back by the pool with my buddy Skip (Jack Russell Terrier) I sort them out with a highlighter.

        I’ve done this since I was 12. My greatest sorrow and regret is that after a breakup with my first love at 19 (before my diagnosis) I threw out boxes of material.

        Now at 52 I hope that as I have tip-toed into this crazy world of “online all” some of my writing will make someone smile, cry, think or just stare and wonder.
        The Jakester
        .-= Jake Jacob’s latest blog post: Part One: Trends in Social Media for the Coming Year =-.

  • http://www.petermichaud.com Pete Michaud

    When I’m inspired, I bang out several thousand words across multiple articles. In previous blogs, I’d publish them on a schedule, but something that always bugged me is that by virtue of the way I write, all those articles in “the blast” are related, and so they interlink.

    One option is to code my blog to detect an unwritten article, and just say “Hey, this article isn’t here yet” (instead of 404). The other option is to post it all at once, when I write it, at the cost of a more “regular” posting schedule.

    Still trying to decide on that one. Leaning toward the “not here yet” plugin. What do you think?
    .-= Pete Michaud’s latest blog post: Incoherence =-.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      I completely relate! I have the same problem.

      I opt not to use placeholders because of how people and technology expect a blog to work. For example, RSS readers don’t work that way. If there’s a placeholder, the user (who will already be taken aback by this weird thing) will mark it read. When you post the real article, some feed-readers won’t even notice. The readers which do notice (e.g. Google Reader) won’t make it “unread” so the human won’t notice.

      So from a basic usability perspective, my opinion is that you’re causing more harm than good.

      If you were writing a wiki, possibly to turn into a book someday, then I think it makes sense.

  • Alex Knecht

    Jason: Been following your blog for a while now via shares on other startup blogs. I owed you the honor of subscribing directly (finally). I recently realized I scan through VentureBeat looking for “Smart Bear’ posts!

    I think this concept of authenticity – in blogging, in having a vision, and executing a plan, transcends the blogosphere. I would argue that your (clear) dedication to being authentic probably was a large part of your success with your software company as well.

    Nothing rings so true as authenticity.
    Kudos. I look forward to your posts. Whenever you get to them.

  • http://www.juliesoft.com Jon Chase

    Excellent post! Question: is that a WordPress plugin you’re using to display the “New here? You should click to get updates by RSS feed or by email.” dialog at the top of your posts? Or is the code to do that freely available?

    Jon
    .-= Jon Chase’s latest blog post: Marketing Books for Small Businesses =-.

  • http://shadesmodel.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/list-dont-follow/ Eugene Mandel

    I first discovered your blog through a retweet of the “4 ways to get automatically rejected by an angel investor” post and have been reading it quite a lot ever since because I really like your writing. So, “Content über alles” indeed. But I can’t imagine that it would be enough just to put this good content there without promoting it.
    You still need to reach out to people on Twitter, right?
    .-= Eugene Mandel’s latest blog post: List, don’t Follow =-.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      No, not really.

      As people read your content they post it on Twitter and elsewhere.

      For every link to one of my own posts I put on Twitter (and get at most a few RTs), there are other people who post (and others who RT those etc). The latter is 1-2 orders of magnitude more exposure than the former, and generally is exposure to new people.

      So it’s not so much you promoting yourself as other people feeling generous enough to promote for you.

  • http://www.simplyzesty.com Niall Harbison

    So glad to be hearing somebody give real honest advice and not fill the post full of sensational tales of huge amounts of traffic. I have found pretty much the same things with Stumbleupon sending massive amounts of traffic but only to very visual posts or posts with very compelling titles.
    One thing that I think happens is that it is a lot harder to get the first 1000 subscribers than anything after that. You have a bigger base of people who could see your content and share it in a number of ways. At the start you have nothing to work with and are relying as you say on luck.

    Good advice on not pimping your own posts on social sharng sites. I have also never seen it work that way!

    Cheers for sharing all these tips and with posts like this you wouldn’t need to post more than once a week anyway!

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      I completely agree with your statement that there’s a magic threshold (around 1000 sounds right) where its easier and easier to grow faster and faster. The graph bears that out as well.

      I think it’s because there’s a small chance than any one person will help spread the word, but the event itself either happens or not. That is, if the chance is 0.01%, and you have 100 readers, it usually happens “never.”

      But when the number of regulars reaches a certain number, you usually do get a significant numbers of word-spreaders, and critical mass there continues the pattern.

  • Kevin Gottuso

    I just want to mention that I receive your articles because they are bunched with a several other blogs called The Daily WTF that Google Reader suggested to me. The key to your spikes may actually by Google themselves and all the readers of The Daily WTF.

    Not that you’re not doing everything right – just thought I’d give some alternate input.

  • http://www.jimgrayonline.com Jim

    Jason…great thots and pts. I’ve come to the same conclusion after dismantling my old blog and building a new one that
    -i wanted to continue to share the experience/process of the rebuild with those that were repeat commenters/friends by sharing screenshots.
    -those few readers who read everyday are more important to me than masses…

  • http://olderbrothersadvice.wordpress.com/ Jacob Frommer

    Jason! You absolutely nailed my thoughts at this very moment. I started a blog a 2 months ago. I have solid hits, but as a new blogger, I expect more. At the end of the day, it’s about me and my blog. Excellent advice, really. Very human. People are scared to give advice like that. Good to know that there are 2 of us (and hopefully many more!) that feel this way.
    http://olderbrothersadvice.wordpress.com/

    Thanks!
    .-= Jacob Frommer’s latest blog post: #40. The Belt, Unbuckled. =-.

  • http://www.architecture-student.com/ Gauhar Kachchhi

    Thank you Jason for the excellent advice. I was wasting a ton of time on social networking and bookmarking sites. Thats because almost every “guru” says that you have to be on those sites…

    After reading this article, I promise I will stop posting my articles on Digg, Reddit and other such sites. Must focus only on content.

    One biggest piece of advice I will take from this post is “This leads me to the frustrating conclusion that a major component of your sure-fire, hands-on, proactive strategy for success is… waiting.”

    Patience and Good Content is the key. Hopefully, the Google Gods will bless the blog with some steady trickle of visitors… :)

    Thank you for this great post…

    Cheers!
    .-= Gauhar Kachchhi’s latest blog post: Solomon Guggenheim Spiral Museum | Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece =-.

  • http://pupeno.com J. Pablo Fernández

    Hey Jason, can you publish which plug ins you use in WordPress? Thanks.
    .-= J. Pablo Fernández’s latest blog post: Computer Science and Software Engineers =-.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Yes I will! Look for it in a future post.

  • http://holoom.com Shuje

    Dear Jason,

    I recently found your blog via Dharmesh and I am now a proud member of your 6000+ group. I must admit this particular post is the soundest advice I got regarding blogging because (a) I write for the reasons you stated here but (b) Although I try to resist it I find myself wondering at times how to get more traffic.

    Anyway… Hope I can join you in traffic heaven soon and I am definitely sticking to the white hat techniques you mention here.

    Cheers,

    Shuje
    .-= Shuje’s latest blog post: Antibodies for your job =-.

  • http://www.practicalcare.com Samantha

    Just found you through another Blog (to early in the morning for me to remember how I stumbled on your post) anyway love your content. Well worth the time I spend each morning browsing my blogs each morning. I’ve had my company for 10 years and have lost site of the passion I had in the beginning. Your post helped me remember the fun of starting the company. Hopefully 2010 will be my “new” start. Look forward to reading more posts.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Thanks Samantha.

      I completely hear you on the burn-out. On that subject I can recommend Merlin Mann’s blog: Business Brickyard.

  • http://giffconstable.com Giff

    good post Jason. I agree with your thoughts on link sharing sites, unless you are chasing ad dollars for page views. I found on my food blog that occasional recipes would get on stumbleupon, which would bring in huge numbers of visitors who would last a few seconds then disappear. I had already made the conscious decision that I was primarily writing for me, but I had to check myself from excitement over traffic, pandering to it or seeking it, because that wasn’t the kind of reader I was interested in.
    .-= Giff’s latest blog post: Born or Betterment: can you learn entrepreneurial attributes? =-.

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  • http://www.3gpower2.com Bill McNeely

    Jason,

    I never heard of you before Jason Calacanis racked you over the coals for a 1998 looking web site on Twitter a few days ago. I love your blog!

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Actually Calacanis was talking to Jeff Cohn, not me (Jason Cohen). Example tweet. (Or am I missing something?)

      But thanks for the kind words!

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    thanks .jason/.
    agree with your thoughts on link sharing sites, unless you are chasing ad dollars for page views

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  • http://www.3messages.com Matt

    Jason
    Makes a lot of sense. Seems like if you write about what you believe in and don’t try to trick the system, it’ll all work out in the end. I guess we all need to remember that there really aren’t any shorts cuts. Isn’t there some sort of saying about, ‘Hard work and perseverance ….’
    Thanks for the advice.
    Matt

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Right. You’ve inspired me to think this: The system works; there’s no need to trick it!

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