This is a guest post by Amber Shah.
I am in the process of launching my startup, Code Anthem, for great programmers and the companies that hire them. I was thinking over some of the logistics of running a private beta program and realized that I needed a group of people who could be my beta testers, early adopters and even evangelists when we launched.
I decided to start a blog and open a twitter account. That was 1 month ago, and since then I’ve had over 50K visitors to the blog, over 500 subscribers via RSS and email, 221 comments and over 150 Twitter followers. I didn’t have an existing audience of any kind to pull from, so this was all starting from zero.
The following is a short list of what made our blog grow in its first month:
1. Start a Movement, Pick a Fight
My husband and I had worked for years in the software development industry, so we had a lot of axes to grind, dirty laundry to air and big ideas to use as fodder for the content. My goal was to take a stand and go big or go home, so that readers would either rally around it immediately or hate it. My biggest fear was of people reading the blog and *yawn* moving on. On Let’s be Independent Together, I got this comment:
I got goosebumps at the end of that …
You guys are awesome, and I enjoy reading your blog entries very much, and look forward to seeing what your up to behind the curtain!
I was careful to strip out any ambivalent phrases like “I think that … “, “It seems to me that …”, or “Sometimes it may appear that …”, etc. Using them would whitewash my ideas. Leaving them out probably makes me appear more arrogant, but at least I’m having an impact on my readers.
2. Social Media and Social Proof
Social media is a big part of how Code Anthem’s blog was able to get so much traffic and subscribers early on. You can see in the screenshot below where our big spikes were and what social media site they were related to:
It wasn’t just the big social news sites driving traffic, a huge part of it was also Twitter and Facebook. My last post, “How to Keep Crappy Programmers” was tweeted over 200 times and shared on Facebook over 90 times. I also have a sidebar showing these stats and inviting readers to do the same, which keeps the momentum going.
3. Comments, comments everywhere and not a drop to drink
My first blog promotion strategy was to comment on blogs that had a similar audience to mine. I would only bother to comment if I was one of the first, and if I had something compelling to add. I wasn’t going for SEO points here; I was trying to get people to follow my link out of curiosity.
This accounted for the first 10 visits a day, or so, before my blog picked up in social media sites. I think that for any new site, especially ones that don’t work as well in social media, commenting early, often and with interesting insights on other blogs is the most effective tool to drive traffic.
Because there is so much advice out there on the right way to blog, and only so much time, it can be hard to figure out what to do. Here is a list of the things I did not do:
Respond to Every Comment or Tweet
The sentiment behind this idea is a good one but it doesn’t scale at all. I did this right at the very beginning, but as soon I couldn’t keep up. Sometimes I would think about responding, but if I waited, someone would come along and beat me to it. And what I realized was, that people started to have discussions and debates amongst themselves and that was priceless.
On a related note, if you get listed on a social media site: don’t go read the comments there. Somehow people feel that it’s ok to be much meaner when they post things not on your site. While many people were dismissive or nasty on external sites, comments on my own site were overwhelmingly positive and thoughtful.
Put up an About page, Contact page or other meta info
Between managing the blog and building the Code Anthem site itself, I never got around to putting up a bio and photo or a contact form. One reader called me out in the comments, saying:
I am enjoying the articles. However, the anonymity and the stealth-mode is a little weird. I think using real names would give your company and site a lot more personality.
And I think he’s right. The point is not “don’t do those things”, the point is just to prioritize on what makes the most sense for you, and realize that they aren’t necessary to having a successful blog, at first.
Talk about WHY I’m doing this
Meta blogging, aka blogging about blogging, is annoying (unless you happen to run a blog all about blogging *ahem* Remarkablogger). When I decided to share the story of my blog’s early success, in the hopes of helping other, I knew that I would not post it on Code Anthem’s blog, because the programmers who read it don’t care about blogging. Instaed, I asked Remarkablogger if I could guest post it here, and thankfully, Michael agreed.
I also did not talk much about my startup itself. Some company blogs talk about company-related things, like inventory or startup topics, but the audience for that is not my ideal customer. I’m sure I talk more about Code Anthem as we move into private beta and then public beta launch, but I hope to keep the blog focused on the ideas.
There are many different paths that lead to a successful blog. My best advice for other bloggers (and entrepreneurs) is to read and learn as much as possible, but to be very selective about what you actually implement. Be bold, confident and whatever you do, don’t look down.