zen habits : breathe

10 Ways I Got 4,700 Subscribers in Three Months

Today is Zen Habit’s 3-month birthday (actually, I posted before that but I didn’t start posting daily until Jan. 24, 2007), and the success of this blog has been phenomenal — thanks completely to you, the readers.

I started this blog hoping for slow growth, over the course of years. Instead, I have been astounded by the rapid growth this little blog has achieved, and the overwhelming positive response from all of you.

Some of the accomplishments in the first three months of Zen Habits (this will sound like bragging, so forgive me):

The biggest factor of Zen Habits’ success, in my opinion, is the incredible readers who have contributed suggestions, comments, stories, tips, encouragement and positive feedback every single day. This blog would be an empty wasteland without you guys. You’ve made it come alive.

What are some other things I’ve done to build up traffic and subscribers? Here are the Top 10 things:

  1. Useful content, every day. My goal has been to put out a useful article every single day. I haven’t always succeeded, but I think I’ve made myself better just in the attempt. And from the response I’ve gotten, at least some of it has been useful. People come here because the articles help them in some way. This is the most important of all these tips, by far.
  2. Conciseness and scannability. Few of us has the time to read every single article in our feed reader. So we scan the headlines and content. The lesson for a blogwriter: make sure your posts are relatively short, without a lot of fluff, and make sure that they’re easily scannable. That means you should bold the key points and make lists where appropriate, so someone can easily see whether a post is worth reading.
  3. Catchy headlines. The corollary to No. 2 is to have headlines that people will pay attention to — and catchy ones work best. Sometimes I’m not incredibly proud of my headlines, as they are a little more catchy than I originally intended, but that’s the only way people will actually read the articles, so I do it anyway. How do I know what’s catchy? Well, I think about what catches my attention, and do similar things. You get better at it over time — I could still use some work on this.
  4. Listen to readers. Another extremely important tip. I get lots of comments here and lots of emails, and I pay attention to every one. There are some great suggestions, and I’ve used them to make this site better and as ideas for posts. Some of my best posts have come from reader suggestions. Ignore your readers at your own peril.
  5. Respond to all emails. I get dozens of emails a day, and I try to make a point to return each and every one with a personal note — no form letters. Why? Because these readers have taken the time to write about something that interests or concerns them, and if I can’t take the time to answer them, I don’t deserve their time. I can’t guarantee I’ll always be able to answer all emails, but I know that I will try. I’ve also developed some great relationships with my more devoted readers.
  6. Useful links. This goes with providing useful content — when possible, provide links to other articles with more depth, for further reading. Readers seem to appreciate this, and it’s worth the extra effort.
  7. Make lists. I’m a list freak. I overdo it. But a lot of people seem to like lists as much as I do, so I continue to do it, almost every post. It’s overkill, but it’s also the best way to provide concise, scannable content, and it forces me to clarify my thinking. Also, I can’t help it. It’s an addiction.
  8. Guest posting. I’ve been a guest posting maniac, as faithful readers already know. I post once a week on Lifehack.org (in fact, I have one on how to write a kick-ass speech out today), and have posted in more than half a dozen other blogs in the last month. This helps me give good content to a fellow blogger, and exposes my writing to a new audience, some of whom eventually check out Zen Habits and sometimes subscribe. For this reason, I always put my best writing into my guest posts.
  9. Always give tips. You’re reading a list of tips right now. That’s what makes this post useful. No matter what the subject, I give tips on how to practically implement the idea I’m writing about. I draw them from my readings, and especially use the ones that have worked well for me.
  10. Collaborate with other bloggers. The blogosphere can be a dog-eat-dog world, with incredible competition. I’ve never been into that. I think that there’s room for everybody. If we help each other out, we all benefit. That’s one of the great things about exchanging guest posts. Our readers and our blogs all benefit, so it’s a win-win situation. Start trying to beat other people, and everyone ends up a loser. Always try to find the solution where everyone wins.

On this 3-month birthday, my gentle readers, Zen Habits thanks you for all you’ve done. Your contributions have been amazing, and your feedback touching and heartwarming. Please continue to read Zen Habits (and subscribe if you haven’t — it’s free!), and I will try to continue to put out useful content, every day. (Also add to Technorati favorites if you don’t mind.)

p.s. I’d also like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all the other blogs who have linked to Zen Habits over the last few months. I appreciate every link!

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