How To Grow Your Blog Through Customer Development

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This is a guest post by Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics and blogger at QuickSprout.com. He also does consulting work for a number of major Internet properties, including TechCrunch.

When you think about growing your blog, whether it is a personal, professional or company blog, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Chances are it is something related to traffic or subscribers. Getting more traffic or subscribers is never a bad thing, but if you really want more sustainable traffic you first have to understand the people coming to your blog. If you can’t make them happy, how can you expect your traffic to grow?

Stop Assuming!

You have a vision of how you see your blog and where you want it to go. The reality is that your vision may not match up with what your readers are expecting. So instead of assuming things about your readers, start getting feedback from them.

  • Feedback – Through services like Skribit your readers and customers can provide post suggestions. The feedback is posted publicly and other readers can vote on it whether they agree or disagree.
  • Polls – Polling services like Poll Daddy can allow you to figure out what direction you should take your content. For example, if you have some ideas for your blog, you can create a poll and have your reader’s vote on which ideas they would like to read more about.
  • Reader surveys – No matter how small or large your reader base is, you can survey them. Eric Ries, who is a big advocate of customer development, started surveying his readers when he only had 5 RSS subscribers. He asked them the following things right within his blog post:
    1. On a scale of 1-10 (where 10 is most likely), how likely is it that you would recommend this blog to a friend or colleague?
    2. How did you hear about it?
    3. What led you to become a subscriber, versus just reading an article and leaving like everybody else? (Or, if you’re not a subscriber, what would it take to convince you?)
    4. What do you hope to see here in the future?

As shown above, there are many ways to get feedback from readers. Another example of getting feedback was when Michael Arrington first started TechCrunch. He began having meet ups at his house just months after starting the blog. The face-to-face feedback that he must have received proved to be valuable and effective in helping TechCrunch grow. As a result, the content on TechCrunch, which started with primarily basic company profiles, has also been expanded on and improved from there.

Track, Analyze, and Execute!

Analytics solutions like Google Analytics, Feedburner, and Lijit are great, but what’s the point of having them if you aren’t really using them? You probably log into your Google Analytics account every once in a while and look to see if your traffic is up or down, but do you ever get down into the nitty-gritty details to try and understand your readers? Do you know what changes you need to make to increase your readership and engagement levels?

  • Traffic sources – analyzing the traffic sources that are bringing you visitors, such as referring sites and search engine keywords can help you understand the type of people visiting your blog. If most of your traffic is coming from tech blogs, it is likely that your readers are somewhat sophisticated, which means if you geek out you may win some brownie points with them. On the other hand if you notice that most of your readers are coming from celebrity blogs or other types of non-tech sites, you probably don’t want to get too technical with your content because they may not understand what you are talking about. Additionally, with the rise of Twitter clients, URL shortening services are becoming increasingly popular, so it is important to understand how this affects your analytics and referral traffic. Referral traffic can also help you identify conversations related to your blog occurring on social media sites such as Digg, Twitter, Facebook and even forums.
  • Visitor loyalty – Metrics such as time on site, bounce rate, and percentage of return visitors should give you a sense of how loyal your visitors are. You will never be able to please all of your visitors, but you should be able to please a good percentage. Dig deep and see what’s causing your high bounce rate and try to improve it.
  • Internal search data – Services like Lijit and Google Analytics Site Search do a great job of tracking your internal search data. If you have a search box on your blog, they can track the number of searches per day and what keywords your users are searching for. This should help you understand what they are looking for and what you need to provide to these readers.
  • Geographical data – Looking at your geographical data may actually shock you. Although most your traffic may come from the U.S you should drill down to see what worldwide cities bring you the most traffic. For me it is a few major cities in India and London. Analyzing this data helps you understand the background of your readers and what you should or shouldn’t write to grow your readership. Remember, language and religion play a big role in many people’s lives.
  • RSS subscribers – Feedburner doesn’t just show you how many RSS subscribers you have, it also gives you data on what your RSS readers like and dislike reading. You can look at data such as click through rates on specific stories. This will help validate what you thought the most popular stories were. In most cases the stories that you thought were your best, aren’t your readers’ favorites. Feedburner also lets you track things like when people unsubscribe to your feed. This is a great feature because if you notice tons of people unsubscribing at once, you can try to understand why and adjust accordingly.

After you analyze the data provided by your web analytics solutions you need to take action. Whether it’s modifying your design to decrease your bounce rate or figuring out what new content topics you should be writing after looking through your Feedburner/Lijit stats, you have to take action. If you don’t, you shouldn’t even waste time tracking your stats.

Engage, Engage, and Engage!

Blogging is a two way street, you can’t expect to understand your readers if you don’t interact with them. Polls, surveys, and feedback tools are great, but that is only half the battle when it comes to engagement. Here are few ways you can engage with your audience:
1. Respond to every emailGary Vaynerchuck spends most of his time responding to every email he gets. Just try sending him an email… he may be a bit delayed in responding to you, but no matter what, he will respond. This is the main reason he has been able to build a strong brand and a popular blog because he takes the time to listen and respond to every person that emails him.
2. Respond to every commenter – every time someone comments on your blog, you should respond to him or her. How do you expect to create a conversation and a community if people are just talking to themselves? This is a time consuming process, but if you want to develop a relationship with your customers, there is no better way. You can even use comment systems such as IntenseDebate and Disqus to help improve commenting on your blog.
3. Leverage your competition – just because someone isn’t reading your blog, doesn’t mean you can’t get to him or her. Start reading other blogs in your industry and all of your competitors’ blogs and comment on every one of their posts. Respond to the comments and win over readers.

Conclusion

If you want to grow your blog, you need to first understand your readers. Without understanding your audience you won’t know what they like and dislike. Take the next few hours and start analyzing your blog and create a game plan on how you can grow your blog. If you find yourself getting stuck, just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help you out. J
Lastly if you want to learn more about customer development, I highly recommend that you check out Steve Blank’s blog, he pioneered the concept of customer development and even wrote a book on it.

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