by • November 7, 2011 • ProductComments (26)2729

What I learned from a month of blogging and 250k visits

Roughly a month ago, I decided to give blogging another try, in earnest. I put out an article most days and up to 3 per day when I was experimenting with new channels.

It has been fascinating.

That being said, this is not a post about blogging tactics. It’s about what the experience has taught me about startups.

Find the customers first, then build for them

It took me a long time to understand YC’s motto that you should:

Make something people want.

The first time I heard that, I thought it was the single dumbest piece of advice I’d ever received from such a credible source. Obviously you hope people will want your product. I thought it was a judgement call — that “good” products are the ones people want.

I was missing the implied qualifiers.

Make something a large group of people already want.

So I found some big communities I had overlapping interests with and wrote at the intersection. I wrote for them, while still remaining within my zone of excitement and experience.

The de-mystification of marketing

I’ve spent ages testing different customer development approaches and struggling to come to terms with building repeatable sales roadmaps. I have never had to worry about an on-site conversion rate.

Perhaps I should have! It’s not that hard and gives you some neat options.

Tweaking a button and seeing conversions increase 8-fold is a beautiful thing. Seeing an hour of work turn into 120k visits is magical.

I remember launching my very, very first website, and then stepping back, looking at it, and thinking:

And now, we wait.

Man oh man. What I would give to get back all that code I wrote and go to war with it now. Wait for traffic!? What was I thinking?

You find a community, learn what they love and build something for them in order to re-route traffic and grow your own channel. None of those are passive.

I feel like, in a month, I just got the experiences normally reserved for those who have spent 2 years succeeding or failing with a marketing-driven startup. I’m certain they’ll be better at it than me and be aware of a few more traps, but I’ve gained an awful lot in a short time.

A sense of realistic scale

Hacker news traffic caps out at about 35k direct visits, even if you crack 1000 points. A “normal” #1 of 200+ points will drive about 20k.

A reddit #1 can comfortably drive between 5k (on a 100k subscriber subreddit) and 100k+ (on a default front-page subreddit).

Twitter adds 25% to any other traffic source. Stumbleupon adds an additional 25%, but only to the big hits.

A highly viral post will bring in 100k+ visitors. A solid, successful post will bring 20k.

You can convert visitors into subscribers at 1-4%, depending on how aggressive you are about it. An unoptimised subscription link will convert 5-20x worse than that range.

My twitter followers (hi, I love you!) click at roughly 1%, but that seems to get worse as you grow. For example, Fred Wilson’s 200k followers click 4x less, at 0.25%.

Blog traffic naturally bounces at 85-90% (I haven’t worked at all to optimise this yet). The ones who stick around tend to follow the most obvious call-to-action, which means…

Having no product is tragic

Pulling numbers from a hat, let’s say that 1 in 10 visitors sticks around and half of them will follow the main call-to-action (the other half will click wildly wherever they please).

100k visits can turn into 5k product clicks, assuming you’re building and writing for the same audience and not just trying to make your chart go higher by gaming irrelevant communities.

20k visits, which is much more predictably achievable, is still 1k product clicks.

If you have a product making enough money to profitably buy search ads at $1-5 CPC, that puts the value of a good (in terms of both writing & promotion) blog post at $1k-25k.

But only if you’ve shipped a product worth selling.

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26 Responses to What I learned from a month of blogging and 250k visits

  1. Nick says:

    Great blog article Rob, This is the first time I visted your website. it’s been bookmaked!

    in your post the part about the sense of realistic scale was eye opening. especially concerning the twitter click through rate 1% or less!

    As we are growing we are trying to find better CTA’s and hopefully we can get the traction we need.

  2. Thanks for sharing that information. Not everyone would gladly give that away like that; you just gained another RSS subscriber ;)

    On another note, those are great pointers for people who probably want to make a living writing a blog because, as you probably figured out by now, running a successful blog (i.e. one that makes money) is a full time job! I’m betting that you spend the same (or even more) time optimizing and advertising each post than you spend writing them, right? :)

    • robfitz says:

      It all feels fairly quick. I write down post titles/topics whenever I think of them, and then it takes about 30 minutes to turn that into a draft and another 30 to polish the pacing a bit.

      I do spend a while on HN and Twitter, but that’s more because it’s fun and I like being able to join the conversation every so often. The actual “promotion” part is just tweeting it out & posting it somewhere.

  3. Milan B says:

    Excellent blog post.

    I’m curious about the first step, “find a community”, which seems to be hardest to me. How did you approach this? Do you have some recommendation?

  4. Hamid says:

    Actually finding a community is the hardest part in starting a product line.
    This is same as recognizing patterns and modeling a product for it.

  5. Luke Stokes says:

    I’m one of the 1% from @sivers’ feed. Thanks for sharing real world numbers, they are very interesting. Your post reminded me (again) how important it is to keep our products targeted. My business originally set out to focus on developers but is also used by a lot of designers and merchants who aren’t very technical.

    I’m not sure we’re “gaming irrelevant communities.” but they do get confused when our website doesn’t speak well to them. We’re working to fix that with a new www site, but it will probably lead to three completely separate communities we’ll have to communicate with and support individually.

    Anyway, thanks for the great post. As you can see, it got me thinking. :)

  6. Marcus says:

    This sort of data is an incredible resource. As someone who is in the process of attempting to codify my marketing experience, this sort of work is exactly what I’m interested in at the moment.

    Many of the conclusions that you’ve come to from your experiment were already well-planted in my mind about how to approach web marketing, but having REAL, CURRENT data to back them up is awesome.

    You’ve got my attention. What’s the next experiment?

  7. Teren says:

    Great post there! I definitely learned something from the article and am going to try it out. Like a poster before me mentioned, how do you “find a community”. I vaguely have an idea of my product — it’s also something that I feel I will use but I’m not sure which are the relevant communities worth chasing after. I would love to hear about how you addressed it.

    And also, did you find the community and then figure out the product or did you already have some product in mind before hand? Cheers!

  8. Karl Staib says:

    I needed to read this today. I loved how you broke down the numbers. I’m a huge fan of numbers, but I don’t do this enough on my website. I measure broadly instead of with precision.

    We can only measure what is measurable and creating something that people want is vital to growing a blog/biz. If we don’t measure the success we are missing out on the fun of tweaking and improving.

  9. Ian Matthews says:

    Great post, Rob. You are spot on when you thought the ‘build what people want/like’ statement was stupid at first. It seems so simple. With testing and a crap-load of research, it is still possible that a company will miss the mark. I think if you can somehow find a way to make your content relatable on a personable level for each user, than you have something. Such a struggle though to do that.

  10. [...] I learned from a month of blogging and 250k visits (Via The Startup Toolkit) Roughly a month ago, I decided to give blogging another try, in earnest. I put out an article most [...]

  11. Grigor Yeghiazaryan says:

    Enjoyed the post. It’s to the point and practical. But how about niche markets. Any suggestion about build a product for a niche?

  12. Rob, thank you so much for your insights and your experiences. I think these kinds of post are the best way to share your experiences and for other people to learn from.

    In terms of customer development. Do you think that building a channel is more important than figuring out what the product should be in an early stage?

    Currently I am facing the problem that I can only really interview so many people for my product. Starting a blog to talk about your product’s subject seems to me a great way to meet more people to start talking to or show off things.

    What do you and the other commenters think? Thanks for the post :)

    • robfitz says:

      I have, several times, built good products with happy paying customers which I couldn’t scale because of bad channels.

      So, for me, that’s now the first thing I’ll test. But that’s also based on my highly biased perspective ;). Start with whatever you’re worst at.

  13. Brian says:

    “Build something people want” …so simple. Very profound how you broke that down. You talk about a post getting 20k followers like its is easy though.

  14. Helene says:

    That’s an ingneoius way of thinking about it.

  15. [...] wrote a couple articles about my experiences[1]. The strong response[2] reassured me that lots of people had the [...]

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