So you’ve got a blog! Maybe it started as a personal blog and slowly morphed into a business venture, or you're looking at it as a way to promote your services. Either way, it's a common story — you started a blog but you don't know how to turn it into an actual fanbase.
You know, people who love you and want to hire you and give you money?
I have bad news: No one is going to visit your website every day to see if you’ve posted anything new! Nope, not even your mom.
You only have one chance – their first visit – to make them a repeat reader.
And unless you're a Facebook ads super ninja, just having a lot of social media followers won't cut it as your only strategy.
Those algorithms change all the time, and by banking on something like Instagram to sell your message to your people, you're building your house on someone else's land and just hoping they won't screw you.
You need a direct line of communication between you and your readers.
So how do you put your posts directly into your readers hot little hands?
Two ways, that you should set up today.
1. Set up your Email List
There are a million reasons why you should start building your email list from day one as a blogger - Social media networks come and go (remember MySpace?), people quit Facebook or Twitter, but very few people every abandon their email address.
Putting your content directly into someone’s inbox is the best way to connect with them on personal level.
An email list will allow you to do two important things:
- send new posts from your blog directly to those subscribers (automatically if you want).
- send special, exclusive content just to those people who have been gracious enough to welcome you into their inboxes.
How to choose an email list provider
There are a LOT of mailing list companies out there, all with different prices and features. Here's how I recommend you make your decision.
If your business is new, not making much (or any) profit yet, and is entirely managed by you: Sign up with Mailchimp. It's free and easy to use.
If your business is established, already making a profit each month, can expect at least several hundred immediate subscribers, or you have a VA or a team backing you up in your business: Sign up with Convertkit, Infusionsoft, or one of the other more robust email list providers.
I know that's unpopular advice in certain circles these days. Personally, I love Converkit. I use it with most of my clients and it's awesome.
But there is advice out there suggesting that if you don't start with Convertkit on day one (and dudes, it's not free) that you're shooting yourself in the foot.
And frankly, that's just not true.
You will be perfectly fine if you start with Mailchimp and move up to something like Convertkit when you're ready (and when you can actually afford it).
How to create your email list in Mailchimp
First, sign up for a Mailchimp account.
There are two important terms you need to know to work with Mailchimp: Lists and Campaigns.
Your List contains all the email addresses of the people who have subscribed.
Your Campaign is what you’re sending those people - it can be automatically sending them your blog posts, or it can be sending standalone emails written just for that list.
Second, create a list.
After you’ve created your free account, create a new list for your readers to subscribe to. Think of this as your address book.
Third, decide how you're going to send emails.
There are several ways you can handle this, and none is more correct than another. It all depends on what you prefer, and how much time you can spend crafting emails in addition to blog posts.
The "Easy Button" option – Create an RSS-Driven Campaign. This will automatically fire an email out to your list every time you publish a blog post. Once it's set up, it runs on autopilot. (If you don't know your RSS feed url to set this up, we'll cover that below)
The more involved option – Create custom content for your list. Some people choose to send a "lede" (sort of a summary introduction) of their blog post, and then include a link to the actual post in the email to drive readers to their website to read the whole thing. Others might blog several times a month, but only send one email "roundup" to their list at the end of every month. Other craft entirely separate content exclusively for their email list.
Fourth, grab your signup page URL or a signup form
In Mailchimp, you’ll find this under Lists. Click the dropdown next to your List and go to Signup Forms.
From this page, you go to General Forms and grab your signup page URL to link to from your website. You can also go to Embedded Forms and create a custom form to embed on your site.
Squarespace has this functionality built in (the Newsletter Block) and there are lots of Wordpress plugins that make it easier.
Bonus points: Make those emails pretty.
You can choose one of Mailchimps predesigned templates, drop in your own logo, change the colors, fonts and layout, and personalize those emails to make them uniquely your style.
2. Configure your RSS feed
All blogging platforms come with an RSS feed, which stands for Really Simple Syndication. That’s a URL that contains a stream of data from your blog that gets automatically updated every time you publish a post.
People can take that URL and drop it into their feed reader of choice (I use Feedly) and your posts will be available there for them to read.
Why is this gibberish so important?
Not everyone uses feed readers (like, your Mom has probably never heard of one) but voracious blog readers (read: internet nerds) like myself do, and your RSS feed allows us to add your blog to our personal collection of favorite blogs, and read all that content in one place.
An RSS feed will allow you to do two important things:
- Offer people a way to subscribe in their RSS reader of choice.
- Allow you to use that feed to do different things (like set up the RSS-Driven Campaign that I mentioned above)
But I want my readers to visit my site every day!
Oh my darling, didn't we already cover this? They just won’t. I know it’s tempting to try to force them to, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Let’s talk about how to use your RSS feed.
Figure out your RSS feed URL
If you’re on any of the major blogging platforms (Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr) you have an RSS feed whether you know it or not.
Configure the "full feed"
In your blogging platform, find any settings they provide to adjust your feed. The main thing you want to look for is an option to post the FULL feed or just an excerpt (sometimes also called a “truncated” feed or a “snippet”).
If you're on Squarespace, they use your full feed automatically, so you're all set.
Publish the full feed. The full feed means that people will receive your ENTIRE post in their feed reader, while the excerpt means they'll only see the first 400 words or so and then a link to read the full post on your website.
I know it's tempting to try to force them to your site with an excerpt, but I think we already talked about that, yeah? Make it easy for your readers to follow what you do.
A note on RSS feed burners: There are services out there that let you create an account, “burn” your feed, and supply you a new address. Feedburner and Feedblitz are the two most common ones.
I recommend that you don’t use these services for the same reason that I recommend you don't rely on social media alone to connect with your audience. You're building your house on someone else's land and they could close up shop at any time, leaving your subscribers lost in the ether.
Do some things with that RSS feed
- Provide a direct link to it (people who use feed readers will know what to do)
- Use it to set your site up in Bloglovin' so people can follow you that way
- Use it to provide a direct link to subscribe to your blog in Feedly
Put those links in a prominent location on your blog.
Congratulations, you are now 200% easier for your readers to follow!
Do you have any questions on getting your content into your readers hands? Drop them in the comments!