You’re doing everything you’ve been told.
You’re publishing great content, you’re staying on top of SEO, and you’re all over social media.
You even keep in contact with other bloggers in the hope they’ll get behind your blog.
But your readership still isn’t where you want it to be.
And your dream of working from home, reaching financial freedom, and changing the world in the process seems to be as far away as the day you wrote your first post.
So what gives?
The problem is, even though you’re getting some traffic to your blog, people aren’t subscribing to it.
And if they don’t subscribe, they don’t come back.
When this is the case, no matter how hard you work to get more traffic, the situation can’t change.
Unless you shift your mindset.
So you need to stop worrying about traffic, and start focusing on something else instead.
Why Traffic Is a Distraction Until You Fix This Basic Problem
If your blog isn’t attracting subscribers, focusing on traffic is an amateur mistake. It’s like pouring water into a leaking bucket.
Instead, you need to focus on how well your blog converts visitors to subscribers.
But that’s where you hit a mental roadblock. Because everything you’ve read about conversion optimization seems terrifyingly technical and requires an army of experts.
Don’t worry – you can relax.
You don’t need to set up a single “multivariate test” or “behavioral targeting rule” (or even have a clue what those terms mean) to grow your subscriber list many times faster.
You just need to focus on addressing three simple questions that visitors subconsciously ask themselves when they land on an unfamiliar blog.
If you can get people to answer “yes” to those questions in the right order, they will want to subscribe to your blog.
But even a single “no” makes visitors leave – perhaps forever.
Most bloggers don’t know what questions they need to answer. And that means conversion optimization becomes an impossibly complicated mess.
So you probably want to know the questions, right? 🙂
Let’s get into them one at a time.
Question #1: “Is This Relevant to Me?”
People automatically (and often unconsciously) ask and answer this question within three seconds of landing on your site. That’s not a lot of time.
And a key part of deciding whether your blog is relevant to them is working out what it’s about.
If people don’t immediately understand what a blog is about, they click the “back” button.
They have tons of websites to choose from, so why would they waste time trying to figure out yours?
Then, if they can figure out what your blog is about, they quickly decide if it feels relevant to them. If they don’t feel it is, want to guess what they do? That’s right, they leave.
You might think this part is easy. Right now you might be thinking, “It’s totally clear what my blog is about, and obviously the right people will feel it’s relevant.”
But in reality, most blogs don’t accomplish either the clarity or the relevance they need.
The most common mistake bloggers make is to be too vague.
Often visitors can see the general topic of the blog (e.g., marketing or self-improvement) but they can’t quickly determine what it’s about specifically (e.g., marketing for authors, self-improvement for married women).
That’s also why you should be so careful when you pick your blog topic. If you don’t choose something specific enough, you’re in big trouble because you won’t stand out from the hundreds of similar blogs out there.
Take for example, Smart Blogger. The name gives a clear idea of the blog’s topic and the prominent offer at the top of the page, “A Cheat Sheet for Writing Blog Posts That Go Viral,” is consistent with that.
Together, those elements are enough to make visitors immediately understand what the blog is about.
And if they’re bloggers who want more traffic, the site should feel strongly relevant.
Here are four things you can check when making sure your blog answers this first question:
- Does your blog’s name help people understand what it’s about? I’m not saying your blog name always has to relate to what you do (I use my own name, and “Peter Sandeen” doesn’t really scream “marketing messaging,” “value propositions,” or “conversion optimization”), but a descriptive name is helpful. So if you’re still choosing your blog’s name, picking something that’s clearly related to its topic should be at the top of your list.
- Does your blog’s tagline clearly explain the topic? If not, change it. There’s a time and a place for catchy taglines that only hint at the topic, but those are rare exceptions. It’s a smart choice to go with something clearly descriptive. For example, “Passion for Golfing” is vague, but “Practical Golf Tips for Amateurs” is quite clear.
- Are your blog posts obviously related to your blog’s specific topic? Ideally, when people read any one of your posts, it should clearly relate to what your blog as a whole is about. You might want to write the occasional post that doesn’t fit perfectly within the confines of the topic – but consider whether it’s worth the confusion you’ll create.
- Do other elements clarify your topic or confuse it? For instance, is the content in your sidebar consistent with your topic, neutral, or potentially confusing? Display advertisements, for example, are often only marginally relevant to the topic, so they usually create confusion about exactly what your blog is about.
You’ll go far simply by having a clear tagline (seriously, save your artistic talents for your posts) and sticking to post topics that clearly fit into the overall blog topic you chose.
So if you want to write a political rant but you blog about health, consider posting your rant on Facebook for your friends instead.
When visitors understand what your blog is about and feel it’s relevant to them, they move on to their next question.
Question #2: “Is This Valuable to Me?”
After the first few seconds simply weighing up your blog, most readers start to pay attention to your content.
More specifically, they look for content they think is valuable enough to be worth their time to read.
For example, if they’ve landed on a marketing blog, they may see a post entitled “How to Use Social Media to Grow Your Business.” But if they’ve already read dozens of similar posts, they won’t value yet another one on that same topic.
That’s why covering specific topics others rarely write about is smart. But novelty alone isn’t enough to make people want your content.
Here are a few more ways to make your content irresistible:
- Go into more detail than other bloggers. Give your readers a deeper understanding of the topic than they could get elsewhere. Rich detail almost always makes something feel more valuable – that’s why an in-depth training program usually costs more than a basic course. If readers feel they get all the information they need from you they won’t feel the need to go to another blog.
- Focus on actionable advice. Resist the urge to write opinion posts and rants, and instead stick to advice that gives people tangible results. Include steps for readers to follow and remember that even if something is easy for you it won’t be for others. The more abstract the topic (e.g., “how to find your passion in life”), the more important it is that you give people something concrete to do. If your content looks likely to deliver results, it will seem more valuable.
- Show testimonials from subscribers. Testimonials aren’t useful only when you’re trying to sell a product or service. They’re just as useful when you’re selling people on an idea – like subscribing to your blog. For example, if you have an opt-in offer in your sidebar, put a testimonial under it from someone who found your freebie or content valuable. Also put testimonials on your About page – one of the most common places for readers to look when they’re “sizing up” your blog.
- Spell out the benefits. Bloggers are often far too modest about how valuable their content is. Do you plainly and clearly tell visitors what they can get from your content? Do you tell them the outcomes you can help them achieve? If not, consider adding a list of the benefits of reading your blog to your sidebar. Seriously, this is the antidote to unnecessary modesty ;-). Title it, “What you will get from [your blog’s name]?” and put a bullet-point list under it with 3–5 clear benefits people will get.
- Give people a reason to keep reading. For example, the opening section of this article points out several benefits of learning the three questions your visitors need to answer “yes” to. Some of the benefits aren’t direct promises, but only implied benefits. For example, “dream of working from home” is only mentioned as a goal, but the implication is that what you will learn from this article will help you get closer to that goal.
So are you ready for the final question?
Question #3: “Can I Trust This?”
People don’t automatically trust blogs – or most other online content. And for good reason.
Think for a moment of the general field your blog is in. How many other blogs are in the same field? Probably thousands.
And how many of those blogs are written by reputable experts? Maybe just a few dozen. Some blogs are written by smart people with knowledge of their topics, but many are written by individuals with little understanding of what they’re writing about.
So when people find a new blog, they wonder if they can trust the author.
And in most cases they don’t see a good enough reason to trust the information, so they leave.
Here’s a surprise – even formal credentials and experience aren’t always enough to establish trust.
For example, countless marketing professionals with MBAs and “10+ years of experience” are out there struggling to grow their blogs. And it’s partly because people don’t trust them sufficiently. After all, how can you know for certain their claims are true?
Education and experience might be enough to land you a job interview, but when it comes to making online readers trust you, you need to focus on other factors.
Because once a visitor has internally nodded “yes” to the first two questions, they’ll start wondering if they can trust you and your information.
They might head over to your About page, but they might not. And if they haven’t developed a sense that you can be trusted by the time they finish browsing your site, they’ll leave.
That’s why your About page shouldn’t be the only place where you demonstrate your credibility. Your entire blog should assert your authority on your topic.
Here are some ways to make people trust you enough to subscribe:
- Show endorsements from other topic experts. How much more likely are you to trust someone if other experts you already trust are willing to vouch for them? One of the simplest ways to make sure every page on your blog gives people a reason to trust you is to add endorsements to your sidebar.
- Explain your experience. Yes, formal education isn’t enough to make people trust you, but it doesn’t hurt to know that you’ve worked as a doctor for 10 years if you want me to trust your medical advice. Putting an “about the author” description in your sidebar or at the end of your posts lets you tell people why your experience means you can be trusted.
- Help people understand your unique “method.” Being knowledgeable about your topic is one thing, but if people can see you have a distinctive underlying method or approach to it, too, then that adds significant credibility. It takes time to develop a robust, repeatable approach that works time and again. For example, in the financial arena people want to understand the underlying method they’re entrusting their money to. It could be a specific stock market strategy, “flipping” property, or any number of other methods for increasing wealth. If you don’t have a signature “method,” try to come up with one. This doesn’t just build trust, but also helps you create cohesive content, centered around your unique approach.
Do You Want Radically More Subscribers?
Chasing traffic is seductive.
But in reality, it’s also a terrible distraction – at least until your blog is turning visitors into subscribers.
What stands between you and a “conversion optimized” blog is not a bunch of complex tools and tests, but three simple questions:
- Is This Relevant to Me?
- Is This Valuable to Me?
- Can I Trust This?
Vow to make some simple changes so that your visitors can easily answer “yes” to all three of these questions.
Do so and you’ll see huge increases in how many people subscribe – even if all you did was make a few tweaks.
It takes just seconds to change a tagline. Mere minutes to add an endorsement to your sidebar.
But even a small change can have an enormous effect.
And the sooner you get started, the sooner those dreams of yours will start coming true.