One of my favourite types of people to interview is other bloggers who have had a worldwide impact. A person who fits this category perfectly is Joshua Becker from the blog Becoming Minimalist. His blog gets more than 2.2 million views a month, and he has gone on to be a best-selling author.
Before getting into the topic for our interview, I asked Joshua if he started out thinking of himself as a writer or blogger. His reply to me was “definitely not Tim.” He started his blog because he wanted to journal his family’s transition from middle class America into minimalism.
It’s this very distinction, that I believe after talking with Joshua, made him so successful at blogging. Many people start a blog to become millionaires or attract lots of people, but like Joshua, my reason and his reason for blogging are totally different to the traditional approach.
Both of us believe the following statement about successful blogging; if you’re starting a blog to have lots of social media followers and make heaps of money then quit now – you will fail!
The following thirteen tips are what Joshua told me you need to start a viral blog just like his.
1. Add viral elements to every post
It’s no secret that lists posts (like this very article) are a key element to viral blogs. List posts tell the reader what to look for, what to expect and allow them to skim to the points of post that are most relevant to them.
The other element is that your headlines must engage the reader right from the start. Joshua told me that your headline needs to offer a promise of some sort. What can you guarantee by the end of the article to the reader if they invest the time in reading what you have to say? Titles that offer this promise and then deliver on it by the end of the post are the ones that are most shareable.
Having said all of that, Joshua says that often the posts you write at the last minute with the least amount of planning, end up being the most successful – this has been true for me as well.
2. Flip the perspective of your writing
If there was another defining moment in my interview with Joshua it was this one; if you want people to start reading your articles then flip the perspective of your writing from being about you, to being about helpful advice that can help your audience.
For the first two years, Joshua blogged in relative obscurity. At the start Joshua was writing what he calls very “me centred content” about what he was doing each day in his niche of minimalism. About two years in Joshua decided to change his blogging and write articles that could help another person.
As an example, a simple article about how he was getting rid of his clothes, turned into how someone else could get rid of some of their clothes – same topic, different perspective.
3. Destroy the belief that blogging is dead
When Joshua was starting his WordPress blog everyone was saying that blogging was dead. Even now, seven years on, he says that people are still saying that blogging is dead. According to Joshua, the truth is that blogging is more relevant than ever.
The common misconception is that social media has replaced the need for blogs. In reality, blogging provides a totally different opportunity that social media does not. With social media sites like Facebook, you can’t have longer form conversations with readers.
Most users on these sites are scrolling through on their mobile phone and are not interested in sitting down and reading something. On social media, the behaviour is more about reading the first paragraph of something and then scrolling onto the next post.
With a social media platform it’s not your space whereas with a blog you can set the tone, theme, culture and design of everything from the buttons to the sidebar. If you look at Joshua’s blog, it’s all about minimalism and the layout of his blog follows the same theme. It would be impossible to try and replicate this format on social media from scratch.
4. Define the success of your blog early
Another successful attribute of Joshua’s blog is that he defined what success looked like early on. As I said earlier, you can’t just tell yourself you want to build a following and then start blogging. The outcome of Joshua’s blog was to journal about his family so this kept him motivated.
For your own blog, success might be, achieving a goal that you are working hard for, or documenting your life’s work (this is one of mine). These are real goals and they are very achievable. If you define success as something like money or the number of followers, then you won’t be able to stay motivated.
In Joshua’s case, he blogged for almost 18 months with no one reading. Is your blogging goal strong enough to do the same? If not, then now’s your chance to redefine it.
5. Use some beginner tools to attract readers
One of the most common questions that all successful bloggers like Joshua get asked is “how do I build traffic from nothing?” I asked the same question to Joshua and he told me that it’s about the little things.
When you create a blog post on wordpress you get the option to add tags. This simple tool is how people found him in the early days. Once Joshua had a few posts on the site, he then shared new posts on Facebook with family and friends
He then began leaving comments on other people’s blogs that were in the same niche so that people could click his name and find his blog. The next step was to email other bloggers and let them know that he was writing in a similar field to them. After that, he began sharing their work on his blog.
When he wrote an article that was relevant to something on another bloggers site, he would link out to it in his post. Surprise, surprise, other bloggers started returning the favour and doing the same for him.
The final step he took was to have a few guest posts a couple of times a month from other bloggers. That meant that the guest blogger got exposure to Joshua’s audience and vice versa. So that’s how Joshua built traffic early on. It’s pretty simple and something that anyone could do right?
6. Blog 2-3 times per week (it’s been tested)
At the start of Joshua’s blogging career he tried to write posts every single day. By trying to achieve this difficult goal Joshua found that his posts were very short and rushed because he was trying to write something new every single day.
He ended up cutting back and writing three times a week instead. In reality, no one is coming to your website every single day so you shouldn’t feel like you need to publish something new every day. By cutting back to three times a week Joshua found that he had longer, better quality posts.
These posts were being enjoyed more and better still, they were being shared a lot more than before. After a year of blogging three times a week, Joshua cut down to writing two times per week. The level of quality in his posts got even better and they begun getting shared even more.
Joshua did try blogging only once per week but he found that his blog numbers started to decrease and that once per week was not enough. So there you have it, the blogging frequency myth has been demystified for you and you now know how many times per week you need to write to have success.
7. Find the time away from distractions
I asked Joshua during our interview what the basics were that someone needed to blog. His reply was that you need a topic you are passionate about, a platform to publish your writing on and the time to write.
Joshua said to me that the last one (time) is the most important because finding the time to blog and making the commitment to do it is the real challenge. The easiest way to find time is to stop watching TV and write instead!
Distractions are another part of the time component. Try writing in 45-60 minute blocks and you will find that you can write for longer. If social media is another distraction for you then do what Joshua does and use some software, like Ommwriter to block out distractions.
Having the time is one thing but consider what time of the day you write best. For Joshua and I, we both write best in the morning. Ask yourself, what time do you write best?
8. Think carefully about the number of words
Word count is all about training your audience to expect a certain number of words. For Joshua, he typically writes 600-900 works, which works best for his site’s audience. Bloggers like Seth Godin write very short posts of 200 words or less, but the quality of the content is very high and his audience are trained for his short bursts of brilliance
Other well-known bloggers like James Clear tend to write longer posts and again, the audience have come to expect this from him. If you can combine the way you write with how long your audience want to read you will have the optimal word count.
9. Find a relevant photo
Given the type of blog that Joshua has, photos are not as relevant as maybe some other sites. Needless to say, Joshua still thinks that the photo matters. He says that you need to find a photo that loosely represents what you’re talking about and is inviting.
The other point to consider is what photographers call “eye-flow.” Joshua typically looks for photos where your eyes tend to scan down as you look at it, which will lead reader’s eyes to the post text. Some websites that Joshua uses to find photos are Unsplashed, Pixabay and Minimography.
10. Mailing lists are about conversions – nothing else
Mailing lists are something that every blog has but Joshua has an interesting view on how to use one. He says that a lot of people offer a free eBook or free course to capture readers email addresses. The problem Joshua has with this method is that you attract hundreds of email addresses but the conversion rates on any emails you send to them in the future are crummy.
The reason for this result is quite obvious; these methods will only get you a one-time subscriber who just wanted your free product. What Joshua does is have a subscribe button at the bottom of every page and then that way he is only capturing people that have enjoyed his writing and want to know when there is new content.
The other point that Joshua raised was that you should avoid having annoying pop-ups on your site trying to force people to subscribe. His view is that you put a subscribe box where it can be found, but don’t jam it down the readers throat.
11. Be patient your tipping point will come
As you can see from Joshua’s story so far, patience is a big part of blogging. If you do it for the right reasons and you’re patient, your tipping point will come. There were two very clear tipping points for Joshua where his blog traffic started dramatically increasing.
The first one was when Leo Babauta from Zen Habits wrote a blog about minimalism and referenced Joshua’s site as a good blog to read on the subject – this sent a lot of traffic his way. As you can see the law of reciprocity is at work again (there is a reason we harp on about this on Addicted2Success).
The second part of Joshua’s tipping point was when he made the clever decision two years in to take all the major posts from his blog and turn them into an eBook. This eBook became a way for Joshua to reach out to other blogs and say, “hey I just wrote this eBook, if you want to check it out or send people to it then here it is.”
After both of these events occurred, Joshua discovered that Facebook was well suited to his theme and he began sharing his posts on there, which saw his numbers increase further.
12. Monetise your blog (Joshua’s formula)
Before I go into this point I need to make it clear that this is Joshua’s formula so it doesn’t mean you need to follow this exact method. So what you’re all wondering is how did he quit he job and make money fro his blogging?
Your beliefs form a big part of your monetisation strategy. For Joshua, he has never had any advertising or Google Adsense on his blog. He believes that advertising on a website is merely selling a readers attention and he wants his readers attention on what he is writing, not on ads.
All of Joshua’s income comes from book sales and Amazon affiliate links for books he has recommended to his readers. Even though Joshua makes a lot of his money from book sales, he says “it’s easy for people to see a book on the New York Times bestseller list and think wow I wish I could be that lucky.”
This thought often occurs without really understanding how many late nights, early mornings and vacations were sacrificed to write the book. For this monetisation model to work, he has learnt that the only way is to self-publish his books because traditional publishers will pay fairly small royalties.
The places he recommends to self-publish books are Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, iBooks and Kobo Books (good for international sales). To publish your book on these sites you will need to have your Word Document converted into the various file formats. Joshua uses 5JDesign to do this process.
Once you have the different file formats, you can just go to each website yourself and upload the book, write a description, upload your cover and set price. These tasks will take you an afternoon to do yourself.
While PDF books are not as common anymore, there are sites like eJunkie where you can set up affiliates to help sell your book. Joshua sold one of his early books for $10 and gave the affiliate a very generous $5 for each sale they helped him make.
The other reason to have a PDF version of your book is so you can send it to other bloggers who might be interested in it for free. To be successful at this, you have to have the mindset that you will lose one sale, but that the blogger who gets your book will help you make many more sales.
Some other sites that Joshua has used to sell PDF books through are Smash Words and Gumroad.
13. Build more traffic by promoting your book
Just publishing a book will help your blog traffic a bit, but Joshua recommends that you take it further by promoting your book using some of the simple tips he has used.
As I mentioned in the previous tip, offer the book free to bloggers but make sure you insist on a review from them that they put on their own site. You should also find yourself a team of readers to read your book in exchange for leaving a review on Amazon (the reviews are honest so you don’t know what you will get).
Get into the mindset that the more free books you send out, the more reviews you will get, and the more people you will have talking about your book.
To find the team of readers Joshua suggests you do a blog post and say, “hey I’m looking for 50 people to read my book, leave your email address here if you’re keen.” You can then use a simple WordPress contact form to capture the email addresses or use something like Mailchimp to link to your WordPress blog.
If you’re mailing list is big enough, you could send an email out to your database with the same message instead of doing a blog post or do both.
If you’re blog has a very small audience then websites like GoodReads are another great place to post your book. Experimenting with “Sponsored Facebook Posts” is another way you could promote your book. Don’t be afraid to also jump on Twitter and let people know and ask them to retweet it for you.
“The marketing of a book doesn’t start the week before it comes out or even months in advance. Ideally, it should start years in advance where you have been helping other writers, promoting other people’s books, and being a cheerleader and supporter for them. If you have done this then, you will have some strong supporters at the start of the book launch”
So you now have all the tips you need to go off and start your own blog. I hope that you’re inspired and please share your blog creation with me once you get going.
Joshua’s Favourite Book – More Or Less by Jeff Shinabarger
Joshua’s Favourite Quote – “In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.” – Brennan Manning
If you got value from Joshua’s blogging advice, then I strongly encourage you to check out his new not for profit organisation The Hope Effect that is going to change orphan care around the world.
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