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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 2 million readers. As featured on: CBS, BBC, NPR, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Who The Hell Reads Your Blog Anyway?

Family at Computer

Editor’s note: We don’t typically write essays about “blogging,” but we’ve received a lot of questions about blogging from many new bloggers recently, so this is for them. If you don’t care about this kind of stuff, then you might want to skip this essay.

Who Visits Your Site?

That question is far more important than you realize.

Let’s start out by stating that this essay is not about getting more traffic to your site, which sounds a bit odd and somewhat counterintuitive for an essay about traffic, doesn’t it?

The Most Important Thing About Your Traffic Has Nothing To Do With Stats

We could use this time to brag about how we attracted over 500 subscribers to our site in our first full month. Or we could use this time to boast about the attracting 100,000 monthly readers in our first nine months. Or we could talk about how this site has grown way faster than we ever anticipated. Or we could use this time to show off all the really cool A-List bloggers who follow us on Twitter, bloggers like Leo Babauta, Julien Smith, Corbett Barr, Joshua Becker, Colin Wright, Chris Guillebeau, and many, many others.

But we’re not going to waste your time. Because none of that stuff matters if you don’t have Great Quality Readers visiting your site.

Let’s consider another question: would you rather have 1,000 Facebook friends or 10 real-life friends? That’s any easy one to answer for us. The truth of the matter is that we’d rather have only one close friend (i.e., each other) than any amount of Facebook friends or Twitter followers.

Why? It has to do with quality. The quality of our relationship trumps any online status we might achieve. That doesn’t mean we can’t build positive, impactful relationships online—we’ve built some pretty amazing ones online so far—it just means that the quality of our (i.e, Joshua & Ryan’s) personal relationship far exceeds any stat we could accomplish on the web, it’s worth more than a million unique visitors per day.

Similarly, the people who visit our site can’t be measured solely on stats. Sure we use Google Analytics to check our stats from time to time, but we mustn’t live and die by those stats. Rather, we must read in-between the stats, as it were. We must see that even though we have XXX,XXX subscribers, some of them are higher quality readers than others. In fact, this is why we don’t post our stats on our site.

What Makes a Great Quality Reader?

We believe that all Great Quality Readers share five common characteristics.

  1. Engaged. Great Quality Readers are engaged, although the nice thing is that they engage in different ways. Some of them leave comments on your site, others retweet your articles to their friends on Twitter or Like your posts on Facebook, while others tell their friends about your content via email or in person or they print your posts and share them with co-workers around the office. They even purchase your products and the products you suggest. They do so because they are…
  2. Enthusiastic. Great Quality Readers are enthusiastic, so much so that they often treat your work like it’s their own, like it’s an extension of themselves. They are proud of your site and are proud to show other people that they are an “insider” there.
  3. Intelligent. Great Quality Readers are very smart. Some of them are smart in the intellectual sense, others are extremely competent in their craft or niche (e.g., web design, business acumen, sales expertise, writing, etc.). Most importantly, they are intelligent enough to know that they can get value from your content. Thus you must create valuable content, you must create interesting content.
  4. Interested. Great Quality Readers are genuinely interested in you as an individual, almost as much as they are interested in your content. They return to your site because they feel a connection with you.
  5. Returning. Great Quality Readers return to your site often. They may do so via an RSS feed or email subscriptions or Twitter or Facebook or your URL or any other way they chose. The important part is that they return and they read your content and they are engaged and enthusiastic and intelligent and interested.

How Can You Attract Great Quality Readers?

To attract Great Quality Readers you must keep in mind the five above mentioned qualities.

  1. To engage people you must encourage them to participate, encourage them to leave comments, retweet your posts, follow you on Twitter, Like you on Facebook, and subscribe to your site via RSS or email. But you must also reciprocate: respond to their comments, thank them for their subscriptions and tweets and Likes whenever you can (N.B. you don’t have to do this every time, but be cognizant of when you should).
  2. To make people enthusiastic about your content, you must first create content that you are enthusiastic about, you must create content that you are proud of. But that’s only half the battle. Your content must also connect with your readers on a deeper level, it must touch their nerve endings. Your readers must be able to identify with it personally, otherwise they will not be excited about it, and they will not feel like an insider. Perhaps Corbett Barr said it best: Write Epic Shit.
  3. Your readers are more intelligent than you think, and it’s OK to challenge them a bit. Sure there are certain gratuitousness thresholds that one must be aware of, but it’s OK to assume that your readers will understand certain complex concepts. Great Quality Readers are willing to do a little extra work to get great content. This is why, on our site, we tend to focus on discourse via essays rather than traditional blog posts.
  4. You want your readers to be interested in you as an individual as well as your content. To make them interested in you, you must find ways to connect with them on a more personal level. It’s impossible to interact with all your readers on a one-on-one basis, but you can do certain things to your site to build an instant connection with potential readers. First, put your picture on your site, people connect with other people a lot more than they do with words and images alone. Also, tell people about yourself: be honest and open and genuine, and tell people who you are and what you stand for; do so succinctly though, people don’t have time to read a memoir on your about me page.
  5. Give people a reason to return. Make your content desirable. Make people yearn for more, make them attempt to anticipate what’s coming next. Once you find your voice, your readers will want more. Anticipation is a nearly unquenchable thirst. (N.B. this doesn’t, however, mean that you must post X number of posts per week to get traffic; you should only post when you have something to say and when your content is great enough to add value to your readers.)

We do all these things to attract—and also retain—Great Quality Readers. It’s worth noting that none of these points are absolutes, they are not principles or maxims by which you must live to attract Great Quality Readers. These are simply the things that work for us and we’ve seen them work for other sites as well.

Examples of Great Quality Readers

So how do we know we have Great Quality Readers? That’s a complex question, but let’s look at it like this. How do you know if you are in great physical shape or not? Is it just by the stats? If you weigh 190 pounds, are you in great shape? Well, we all know people who weigh 190 pounds and are utterly unfit and out of shape, and yet there are other people who weight 190 and are total studs.

The point? The stats are only part of the story. You will know if your traffic is quality traffic if much of your traffic fits into all five of the above mentioned categories.

Here are some examples of some of our Great Quality Readers:

From a comment on our site: I LOVE this site. I am at the beginning of my journey and need encouragement right now. This is the place to find it. You have no idea how many people you are helping.

From a Tweet: Joshua Fields Millburn is one of the best writers out there at the moment.

From an A-List blogger’s site (Colin Wright of Exile Lifestyle): I’ve been a big fan of the intellectualized approach these guys have been bringing to Minimalism.

From an email: I am an undergraduate senior at a small college where I study Fine Art. I’d like to commend you on your blog and the broader look at how consumerism impacts the western world. I’m doing my thesis on consumerism before and after the economic crash of 2009. During my research, would you be willing to correspond with me about your own interest in a pared-down lifestyle?

It’s interactions like these—all of which are incredibly flattering—that tell us that we have Great Quality Readers, and we get literally hundreds of similar comments via different mediums from similar great readers.

But, we should note…

Great Quality Readers Won’t Always Agree with You

It’s not always all ponies and rainbows, and we’re not just talking about trolls either (in fact, we tend to call trolls seagulls because they fly by, shit on your site, and fly away).

We often have great readers who disagree with us. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you can’t please everyone, nor should you try to. Be content with the Great Quality Readers you do have and work hard to attract more readers just like them. That’s when quantity enters the equation, when you are working on increasing the quantity of Great Quality Readers who visit your site. But remember: quality always comes before quantity.

Also read: How to Start a Successful Blog Today