This week I want to take an in-depth look at Freelance Switch, a blog for freelancers. I think this site is worth examining because it’s experienced the kind of rapid growth we all dream of: from 0 to more than 10,000 subscribers in under four months.
I’ll be looking at the site first and foremost from the perspective of a reader, because I think getting inside the minds of readers is one of the best ways to discover what works and what doesn’t work about your site.
The purpose of examining a successful blog like Freelance Switch is to look at what that site does well and translate some of that spirit to our own content and presentation efforts.
What Actually Words:
While it’s often immediately clear whether content is popular or not (just look at the subscriber number, or comments) the most valuable question we can ask ourselves is ‘Why is it popular?’, or just as useful, ‘Why is it not popular?’
Each week I’ll explore a successful site and discuss what I believe are its strengths and weaknesses. I’d like to hear your own thoughts in the comments section.
Niche – one of the site’s founders, Collis Ta’eed, has said that 90% of the site’s success can be attributed to picking the right niche. There are thousands of freelancers worldwide but previously very little web content dedicated to them.
Collis got an inkling that freelancing could be an under-served niche when he wrote an article on the topic (A Comprehensive Guide to Starting Your Freelance Career) which exploded in popularity. If you experience this with one of your own articles then it might also be worth considering whether the topic is under-served and ripe for some new content.
Vital content – much of the content at Freelance Switch is made up of guides and advice writing. The number of comments and subscribers would suggest that the guides and advice are generally useful, creating the impression that the site has the potential to make you a better freelancer. It’s difficult to stop paying attention to a site that has the potential to make you better at your chosen field of work.
Comic strips – the site has its own regular comic strip, Freelance Freedom. Not only is this a unique and novel form of content but it strengthens the perception that the site is written by freelancers for freelancers. It has that effect because the comic’s jokes are unique to the freelance industry and probably wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to someone outside that industry. It’s the kind of content that creates a feeling of exclusivity in the community.
Competitions, surveys, merchandise – greater interactivity between the site and its readers helps build a community around the content.
Strong credibility – the editorial team are all experienced freelance writers and Leo Babauta, one of the site’s main contributors, is a well-known blogger, writing at Lifehack, North x East and Zen Habits.
Interviews – if you can get them, interviews are highly effective content. Just make sure that you’re interviewing someone of interest to your readers. The best interviewees are experts or highly successful in your topic. You’d be surprised at the kinds of prominent people you can get to accept a short e-mail interview.
An advertising blunder – proof that even highly successful sites can make whopping mistakes. Freelance Switch decided to accept a sponsorship from Template Monster, a site selling website templates. The problem with this was that a large proportion of the community at Freelance Switch is made up of freelance web designers who feel the template industry is having a negative impact on their profession. The news was very badly received and the sponsorship was reneged the next day.
I believe the sponsorship was nothing but well-intentioned and those behind it thought the site’s community might appreciate being able to look at Template Monster for inspiration. Of course, it wasn’t perceived in this way but at least the editors listened to their readers and had the humility to know when they had made a mistake.
Three lessons to take from this are:
- Think carefully about what you advertise and possible conflicts of interest with your readers.
- Be prepared to back down on unpopular changes to your site.
- It’s possible to recover from mistakes, so don’t be afraid to make them.
In closing, Freelance Switch’s key elements of success:
- Picking the right niche at the right time.
- Providing vital content for a community of readers.
- Comic strips, a novel and unique form of content.
- Competitions, surveys and branded merchandise engage readers and build a sense of community.
- The site has strong credibility because it is written by freelancers, for freelancers, and Leo Babauta is a well-known web writer.
- Interviews add diversity to the types of content provided and are popular with readers.
How can you translate these elements of success to your own content?