A Path To Rapid Growth: Find Your Formula


Smashing Magazine is a white-hot web publication that frequently publishes lists. They’ve gone from approximately 300K VPM to nearly a million in the last year.  How?  Simple – they found a formula that worked and just kept using it.  Their formula in particular is acting as an aggregator of useful, interesting or inspirational content and using lists as the format.

A lot of people shy away from lists since some view them as cliché, but Smashing Magazine noticed their users responded incredibly well to them and just keep driving that formula home time and time again.  It worked incredibly well, inspired their users to repeatedly share their content, and led to explosive growth.

Seth Godin found success with short, terse posts. He writes them all the time and has become known for that style.  An interesting thing happens next though – those same people who read his classic short posts get drawn in.  Now they read his longer format posts too and wait in anticipation daily for new content to carefully soak up every word – whether short or long.  They go out and buy his books and even pre-order new ones.  Seth’s initial formula to draw people in may be pithy content, but it’s just step one in connecting with him.

BlendTec built popularity through cheeky videos featuring their product.  They kept making them because of the incredible popularity of the series and saw it was a huge formula for success.  They have more than 80 videos up on YouTube and well over 100 million people have voluntarily (and happily) watched their content.  I know BlendTec is the obvious example for viral videos, but what you can gleam from their success is not the use of hilarious content, it’s that they found a good formula and kept pushing it to cumulative effect over time.

Darren Rowse has built a massive following with sites devoted to tips for emerging media platforms. Initially he had success with ProBlogger, and Digital Photography School and now applying the formula to TwiTip – essentially the same idea as ProBlogger but for Twitter.  ProBlogger was successful due to the ever-increasing demand for tips in a platform that was gaining popularity at the time (blogging) and Darren took ownership of the niche of meta-blogging.

Some might think he’s taking a gamble by doing the same thing for Twitter – but he could just as easily expand the topics to cover the microblogging phenomenon should Twitter fall out of fashion — short format content isn’t going away anytime soon.  Darren is repeating his success with ProBlogger by staking his ground as the go-to source for tips and strategy on microblogging while the platform is hitting explosive growth, just like he did for blogging.  His strategy in both cases is to ride the same wave of growth in the platform for his own property.

Guy Kawasaki created the ultimate RSS content aggregation site for all topics under the sun, AllTop. He started the site by aggregating content from major niches such as sports, marketing, technology, etc.  Once the site gained steam and he saw the popularity of aggregating and organizing quality content in the big niches, he applied the formula to micro niches covering everything from Bacon to Schizophrenia.  The site had a design in the beginning, sure – but he found the formula to be successful enough for the big niches it was a logical next step to do the same for smaller niches.  The smaller niches are perhaps even more interesting as the more specific you get with subjects, the audiences shrink but the passion they have goes way up.  His formula may resonate even more with Bacon fans than marketing fans.

Maki realized the power of packaging content in a sticky brand.  At Dosh Dosh, his formula went beyond delivering thought provoking, deep content while the rest of his niche was giving simple quick hits – he went a step further by cultivating an aura of mystery and differentiation in visual branding on his site.  As I wrote in my case study of DoshDosh, he has been consistent with delivering his formula of anime characters mixed with his clever marketing strategy.

Daniel Scocco at Daily Blog Tips has created an entire network based off the successful idea of daily tips.  I wrote a case study on the network previously, and thought it was a great sample of taking the successful formula of one blog – right down to the layout and branding and applying it to other niches.  His network, based off his successful formula, has grown to more than 500,000 monthly impressions across sites.

I’m not saying any of these people/ideas are one-hit wonders.  They all do other things than what I mentioned here.  But the fact remains that most people find out about them through the successful formulas they keep coming back to.  And, the positive results through formulas that work enable the rapid growth which allows freedom to expand and experiment in new directions.

There is nothing at all wrong with being known for something, especially if it works.  It is exactly what allows you to  stand out from the countless others doing the same thing as you.  Don’t worry about getting pigeon-holed if you find a formula that works, as there is nothing stopping you from switching strategies if you wake up one day and find your approach is no longer fruitful.  Changing directions on the web is simple.

There are plenty of other design websites, Smashing Magazine certainly isn’t the only one.  Seth Godin isn’t the only marketing blogger.  BlendTec isn’t the only blender manufacturer nor company creating videos as part of their web marketing.  Darren Rowse isn’t the only one creating websites aimed at helping people use emerging platforms.  But in each case these people have hit upon a formula they found to be successful and continue to come back to it repeatedly as they continue providing returns.  I am sure that for all of them, if they find the mine runs out of gold they’ll move on to a new strategy, but until then there would be no reason to stop.

When you find something that consistently works for you, don’t be afraid to keep using it.

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image credit:  eriwst (modified under cc 2.0)