How I Gained 103,886 Email Subscribers With Just One Article

Zdravko Cvijetic

“Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity” — H. Hackson Brown, JR.

It took me four days to write the following piece: 13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want To Be Successful.

But it took me over nine months to make it go viral and to become the most recommended story in the history of Medium.

However, the most interesting part wasn’t the virality, but that it generated over 103.886 subscribers (in less than a month of being published).

Screenshot taken on Dec 26.
Screenshot taken on Jan 23.

Let me tell you why I am glad it took me nine months to achieve this.

Having an article go viral doesn’t guarantee that you will get a lot of subscribers unless you take care of certain things.

Since Zero to Skill is a one-person show (for now at least), I had to use my time in the best way, and that is why I decided to focus on just three high leverage activities.

It might seem like a simple task, but when you want to build a blog, there are so many things you can do, and if you are not focusing your energy on the most important things, it will take you ages before you get the desired result.

Here are the three things I did during that time, to build a platform with a smooth user experience, that can generate a big number of subscribers and finally how to craft content that supports elements for virality.

Three Pillars Of A Blog:

  1. Stable Platform
  2. Content Creation
  3. Content Distribution

Before we proceed with each one of these, have in mind that if you are a solo-show, you will spend much time learning how to do these things, which makes the process longer, but more enjoyable once you see the results.

Let’s start with how to build a stable platform.

1. Stable Platform

I have seen a dozen examples of people who wrote viral articles and missed a window of opportunity because it happened suddenly and they did not build a strong technical foundation of their website.

Here are several technical aspects that you should have in mind.

Hosting & Email Service

Make sure your hosting will hold up, talk to your hosting providers, and see what will happen when you get sudden traffic on your website.

Several days before writing that article, I reached out to my hosting company to see what happens when your traffic explodes.

This was an actual question asked by customer agent of a hosting company:

What, you mean like you get featured on Oprah kind of thing?

After I confirmed the wild idea, he said it would not crash, but it will slow down.

He was right.

Website was stable all the way.

Next thing is to make sure that you have email service provider, that is correctly linked to your opt-ins, and that it will hold up massive traffic.

PS: make sure that you have enough money when your article goes viral because the price of your hosting and email service providers will jump.

For me, email service provider jumped from 15$ to 525$ (I am currently using Mailchimp). Which burned my monthly budget.

Design & Structure

Here you need an answer to two questions:

  1. What goal do you want each one of your pages to accomplish?
  2. How does each one of those pages need to look like (and are they optimised for mobile) to accomplish that goal?

Once you have an answer to these questions, you need to choose a theme that can deliver.

Apply the principle of simplicity here.

I used the Divi Theme, which didn’t require coding, plus it allowed me to optimize it for mobile use.

Plus, you get like six different opt-ins for free.
(NOTE: I am not an affiliate, they just made my life much easier)

For instance, landing pages should not have anything but the opt-in area.

You want your readers to sign up for a valuable resource; there’s no point to put social shares and other things that can distract them.

Keep it simple, keep it sexy.

Once they become part of your community, what’s the next thing you want them to do? Read the article, about page?

If you answer articles, next thing is to make sure that consuming them will be as fluid as possible, remove anything that doesn’t serve that goal.

Take a look at what I did.

No sidebars, no opt-ins, just content. Fully mobile optimised.

Once you build a foundation, then you only focus on number two and three, and slightly improve it over time, and fix any problem that appears.

2. Content Creation

There are three things you should do to create great content:

  1. Learn how to how to create (viral) content
  2. Research market needs
  3. Craft the content itself

First, Learning.

2. Learn How To Create (Viral) Content

“Virality isn’t luck. It’s not magic. And it’s not random. There’s a science behind why people talk and share. A recipe. A formula, even.” Jonah Berger

There are two sides of this.

First, you need to learn how to do content writing, anything from headlines, sub-headlines, emails, articles, and landing pages.

The Internet is swamped with free resources where you can learn this. My personal favourites are Neil Patel’s content.

Next, to this, you need to learn how to create content that supports virality.

I want to be clear here; I do not think you can create viral articles. However, you can create articles that have elements that support virality.

Such as these six principles, according to Jonah Berger:

  1. Social Currency (Make people look good)
  2. Triggers (Become part of their routine)
  3. Emotion (When we care, we share)
  4. Public (Built to show, built to grow)
  5. Practical Value (People share useful info)
  6. Stories (Message of your idea)

Have in mind that there are universal principles, such as listicles do great, but also that each platform has its principles that you can hack. I will talk more about this in the distribution channels.

Researching the market needs:

Originally this article was supposed to be titled “13 things you should give up if you want to be productive.”

However, having in mind that its the end of the year, beginning of the new one. And that people are in the reinvention mode.

Moreover, that the word “successful” has higher search rate, as seen below, I decide to change it.

169.000.000 vs. 891.000.000 is not a small difference…

Interesting things is that most of the13 things remained the same. Who knew, that how you use your time and success were correlated.

Finally, content creation.

Crafting Content:

As an educator, I approach to content creation from a learning experience design perspective.

My approach was to create a learning experience from my article.

Usually, I write content that has over 3000 words, but here the data from the research said that shorter section, up to 1500 words would do better.

Not only that, you have to keep in mind how people consume articles

The average user does following:

  • Reads the headline and sees the picture
  • Decides whether or not to Click.
  • If he/she does, they skim to see main points, if they find them interesting
  • They go back to the introduction and start reading.

That is how you need to design your article, so it incorporates everything you need to make sure someone fully reads your content.

  1. Compelling Headline
  2. Excellent photograph (that is linked to your main point)
  3. Intriguing Introduction (personal stories do great here)
  4. Finally, it has to be value-packed, with clear structure

When it comes to the writing process itself, these are the principles I follow:

  • It has to be Practical
  • It has to be Entertaining
  • It has to be Action Driven

Know that the purpose of each sentence is to lead the reader to the next one, and you do this by joining the conversation that’s already happening in your reader’s mind.

Actual Writing Process

Here’s the simple five step process I follow:

  1. Brain dump of everything you know about the topic (and structure it in three parts: introduction, delivery and summary)
  2. Research (other articles that did well)
  3. Extract universal principles
  4. Adapt them to your brain dump
  5. Finalize your article (edit and proofread)

When it comes to photographs, quotes, research.
They add massive value to your article but don’t overdo it, and make sure its connected to your points.

And make sure that you give credit, where the credit is due.
If you use a free photograph, link it to a photographer.

3. Content Distribution

Not all channels are made equal.

Choosing a channel can make you or break you.

You need to define three things:

  1. Your niche
  2. Format of the content you put out (written/audio/video)
  3. A platform that supports your content and that your niche uses

For me, it was writing articles on topics such as top-performance and brand building.

The Medium was an obvious choice.
I decided to hack how Medium works.

To see what works and how to implement it as fast as possible.

I suggest that you find a publication that generates content similar to your niche.

Contact the owner and ask them if they are interested in having a contributor.

Think of it as cooperation.
For me, it was Personal Growth, and owner, Dan.

Whenever I have an article, I submit it, and after a review, it usually gets published within 2 hours.

Don’t be afraid to make a specific Call To Action. As long as you are providing people with the valuable freebie.

Know that if you put valuable content, not only that it will benefit you, but the publication as well.

After you make sure Medium is covered, distribute it through other social media channels. No matter how developed they might be.

Make sure that each person that’s linked to you knows what you are doing.

Also, then put out content regularly, so they get used to you as someone who provides value, not only yours but from other people as well.

“If you cannot create, distribute. There’s no excuse for not talking to the world; it is just that it does not have to be your words every time.” — Gary Vaynerchuk

However, no matter what, keep in mind what is your primary platform.

Further distribution:

Once you write good content, it will get picked up.

Major outlets have people dedicated to finding content that generates traffic.

For this article, I got approach by people from:

Just being republished on CNBC, gave me half of the traffic.

In case they do not approach you just shoot them a brief email to see if they want to republish.

Ali Mese gives a good template:

Title:My post has 42% share rate, screenshot attached, repost maybe?

Email:Hi, my article is performing really well, please see analytics data attached. I want to repost it on your outlet. Please kindly get back if you are interested. Ali

If you have results, just show the screenshot, and in most cases, they want to republish.

Moreover, make sure that you build a relationship with people. Such as editors that approach you, and aim to become a regular contributor.

Final thoughts

As you see, there’s many things that you have to have in mind when starting a blog, and writing valuable content.

However, whenever in doubt what to do next, just start with the highest leverage activity.

And have in mind not to work on the wrong things.

There’s no point to distribute your content, if the people cannot opt in to become part of your email list.

Always ask yourself, out of everything I could do right now, what’s the one thing that will bring me the most results?

Call To Action

If you want to increase your productivity and eliminate procrastination, check out my free guide called: “The Ultimate Productivity Cheat Sheet (Revised Edition)

Click here to get the guide right now!

PS: Now available in both PDF and Audio Versions.

One last thing…

If you liked this article, click the💚 below so other people will see it here on Medium.

Zdravko Cvijetic

Written by

Founder of Zero to Skill | Content Creator | 50M + Views | #1 Viral Medium Article | The Ultimate Productivity Cheat Sheet >>>

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