A client, with a new website, asked “About how long does it take for traffic to start picking up?” Honestly, that’s a tough question to answer. It’s possible to take a blog from 500 visitors per month to 80,000 per month; in a relatively short time period. I’ve done that with a previous blog, as have many others. It was a full-time job! In hindsight however, I wish I would have properly planned for that blog, as the traffic would have been more focused. Don’t get me wrong, I retained a lot of the readers, but I could have used my time wiser, and in a more productive manner. That question made me recall many of the issues I faced when I first began blogging. Want to learn from my experiences? Read on…
Before I go into the details below, I’d just like to point out a caveat. Most new blogs struggle to gain exposure, they need to be found by readers. Subsequently the issue of long-term, sustained growth versus sudden short-term growth (as new reader communities discover a blog), becomes the fulcrum (so to speak). In my opinion, the best approach is long-term growth. This means you’re earning a few new readers each day, each post, each comment, etc. This really is where your focus should be (and most blogs do seem to fall into this category). When communities discover you through larger syndication sites, that’s the cherries, the desert. Enjoy the large traffic volumes these sites can provide, but remember that not all of them return. Normally there’s a sharp, sudden increase in traffic and a sharp drop. But each time you should be able to retain a few more readers. Your long-term growth, that’s the meat and potatoes!
One of the mistakes I made (initially) was to try to garner traffic from everywhere. I had the thought that the whole Internet was my audience. That’s just not true. Someone interested in knitting had no interest whatsoever in my earlier blog (which was about the Linux). If they visited at all, it was a one-time only visit. To better prepare myself (for long-term growth), I should have mapped out what type of reader (the market), I wanted my blog to interest (and therefore directly “pitch” to). In essence, I should have written down a profile and then only marketed to that niche. You’ll get much more traffic and faster growth if your activities are geared to target and attract a specific readership. Think of it this way, do you want pre-qualified traffic or just traffic?
Search engine optimization (SEO) was another area I could have tweaked a bit more. Not so much in terms of page rank, Google indexing etc., but in terms of content accuracy. What I mean by this, is to ensure I took the time to provide individualized keywords, descriptions, etc. for every single post, as such, when content is syndicated (RSS feeds for example) the descriptions would be more relevant (and therefore better targeted to the niche community). At that time I was a bit lazy and let my blog engine do all the work, instead I should have used the tools at hand, that could better facilitate this for me. One thing though, in my opinion search engine page rank, et al are NOT the holy grail. They should NEVER be your focus or your primary strategy. I remember getting caught up in the Page Rank hype, only to find out, in reality, some of my posts were ranking highly, not just because of SEO, but also, as a result of quality content and other blogs linking to it (among other factors). Reflecting on Social Media, I should have realized then, such venues work best when there is quality content for hungry readers to consume.
As I alluded to earlier, there can be sudden bursts of traffic from sites (for the techie crowd Slashdot could be one example). Frankly when this happened, I’d revel about it. I even remember telling colleagues about the incredible traffic and how the post was (at that time) on Digg’s front page (when Digg was still big) and so on – However, not once did I seriously consider how to retain a larger share of those potential readers. The first time this happened, I found out the traffic would have a sharp and steady decline over the next five days, but never consider looking at the long term incline. I was focusing on the wrong numbers! I should have been looking at maximizing the number of repeat visitors. For example, features to retain some of these new readers should have included:
- A cross linking strategy to relevant posts within my content as well as a short list of the most relevant content (to the post being read).
- Solutions to ensure the sudden surge of traffic would not choke my site and make it unavailable, I needed reliability.
- Beneficial functionality to improve and encourage multi-way communication.
- A personalized message to people who were visiting from Digg (only they would see it)
- Provide social media “Calls to Action“, and so on
Finally, one important aspect I wish I used in the early stages of that blog was to go out and shake the virtual trees. I spent almost all my time tweaking site code, tweaking functionality, creating posts, researching blog technologies and content, responding to visitors, etc. Again, it did not really occur to me at the time, that one of the strongest factors to increasing my traffic was to involve myself in the very community I was writing quality content for! Failing to do so, is very much akin to attempting business operations management, whilst sitting in the office, in reality we have to get out among the employees and liaise with the clients. I should then, have also better leveraged the lauded powers of social media!
As a business operator, I should had key people visit readers’ blogs, ask questions, provide comments and input, extend invitations and so forth. Think about it this way, “grass roots”…if I want to get people to participate in an event I have to invite them. It’s the same on the Internet. Don’t be afraid to ask, get involved, be happy and enjoy what you’re doing – That behaviour is very pervasive in any community, easily noticed and in terms of relations, aids in selling content. Another primary key is to garner the knowledge and obtain access to the tools which will help you do this. Where does some of my traffic come from today? The following basic pie chart highlights Social Media as taking the lead:
To come back to the original question, “About how long does it take for traffic to start picking up?“, it’s really up to you and your niche (community). The more involved you get the faster the growth may be. If you are very serious about blogging to improve your business marketing, are not afraid of the work and are committed. You’ll find that your traffic will reach your targeted level – Don’t worry so much about that though (traffic targets), don’t focus on that per se. Just make sure you focus on your blog’s goals and ensuring your community is given the content and tools they need and want from you. If you focus on these things, the traffic will take care of itself. How do I do this in my scenario?
In an ideal environment, many of us would have all sorts of time to bring our website and blogging goals, etc. to fruition. However, as business owners we are able to afford a more pragmatic approach (we have to be, we are busy growing business). We are the masters of our own business operations, and just as our core business grows as a result of team work, the same is true with our blogs and desired traffic growth. Not all business operators are experienced blogging or social media professionals. Want results?… Common sense suggests retaining experienced solutions to that end! In may cases the key bloggers are found among your very own staff, and coincidentally among your trusted client base as well! Hopefully my personal experiences convey some understanding of the facets integral to the growth of your blog’s traffic.
As an afterthought, before I sign off, I’d like to highlight three traffic related activities you should never do:
- Never spam users. If in launching a new service, you’ve manually added some of the people in your contacts, and they ask to be removed from your list. Do so immediately and with a smile!
- I’ve received a lot of email lately, where I’m promised all sorts of traffic to my blogs, if I buy their software or services. DON’T DO IT! Why? Commonly, your website address is entered into software, which communicates with a huge list of servers. The software then “does it’s thing” for a period of hours, days, etc. Upon review of your web traffic statistics, it appears that lots of people visit your site (because those logs show visitors from thousands of different IP addresses). What’s really happening is that your blog is only being “pinged” or page requests made, no one really actually reads your blog. Don’t waste your money on this. In the event that “humans” are used to open site pages, they are not interested in the content, rather they’re simply accessing the site as directed, and quickly moving to the next site.
- Don’t use other blog/web site generators and similar Internet tricks. Such “Black Hat” methods work temporarily at best. Your blog is best grown by setting up and planning for the long-term.
Not sure what “black hat” means, ask me! I’d be interested in hearing some of your experiences and comments. Feel free to voice off in the comments below.
By: Roger Wheatley
Roger is a select member of our Bizevangelists Panel and online, international freelancer, specializing in IT, Social Media and Online, Inbound Marketing. He has over 25 years experience in web server and SMBs support as well as web development and design. Roger maintains a reputation for effective, pragmatic solution implementation and helping business owners garnering improved ROI on their web investments. He’s a “hands on”, real-world professional.