4,439 Words on Driving Traffic to Your Blog

When I posted my one month and two month traffic stats for PluginID for the world to see, a lot of people were impressed with the growth the site received so quickly. In fact, I had a lot of comments and emails from people asking me how I did it.

There are no real ‘secrets’ you need to learn in order to increase your blog traffic, so today I’m going to share what I know and how I effectively build traffic. This can be used on sites you are just starting up or on blogs that are already established, there should be something here for everyone to benefit from.

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Brief History

Before you wonder whether or not you should trust my advice, I just want to say that I’ve been in Internet Marketing for over 3 years. I work with newspapers and some Fortune 500 companies so have quite a bit of experience in the field with both large brands and sites I’ve started from scratch.

However, you shouldn’t take anything I say as the blogging traffic bible or word for word what you should do to get visitors to your content. This is simply my advice on building a high-trafficked blog that doesn’t require multiple digg homepages or PR8 backlinks in order to see a traffic spike.

So, without further anticipation, here are the sections we are going to cover today:

  • Choosing your Niche
  • Spreading your Brand
  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Writing Quality Content
  • Niche Engagement

To me, these are the main factors to building a blog to respectable traffic levels. You may know about SEO but you may not know about niche engagement so if you don’t have time to read all this or don’t think you will benefit from certain parts then just read the sections necessary for you.

Choosing Your Niche

Deciding a niche to blog about can be very difficult for most bloggers, once you’ve set the tone of your blog it can be challenging to veer off into other areas. The first thing I want to say is that you should not just start another ‘make money online’ website. These are absolutely everywhere, I actually feel bad for some of the authors who are preaching about how people can make money online when they have 18 subscribers and every other post is a product review.

Choosing your niche should not be a difficult job, you simply have to write about something you love; cover a topic you are passionate about. While knowing what you are passionate about shouldn’t be too difficult, you should also make sure that there is an audience for your content.

For example, if you are interested in ‘scandanavian fly fishing’ and are hoping to become a full-time blogger then you might struggle to find an audience large enough to make a decent income. What I recommend in this case is that you simply step back in terms of topic. So if you are interested in scandanavian fly fishing then you write about fishing, if you are interested in snow boarding then consider creating an extreme sports website.

The idea here is that you don’t limit yourself to what you can cover. There’s nothing wrong with writing about celebrities or blogging or self improvement. Although they are niche topics they do have a very large potential audience if you can build your brand and gain some marketshare. However, if you want to write about blog design (which a friend of mine does) then you are limiting your potential post ideas. On the other hand, with this topic you are branching out from a huge niche so there is still potential to reach a few thousand subscribers and make a great go of things.

Before you pick your final niche, make sure:

  • You love the topic you are going to be writing about
  • There’s a big enough audience for you to reach
  • If you blog on a very specific topic then there’s a chance to become the niche leader
  • There are other blogs in the space that you can interact with

The bottom point is not absolutely necessary, but when you are blogging in a specific niche rather than a broader industry it can feel lonely when you are on your own. One of the main benefits of blogging is that you can become part of a community and find like-minded people with the same interests. Don’t limit yourself too much but also don’t go to broad and write about everything. After a while you’ll work out what is best for you and what is best for your audience.

Spreading Your Brand

You found this blog post somehow. Somewhere out there in the World Wide Web you came across this post. Whether it was from StumbleUpon, a comment I left on another site, a recommendation from a friend or you were already subscribed to our feed, you found it. I’ve worked very hard at spreading the PluginID brand and I’m going to go through exactly how you can do the same thing.

Get an Avatar – I strongly recommend that you pick an avatar (a small image) that is going to be used to represent your site on the various platforms I mention below. Your avatar should be something that stands out, is catchy and most importantly…memorable. If you sign-up on social sites and don’t fill in your details or upload an image then you are going to look like every other lazy member of that community.

It can be something that represents your niche but it certainly doesn’t have to. Here are some popular examples from around the web:

The second one is mine

In order to get your avatar in comments like you see on a lot of blogs, including this one, simply join Gravatar and upload the image you want to use. It works based on your email address so whatever email you insert in your comments, the corresponding image will show (if any).

Join MyBlogLog – Although I don’t use any of the services provided in MyBlogLog, there’s one cool benefit to being a member. Whenever you view a blog that has their ‘recent visitors’ widget installed, which many of them do, your avatar will show on the side of the website.

Just through browsing the web I already had 4 friend requests on my profile and my page had been viewed over 160 times. When you factor in that your profile clearly displays your website URL then there’s the potential to get quite a few visitors for no extra work on your part. You can check out MyBlogLog here.

Register on Social Voting Websites – whether you are a fan of these or not, there’s a lot of traffic potential in all of them. I recommend only signing up on the ones that interest you and you will use but some of the biggest ones are:

You should also check if there are any niche social voting sites in your industry, Squareoak has a huge list which might help in your search.

For all of the sites you join, upload your avatar from earlier and fill out your profile details. Whether or not you use a site name as your username is up to you. Some people prefer to remain anonymous so that they can become ‘power users’ and drive more traffic to their sites. For me, I make it clear who I am on StumbleUpon and Mixx but use a more anonymous profile on Digg where it is frowned upon to vote or submit your own content.

Join Twitter – Twitter is a ‘micro-blogging’ service which allows you to share 140 character updates with the world. My favourite aspect of Twitter is definitely the community aspect and seeing what other people are up to. Once again I recommend you use the same avatar as on other sites, or at least show a picture of yourself.

I’ve been using Twitter for PluginID for over 2 months now and it is consistently in the top 5 referring sites in terms of traffic to this blog. What I love is that you can ‘follow’ people (add them as a friend) and keep up to date with like-minded people that have similar interests. When you fill out your profile you get to put your URL in the site field so definitely do this, and then start following people in your niche.

Following is not something that you can just do on its own and expect to get traffic from the site, instead you want more people to follow you. Some quick tips to get more followers include:

  • Link to your twitter profile from your website
  • Establish relationships with friends who are already connections on the likes of StumbleUpon & Mixx
  • Ask interesting questions that people will reply to, then their followers will find your profile
  • Offer great tips and advice in your industry so that people would be missing out if they didn’t follow you

Finally, you can also use TwitterFeed to automatically update your followers of all new posts to your blog. I tend to click on the blog updates of others so this definitely sends traffic.

Make Content Easy to Share – I’m amazed at how difficult some blogs make it just in order to digg one of their stories or give it a save on delicious. If you want to grow and want people to share your content then you have to make it easy for them. If you look at the bottom of every post here then you will see there are quick links to:

  • Email posts
  • Stumble Posts
  • Save to Delicious
  • Digg

If you are using feedburner then you can set this up very easily, I also have the links showing in my RSS feed for people who prefer to read content that way. People aren’t going to share your content if you make it easy for them, why would they go through the hassle?

Search Engine Optimisation

When I first started out in SEO I was constantly learning and testing as much as I could. I was reading forums on a daily basis, writing my own SEO blog and trying out new techniques. Based on all this work, I’ve managed to successfully pick up the knowledge to rank very highly for competitive keywords in search engines and I’ve actually been providing SEO as a service for a few years.

In this post I’m just going to keep to the basics as…to be honest…that is all you really need.

Unique Title Tags – This is the tip that most people in the SEO industry give first because in terms of on-site optimisation this is one of the most important things you can have. The title tag is one of the best ways to tell search engines what your website is actually about. In terms of optimising this for blogs I tend to show an optimised homepage title which either features the site name and slogan or keywords relating to my niche.

In terms of single posts, I prefer simply having the title of the post as the full title of the page. Of course, if you want to add branding to that then I recommend you do so but only at the end of the title. It is believed (and proven in my own testing) that keywords at the beginning of a URL are given more weight.

Non-WWW to www Redirect – For those of you thinking ‘What??’, let me explain. Basically, it’s a good idea to make sure that either the non-www version of your site (http://pluginid.com) is redirecting to the www version of your site (http://www.pluginid.com) or vica versa. The reason for this is that whenever somebody links to your site you want all that link juice to go to the same place.

The best way to do this is by using a 301 redirect, which tells the search engines that the link is permanent. You can learn how to do this over here. As an extra measure, you can also sign your site up for Google Webmaster Tools and there’s a section to tell them which version of your site to show in the search results.

Interlink – Interlinking is when you relevantly link to other sections of your website in your blog posts. I do that quite a lot over here at PluginID and there are 2 benefits. The first benefit is that you increase the inbound links to these pages and thus increase their importance in the eyes of the search engines. This can help you get more pages indexed.

The second benefit is that you can keep your website visitors on your site for longer. Instead of just having them read an article and leave, you’ll find a lot of them clicking through to other sections and checking out your other content.

Have a Sitemap – We have a sitemap over here but for now it is only covering pages I’ve created that aren’t actually blog posts. The best things to normally include in your sitemap are:

  • Post Categories
  • Latest Posts
  • Any other pages you’ve created

I will be implementing the latest posts on the PluginID sitemap shortly but for now the site is being indexed fine. I link to product reviews that I wouldn’t have on the main blog, this helps website visitors find content and also help search engines navigate around the website. When we add more pages in the future (which we will) this will become even more useful.

If you want to set-up your own simply create a new page in your blogging software and link to it from all pages of your website (I recommend the navigation bar or footer). Then include the main pages that you want the search engines and site visitors to see, that you may not have been able to link to elsewhere. You can also use this opportunity to guide new visitors around your site and direct them to your favourite posts.

Shorten your URL’s

Even on the big blogs out there today, I see this mistake over and over again. You look at the address bar for a post URL and it appears something like this:

http://www.domain.com/2009/10/03/keywords-that-I-used-in-the-title-of-my-blog-post-rediculous/

I’m not kidding, I see this on sites with over 50,000 subscribers. If you are using WordPress then go into the Settings >> Permalinks page and cut it down to simply the post-name. Now, whenever you are writing a post you can also cut this down as well, so for example the URL for this blog post will probably end up being something like:

http://www.pluginid.com/increase-blog-traffic

Doesn’t that look much better? Very long URL’s get cut off my search engines and they look quite spammy in my opinion. Personally, I prefer URL’s to remain short but just long enough so that the user knows what the page is about.

SEO No No’s

I’ve spent 3 years blogging in the SEO industry so I’ve never encountered as many people who sell links as I have in the personal development niche. I saw bloggers posting and wondering why their PR went down when they had 20 spammy links in their sidebar. If you want to stay on the safe side of the fence then I wouldn’t sell links in your blog. I do this on a few sites but only on sites where I don’t care about Google or other search related traffic.

I also recommend that you don’t write solely for search engines, your blog should be all about the readers. If you are creative you’ll find someway to include the keywords you are targeting into a post title without it looking spammy. If you simply want to include your keywords all over the place and make your text unreadable then you probably aren’t in blogging to build up a readerbase, or you shouldn’t expect to build one.

Writing Quality Content

Content is the main factor that you need to work on with your blog. Even if you don’t spend time tweaking your site for search benefits and don’t care that much about branding specifically on each social site, excellent content will still give your site a chance to succeed.

Of course, the definition of ‘quality’ really depends on which niche you are writing in. If you are writing on a golf blog then quality might be a new swing technique that nobody has thought of. If you are writing on a humour blog it may be about finding a funny image or a new joke that people just have to pass around. For our case in terms of the personal development niche, quality content tends to be content which is personal, original and fills a need.

The type of content that tends to do well are:

  • List Content – ’11 Ways to’, ’21 Reasons why’, ’101 things that’ – you find these a lot on blogs
  • Unique content i.e. research into something that hasn’t been done or a personal challenge people are thinking of trying which you report on
  • Viral Content – something that is easy for people to share and something that they are likely to share. Humorous content tends to do well
  • Resource posts – links to products, services or items in one place that can help peoples lives (example)

Although you might have success with a post on the ’11 Biggest Fashion Mistakes of 2008′, it’s not really going to go down well with your general audience on your soccer (football) blog. Remember that although social media sites have the potential to drive you a large amount of visitors, many of them will simply disappear so don’t push away your regular genuine readers with unrelated content.

If your content is just the same as what everybody in your niche is used to then you aren’t going to stand out. If most people write short newsy posts then try writing longer posts that are informative. If people tend to write list posts that offer little substance, can you do something different and still interest the audience?

Following is a look at some of my top articles with their titles and how many views they received:

Title: Dream Lifestyle? Think Again!
Views: 21,383
Reason: The reason that this post did so well is that I took a popular myth and showed people the behind the scenes look. If you can change people’s assumptions then you are onto a winner.

Title: Personal Development Blogs
Views: 15,126
Reason: The reason this page did so well is because I ranked the top sites in the personal development niche based on a number of public metrics. Everyone who is involved did their best to share the list with their fellow stumblers, tweeters or website visitors. If you can create a page that people benefit from sharing then definitely do it.

Title: Are you Living a Scripted Life?
Views: 13,980
Reason: I find post titles with questions tend to get a lot better response than those without, that’s not saying you should overdo it though. I think the main reason this post did so well is because many people could relate to the content and wondered if they where simply living a life that was already designed for them, rather than doing something unique. Once again, this is making people question themselves rather than feeding them all the answers.

Title: How to Get Someone or Something, Off Your Mind
Views: 8,836
Reason: This post did very well on Care2 and StumbleUpon and was posted quite recently. This is a resolution to a common problem that people have, but I’m also putting my own spin on it. I didn’t answer it in a way that you would normally expect and actually shared something I think would work better. I’ve noticed that a lot of search engine referrals are also coming in from this post so it’s view count will constantly increase whether I get social media traffic or not.

Niche Engagement

Niche engagement, as the name suggests, means immersing yourself in all aspects of your niche in order to get targeted traffic back to your blog. I’m going to run through some ideas of what I mean by this now:

Blog Comments – I regularly comment on blogs in this niche for a number of reasons. The first is that the author is likely to come back to your site to see who is commenting. The second is that there’s potential for visitors of the site you are commenting on to click your name (link) and arrive at your website. I found one blog comment to drive me over 100 visitors recently and when it is in the niche you blog in, you can’t complain at the effort it takes to comment when you can get that many visitors.

Thirdly, blog comments are a good way to become ‘closer’ to the author of a blog, in which they might link back to one of your blog posts or simply add you as a friend in other social websites. I tend to find that the authors of small to medium size blogs will comment back on your site as well when they get the time, making yours look a bit more lively.

Guest Posting – I’ve only done about 4 guest-posts since starting this blog, actually that’s quite a few for 3 months, but they’ve all been worth it. Guest posts are a great way to get both backlinks and traffic to your website which can help with direct visitors and search engine referrals. It’s best to do a guest post on a blog in your niche because that way the people that come across your site are much more likely to subscribe to your feed.

I’ve done a few guest posts for blogs that aren’t very related but are still large. My main reason for this is that I find it very easy to write on a range of subjects, and prefer relevant posts to this niche to be written solely for this blog. However, you should try things out and see what works best for you. If you do give guest posting a try then don’t value quantity over quality. You want to showcase your best work for others so that they:

  • Are likely to post the content on their site
  • Have a chance of receiving some good traffic to the article
  • Bring in visitors from that site who want to see more of your work
  • Are likely to invite you back to guest post again

Forum Activity – If you didn’t pick too small of a niche when you started your blog, it’s likely there will be a few large forums in your niche. In the personal development industry the biggest forum is definitely the one ran by Steve Pavlina. In the past I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the site, mostly because I enjoy the content and discussions there. If you don’t enjoy the content of the biggest forums in your niche then you should question whether you really love your industry.

The reason I state that is because forum posting is something that can be tedious for little results, however the result is targeted traffic. On most forums, you can place a signature link so that whenever you make a post there is a link back to your website at the bottom. I’ve found that this works well not only for website visitors but also in terms of making relationships with other bloggers on that website.

Be Active on StumbleUpon – StumbleUpon is one of my favourite websites because time and time again it is able to show me amazing content from my niche at the click of a button. Not only that, but StumbleUpon is known to have the ability to drive massive amounts of traffic to your website.

When you first sign-up to the site you will be given some options to share your interests, make sure you are actually interested in the topics that you select. Now, whenever you hit the ‘Stumble’ button in the toolbar, you will be directed to a new and interesting article in your niche, providing that some spam hasn’t gotten through their filters. I tend to Stumble a lot of related content, especially that of my friends on Twitter (Add me) and the blogs that I comment on. If you are nice to others and vote for their content, then you’ll find that they are likely to stumble yours back.

Of course, don’t only stumble the content of certain people as SU might pick up on this and it will look as if you are gaming the system. Vote for whatever you find interesting and if it is something of someone you’ve ‘connected’ with in the past then even better. In terms of traffic potential I can say that StumbleUpon has sent me over 30,000 visitors in one day before and for another site sent over 150,000 in one month. So in terms of potential, there’s absolutely loads.

Be Real – The ideas I mentioned above are not ‘tricks’ so that you can start receiving traffic from other blogs, they are all utilising the power of networking, helping others and being real. By being real I mean let people know who you are. There are multiple ways you can do this:

  • Leave your full name in blog comments
  • Have a picture of yourself on your about page
  • Leave your full name in your blog posts
  • Write from the heart, connect with people on a personal level

I do all of those things here and I don’t think this site would have had such a quick growth if I was robotic and anonymous. Consider whether there are ways that you could come across in a more humane manner.

In Summary

By far this is the longest blog post I’ve ever wrote, but that’s OK. It may have taken me 4-5 hours but it’s a blog post that I can keep referring people to, and hopefully one that other bloggers keep referring their visitors to. You see, when you care about your website you don’t mind writing a 4,000+ word post because you are enjoying what you are doing, you are looking forward to the reactions of your readers and other bloggers.

I’m not saying posts of this length or necessary, but now and again they might be what separates you from the thousands of other bloggers in your niche. And when there are hundreds of blogs in your niche, there’s no harm in doing things that stand out in a positive light, in fact I strongly encourage it. You found this post somehow, now get out there and make sure people are finding your content ‘somehow’. I hope I’ve helped you all in getting more traffic to your websites and look forward to reading what you guys have to say in the comments (genuinely)!

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