Next month will be a milestone for me – I’ve been blogging now for around two years, and over that time I have to say I’ve learned a bucket load about how content works online, and indeed how content marketing can drive traffic to a website. I’ve watched my own site grow, and enjoyed every second of it, obsessing over the minute details of traffic peaks and troughs, and analysed the traffic and the impact of social media – in a variety of different ways. This post summarises what I feel I’ve learned in those years and how you can apply the things I’ve learned to your own site and strategy to succeed.
1). Content doesn’t matter. Promotion matters
Build it and they will come. Write it and they will flock. Um. Nope. ‘Fraid it doesn’t work like that. You’ll get tired of waiting for traffic to trickle through to your site with that mentality. Growing a content site on the long tail is a slow and lonely process, and it’s no wonder there are so many newbie bloggers that quit in the first year after not seeing results. You have to get out there and pimp your best stuff to succeed.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?
If you have great content, and no one is reading it will it generate traffic?
2). Find out where the competition is.
Research on the web using websites like BlogCatalog or MyBloglog to find similar sites. You can find out who else is writing inside your niche, and decide if they are delivering content that is similar enough to your own to be considered a competitor; or different enough to be considered a link partner.
Once you’ve created a decent list its trivial to use tools like PostRank or SEMRush to work out what sort of content and/or keywords they are ranking on. This gives you a basic feel for the sort of thing which is working for them, and indeed what is hot, and what is not.
To find out where they are getting links from, Yahoo Site explorer gives a good overview. Alot of people are still using Google’s link: operator – but this is pretty much dead in the water and no where near as accurate. Analyse your competitors sites and see if there appears to be any low hanging fruit or places where you could get a link also. Build relationships with the link partners – as there may be potential for mutal benefit. With many bloggers now having Twitter accounts this is a great way of tapping into their thoughts and feelings before approaching them.
3). Get your basic seo in order before you do anything.
It’s easy to forget the simple stuff at the outset. On page seo is relatively straightforward, but getting this right at the outset is important, remember that it will be a nightmare to change URL structure down the line, as the most of your links will be lost from around the web if you have to change it. There are plenty of SEO plugins and Marketing plugins for WordPress out there that can help you on your way.
4). People will scrape your content. Embrace it for links.
I’ve made a rule for myself on this site. Don’t publish any articles without at least one backlink to another article elsewhere on this site. This means that if some scumbag does come along and copypaste, firstly I’ll know about it, as the link will either show up in my statistics package, or better again, it’ll pingback to me. Same story applies for images. In some cases you’ll have the offender over a barrel and can leverage this for a link.
You can use .htaccess to either serve a different image (with a copyright infringement message) – or to display a message asking them to contact you for permission. *Kerching*. All you have to do is provide the image for free, and ask for attribution. It’ll cost you nothing, and increase your traffic.
5). Images create impact. Don’t forget them.
Yes, well written content helps, but supplement with some impactful images and you’ll double the chances (at least) of getting shared by others. Flickr is a great place to find images that are of professional quality. Looking for some impactful images? Use advanced search to search Creative Commons – then sort by most interesting. You can find some wonderful impactful images easily in this way.
6). Exposure, Popularity and Authority matters online
Quickest way to gain authority is via other websites. Period. Even large sites need guest content, and their audience will follow your bio link back to your own website and become subscribers if the content is good enough.
If you are able to build authority everything will fall very quickly into place when you launch any new venture. It’s the reason David Airey was able to build the subscribers on Logo Design love from 0 to over 15 thousand readers in 2 years. It’s the same reason Darren Rowse was able to take Twitip from 0 to nearly 32 thousand subscribers – in one year and 8 months.
Whilst both these guys built up their authority from scratch with their first site, they were able to very quickly scale up other ventures using their existing profile online, and their loyal readers followed them across to their other sites. Love your readers, and they’ll love you back.
7). List posts work – even if they are flakey
List posts are shared more frequently than other types of content. They are easier to consume than paragraph laden prose, and deliver a promise of what is in store for the visitor right from the get go. Bloggers are competiting for visitors attention everytime we hit the publish button, and people are attracted to lists like bees to honey. The down side of list posts is that in the majority they don’t deliver knowledge – instead going with the pretty pictures plus links approach.
This recent post is what I personally consider to be one of the worst pieces of content on my site. Where’s the value? There’s nothing in that post that can’t be found with a five minute google search. It was a guest post, I added the screenshots to it within about ten minutes AND I published at the weekend thinking there’s nothing special about it. I very nearly refused to publish it point blank.
It went viral, hit the front page of the Delicious home page, was tweeted 188 times, and has made its way into my popular posts sidebar. If that didn’t prove to me that list posts work, I don’t know what will. It also taught me that you don’t always know what will work and what won’t.
8). Its ok to link out.
Linking out is ok. Even if your content isn’t 100%, one of the best ways of getting out there is to link out. 5 links out = 5 new visitors if the webmasters you are linking to check their statistics as religiously as I do. They may even leave comments, adding value to your content. Being a closed book that never interacts with other parts of the web is a sure way to remain an island online. Linking out to good sources when you are starting out also helps to build trust with your visitors, as it reinforces that you know how to spot quality material. That trust can then be built upon with your own content.
9). Comments = Community
Community starts with your blog comments. People expect you to respond to them, and either thank them for commenting or answer their questions. Doing so will increase their loyalty to you, and in some case turn them into a subscriber. You have to work hard to continue to build a sense of community around your site in order to benefit from user generated content. It’s the same reason I started a forum.
10). People want to consume content quicker
As I’ve already mentioned, you are competiting for people’s attention with your content. If there’s one service online that proves the point, its Twitter. Making your content easier to consume via email, or by supplementing it with a Twitter feed is a must to aid with this growing trend online. Summarising the content in your first paragraph before you launch into the main content also helps people decide what to read, and increases the usability of your site.
Headings separate logical parts of your post, and increases the likelihood people will get to the end of your post. Ruthlessly editing your posts, and cutting them down to the bare minimum is also a must.
11). Popular content equals links
Content sharing is the new first step in obtaining links. The social web has provided the mechanisms for sharing content with others. The more something gets shared, the more chance it has of hitting the front page of sites such as Digg or Delicious and ultimately obtaining backlinks. From my own experience Twitter has on numerous occasions been the place viral content gets its first push, which in turn spreads to other social networks.
If you’ve got an audience / lots of subscribers already, this is well and good. Chances are loads of people will pick up on your post, and share it with their buddies. If on the other hand you are a relative no-body – i.e. me – you have to get other influencers to do the sharing for you before it gets any significant traffic. Which leads me to my next point.
12). Websites don’t give links. People give links.
Relationships, relationships, relationships. Building them with people is a sure fire way of obtaining links and traffic. Finding others within the same niche as yourself and providing content which tickles their fancies will result in backlinks to your site. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly via the sharing of your content with other people. Building relationships with influencers on Twitter can help you get in front of a much larger audience and if you can manage to do so, the content you write has a much better chance of going viral.
13). Participate in forums
Forums are the water cooler of the web. People hang out in forums to meet people, chat and more importantly get help / opinion. I have a few forums that I frequent and ask / answer questions at. They are an absolute goldmine for bloggers because they often help spark post ideas. If you find the same questions being asked over and over again there’s a opportunity to craft a comprehensive blog post on your site, and link to the answer on the forum. The other benefit of forums are the relatioships and authority that can be built within.
14). Most people have no idea what RSS is
If you do ask people to use RSS, you’d better be in a tech related niche, or explain it throughly somewhere on your site. The majority of people will respond much better to the words “email updates” rather “subscribe via rss” – as subscriptions generally require monetary payment (offline).
15). Social media is not a silver bullet
Social media has been sold by many as some magic bullet for businesses that will somehow increase their business threefold online, and leave them with untold riches. Granted if done right, it can lead to increased exposure, but it’s not a silver bullet. Social media is hard work.
Its slower than some forms of promotion, and requires dedication to build trust and brand BEFORE you can sell to that audience. Setting up a Twitter account, a blog and a Facebook profile is about 1% of what social media is all about. Having a paintbrush doesn’t make you an artist – It’s what you do ON those platforms that matters – and for it to provide any real value you need to know what content goes where and how to build an audience within each of those platforms.
16). Give away your best content
Guest posting, and giving away your best content is about the greatest thing you can do for your exposure. Think of it like you would giving a talk at a prestigious seminar. When you start off blogging, you are pretty much talking in an empty room – to yourself. Guest posting gets your voice heard by a room full of people; the bigger the audience, the more chance that they’ll come to listen to you the next time that you talk in YOUR room.
17). You have to niche.
One word of warning. Pick too small a niche, and you’ll run out of things to say. Pick too large a niche, and you’ll just be another blog. For example – if you start a blog about cars, only write about classic cars or super cars. If you run a mommy blog, concentrate on parenthood advice. If you run a tech blog, make it specific to the local economy. You get the idea. Small is beautiful and allows you to focus your efforts on being the best on the web at what you do.
18). Some niche’s are more profitable than others
Yep, when deciding on what you want to write about, you should spare a thought for where marketing dollars are spent online. Travel niche’s are hot, as is anything medical related. The highest paid keyword in the US for Google Adsense is Mesothelioma – and sells for around £99 a click. This is why spammers target you for links, and you’ll see it in WordPress comments all the time. Getting to the top of Google for keywords like this equals serious moolah. Newbie with a spam problem? Akismet FTW.
19). Design matters.
People make decisions about you the minute they land on your site. It takes them 0.05 seconds to work out if your site is visually appealing or not. If you site looks unprofessional, opinions will be formed about the quality of your workmanship, the professionalism of your business, and the content you create. Design equates to trust.
20). Email marketing can drive a shed load of traffic.
Email marketing is worthwhile, and can drive traffic to your site. Start collecting email address from your site visitors as soon as you can. If you’d rather just use your blog as an email marketing engine – feedburner can let you do that easily.
If you’ve got a good baseline of content on different topics, you may want to use the inbuilt feature of wordpress which splits your RSS up into different sections. Running each of these through Google Feedburner can create email newsletters for each of the topics you post about on your blog, which may appeal to certain audiences. You could even use it within your offline marketing material to allow prospects to signup to different segments of your business units.
21). Crafting great titles takes time.
If the early bird gets the worm, then the best title gets the click. Repeat that mantra after me. :o) – you should be spending time brainstorming what your post titles are going to be, and thinking about whether ranking for keywords contained within the title is likely to bring traffic in it’s own right. A good rule of thumb is to not sacrifice a great blog post title for keywords, but if you can blend them in seamlessly – that’s great.
22). Never ever launch great content at the weekend
Traffic traditionally takes a dip at the weekends online. People go home, spend time with their families and generally aren’t interested in browsing the web. It’s generally only the hardcore geeks who are still writing blog posts at the weekend. It makes sense to wait until “business traffic” returns to the web before launching your best content, it will have a much better chance of going viral if you do so. With the majority of social bookmarking algorithms being tilted towards the “speed” something is being shared at, it makes sense to wait until your audience is at full strength, i.e. mid week.
23). Learn how to using Google Analytics inside out.
Google Analytics gives great insight into your visitors – it also lets you work out some extra bits and pieces through the use of advanced segmentation reports. Just the other day I was able to see what my traffic would look like if I lost some of my biggest referrers. It’s also great at seeing market share grow by direct brand searches. Google have plenty of material available online if you want to become an Expert.
24). Twitter is worth it.
I have to admit – I didn’t get it at first – it seems like a waste of time, and narcissitic. I was wrong. Twitter is great for finding and engaging with the local community, and is also great at getting your site in front of an audience. It’s very nature encourages viral and word of mouth marketing and on more than one occasion has been the reason behind some of my content gaining momentum before going viral.
25). Follow up posts solidify Google positions
This is a bit of SEO advice. If you’ve managed to rank on a particular keyword and want to help ensure you stay at the top – write a follow up post, and link through to the original. I’ve done this before to create indented results in the SERP’s – which in some cases puts me at number one and two for some searches – and helps to solidify positions.
Overall I’ve learnt many things over the course, but I can honestly say that blogging works for traffic and business. You just have to know how to harness its power to get its maximum potential.