Common strategies and features of successful blogs

April 11, 20100 Comments
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When you start any website project, some of the plugins and features you integrate into the overall design can be integral to the organic growth of the site. Here’s a few of my own thoughts on common strategies and website features for traffic and why you should consider them at the start of a blog project. Most of these will also apply for traditional websites.

Growth

Any smart site that plans on growing quickly will have factored a way to grow via a user generated content strategy. No man is an island, as the saying goes and the same is true for your site. With a lot of publishers running their site themselves, you’ll quickly realise that the maths of 365 days a year multiplied by the amount of content you create per day willl give you an article count per year. Multiply your article count by the average number of visitors your site currently brings in per article (current organic traffic / current number of articles on your site), and you’ll be able to see how much traffic to expect (roughly) from organic search in a year.

e.g. if you blog once a day thats 365 blog posts.
if your current organic traffic is 50 visitors a day, and you have ten articles, thats 5 visitors per day
5 visitors per day * 365 = 1875 visitors from search only;  if your growth stays consistent.

Do remember though, that website growth in many is more likely to be exponential. Although there are other things you can do to help speed that along. Some of the below strategies are commonly employed to do just that.

Community Links

Community links allow visitors on your site to submit and promote their own website. Whilst your initial thoughts on this might be “but surely this will encourage my visitors to leave?” – you’d be correct, up to a point.

The other side of the coin is that you are offering an additional way to expose your content directly to the type of audience that are likely to link to you – especially if you moderate it strictly and offer it only to only others in your niche.  People will continue to visit your site just to submit and pimp their content, time and time again. Other benefits include the creation of additional content on your site for free, that others will find useful, and Google will eat for lunch.  You may also be able to organise this new content into summary link posts, or indeed get ideas for new posts from the submisions themselves. Tripwire Magazine provide a great tutorial on how to do this.

Forums / Answers section

Forums can be a great way to build both repeat visits and gain an audience that will generate traffic for you, regardless of whether you are actually participating in the conversion or not.  If you can manage to get it properly off the ground thats a  great way to grow. Other notable bloggers such as Heather Armstrong and  Neil Patel have realised the open playground of a forum doesn’t bode just as well with their respective business, the Dooce community, and Patel’s Quicksprout Answers respectively offering a more controlled forum of debate that is more topic centric via questions and answers.

LinkedIn Answers, and Stackoverflow are just two other large sites that offer this forum of controlled interaction from their audiences. The other major benefit in an “answer engine” over a forum, is that questions can be of a high value from a search engine perspective, often resulting in long tailed, yet highly trafficed terms. A market that Ask.com couldn’t tap, and Google have yet to master.

Accepting / Encouraging Guest posts

Accepting guest posts is another way to get fresh content onto your site. There are a number of ways that you can encourage guest posts, but the simplest way is to put together a “post guidelines” page on what will be accepted and what won’t be accepted, and link to that from your sidebar or a place that is seen throughout your site.  With many newbie bloggers afraid to approach and pitch to you it may encourage them to get in touch. It also saves you having to repeat yourself when someone comes to you with a poor pitch.

You may also want to look into tdo mini forms – a genius little wordpress plugin which  (amongst other things) will allow you to accept posts and moderate them live on your site.

Multiple Users

Size isn’t everything, and there are plenty of blog out there that are single man media empires, but more often than not when a web business becomes economical viable to do so, more writers are brought in and the business scaled up.  It certainly not a necessity when you are starting out, but it sure as hell helps you stay nimble against single person operations and capable of multiple posts a day.

Retention

Retention on your site is the art of keeping people engaged with your content, and getting them to explore more. These particular features / plugins may help to increase the average time spent on your site – which can only be a good thing.

Related Posts

Related posts keep visitors on your site once they’ve finished reading your content. Offering additional “related” bits of content can increase your pageviews, make your site more sticky, and overall encourage visitors to consume more of your content. Personally I use this plugin for WordPress, which associates similar tags with related content, which is one more good reason to start tagging your content.

Popular Posts

Showcasing your best content is important for a number of reasons. Firstly it engages the visitor quickly within your site -and secondly, it gives them a reinforcing reason to subscribe. Get into the mindset of a first time visitor (especially as if you’ve clicked through from a search engine). How obvious is your best content?

Thirdly it also has the benefit of being a natural link throughout your site to popular pages. For my own site the end result of this, is that each of my popular pages reports a pagerank of 4, and helps them rank organically on high traffic terms.

Finally with alot of organic traffic coming to a blog, it can be difficult to get your bounce rate down – a popular posts plugin is one great way to do that.

Subscriber only content

It is possible to offer visitors content that is only obtained if they signup. *If* your WordPress theme currently supports it. If not however, the following snippet can do just that. You may choose to do this in the sidebar, or in the main loop. Its an easy way to offer something extra, and a further reason to interact with your site.

  1. <?php if (is_user_logged_in() && !is_feed()) { //only logged in user can see this not shown in RSS feed ?>
  2. <div><p>Display me..</p></div>
  3. <?php } ?>

You can also perform RSS only content via a simpler method if wrangling with code aint your thing. As per usual, theres a multitude of plugins for that. This can really help you from an SEO perspective as well, as many people just use your RSS feed as a way to automatically copy your content around the interweb and lacing your feed with backlinks can at least give you something back from spammers.

Pull tech – Facebook and Twitter

What do both Facebook and Twitter have in common? Both concentrate on pull marketing at the heart of their ecosystem. It’s this interaction with consumers that is driving successful website owners to those platforms. Its very much of a case of capture once, market many in a similar way to RSS. If someone chose to fan you on Facebook, or follow you on Twitter you can be pretty sure that they are interested in your brand and in what you have to say. If you do decide to implementing Facebook fan pages, take a look at the available widgets that Facebook have ready for copy pasting into your site; or indeed if you are a bit more techie, I’ve a post on FBML examples.

For Twitter, I’ve collated a couple of WordPress plugins for Twitter which I’ve come across to make it a cinch to install Twitter functionality, whether that be Twitter status updates directly on your blog, or simply a request to follow you button somewhere on your site.

Building a following on either of these platforms allows you to push traffic to your site pretty much on demand as long as you follow the rules of engagement.

Marketing

I’ve blogged before about marketing plugins for WordPress, and some of those are also worth considering at the start of a project, however marketing yourself online often goes further than installing a few plugins and hoping for the best.

Performing Guest posts

Guest posts really are win win for everyone, however you should know who to approach, how to make a guest blogger pitch and who is getting traffic in your niche first and foremost.  There’s no point in doing guest posts on a site which doesn’t have an already established audience. However, as I mentioned the benefits when you figure that out are plentiful, firstly you get exposed to a brand new audience, and potentially those people become subscribers.  Secondly assuming you’ve picked a decent sized site in an established area, you’ll get a link back to your site that is from an established site, which Google loves. More of those that you can obtain for free the better for a site’s overall performance.

Being visible

There are a couple of ways to  increase your brand reach online, but by far the most important one in my opinion is being visible. That may mean both online in the form of being ahead of the curve when a service lauches, or if your niche is local, then speaking at events.

Someone once told me this, and I think its pretty true online…

If you aren’t appearing, you are disappearing

Being exceptional

Successful sites are also able to put their finger on loads of content that they are really proud of.  This isn’t your average run of the mill stuff. This is hard work, sweat, tears – and days of writing, research and editing. That’s one of the great things about blogging, often with a piece of informative content you can spend your time on it to polish it. As visitors are generally consuming it via RSS they’ll know about it when it is ready to roll.  This is the sort of content that is more likely to go viral – assuming you help it along.

Use Analytics extensively

Choosing the tools

Its important to recognise that there are lots of analytics tools out there, and successful site owners know when to use one tool over the other. Knowing what your site goals are and defining them is definitely one of the first things you should do before you even worry about reporting. What do you hope to achieve? More sales? More adsense clicks? More exposure? All these things help determine what to track, and what tool to use.

Search box

A search box on your site is a great feature to consider. Firstly, many people are so used to the almighty Google that they use search boxes as their primary means of navigation. If they are looking for a particular piece of content, this offers a quick and succinct way to do so. The other reason to consider it, is that recording performed searches are very useful in generating fresh content ideas, especially if the search results fail. Google Analytics allows you to track searches pretty easily.

Advanced Analytics techniques

We are lucky to have blog plugins such as Google Analytics for WordPress to easily track web traffic automatically, however its only when you get into the nitty gritty of Google Analytics that you realise there are loads of other things you can track.  Learn about what is happening on your site, by tracking events (such as signups for RSS, or goals such as newsletter signups) then segment that traffic with advanced segments. Doing so will allow you to see what traffic sources result in conversions, and what content those visitors are seeing before they subscribe. Knowing this sort of information allows you to tweak your overall site architecture to maximise your efforts. If you realise that 50% of conversions happen when a certain piece of content is viewed, you know to make navigation to that content more prominent and so on.

Monitoring social media

Many large sites know how to tap into the conversations happening about them on the web, and leverage that information, either to create new content that is needed, or to react to  positive / negative mentions of their brand, I’ve mentioned previously how to go about doing that on the cheap, although their are  commercial options available for this sort of thing. They also frequently tap into trends on the web, and write about things that are both topical and hot to grow.

What sort of things have you noticed with successful large sites and blogs?

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About the Author ()

Paul is a regular 30 year old web bloke / programmer with a penchant for online marketing. This blog is a personal outlet, with an eclectic mix of articles.

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