One of the hardest things on the web has to be attracting an audience, and growing traffic to a brand new website. It’s where traditional businesses moving to the web as a platform often falter; whilst they succeed at growing sales offline – growing traffic and sales online is a completely different ball game.
It is often the case that having a well designed, professional website, is only half the story, and you need the traffic to go along with it to get any real traction. I thought I’d take a look at some of the tips and pointers I’d give anyone to grow site traffic from a standing start.
Choose a platform that gives you flexibility.
You will want to be able to write content anywhere, anytime from both desktop and mobile devices. Don’t kid yourself that just because you can write HTML that you don’t need a CMS, the flexibility of a CMS with extensive plug and play features wins out any day in my opinion. Web designers and developers are prime suspect numero uno for this mistake. It’s ok to use a CMS guys, you’ll release content much quicker as a result.
I’m a big fan of WordPress, and I’ve yet to find a site that wouldn’t work on it as a platform. The following plugins are in my opinion essential installs for webmasters.
WordPress SEO by Yoast – Gives meta description and title live previews as you are writing, and in turn lines you up for pretty decent results in Google from the get go.
After the Deadline – Provides some basic grammatical checks on your content that helps Google realise you aren’t a completely incompetent writer. It’s based on some of the open source libraries available from OpenOffice, and given the recent guidelines by Google – post Panda update, makes sense. You do realise that they can work out the reading level required for your site? Here’s an interesting infographic showing some of the major blogs on the web today, and how they rate in Google’s eyes.
Subscribe to Comments – allows your readers to keep tabs on any discussion happening on your site, via email updates.
Here are some more SEO plugins, and this collection of marketing plugins also make a difference to your setup. If you aren’t using WordPress, the principles behind why these were created still hold true, and you should look for alternative solutions if you can, regardless of platform.
Decide on your Format
Decide from the outset on what format the content you create will take. By format I mean, will the main source of your traffic come from editorial content, user driven blogs, video, forums, or news articles. The way you layout and design your site should be focused on the type of content you create, for example, if you are primarily creating say, video content – you may want to introduce playlists or YouTube features into your design.
If you are encouraging others to contribute, the design should let them do that as easily as possible. There are of course niche WordPress themes pertaining and optimised for different content types.
User Generated Content
It is likely that you will be creating the content yourself in many cases until you get things off the ground, but to really scale out your site you will have to move towards bringing on more sources of content creation through your existing audience.
User generated content such as reviews of your products, or comments on articles can add much-needed value to your content, and often help you generate long tail traffic.
Many people are still scared of opening up their business to the web, and shy away from such activity for fear of damaging their brand. Proper moderation of content solves 99% of those concerns.
Know your own content
Unfortunately if your site revolves around user-generated content, sometimes you are going to miss the gems of content that really could generate links, and increase pageviews if promoted correctly. Keep your ears close to the ground if this is the case, with either internal reporting, or the new intelligence features within Google Analytics. This can help you spot increased / unusual activity on your own site which may indicate social activity such as shares.
Make it Unique
There are a plethora of websites which for one reason or another are competing in Google for the same traffic, with the same content. Some of these have legitimate reasons, in particular, content aggregators such as blog search engines suffer badly from this. If the majority of the content on your site is taken from other locations, and isn’t unique, you are going to have to work even harder to avoid your site from being listed as poor quality.
It’s important then, to supplement your commercial content with your own content that is adding value and separating you from the competition. If you are a site owner and you can’t remember the last time you created content for your own website – fundamentally you are going to have a problem.
Research Successful Competition
Uncover the leading players in your niche. Research the content they produce, what has been popular, what hasn’t. You can use any combination of the following techniques to work out what looks to be providing them with a good baseline of traffic, then adapt and improve upon their work in your own articles or approach. This collection of tools allow you to see easily what keywords they are ranking on, and providing them good volumes of traffic. Learn from that research.
Quantity and Quality
To get a site off the ground, you are going to need at minimum 100 pages of distinctive unique content, that can’t be found anywhere else on the web. If you really want links from other locations on the web, that’s the reality. The research that you’ve already performed based on what others have created, and what terms they are ranking on should influence the topics that you come up with. Go with articles over personal type content – no one cares about the latter.
Start your content creation with evergreen content – i.e. information that is useful, never goes out of date, and pulls in a steady stream of visitors all year round. You want your site to be seen by others as a resource hub that they return to for useful information, rather than purely a commercial venture. No one is going to link to a product online. What they will link to, is a resource showing how to use that product in interesting ways. Think sideways.
Look for an angle.
When news happens online that makes people react, or causes controversy, often there is a massive opportunity for traffic. Let say for example, that ‘Spotify begin charging’. You can predict that people will start looking for alternatives to Spotify. (Notice the timing of this article). You can use this to your advantage in both organic and ppc campaigns to gain an audience. Take a look at what Ann Summers achieved with a similar strategy. Always be on the lookout for an evergreen angle on controversial news in your niche.
Recycle your content
Often one of the easiest ways to make your reach stretch a bit further is to reduce, reuse and recycle. By using a number of often overlooked sources for new content for your site, you’ll be able to keep things fresh.
Make it link worthy
Average content isn’t going to work online at bringing in traffic. You have to create great content and understand linkbait to make any headway.
The key phrases you choose to chase can make a massive difference to your traffic, I’ve written on this before along with the keyword tools you can use to help you along. Don’t expect to rank number one in Google for single word phrases, or indeed even double word phrases for a while. Think long tail.
Get your house in order
Even the best content in the world won’t save you if your site isn’t built with search engines in mind. At the very least make sure that it is crawlable by viewing your website in a text-based browser such as Lynx. This SEO checklist should help you rate the quality of your site currently, and help find areas for improvement.
Linking out to high quality websites can actually improve your ranking, contrary to popular belief. It also puts you on the map as far as other bloggers go, an important start in attracting incoming links.
Make it faster
Speed is the killer feature of your site, for every second that you can shave off the load time, you’ll increase the length of time on your site, and improve the chances of someone subscribing, or viewing other pages on your site. Google are pretty obsessed with speed now as well, so review and work on improving the speed of your site from the get-go. Be warned, not every WordPress theme on the web gives as much attention to detail as there should be on speed. Install Firefox, and Firebug along with the YSlow plugin to learn more about the speed of your site and how it can be improved. I’m doing alot of caching and compression with (w3 total cache) as well as using a content delivery network through WordPress to improve speed.
Marketing / Promotion
Offer subscription to your content
Today’s web visitor is a fickle one. New and exciting content from other publishers is only around the corner, so offering multiple ways of subscribing directly to your content makes sense. RSS subscription for those who understand what it is makes sense. Most visitors don’t have a clue. RSS is fast being replaced by social tools such as Twitter and Facebook, and as such – it makes sense to have the following options:
1) Subscribe via email. A simple way of collecting email addresses from your visitors can be performed either via Feedburner (see some tips on usage over here, as it’s a product I use myself), or MailChimp. With the latter, the sending of campaigns needs to be performed by you, so in most cases, Feedburner is a great option.
If you are technical and dedicated enough, a monthly roundup newsletter offering extra content not available on your main site is another great way of reaching yet another audience.
2) Subscribe via RSS. If you’ve got a technical audience, go for it, you could try explaining it to the masses.
3) Subscribe / Like via Facebook Facebook isn’t just another fad. It has become a content hub in its own right, and you are going to want to have the ability to push your content to fans of yours when you choose. The building and managing of a Facebook page shouldn’t be solely about you though. Mix it up a little. Shut up and listen.
4) Subscribe / Follow via Twitter – Twitter is another avenue to build an audience. Treat it with the same ‘audience first, brand second’ ethos as Facebook to really grow.
5) Subscribe via YouTube – If you’ve got video content of any kind, it makes sense to syndicate it on YouTube, along with video sitemaps and backlinks back to your website from the video page. The ability to subscribe directly to that content from YouTube will appeal to many of your visitors.
Join communities related to your niche
There are likely to be dozens of website containing visitors that are relevant to your site. You can use this to your advantage by being active in these communities and providing value there to build your brand. LinkedIn Answers is one which has proved particularly successful for me, both from a branding and audience perspective. Have a think about where your audience are likely to be, and how you can engage with them to bring them home to you.
Get it out there. Outreach and Outposts
Promotion matters. Having a good community built up around your site makes your content travel much further, which is why the bigger blogs keep getting bigger. For everyone else, you are going to have to promote the hell out of your content to get traction, and that means identifying chinks in your niche’s armour, or building relationships with influencers to help you.
Measure return visitors.
Work on building returning visitors. It’s extremely important that your content is good enough to bring people back over time It’s a metric that shows if your site is working or not. Segmenting the traffic for return visitors as you scale up will help you identify what content has performed well before, in not only pulling in traffic, but building loyalty among your audience. Take a look at the ‘Sticky‘ report for Google Analytics in this post to create the same report with your traffic.
If you are failing to bring a repeat audience in, think about building something that changes often, but no-one reports on. For example, if you are a financial blog, you may want to report on stocks no-one pays any attention to ordinarily, a dedicated index for penny stocks. If you run an e-commerce store, you might want to build something that shows the popularity of certain clothing brands on the social web over time. You get the picture.
Concentrate on measuring conversions
At the beginning of life for your site, it’s going to be all about converting the trickle of traffic from content, into a flood of subscribers that you can market your content to later, and indeed who can help you market your content for you. For that reason, its extremely important to measure what sources of traffic convert into subscribers. I’ve written how to go about measuring that before.
Building a successful site online is as much about perseverance as anything. You don’t have to be a genius in marketing to realise that it comes down to simple maths in many cases. 100 articles generating 10 visitors a day gives you a base line of 1000 visitors a day, and if you manage to get them to stick around and view 4-5 pages a visit, that’s about 150000 pageviews a month. More than achievable for anyone dedicated enough to keep with it, and surely enough traffic to do something valuable with.