Last night I was having dinner with a group of friends who are all at different stages of setting up a website. One friend has a website for his production design business, I built it for him. Another friend’s daughter has been blogging about fashion on Tumblr, which is a service that lets anyone setup a free blog very easily. Yet another friend at the dinner has a site for her freelance work, but was negotiating with a large company to write a blog for them – this blog would become part of the larger companies site.
At a point someone asked what they should do to get more visitors, all eyes turned to me, the guy who’s been building websites since 1997, and everyone wanted to know how they could get more visitors to their respective websites.
It’s a huge topic, and the advice varies depending on what sort of website you run, or want to setup. The strategy will depend on the tenacity of the marketer, the amount of time they can dedicate, the type of site, whether they own the platform and host it, or are publishing on someone else’s site.
Consider my friend’s daughter who is blogging on Tumblr. Tumblr is not just a blogging platform, but also a social platform that makes it very easy to share your posts with other Tumblrs and grow your audience. The only catch with Tumblr is that you don’t own your site, so if your blog really takes off your options are limited – you can’t sell the site, and you may be limited in the advertising you can run on your blog to capitalise on the audience you have built with your great content. Additionally, if the powers that run the platform you choose decide they don’t like what you are publishing, for whatever reason, they can remove your site.
This is unlikely if you are blogging about recipes or kittens, but I know people who have had blogs deleted from blogger.com (owned by Google), and not because they had published anything that would be offensive to you or I. In one instance a friend discussed how he believed Google’s search algorithm worked, and techniques you could use to make your site rank better. He received a warning at first, and then Google deleted his blogger blog. I guess one moral of this story is don’t create a blog criticising a tech giant on a platform owned by that same tech giant.
In most cases, If building a new site/blog, or redeveloping an old one, use WordPress as your platform. It is the best online publishing tool, period. It’s also free. (You may wish to pay someone to theme it for you and help setup some of the social stuff I mention below).
Now that you’ve chosen a suitable platform you’re ready to start driving more visitors to your site! I’ve broken the basics down into the steps below.
Leverage social media marketing channels as much as you possibly can – this means actively running accounts for, at least, the following services:
- Youtube (create simple videos on your topic and submit to Youtube – create a channel page and link it to your site).
Whenever you post fresh content on your own site you will also re-post a summary to all your social media channels, linking back to your original content. This drives traffic.
There are literally thousands of social sharing sites and, depending on the topic of your content, there may be a number of specialist channels you can leverage, as well as the big ones above. For example, a recipe site called PunchFork, that sprung up last year, allowed users to submit recipes from their own site. By sharing their work through PunchFork, which had a huge audience, a recipe blogger could drive lots of traffic back to their own site. Unfortunately Punchfork was recently acquired by Pinterest and is being shut down; but there are many more communities like this one that can be exploited.
- If you own the site you publish on you should add social sharing buttons that link to your social media accounts (above). The more prominent and in-your-face these are the more your visitors will use them to share your content with friends. Mashable is a good example of a site that does this. The Verge is another example. Most big sites push the social sharing thing because it drives so much traffic when the content is good.The goal is to build as big a subscriber base as you possibly can via these channels so that when you post new content you draw as many of these people back in with each update.
- Ensure you have an email subscription service setup. The easiest way to do this is with Feedburner. Make sure you place the email subscription input in a prominent position, or directly after the content where visitors can subscribe after reading an article they enjoyed. The quality of the content obviously has a big impact on the rate at which people subscribe. Elise Bauer of SimplyRecipes has been incredibly successful with this; she was an early adopter and has been growing her list for many years. Elise is no longer displaying her subscriber count (as far as I can see) but last year she displayed well over 1.5M subscribers. That’s 1.5 million people who get an email every time she posts an article or recipe… If just 10% come to view the site that still translates into a lot of page views and ad revenue, and she gets this flood of visitors every time she makes a new post.
- If you don’t own the site, e.g. posting on another companies blog, or Tumblr, ensure you get a link back in the footer of each article to your own personal site. Very important if you can swing it. This is typically done with a brief little bio below the blog.
- Find blogs in your niche and contact the authors. Be friendly and offer to mention them in an article and ask if they will do the same for you. This is best done once your blog is in progress (It’s obviously difficult to convince people to mention you when you don’t have anything to show…). An example of how you could mention someone in a post “When I was considering the design for my kitchen I took inspiration from Mr Bloggs the DIY blogger <insert link> and his innovative use of stainless steel”, and link through to his post with pictures of stainless in the kitchen. You can also get to know bloggers (and get their attention) simply by leaving a nice, thoughtful comment on one of their posts you find relevant and interesting. A great place to start finding blogs in your niche is Technorati. You can search for blogs by keyword.. It’s hard work contacting authors, and you want to be prepared for a no-reply, or being told to go away, 9 times out of 10. However, the more of these mutual mentions you can pull-off the better. It drives both traffic siphoned from the blog that mentions you, and the links back to your site from these other blogs in your niche are the primary signal Google considers in ranking your pages in the search results pages. Ranking in Google is huge and can bring in a lot of traffic. A blog about the first iPad that I created and launched just weeks before the iPad One was released ranked #1 in Google for “iPad Accessories” It pulled 2000+ visitors per day from Google at its peak.
- A similar strategy to the above – You can also contact other bloggers and/or large media sites and ask if you can write a guest post with an author link back to your site. There are large sites in every niche that will allow this. The better your credentials, the easier it will be to get in. An example in my field is Smashing Magazine. Most articles are authored by guest writers in the industry. If you scroll to the bottom of an example article (but look above the comments) you can see the authors bio and links. This is what you want to get.
- Exploit any connections you have in traditional media: newspapers, magazines, TV, etc. Obviously this goes without saying, but all publicity is good publicity. If you can get a mention and a link back from an online newspaper, it’s pure gold.
- People especially love “How to” articles, e.g. how to rip up old carpet, how to restore a vintage chandelier, etc. Step-by-step photos are very popular, no matter what your site niche is – The Pioneer Woman does this very well.
- Always remember that great content gets shared 🙂
I hope this has been useful. It’s a basic primer for the many people I’ve met who struggle to understand how social sites can be used to drive traffic. If you have any questions, suggestions, or amendments, please let me know in the comments below.