How to get more blog traffic without being sleazy

Something Steve A. wrote last week got me thinking. I’m paraphrasing, but if I’m interpreting him correctly, he’s written every day, or nearly every day, for about four years and would like to cut back, but is kinda-sorta addicted to the traffic he gets by writing every day. But there are more effective ways to get more blog traffic.

I think writing every day does increase your traffic, to a degree. But for long-term, sustainable traffic, I think it helps only indirectly. Here are seven things I’ve found that helped me get more blog traffic.

Pillar posts = more blog traffic

I see a pattern in my own traffic. Ten years ago, I was writing nearly every day. The majority of that content gets absolutely no traffic today. But there are a handful of things I’ve written over the years that continuously generate traffic. Day in and day out, people keep landing on those pages. Some might get two hits per day. Some get 20. A handful get more than that.

There’s a pattern to the stuff that stands the test of time. Professional Internet marketers generally call them “pillar posts.”

Here’s how you can write some pillar posts. Think about things you know that you don’t bother searching the web for. Either that’s because nobody talks about it, or because you know more about it than the people who do write about it. For the purposes of just getting traffic, I think obscurity is a little better. For the purposes of getting regular readers, expertise helps. Whatever you have, go with it. Experiment. Write about something like that at least once a week, and make a habit of visiting your stats page once a day to see what people are reading.

Over time, you’re going to start to see certain posts appearing over and over. When that happens, congratulations. You’ve written your first pillar. To get another one, try writing about the same topic, but say something that you didn’t say last time. Something related, but different enough to be worthwhile in its own right. If your first pillar was specific, go broader. If it was broad, zero in on something a little more specialized.

My rule now is that if something won’t get two hits per day five years from now, I won’t write it.

Focus

In the early days of blogging, many of us tended to write about several things in a single post. At least the circles I ran around in did. It’s better to stick to one topic per post and dive a bit deeper. If there are seven things I want to write about, I pick one, start separate posts on the six others, and come back to those another day. Not all of them will stand the test of time but at least they have a chance. Search engines don’t know what to do with multi-topic posts.

Images

I always downplayed the value of images because I value a fast site, and images transmit a lot slower than text. But eventually someone convinced me to try adding relevant images to my highest-traffic stuff, and started getting more traffic. Search engines like images. So, when you can, illustrate the point you’re making with a helpful image and write a good caption that helps drive your point home. The search engines will reward you. Don’t go overboard, but images can help immensely. And some people are visual. Visual people appreciate being able to look at what you’re talking about.

If people stay longer, instead of bouncing right back to their search results, the search engines notice and rank you higher. So increasing the appeal of your posts helps.

Links

Once in a while I get a message begging me for a link. It goes something like this. They say they like a post I wrote, and they want me to add a link in my post to something they wrote. Their post doesn’t mention mine anywhere.

I generally turn them down. They probably asked 50 other people for the same thing. My philosophy is that if your stuff is good, people will share it and link to it without spamming people and asking for links. That’s been my experience.

Something else that helps is linking to your own stuff. It’s a hassle, but if you mention something in a post that you’ve written at length about before, link to that content. On a slow day, 20% of my readers will click one of those links and read one more post. Some days, a lot more will. Keep reading, and you’ll see how I do it.

Supposedly, internal links to your own stuff also helps your search engine rankings. I don’t know about that, but I like getting 20% more traffic from the people who were already here anyway. Adding links helped me unearth some content I wrote years ago that was languishing in obscurity and get it some traffic. It can take me as long to find stuff to link to as I spent writing the post, but if I can find five links, potentially I can double the amount of traffic the new post generates.

Content length

Some people only write 3,000-word posts. Others say 300-word posts are best. Some of my stuff warrants 3,000 words. But I have one post that’s 180 words long and there’s just nothing more to say.

I think if you’re a decent writer, you know when your post is long enough. Don’t push it. Write content of adequate length, link to supporting posts, and call it good.

Writing aids

I use the Yoast SEO plugin. It helps guide me to write in ways that Google likes to improve search rankings and drive more traffic. Write content that gets you the green lights from Yoast, using keywords that are a phrase people type into Google, and you have a formula for getting some traffic. Using Yoast can double your traffic.

Remove the dates from your WordPress URLs

One of the best things I ever did, besides installing Yoast, was to remove the dates from my URLs. The dates are useless data to Google. It took a while to figure out how to do it, which was why I didn’t do it sooner.

Monetizing your blog

Some people don’t care at all about monetizing a blog. Much of what I make goes back into my blog one way or another, so I don’t feel bad about making something off it. Here are some Viglink and Adsense tips that helped me.

In conclusion

I’m not going to guarantee tens of thousands of readers, simply because if I knew a formula for that, it would only be a matter of time before everyone was doing it, and then it would stop working. What I will say is that if you write about stuff that very few people are talking about, and you do a passable job–that is, your writing has no critical flaws and what you say works–then traffic will follow.

6 thoughts on “How to get more blog traffic without being sleazy

  • December 24, 2010 at 12:09 am
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    Dave-
    Helps a lot if you write well also, just one of the reasons I’m a regular visitor to the Daynotes group. I’ve gotten a lot of good tips over the years, thanks.
    And merry Christmas to your house.

    Paul

  • December 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm
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    Dave, thanks for the advice and the link. Your paraphrase is accurate. I’m starting to move in the direction you advise (write what you know) based on some of your earlier posts. And the frustrated writer in me does want more hits, while the real me knows that this is all for the glory of God. Avoiding sleaziness is important.

    • December 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm
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      No problem, Steve. I understand the need for balance. Watch what happens with some of the posts you’ve done in the past week or two because I think they have that “pillar” potential. Once you see what people are searching for, I think that will help you make adjustments. I think canned advice–do this and this, and you’ll get 10,000 hits a day guaranteed!–is sleazy advice because every blog is different. Or should be. And I do think what works on blogs that exist primarily for affiliate marketing will be different than what works on blogs that exist primarily to help people.

  • December 24, 2010 at 10:03 pm
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    I was thinking about how our blogs are structured differently. You use a lead and then a jump. Does that show up when they go to the jump, so you can tell if someone reads the whole article? I have the whole entry on my front page, and there are ten of them there before they age off. Somebody could be reading every entry I make, in its entirety, and only show up on my dashboard as a single hit to the home page every ten days.

    After the first of the year, I may switch over to your style. I’ll have to think about where to put the jump, and maybe write my leads differently. It could provide much more accurate feedback.

  • December 24, 2010 at 11:03 pm
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    Steve, yes it does. So you can see more accurately what people are reading. That’s how I know my Greinke rant from earlier this week got 14 reads. And the number of hits on my front page gives me a vague idea how many regular readers I have.

    I don’t like making people click, but if I wrote 1,000 words a day for a week, they’d have to plow through 7,000 words and that’s no good either.

    The general rule on the jump is to try to write something to get the reader’s attention and tell him or her why he or she should care, and put the jump there. Sometimes it only takes a sentence or two, sometimes it might take a couple of paragraphs. I don’t put as much thought into it as perhaps I should, but most days I only have an hour or so to dedicate to this, so I do what I can. If you’re not familiar with the inverted pyramid style of writing, I’d suggest reading up on that. It doesn’t come naturally for me since I trained as a feature writer, but that form of writing is highly relevant for the attention-span-deprived Internet age, especially what it says about the first 2-3 paragraphs. Brushing up on that probably ought to be my New Year’s resolution.

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