At the end of every year, I try to look back at what I did right – and what I did wrong – in writing, promoting, and managing my blog. One of the first things I look at are the posts that got the most page views during the first 11 months of the year. This year’s top five posts were:
- Five Easy Ways to Get Sued for Social Media or Blogging – second year in a row, with over 108,840 page views this year.
- 7 Things You can’t Claim First Amendment Rights to Say Online – three year old blog post with 95,458 new page views this year.
- Parents of Would-Be Child Actors: Beware of Scammers 84,440 page views over 9 months.
- How to Help Your Kid Win a Science Fair 64,620 page views in 7 months.
- Are You Careful (Enough) in How You Phrase Online Reviews? 64,580 page views in 6 months.
That I wrote only three of the top five during 2013 tells me that the topics I picked this year weren’t as good as they might have been. Even the most popular of this year’s posts lagged significantly behind the older posts that top the list. (It would have been an even bigger gap if I’d included the totals for previous years.) Here are some other observations about the top two blog posts, and the one that ranked #5 this year:
- They’re general, and applicable to a wide range of readers.
- Each of them ranked, for at least for a few hours, on Reddit or StumbleUpon.
- Both deal with legal issues that people feel strongly about.
- Authoritative sources, including lots of links, give each of them weight.
- Numbers make up part of each of the top 2 headlines. (I don’t know why this is true, but people click on my tweets more often when there is a number in it than they do when there is not a number, and blog posts with numbers in the headline tend to get more traffic. My suspicion is that small numbers make things look easy to scan and read quickly, while large numbers tend to make things look impressive to a reader scanning a lot of data quickly, as they will on Twitter or Facebook. But I can’t provide any data one way or another.)
The blog posts in the third and fourth spots for the year are almost the opposite. They’re anything but general, each dealing with a subject that is very specific to just one target audience (parents) and to a specific set of circumstances that audience might face. They also draw almost solely on my experiences rather than any authoritative source.
Second, the keywords I selected this year were strong, since most of my traffic comes from organic Google and Bing searches. But this year’s keywords weren’t as strong as those I used in 2012; last year’s third through fifth posts had higher page view counts than this year’s, although subscriptions and overall blog traffic are up significantly this year.
Third, legal questions about social media use and contracts remain the most popular topic on my marketing blog. The only thing that comes close is advice for parents or pet owners – people seem to like it when I publish stories about my grandkids and my dogs. My grandkids don’t necessarily like it when their behavior becomes the subject of a blog post, however, so I keep the overall number down. (As the proud grandmother of 8 amazing grandkids and a great grand baby ranging in age from 4 months to 27 years of age, I assure you that I could fill a blog every day with stories of their antics, achievements, and sayings. That I don’t is a testament both to my lack of time and my aversion of the dreaded teen eye-roll.)
Last, but not least, I try to keep my bounce rate — that is the number of people who come to the blog for a second or two, then realize it isn’t going to give them what they’re searching for so they quickly click away — relatively low. I have decided on my own what an acceptable bounce rate is, because I think that it varies depending on the goals for the blog. You can learn about bounce rates and what to expect as a bounce rate for your blog with great articles here and here, but the take-away point for me is simple: don’t use keywords or tags that mislead people about your blog, and don’t illustrate an article with photos that can bring traffic you don’t really want.
This is a lesson I learned the hard way. One of my first jobs was as an entertainment writer for a major magazine, and I have a truly wonderful collection of vintage photos of amazing celebrities — many of them autographed. When I first started posting content online, I used those photos to illustrate articles, thinking I was being clever. So for a business time management article, I used a 1968 photo of Led Zeppelin dashing through an airport towards the Braniff jet emblazoned with their logo, and for an article on a webinar called Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead I used an early photo of the band outside the house they once shared near Golden Gate Park. It worked like a charm — traffic to the blog sites where the article jumped dramatically, and so did the bounce rate. Don’t repeat my mistake here — just trust me on this one.
How to Promote A Blog Without Spending a Dime
Because my blog doesn’t drive revenue, I rely on earned media — no paid ads or even paid tools like Outbrain, NAPS, or FlipTop (excellent content and social media tools I use for blogs that bring traffic to a company website or help to promote a product or service).
So how do I bring visitors to this blog — and how can you do the same for your blog without spending a dime?
- Use keywords effectively. This doesn’t mean writing for the search engine robots. It just means using one main keyword in every headline and repeating the two or three keywords that will attract the most traffic to your article at least twice in the body. It also helps to write a post that’s at least 500 words long. (Yes, I know short is good. But it isn’t as “searchable”.)
- Write good headlines. Headlines matter. They’re the most important part of the blog post. I write and rewrite headlines compulsively, trying for something memorable. If you saw the publishing history on my blog posts, you’d see that I tend to write them, and then edit or revise them several times. If there was a “track changes” feature in WordPress that you could use to see what changes I made, you’d see that most of the changes involve revised headlines or subheads, as I realize what I could have done better. (That and fixing typos I didn’t catch the first time around. I am a good proofreader, and will catch someone else’s mistakes almost every time. My own? Not so much.)
- Install and Use an SEO optimizer. No matter what blogging platform you use, there is sure to be a widget you can add that will help you optimize your posts for search engines. They’ll help you write a meta description (a 160 character description of each post), and check to make sure you used your keywords appropriately. Tip: Write a 25-word summary, abstract, or description of each post to use on Facebook, Google+, Reddit, StumbleUpon and in LinkedIn Groups or other social media sites. Then edit that down to 160 characters for your meta description so that they are consistent.
- Add the right tags, and use the same tags consistently. I have already admitted that this blog isn’t very consistent when it comes to topics. If you are a business blogger who uses your blog as part of a content marketing strategy, you will want to be much more consistent than I am. That doesn’t mean every post should be about your company and its products — that would very quickly be boring and uninteresting to everyone except the CEO and the sales manager. But it does mean that you should stick to a broad, general category of topics like parenting, education, marketing, mobile technology, IT security, or the joy of living with a rescue dog. That allows you to use some meta tags very consistently, and helps your page rank on those topics if you use the appropriate keywords for your meta tags.
- Use interesting artwork (graphics, cartoons, photos) with the appropriate alternative descriptions, titles, and captions. First, let me remind anyone reading this that not infringing on the copyrights of image creators (artists, photographers, other bloggers, etc.) is essential. There are many free or very low cost sources of high-quality images. If you are publishing original photos, photos of your kids, or anything personal that you don’t want a search engine to find easily, then leave the file name as whatever your camera used as the default (DSC8242, for example). But if you want your photos to be found, so that people can in turn find your blog entry, fill out every single block in the form provided by WordPress or another blog platform when you upload an image. (Title, Description, Caption, Alternative Text blocks in the “Upload photo” or “insert media” widget on your blog matter a lot in how the search engines rank your content and how easy it is for people to find you.)
- Promote your blog via social media. For some reason, many bloggers seem to be allergic to self-promotion. I get that. (I’ve written and published 53 books, not a single one of them with my name on them after all.) But if you want to build traffic for your blog, promoting it appropriately is critical. When I write a new blog post, I also write 10 tweets, with hashtags that match my main keywords, as well as a 25-word description of the blog post. Then I make a list of other appropriate social media networks to promote the blog — Pinterest, Google+, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Facebook. Last, but not least, I schedule the first 10 tweets for the three days just after the blog is published, so that each tweet is published at a different time of day using one of the algorithm-based plug-ins like Timely, Tweriod, or Socialyzer. After the first three days, the link for the blog post goes into my “publish occasionally” file, and as time goes on, I will promote it again with additional tweets. (This is how some of my articles continue to get traffic years after they are originally published: I keep reintroducing them to new audiences, and the search engines keep doing the same.)
- Write and publish a press release. If you’re not creating and posting press releases about most of your blog posts, you’re missing one of the most powerful tools available. I’d always suspected that press releases would work to drive traffic to a blog, but I couldn’t test my theory back in the days when it cost $300 or more to send a single release and you had just two chances (slim and fat) of getting many people to read the press release. Then I found MyPRGenie, an online site where you can set up a free basic account with an online newsroom and built-in SEO tools, and I was suddenly able to test it. Marketing Sherpa wrote a case study about my experiences with using MyPRGenie to build a 2000% traffic increase for a former employer’s blog as part of a content marketing strategy that netted a 144% increase in revenue — you can see it here — and I’ve continued to use it as a tool for my personal blog. I’m not very consistent about using it for this blog. I get busy and make excuses. Also, I’m not offended if a post here doesn’t get thousands of readers. (Most don’t.) But when I do use it, the results are the same for this blog as they were for my former employer. Traffic for my blog consistently doubles when I take the time to post a press release. That has proved true every single time I’ve done so for this blog and those I produce for other companies with a few notable exceptions where the press release I posted failed to get traction. (Probably because it wasn’t well written, or my keyword selection was poor.)