My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mailbox: Generating Traffic and Some Logistics

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Thursday as long as I have enough to do.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.]  

Several people have asked some variation of: 

How do you get so much traffic to your blog?

My reply:

Technically I don't.

As excited as I am to recently be breaking quadruple digits more than once in a blue moon, and regularly getting over 600 hits a day, that is still CHUMP CHANGE in the "real blog" world.  I have a good improvement curve--better than most blogs that don't start with big money backing them or kicked off by already-famous people--but I'm still very much only starting out.  I still have a cute little amateur blog that makes cute little amateur money with it's cute little amateur traffic. And while there is no hard line between "aww that's cute" and "real blogger," based on the research I've done, the point of financial viability for a blog to pay roughly the same as a "very shitty" day job occurs around 100,000 unique page views per month.

To be clear, 100,000 hits per month would be three times more than I am currently getting on my BEST days.  My BEST BEST BEST days.  I have gone over 1000 views in a single day only five times ever, and two of those were when my article 20 Ways to Sabotage Yourself as a Writer was going quazi-viral on Stumbleupon.  My low end days are a little over 600, so it would be more like FIVE TIMES that much.  So while someone who's having trouble breaking triple digits might be impressed by how I'm doing.  I've a long way to go, even at my current growth rate, to be successful as a blogger.

How do I get the hits I have?  Well, I don't know a lot of "tricks" if that's what you mean.  Short of posting free porn, there really is no way to get lots of traffic without putting in lots of work.  (And if you do host free porn your going to get some cranky letters from a lot of people and probably shut down.)  I did some research before I started, and the fact is that all the sites that talk about improving traffic, even the paid ones, tend to say the same thing over and over: provide good, original content, and provide a lot of it.  I think some people who are looking at my numbers with envy today might be forgetting that I have been posting six or seven times a week, for nearly a year, to get to that point.  My first 60 posts, I was lucky to break 20 views.  Seriously, I danced around the house (Risky Business style) if I got 21 views.  My first 200 posts I was lucky to break triple digits.  I have posted over 400 posts to get where I am.

The best thing you can do is to accumulate a lot of "tributaries."  Even my most popular articles only get me 30-40 hits every day.  But I have several of them doing this, and they generate that traffic day after day.  As I continue to write, every once in a while an article "takes" and then I have another trickle.  These trickles add up.  I don't know of a way to cheat the system (short of, as I said, porn), and if you boil down most basic advice and the advice common to all the sources, it is to provide a lot of GOOD content.  Yet another place where success comes only after work--WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO AND WHERE ARE THE FREE RIDES I WAS PROMISED??

But here are a few things I've done that have worked pretty well:

Use Stumbleupon.  If you sign up for it you will see in about TEN SECONDS why it is a really great site to use for networking.  They have code for a badge you on your page (Blogger, Wordpress, or generic HTML).  You can then like your own page.  (You're not supposed to, but nothing will stop you, and it lets you get the tags right.)  You get ten hits instantly as your page is shown to ten complete strangers interested in the topic of YOUR blog.  If any of them like it, you get shown to more stumblers.  Plus, it's fucking awesome and you will be blown away by it's awesome and say, "Woah, Awesome!" when you see it.

Involve your audience a little.  Put up a poll.  Ask them what's next.  Promise to eat 200 eggs in an hour on a vlog if you get a million hits.  Do a running joke (or plot arc) that your regular readers will understand.  Get people interested.  Get them coming back to see how something's going.   Share your hopes and dreams with them so that they feel like your blog's success is an unfolding story and that they are involved in a way.  Because they are!  Your articles will go further and faster if others share them than if you are just spamming them everywhere.

Make finding other articles easy--I mean like Lindsey Lohan easy.  I use a widget called LinkWithin.  I make sure my "Greatest Hits" are easy to find.  And I have another widget that lists the most popular articles on the right.  If someone finds your site, you want them to stick around.  Put a link or two to past articles in your current ones (like I did above with the Greatest Hits).  If people like what you have to say, they may click to see what else you've said, but it will also help Google determine how to list your site on search engines.

To that end, title your articles well.  No one is going to click a link if they can't tell what it's going to be about. (Would you click on an article titled "Quizflibersnip?"  I thought not.)  And put a picture in it--even if it is just a simple picture.  The picture will show up in the preview on most social media and help eyes drift towards your page.  Don't worry about the collapse of civilization and needing pictures and blah blah blah--we're just visual creatures and the internet is multi-media.

Keep a good "sweet to savory" mixture in your post content when it comes to topical posts.  Topical articles will get people to your site but they "go stale" fast.  I got a LOT of interest about my Prometheus review when I first wrote it, but it has slowed to a crawl since then.  You need some staying power or it's all premature articulation.  Make sure you have articles that are more "timeless."  Even if you are strictly a movie blog or something you can have articles like "What makes a great action movie" or something that will stay fresh long after your Iron Man 3 review has died away.

Instead of putting "Share this" or "Like me" for every single article in a way that starts to blend into the background noise and is easy to ignore, just stop every few weeks (I do every six weeks) and spend a whole entry/article explaining to people how they can help by giving you a like or a +1.  Keep it fresh and interesting.  Don't say it the same way twice.  If Neil Patrick Harris offers to man your phone bank, say yes.

Keep trying new things, but not all at once.  Every once in a while, when I feel like I've got what I'm doing under control, I go and look for a new suggestion for adding traffic.  The sites with advice are easy enough to Google.  Some of it works and I keep doing it, and some of it doesn't and I don't waste my time.  I recommend not letting that long list of stuff blow you away.  Just do what you do and when you feel like you've got what you're doing handled, see about adding ONE more thing to your repertoire.  When you've that handled, add one MORE thing.

Plus if you add ten things, you can't tell which one's working, but if you add them one at a time, you can.  Science bitches!  X factors and stuff!

Sam asks: 

Why do seriously all your links pop up into a new window?  It's not a huge deal, but I end up with all these tabs open when I surf your site.

My reply:

Sorry Sam.  That's pure logistics.  I get a lot of traffic through Stumbleupon.  Stumbleupon's program blocks ads.  So I don't get any revenue from anyone who comes to me from S.U. until/unless they either come back WITHOUT S.U. or they go to a page other than the one they "landed" on.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Stumbleupon is great for getting out there and getting people who are interested in writing looking at my shit--people who NEVER would have seen it through other social media.  It's the bees knees for marketing.  But if people could surf my site from WITHIN Stumbleupon, I would never make any revenue.  Maybe someday I can stop worrying about that and set them all back, but right now I'm struggling to make $10 a month from my ad revenue.

Which is a fancy way of saying the first taste is free, but after that....well it's still free, but maybe I could make a penny or two....please.

Elizabeth asks:

What ever happened to Potpourri?

My reply:

I am (and will) still be doing Potpourri, but there may be some changes to it.

While watching my analytics I noticed that the potpourri posts had very low traffic unless they had some sort of theme, like the Joss Whedon Potpourri.  After I got done picking the links (especially on the themed ones where more searching was involved), formatting the page and posting them, I'd often spent as much time on the potpourri as I would on a regular article which was the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish.  They were supposed to be easy days that were "practically off," and instead I'm working for three hours just to make sure the pictures aren't all on the left side.  So I'm going to be moving my potpourri posts several shifts from quantity to quality.

There are also just SO many links to good stuff.  SO MANY.  I seriously have something like 500 bookmarks saved at this point, and it's only so few because I gave up actually bookmarking them.  There are so many that it's impossible to link dump them all without just completely diluting the intent of showing people awesome stuff they might like.  Telling you to taste this bite of tiramisu is going to be better than telling you to taste these eight tiramisu desserts I just made.  That's actually what happened with the old potpourri.  Ten or more links a week is a lot, and most readers will just skip the whole thing if it's "just this week's potpourri."  Thus, when you DO see a potpourri in the future, it's not just going to be a few links I've found, but really the BEST stuff I've found for a good while--probably around some kind of theme.

I also need to be much more careful about what I post.  When I started, I was lucky to get 20 hits a day and if I put something up off of Facebook, I didn't worry much about it.  It was just some meme right?  But I have to be more considerate now that I'm drifting into "real" traffic territory.  I run a website that is technically for profit (even though it's not MUCH profit).  I should never be making money off of other people's creative effort.  Ever.  I mean I wouldn't want someone making money off of something I'd written.  And I'm not like the new breed of online pirates who tell themselves they're not really stealing because FUCK YOU I'M A DRAGON.  And some of the comics and shit I put up before I started getting any real traffic are questionable.  So I need to think a little about what can go into future potpourris.  It's fine and well when the programming for sharing is very clear that you are just pointing to another site (like exists with youtube) but the image thing is much tricker.  But the images are the best part (and image heavy potpourris are among my most popular posts ever), so that may mean a lot of rethinking.

Theresa asks:

How can you do anonymous comments and accept anonymous questions for the mailbox.  Don't you get horrible comments that way?

My Reply:

Right now anonymous comments are the majority of the comments and mail I get, so they are a bit of a necessary evil.  They are, at the very least, making the site more dynamic and starting some conversations.  Things will change over time, I'm sure, and if I ever get to the point where my web exposure means that anonymous comments are just going to make things too nasty here, I'll stop allowing them altogether.

Yeah, some of them are pretty mean.  Some of them make me cry....a lot.  But I moderate anonymous comments, so that they can't hurt you folks, and I'm okay taking the bullet if it means getting the benefit of conversation the ones who don't suggest I eat powdered glass (yeah, really).

Besides I know they're checking back to see if I replied, and that's like another pageview.  Suckas!

Mike asks: 

Will you really answer questions I send here on your blog?

My reply: 



  1. I can tell you that you're right. Manipulating SEO is getting harder and harder and Google is going to keep making it as hard as they can. Quality content is going to be the only thing that matters soon.

    1. I know some content generators that are pretty upset about it, but I've actually been able to tell the difference in the last five or six years in how many crappy links I have to dig through to get to something useful instead of something obviously designed for just generating traffic.