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

Monday, August 6, 2012

6 Easy Ways To Ninja More Traffic on Your Blog

Pictured: roughly 200 hits worth of awesome!
Pageviews: they're almost as awesome as bacon.  Am I right or am I right?  Right?  Right?  Right?  

I'm not sure where the bacon-becomes-better-than-pageviews tipping point is, but I'm pretty sure I'd give up 35 hits per slice without even blinking, and I'm pretty sure I'd glower dubiously at a 50 pageview slice (unless it was just one of those perfectly cripsy-but-not burned slices), so the sweet spot must be in there somewhere.

Look, if all we ever wanted was traffic, we would post nothing but porn and inflammatory articles titled "Why My Cis, Able, White, Heterosexual, Male, Middle-Class Privilege is Totally a Lie Because My Dad Never Came to My Choir Concerts so I Know Suffering: An Expose in Why Liberals Are All Whiny Victims and Conservatives Are Evil" and watch the pageviews flow like Niagara Falls.  However, most people do actually have some pride in their content, and so they want traffic without selling out....too much.

Hi there hot stuff!
If you can win an argument about stem cells in the comment section, I'll send you pics of what happened next!

However, very few people actively desire not to reach more people.  So the trick is to sell out just enough to be an eclectic-style-in-the-coffeehouse-romanticized Bohemian artist, not a dying-of-dysentery-in-the-gutter-with-missing-front-teeth-actual Bohemian artist.

Those crazy Bohemians.  Is it any wonder only not-really-poor hipster types aspire to their life?

Personally, I know I am only of interest to a small sliver of people who are 1) interested in writing, 2) are not way beyond the point where this blog would be useful to them, 3) do not think they're way too good for any advice because their fifth grade teacher told them they have talent, 4) do not mind seeing the fucking f-word at least once a post, and 5) will not fly into an anti-hypocrisy psychotic rage if a writer makes some grammar errors.

That's why I want everyone to know about Writing About Writing.  Everyone on Earth.  Even that weird dude who has named his appliances and tries to make them jealous of each other.  I know it's only a tiny percentage of readers are going to stick around.  If a hundred people check out my blog, maybe one will come back the next day.  Among my friends that number might be a little higher, but the cold reality is strangers don't get to see how fan-damn-tastically cute I am when I blush and smile at the revelation that someone loves my blog.

Zombie Voice: Send more cops readers! 

I do not claim to be a blogging guru.  This is my first blog.  I've been at it for less than a year.  I use a template with fricken birds for fuck's sake.  They're not even writerly birds with pens in their mouths or little word processors or anything.  I bet those birds don't even know who Milton is or how to write in 3rd person limited.

I am the pre-meaningful-speech Badnews Bears of blogs.  Except with less experience.

But, I'm also one severely OCD-as-hell validation-seeking writer, and that means I've probably spent eight or nine solid DAYS of my life in the last six months staring at Google Analytics and paying close attention to my blog traffic, when it comes in, from where, and what sorts of things I do to affect it.  I can tell who visits once and never again, who comes and pokes around the site for a while, and most importantly who comes back.  Sometimes I can even figure out if someone has shared a link just based on the behavior of hits and where they are coming from.  And as with anything, I will always share whatever I learn with you as soon as I learn it.  So if you're looking back through my entries and wondering why I don't take my own advice, it might literally be because I just figured it out.  It's all live ammo here at W.A.W., so try to keep up.

Don't worry.  This isn't the identical list of "10 Ways to Improve Your Blog Traffic" out there that everyone has ripped off from everyone else (without even bothering to rewrite it in most cases).  These are a few quirky suggestions that I've found are surprisingly effective.

Anecdotal?  Oh totally, but they are also awesome.

These are so easy, I'm doing three of them right now.
Why are they so awesome?  Because they're easy! They take almost no time or effort and will not fundamentally require you to compromise your writing.  Most of them take a minute or two at the most.

See....writers who want to be out there in the world have to find that balance between writing and self pimping.  Writers have faced this integrity dilemma since 1441 when Adros Von Whittenberg spent the better part of a month hooking Johannes Guttenberg up with one blistering threesome after another so he could justify asking for a "session with that press thingie you invented."  Towing that line between promoting their work and actually writing is one of the constant struggles of being a writer.  Partially because it's such an awesome way to act like a writer without actually writing, so it tends to be the poseur tactic of choice.

"Eight of my Pinterest pins were "liked" today.
Two were repinned.
Clearly, I am a great writer, dahling."
Too far one way and you get those pretentious nerf herders who think partying every night is "marketing," and go on a three-hundred city tour to promote their second short story.  Too far the other way, and you get people whose really good book will be lucky to sell into triple digits (if it gets published at all) because, quite simply, no one knows who the hell they are.

The internet hasn't really changed this.  Some writers think a professional Twitter is selling out, and share the strange paradox of being bloggers (...who are all totally, like, online and stuff), but who think being excited about a growing readership cheapens their loving devotion to the craft. Others spend several hours on social media spreading their two paragraph article (which is mostly MCing a link to a better written article about the same thing) far and wide like digital versions of those guys in Vegas passing out fliers. If anything, the opportunities to lose oneself in self-pimpification have expanded to unprecedented heights in the digital age.

So tricks that don't demand a writer lose themselves in the self-promotion game are always awesome.  If all you are is a massive marketing machine with no substance, all that traffic doesn't really matter.

Getting clicks is awesome, and there are already tons of great articles out there about how to GET people to click, but if those people don't stick around to read, that's not an audience.  They're just victims of your marketing.  It's like saying you're a successful writer because a lot of people read your book jacket, even though they didn't actually buy the book.

So without further ado.  Ways to get people to stick around and read (as far as I can tell from Google Analytics)...

1- Give Your Title Some Thought.  Seriously...titles matter.  They matter a lot. Any journalist knows this, but most bloggers aren't journalists first and also haven't sat through a journalism class trying not to scream from boredom as their classmates struggled through the concept that a byline shouldn't have "mystique."  If you aren't already famous or haven't been personally recommended to the reader, the average person on your blog for the first time is ALREADY REACHING FOR THE BACK BUTTON before your page even finishes loading.  You have exactly the space of time it takes them to read the title and flick their eyes over the screen for them to decide if it's worth their time to stay.
Titles fucking matter.
Not even a decision to stay.  It's a decision NOT TO LEAVE.  They are already out of there and have committed to bailing.  You have to do something to change their mind.  Your title is really one of the main factors in that decision.

This entire process takes about two seconds for the average person.  You have to woo them back from the brink in less than the time it takes you to scratch your nose.  If your title is an inside joke, an oblique reference to your article's thesis (like you might title an essay), or an allusion to something most people won't recognize, you probably won't keep that reader.

"How to Prepare Fish Tacos of The Gods" will get more people sticking around than "I Have Tasted Heaven" because it's clearer about what the topic actually is and will get more hits than "My Fish Taco Recipe" because it's way more provocative.

Not all my titles follow this advice, and they never will.  Not every post I write is intended to draw readers.  Some are quiet ruminations and some are deeply inside jokes about genocidal cephalopods, and they're probably not the first thing I want anyone to see about W.A.W. anyway. But on the articles I spend time on and know might have a wider appeal, I've noticed that flimsy titles don't get NEARLY as much traffic as solid, but clever titles.  8 Things Prometheus Can Teach You About How Not To Write still gets good traffic even weeks later.  Introducing Cedric (which is unclear, boring, and an inside joke) is currently at seven hits.  Not even my regular readers were interested.

2- Add a picture.  It's multimedia.  Multi it!  You don't have to multi the shit out of it, but people like pictures and it is really easy to find one or two to give them a visual to pique their curiosity.  Make sure your picture is early enough in the post that they will see it when they first come to the page.  Don't think of it as your writer being so stupid that they need the blog equivalent of a book with pictures.  Think of it more like good cover art.  It gets people interested enough let their eyes flutter over the text.  You're not sullying the purity of your medium to add one picture.  (Besides, in case you hadn't noticed, your medium isn't limited to text so what's sullying the purity of it is anachronistic stick in desperate need of dislodging.)

In fact, I can't see a difference between my posts with a single picture and those with several pictures so this really is just about piquing interest and not about pandering to people who would thumb through a novel and say "No pictures?"  I may not have enough posts to account for every X factor, but it doesn't seem like posts with LOTS of pictures get appreciably more traffic than posts with just one picture.

It's probably worth mentioning that it should be a RELEVANT picture.
But posts with at least one picture get a LOT more traffic than posts with none according to analytics.  Most of the posts I've taken the time to add so much as a single picture get almost twice as many hits as the ones where I just write.  In fact this is so true that if I go back and add a picture to an old post it will immediately start to do better.

3- Early in the post, try to find a place for a really, really short paragraph--especially if it's funny, controversial, or pointed.  See people are dancing their eyes over your page, trying to decide if they're going to stay (or rather...giving you two seconds to convince them NOT to leave).  They won't "give a shot" to that huge monstrous block of text of a paragraph you have sitting like the intro of a college essay.  Boring!  There are cat memes waiting--no one has time for the unreasonably high chance that a paragraph on the world wide web will be a waste of their time.  Your paragraph might be the funniest thing they've ever read.  It might be the Magna Carta...with jokes.  ...but everything in their experience says it probably isn't.  The risk vs. reward is way too high.

But if there is a short paragraph that doesn't require them to commit--maybe one or two sentences--it will grab their attention.  If it's short enough their brain won't even be able to help reading it.  Like the way we just automatically read signs, Facebook memes, really short status updates and things like that just by glancing at them--we can't help it.  (Seriously if you look at a short sentence, it's almost impossible NOT to read it.)

If that sentence is interesting, funny, controversial, or provocative in some way, they may stay to see more.
This trick does not work with the world "ubiquitous."

Admittedly, watching my own analytics is not exactly a controlled experiment.  I'm the opposite of a double blind (a single sighted?) and there are multiple X factors I can't account for, but posts that have some kind of short grabby sentence early in the post get more traffic than others.  Though this sentence HAS to be early enough in the body of the text to be seen when the page loads on the screen without scrolling down.  I can't be absolutely sure it's the single sentence that's affecting traffic.  The reason I'm pretty sure it might be is because the more provocative that sentence is, the better the post seems to do.

4- Stumbleupon   Sign up for it and like your own shit.  I'm serious.   You can like your own pages, and it will be fed to ten random people who are specifically looking for the interests that you list.  Most social media involve a little bit of used-car sales tactics where you're trying to "encourage" your friends  to be interested in something they haven't gone looking for, or a "professional" social medium that people don't tend to seek out until/unless you're a somewhat well-known writer.  But with Stumbleupon, they are LOOKING for random pages in your topic.  Stumbleupon will basically get your page 10 hits in the space of a minute or so.

You might be able to tell where I discovered Stumbleupon on this graph.   Look closely....

Plus with most other social media pimpoligizing, you are cutting and pasting and maybe even doing a little explanation along with the post.  Before you know it, you've spent twenty or thirty minutes cross-posting, and cutting and pasting your pimpalicous blurb as well as tailoring it to each new site.  With S.U. you push a button and you're done.  It's so easy it's cheesy.

"But Chris," you say, "ten views is really peanuts."  Yes, but that's not ten of your friends or colleagues who think today's entry sounds like it might be interesting.  That's ten random people now exposed to your blog who probably didn't know you existed one minute ago.  Whether they stick around to read, maybe bookmark the page, check out your other stuff, gush about you to friends, or whether they just click the "Stumble On" button so fucking fast their computer can't even handle the request probably depends on other factors (like the ones above), but this is a great way to get yourself out there in a completely random way that doesn't rely on your friends pimpulation abilities.

AND...if you have some content of substance, Stumbleupon will be the gift that keeps on giving.  After that ten hit spike, if someone else gives you a "like," your page will stay in the system.  I just started using Stumbleupon on Friday night, but it has nearly doubled my traffic literally overnight.  I'm not even talking about the ten hit spike that got me 500 hits that first day from listing many of my old posts, but rather a trickle that keeps coming in.  "Reasons" to Get an MFA in Creative Writing has been "liked" a couple of times since I posted it, and it's been steadily picking up a couple of views an hour.

But here's the catch...it is only trickling in pageviews on some of my better articles.  A lot of the filler, block-text, bad-titled, no-picture posts got their ten hits and then disappeared quietly into the night.  So if you are actually writing some compelling stuff, Stumbleupon will be useful beyond that spike.  If you are hyperpimplating out your fluff, it won't be as dramatic.

5-Post Before Noon, but after Eight.  If you're an international superstar you might not have a primary geographic audience with a timezone that would make this feasible.  Then again, you probably don't have to worry about pageviews if you're an international superstar.  You also aren't reading this, so what the fuck am I even going on about?  But if you're just starting out like me, most of your readers are your extended social circles, and probably live in the same timezone.

The time to post is after people are awake, but before they go to lunch.

Meet your audience.
Kinda makes you rethink that heroin addiction, doesn't it?
The one after eight makes sense. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that this is because people read blogs mostly at work when they're supposed to be working.  If they were on their own time they would never fritter away the hours like that!  ~whistles artlessly as he looks around~  They would bust out Diablo III, MFF Asian porn, or the other big guns, waste entire evenings or days, never even LOOKING at Facebook.

I'm not sure WHY the after noon one works, but it does. Posts that go up after noon get about a third fewer views than the ones going up early.  Maybe people goof off at work in the morning and only get serious after they come back from lunch and realize they've fucked around all morning reading blogs and maybe it's time to get some real work done.  Maybe I have nothing but friends who work better in the morning.  I dunno.  But whatever the reason, it is predictably true.

Both of these phenomenon are extra true with true-sauce on Fridays.  If I get a post up on Friday after noon, that badboy is seriously doomed to get like HALF the hits of a post on Monday morning. Despite the stereotype of people sitting around watching the clock on Friday afternoon, I think more people are actually trying to get some shit done so they don't have to spend the entire weekend dreading what's waiting for them when they return.  Friday is a good day for your "less-awesome" posts.

6- If all else fails, try adding Bacon.  Or zombies.  Or maybe ninjas vs. pirates.  Something about these things makes most people lose their ability for rational thought even more than a teacup pig. But you have to add it early--probably for the same reason you want a catchy title, a picture, and/or a short sentence paragraph--it will affect if people stick around.

Let's imagine he's unsheathing his bacon, okay?
Even my Google-fu has limits.
Memes are powerful things.  I don't know why the current thing is bacon.  No one does.  It just is.  Most people don't even actually like bacon as much as our current cultural attitudes towards it would imply.  It's just sort of the chic thing to do lately: add bacon to everything, gush about every calorie one consumes of the bacon variety, and share pictures of bacon on Facebook.   A couple of years ago it was how badass Chuck Norris was. Who cares WHY?  Memes come and go.  But knowing current trends that will instantly attract attention is always useful.

And before you think you're too highbrow to lower yourself to a pop-culture reference, please consider how many footnotes you've read of Shakespeare plays explaining some popular thing or another of the day, get over yourself, write in your own age, and stop worrying about your "timeless appeal" or some shit that you can never, ever possibly achieve intentionally.

If I mention something trendy early in a post, that post will probably do better than a comparable post without it.  It seems stupid, but I have the analytics to prove it.

We'd be okay if you didn't add bacon to your posts.  Really.
Of course, none of this shit is going to matter if you don't put some genuine effort into what you write.  You can finagle all the people in the world into going to your blog....once.  You can seduce them into reading the whole thing...once. Once they're there, and you've used trickery to get them to stick around, it's up to you to have something worth coming back for.  After that, to trick them again, you'll have to disguise your blog with one of those pairs of glasses with the bushy eyebrows and big nose.  Finding those in blog size is kind of tricky.  It's much more likely that people will return if you have some actual content of substance.  Don't be some conjurer of cheap tricks trying to rob people--be a fucking wizard who can back up the talk by walking the walk...Gandalf style.


  1. Wouldn't actual SEO tips be more useful?

    1. I've looked into SEO a little, but mostly I just watch my own analytics.

  2. So how long did it take you to get up the viewage? This stuff is crazy hard.

    And how long does it take you to write a post?

    1. It's taken me over a year to get to the views I'm at today. (Somewhere between 500-1000 per day, which is still chump change.) The length of time it takes to write a post depends greatly on the post. Sometimes it's an hour, sometimes it's eight.

  3. I don't know why the current thing is bacon. No one does.

    I don't know how you, as a person who has actually eaten bacon, can say this! Let me tell you a story.

    When I was 1 year old my mom decided to go vegetarian. She did not serve meat products at our house. Ever. Sometime when I was in middle school I got to go away for a camping weekend with my Girl Scout troop. We cooked bacon over the campfire in skillets. I ate bacon for the first time ever in my life and it was a transformative experience. I came home raving to my mom about how amazing this bacon stuff was and begged me to buy some for me. This continued for years. Apparently I was relentless enough that every once in a while, like maybe a couple of times a year, she would buy bacon and make me a BLT. It was the only meat product she ever cooked for me. True story, not exaggerated for effect at all. I loved bacon before bacon was cool. Except not since bacon has ALWAYS been cool.

    I know people who are vegetarian except for bacon. I know people who are kosher except for bacon. It's fucking BACON!!

    1. Of course our hunter gatherer brains are going to love anything with the perfect sort of fat ratio in it, but see how even you said "before it was cool"? Like there's a reasonable response to bacon ("This is quite good, Cedrick." "Yes, Bartholomew. Yes, it is."), and then there's an insane internet meme, everything-is-better-with-bacon response to bacon that has taken hold.

      I mean...I'm also pretty sure Chuck Norris would kick my ass, but I don't think his tears REALLY cure cancer.

    2. And I followed it up with "Except not because bacon has ALWAYS been cool". Because I have no memory of bacon not being cool (merely a fuzzy memory of never having had it yet). Just because there wasn't an internet to record it didn't mean people didn't LOVE THINGS.

    3. No, I get what you mean. I'm not saying bacon isn't good or people never loved it, just that maybe it wasn't a cult with a robed followers and several shrines. I just think there's X reaction. And then there's X(I) reaction. I=internet. Bacon might be awesome, but the bacon CRAZE is about 5 years old. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/subcultures/bacon

  4. Where are the birds? I don't see any birds.

    1. Yeah, the birds were part of the template I was using when I wrote this article. It's one of Blogger's "watermark" templates. You've probably seen it before somewhere else. It has some silhouetted birds in the top right.