When I was a wee lad, my grandfather took me a couple of times to the Mud Island Mississipi Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. They have a 2000 foot scale model of the Mississippi. It uses 2.2 million gallons of water. When you're a little kid a scale model over a football field long filled with water on a Tennessee July day is pretty awesome.
|And for fifteen bonus points,|
see if you can guess the body of water in the background.
The Mississippi is the biggest river in North America and the fourth biggest in the world, but unlike many rivers, the Mississipi doesn't have one huge water source like a melting glacier or giant mountain formation. Lake Itasca might be considered the source (the Latin translation of its name would certainly suggest that possibility) but that lake itself is fed by dozens of streams. Instead it has a water basin of over a million square miles, extending all the way up into Canada, and hundreds and thousands of tiny tributaries feed into it on it's languid journey south. All those small rivers, creeks, brooks, and later rivers like Jefferson and Missouri join it in it's journey towards New Orleans.
The Mississippi is like someone who gets a high level character in a role playing game by killing hundreds of thousands of giant rats back near the starting village.
There is a lot of advice on how to increase blog traffic online, and I've even gone blind trying to read and understand some of it, but I tend to apply the LCD principle to online advice. [The LCD principle is that I check multiple sources for advice and see what they all have in common--the "Lowest Common Denominator"--and then I focus on that.] I'm sure there's SEO information I could be using to improve my numbers, and technical things I could be doing, if I wanted to take time from writing, reading, housekeeping, teaching, and relationship to learn them, but given limited time and resources it's better to take the LCD advice first and work the other stuff in piecemeal. The one thing most of those pages come back to is that what will really work is providing good content.
Aside from that much of the rest is smoke and mirrors. SEO is useful, but Google has a thousand tech nerds working overtime to circumvent any sophist manipulation and find the good stuff so just using key words over and over again is becoming the online equivalent of Mr. Subliminal from Saturday Night Live. Just today they rolled out some new "link disavowing" software so that you can disavow links coming into your site from spam sites.
There's a reason I know three or four people who make a living writing web contentent even if they have to take a shower with Comet and steel wool at the end of each day and weep themselves to sleep. I've even done some of of it. You get some totally random ass topic that you have to do some research on. You're encouraged to use other articles about it as long as you don't steal them word for word, and you're given a list of half a dozen words you have to include--some multiple times. When you're done, they pay you. It isn't much per article, but if you can write quality content quickly, it adds up fast. Plus it's WAY better than doing a blog about writing where you sometimes put up your fiction. Trust me.
You probably aren't going to have a viral post until a lot of people are already reading you regularly. You might. Maybe. But it's almost impossible to know what's going to get attention online, and if you don't have a pretty large pool already when you "nail" something, it's probably not going to go as far as you'd like. Some of the articles I've spent a lot of time on and thought were really good have never broken a hundred hits. I really thought 6 Easy Ways to Ninja More Pageviews was going to be a hit, but it's still hobbling along at 56 views as of this writing. On the other hand some of the tabs up at the top of my page that I think are basically just taking care of business and making disclaimers are getting hundreds of "Like" clicks on Stumbleupon and generating 20+ views a day. I never figured my Mission Statement was all that interesting. And I never expected 20 Ways To Sabotage Yourself as a Writer to be my most popular article. You just can't tell.
But Ray Bradbury said quantity is quality. This is as true of blogging as it is of fiction. Not every article will be your best. Not every one is brilliant. And even if it is those things, you might have just written on something people don't care about. Just keep throwing spaghetti at the wall because there's no way to know what's going to stick. And there's no way to know what's going to start crawling up the wall with a life of it's own and reaching for the ceiling with it's little noodly appendages. Perhaps some epically viral blog was the primordial birth of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. RAMEN!
As I've blogged with some kind of content almost every day over the last nine months, and watched my analytics, I've seen how this works. I have a few articles doing some heavy lifting, and I get twenty or thirty hits off of all my various social media (Facebook, G+, LJ) each time I post a new article, but most of my traffic comes from many many different articles, each pulling in a few hits a day off of google searches or Stumbleupon. They are like the tiny trickle tributaries of the Mississipi, each adding a new trickle to the total.
There aren't any ways I know of to short cut this process. Most social networking sites will have some kind of backlash if you overuse them, and the consequences are very much like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. I love Stumbleupon, but every time I submit a page to them, they shut down my URL's recommendations of "stumble hits" for a few minutes. (So if I were spamming them with no-content links, I'd quickly blacklist my own URL) The only articles that keep getting recommended daily--instead of once in a blue moon--are the ones with multiple "likes." The system sort of creates its own meritocracy hazing. (So if I were just posting page after page of useless crap, SU wouldn't provide me with any real traffic.) Any social media like Facebook or G+, you run the risk of irritating your friends if you are too self-promotional. I haven't yet gotten an e-mail from a friend telling me to tone it down on FB or G+, but that's because my peeps are saints. I am assured by a friend that using Reddit depends ENTIRELY on the sub-Reddit category involved. (Someone has put a couple of my articles up on the "Writing" subreddit, and my experience has been sort of mixed-with-negative-leanings.) Again, you aren't likely to get upvoted into viral fame there unless you already have a name for yourself and if you post too much bad content, your posts will never see the light of day. In Reddit they use something called Karma. Though you might be posted by someone who already has good karma--but that probably won't happen if you don't have good content that has impressed somebody. So you are right back to writing good content.
This is a lot like writing in general. We like stories about meteoric rises to fame like Stephen King's first novel, Carrie, making crazy amounts of money or Fitzgerald living in the French Rivera off the proceeds of his first and only novel, but those stories are attractive BECAUSE they're extraordinary. It is much more likely we are going to have to struggle for years just to get to a point where it might be theoretically possible to quit our day job (if we're willing to stop eating out, and eat our college-roommate's famous "Potato Pasta" twice a week). It is much more likely that we will have to splice together different writing income streams and "recognition streams" so that one day, when we really nail it--enough people recognize our name that it will actually matter. A lot of writers' first books are REALLY good, but they don't do very well because know one knows who the writer is.
Yeah, you can get all caught up in the networking and the elbow rubbing and know five publishers and go out drinking with three editors, but that's a lot like worrying about your SEO and networking the shit out of yourself on a billion different social networking sites when you don't actually have any content. When you come back to it the writing is always going to be the more important factor in your success. Then again, you can't just write good content in a vacuum. I'd likely still be struggling along at 50 hits a day if I hadn't discovered Stumbleupon.
So learn the business. Figure out what works. Try something new once or twice a month and see if it helps. Don't turn up your nose to a website that suggests a few simple changes that will make a big difference, but don't get lost in that world either. Remember, if you're not already famous, what is really going to turn your blog into a giant flow of pageviews isn't one extra use of a keyword or some layout trick. It is good content, and a lot of it. So instead of trying to force every article be a viral sensation, work with perseverance to build up a network of tributaries that will each trickle into your total numbers. It works for the biggest river in North America, so obviously it is an unassailable metaphor and can work for you.