Cafe Witness

Friday, March 20, 2009

5 Ways to Increase Your Blog Traffic: Chris Brogan vs. The Watchmen

One of these men has had sex in an owlshipAs I've mentioned before, I notice whenever Lijit reports a spike in my blog traffic. Normally, that spike is caused by someone with a wide online reach (like Chris Brogan) mentioning something I've written, which then drives that person's audience to me (for that day, at least).

But this week I learned a huge lesson: Chris Brogan is no Rorschach.

When Chris (and the rest of the standard social media Twitterverse) mentions something I've written, I may see a peak of 700 views on that particular post.

When I wrote my review of the Watchmen film last week ("10 Things People Don't Seem to Get About the Watchmen"), I had no idea what would happen next:

Somehow, that Watchmen review really touched an online nerve.

Admittedly, Chris Brogan's original retweet of my post (which referred to it as the "best Watchmen review. Ever.") had something to do with it first finding an audience. But that 17,000+ traffic spike is 25 times the normal "Brogan Effect" on one of my posts. This means my Watchmen post reached some kind of escape velocity and broke out of our social media fishbowl (where most of my and Chris's audience tends to live), and crossed over to an equally-passionate (and, presumably, much larger) niche: traditional comic book fans. (It also had legs: look at the numbers 5 days later, vs. the 8 readers from the previous Sunday.)

My attempts to figure out exactly where all this additional traffic came from have been patchy at best, but I suspect Reddit had something to do with it. It also appears to have been retweeted at least 50 times (with another 15 thanks to Copyblogger), and then it may have continued on being retweeted under other names / descriptions.

All of which leads me to...

5 Thoughts on Increasing Your Blog Traffic

1. Write Something That Appeals to the Hubs. I could write amazing blog posts all day, but if none of them were interesting to the folks that OTHER people listen to (like Chris Brogan or Copyblogger), no one would ever see them. I could spend months building an audience that's comparable in size to Brogan's, but that's also time I could spend making interesting media, which is what provides the hubs with interesting things to talk about. (It's a cycle, people; find your spoke.)

2. The Title Is the Hook. If someone likes what you wrote, they'll want to tell other people. In this age of Twitter, they need to be able to explain WHY your article is interesting in about 100 characters (not counting the characters they'll use for the link, plus any "retweet" attributions, etc.). What better shorthand than an interesting (or provocative) post title that does their work for them?

3. The Summary May Also Be the Hook. Sometimes a title doesn't sum it all up. In that case, provide a one-sentence summary of your article or a series of mini-theses within the post itself that readers can cut-and-paste as their "aha" quote to explain the post's relevance. (Things move quickly on the web; making the promotion of your work as easy as possible is imperative to getting it seen.)

4. Don't Confuse Your Traffic with Your Niche. I make a living doing social media, so that's where the bulk of my audience comes from. As a result, the majority of my blog posts are aimed squarely at the audience I expect to be serving. But that's also a closed loop; if all I ever wrote about was blogging, social networking and Twitter, I'd never attract an audience with other interests, and my total possible audience would have a limited cap.

On the other hand, I doubt most of the 17,000+ readers who saw my Watchmen post are interested in social media, which means 95% of them probably have no reason to return to my blog; they were simply passing visitors who were here for one specific post. (In fact, my subscribers have actually gone down since the Watchmen piece ran.) So as great as it is to see a massive bump in numbers, don't kid yourself into believing that the people who find you are necessarily interested in everything you have to say. (And don't get depressed when your subsequent posts fail to reach those eye-popping numbers.)

5. Pay Attention to What's Working (and What Isn't). Personally, I think every blog post I write is great. But not every post resonates with my audience. Some of my best articles (in my opinion) languish with nary a comment, while others (that I wouldn't necessarily expect to catch on) somehow find a life of their own.

Studying the habits of my readers helps me understand what topics most often generate comments AND which posts (or titles, or summaries) most often get redistributed. It also helps me understand when I might be wasting my time. For example, I have a tendency to share my convoluted theories on why and how certain aspects of social media work, but my audience doesn't seem to care. So no matter how interested *I* may be in my ideas, it's evident that my audience isn't (yet), which means I'm much better served by writing articles they ARE interested in (based upon past indicators), with the presumption that my aggregate audience will eventually grow to include new readers who WILL care about what the old readers didn't.

Oh, and a bonus tip:

Don't Feel Compelled to Write Something Every Day. Some people believe that daily content is the only way to maintain an audience. Wrong. People aren't reading you because you're around, they're reading you because you're good. Sure, it's great to be both, but when forced to decide, most thinking mammals prefer to read quality over quantity. And the better you are, the more your audience will forgive your infrequency between bolts of spine-tingling relevance.

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  • You're doing pretty well for a blogger blogging on a free blogging platform. Keep up the good work! :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:42 AM  

  • Some interesting points. I think I am going to try to draw more comparisons with real world current events in my blogs. I can get the same message across but in a much more current manner.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:42 AM  

  • Well done. Insightful. Love that razor brain. Thanks

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:44 AM  

  • I know what you mean about those traffic spikes. They won't all come back of course. I write about all sorts of farm things, farm business is my favorite. But what do people want? Pictures of cute baby alpacas! Fortunately I can keep those coming.

    Thanks for these good points to keep in mind.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:55 AM  

  • As another beneficiary of the "Brogan Effect", I know exactly what you are talking about here. (what a rockstar). I also agree with your take on what it all means and what we should take away from it in terms of increasing our post effectiveness. The Brogan Effect has made me step up my game, and it has paid off for me too - I post less but my overall traffic has nearly doubled. Thanks!

    By Blogger Terry Starbucker, at 11:00 AM  

  • Nice tips. Thanks, Justin. "The title is key" is something that was hammered home to me in a talk by Keli Goff (HuffingtonPost) just before I began my effort this February.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:02 AM  

  • I guess this means I need to finish my Watchmen article....

    By Blogger Batman, at 11:45 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Sri, at 12:36 PM  

  • You know, I had all but given up my blog...

    I'm reworking my website and was just going to let it die...

    but now, maybe not so much..

    Really, thank you!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:41 PM  

  • Justin,
    thanks for the detail post and subsequent analysis. Its heartening to see the lessons learnt and struggles of other bloggers. I'd be curious how the average time spent on the site increased (or not) with these spikes.
    ps. once I read your original post, I guess I'll know who the watchmen are!

    By Blogger Sri, at 12:44 PM  

  • Everyone: Thanks for the comments! I'm glad to hear so many of you are finding something relevant in this post.

    And to fourcrows (and anyone else who's considering giving up their blog, etc.), keep this in mind: all of this -- the blogs, the Twitter, the social networking -- it's all a tool. It'll only be useful as long as:

    A) You're still enjoying it, and

    B) It's helping you achieve your goals.

    If the blog (or anything else) isn't helping you achieve your desired results, tweak it or drop it and find something else that works better. Experiment. Test one method against another.

    But, most importantly, know WHY you're doing what you're doing. If you're blogging for fun, approach it that way. If you're blogging for business, that same approach may not work. Once you know what your end goals are, you can better decide if it's the blog, or you, or your approach, that needs tweaking.

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 1:00 PM  

  • Justin -

    Great thoughts and observations! Definitely helps me focus, as a new blogger, on WHAT I'm actually working toward.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:21 PM  

  • Great post! I also like your above comment . . I mean we all want fame and lots of people visiting our blogs but in the end if it's just for fun, treat it that way. If it's for business, make sure you have a good business plan in place!

    By Anonymous SK, at 1:45 AM  

  • Thanks Justin. Will follow your advice here. And by the way. I got to this blog from a Chris Brogan RT! :-)

    By Anonymous Conrad, at 3:19 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:55 PM  

  • Hi Justin. I'm not sure if it was a tweak I did, but I am falling off searches very rapidly and traffic is nearly grinding to a halt. What do you suggest?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:56 PM  

  • By Anonymous Alfred, at 11:02 PM  

  • Very helpful piece of writing, much thanks for the article.
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    By Anonymous Melvyn, at 1:11 PM  

  • The watchman movie sucks so hard, there's no doubt about it!

    By Anonymous India Pharmacy, at 11:27 AM  

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