Saturday, July 11, 2009

How To Build Better Traffic on Your Blog

How To Build Traffic on Your Blog

by Jennifer Fulwiler

A lot of writers have mixed feelings when they hear about the importance of using blogs to build platforms. On the one hand it sounds nice to have a popular blog, but on the other hand it's daunting: How do you go about getting traffic? Isn't it mostly just luck anyway? I have good news: Attracting a loyal readership to a blog is not just blind luck. After more than a decade working as a web developer, I've learned from some exciting successes (and a few spectacular failures) that there are concrete steps you can take to grow traffic to your site.

When I give advice on this topic I usually spend most of my time talking about how to write well; after all, if a blog is not well-written there are no tips or tricks that will make people want to read it. But since most of you probably have that part covered, here are some practical steps you can take to make sure your blog effectively highlights your writing and draws in a loyal audience:

It's all about generosity
If you only remember one thing from this post, make it this: It is a spirit of generosity that brings traffic to a website. As I know from personal experience, having a blog can tempt you to become a black hole of attention. However, the more inwardly-focused you become, the fewer readers you will have. Ironically, it is when you stop asking questions like "How can I get people to link to me?" or "Why don't more people comment on my posts?" and start asking questions like "Who are some other great bloggers I can link to?" and "How can I better serve readers through my blog?" that your traffic will begin to grow.

Write scannable posts.
Internet readers have notoriously short attention spans, and they tend to briefly scan a post first to assess whether it's worth their time to read the whole thing. Use things like pictures, bolded section headers, varied paragraph sizes, bulleted lists and indented quotes to make your posts appealing from the first glance.

Make your blog easy to read and follow
I believe that a lot of blogs don't have the readership that they could simply because of design problems. You don't have to hire a professional designer to do anything fancy, just make sure that you keep an eye on these things:

- Value prime real estate: The part of your blog that is "above the fold," i.e. what first appears in a reader's browser without him having to scroll down, is precious space. Avoid mastheads that are so tall that a reader has to scroll down to see your content and put the most important sidebar elements at the very top.

- Use a readable font: Use one of the standard, easy-to-read fonts; make sure it's big enough (a good rule of thumb is to look at the size of online newspapers' text); and watch out for harsh color combinations like white font against a black background.

- Check your blog in different browsers: Your site will show up differently in different browsers. You don't have to go crazy checking all possible options, but just take a glance at your blog on friends' computers to make sure it doesn't look strange.

- One of the best ways to build a loyal readership is to encourage people to subscribe to your RSS feed. Check your blogging platform's support documents to find out how to add a "Subscribe to my RSS feed" link in your sidebar.

Decide on a theme
- but don't stick to it rigidly.
It's important to identify a loose theme for the subject matter of your blog. If you write a description of a family picnic one day, an analysis of the stock market the next day, and a lesson on Chinese history the day after that, readers are going to get whiplash from so much jumping around. A good litmus test for how well you've clarified your theme is if you could summarize your blog within the 140-character limit on Twitter.

That said, don't forget that what draws readers to blogs is not just the information itself, but the unique personality behind the great content. Don't be afraid to throw in some posts about topics near and dear to your heart, even if they're off-topic from your usual subject matter.

Help people get to know you quickly

- Introduce yourself: New readers immediately want to know who is behind the blog they're reading. Put a two- to three-sentence bio in a prominent place on the front page of your blog.

- Remember that every post you write will be the first post someone reads: The other day I stumbled across a blog with a stirring post about how life was different after Sara left. You're probably wondering the same things I did: Who's Sara? Where did she go? I spent a few minutes looking for the answers but eventually lost interest. Make sure that in every post you either explain necessary backstory or link to where it's explained elsewhere.

- Include a "best of" list: I can't recommend strongly enough that you list a few of your best posts as permanent links in the sidebar. (If you're uncomfortable self-identifying which posts are great, just do a "most popular" list.)

Don't give up.
Website traffic grows geometrically; it's much easier to go from 1,200 to 1,400 visits per day than it is to go from 200 to 400. There will be periods where it seems like it's taking forever for your traffic to increase, but don't give up. Just keep having fun and pouring genuine love and passion into each post; before long, you'll find that you've been too busy engaging with readers and practicing the craft of writing to notice that you finally have a platform.


  1. Very helpful. Thanks for sharing. I'm familiar with the "above-the-fold" concept, but hadn't thought of applying it my blog. I'll be paying more attention to that in the future!

  2. The best impressions are always made in teh first place people see when they come to your blog.


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