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The Unsexy Truth about Finding Traffic for Your Blog

Last week I tweeted that I’d not checked my Google Reader account in a month. Well, it turns out that I’m not the only one.

Within minutes, I started getting tweets back from others saying that they rarely check their RSS feeds any more. Instead, people were finding content from other sources including:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Paper.li
  • email subscriptions
  • apps (some drew in RSS feeds, but others were recommendation engines)

The decline of RSS?

It struck me just how much things have changed over the last two or three years.

It wasn’t long ago that bloggers were promoting their RSS feeds above all other methods of subscribing to their blogs. Email was dead and RSS was going to be the number one way that people would connect with you.

RSS does continue to drive traffic (at least, my Feedburner stats seem to indicate that) but as I look at my own statistics to see where people are arriving on my sites from, the percentage of those coming from RSS/Feedburner seems to be on the decline. The decline is only slight, but in comparison to the steady increases I saw a few years back, it’s been declining (as a percentage of overall traffic) for me, at least.

Fluctuations in social media traffic

What I do notice is that some sources of traffic fluctuate quite a bit from year to year.

For example, different social media sites have been rather inconsistent. Some months, Twitter can be good, but other months it can be down. Facebook, StumbleUpon, Digg, and other social media sites have provided great influxes of traffic at times; other months, they’re very low.

Some of the traffic levels will depend on the types of content we’re writing, but in other cases, it’s more to do with the rise or decline of the sites themselves (for example, Digg seems to have suffered a lot lately).

Overall, I’ve seen traffic levels from Twitter and Facebook rise, but this has varied from month to month, and despite quite a bit of effort in building my network, the percentage of my overall traffic coming from social media has been relatively small (less than 10%).

Steady growth in…

So RSS seems to be in decline (for me) and social media traffic has been fluctuating … but overall traffic has been continuing to grow.

So what is performing? Is there some new, sexy form of traffic that I’ve been focusing on?

I’m afraid not. If anything, the traffic sources that I’m seeing steadily grow have been a little, well, retro. There are two of them:

  1. Email. I keep seeing people talk about how they’re giving up on email, and that it’s a technology that’s dying, but I’m just not seeing that. Perhaps those at the cutting edge are giving it up, but “normal” people certainly aren’t. It’s increasing the traffic to my sites through newsletters, and continues to bring conversions when it comes to sales.
  2. Search Engines. Also regularly reported is that search engines are under threat from social media as more and more people use social media sites to search and find content to read. I’ve no doubt that there’s some truth to that, but search engines are by no means dead. Again, “normal” people still head to Google to find content. I’ve not put a lot of time into SEO or particularly targeted search traffic, but one of the side-effects of adding daily content to a blog is that you naturally build up the pages being indexed by search engines, so search traffic will naturally grow.

Conclusions

By no means am I suggesting that social media isn’t worth your time and effort, or that you should kill your RSS feeds and solely focus your attention on email or SEO. These observations are my own, from my four blogs, and they may not be typical.

I think the key take-aways for me are these:

  • Do some analysis of your own traffic and where it’s coming from. Doing this analysis myself today has challenged me to think about how much time and energy I do put into social media, and whether it’s really paying off as much as if I’d made other choices for my focus!
  • Don’t throw all your efforts into just the new, “sexy” forms of marketing (like social media). They have incredible potential, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
  • Keep in mind that the average internet user doesn’t always know and use new technology like the social-media savvy bloggers that you and I are. It’ll vary from niche to niche, but good old email and search engines might be good places to focus your efforts!

I’d love to hear some analysis of your own sites’ traffic sources. Have you seen any shifts in the sources of your traffic? Do they correlate with where you put your time and energy when it comes to marketing?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Brankica says:

    The main point from this post, that I have been talking about to a friend the other day was search engine traffic. When you are in blogging community, connecting only with other bloggers, all the traffic talk revolves around Google.

    Well, not only “regular” people still use Google to find stuff but most of them don’t know what Twitter, LinkedIn or Paper.li are. And when it comes to Google, many “regular” people don’t even use it, they are still attached to Yahoo and Bing as their search engines.

    We keep forgetting that there is much more to the world than us bloggers and that there are many people using “the old ways”. Not only are they still using it, but they will continue to do so.

    • Uncle Milton says:

      Great point! As to everything in life we sometimes forget that not everybody is doing what we are doing and sometimes never even heard of it. I find even when blogging that I fail to address newbies. Newbies not only to blogging but to the internet. Great reply!

    • Hi Brankica,
      Well said, most of the people I know search for information via search engines. They go to social media to connect with friends but then go search on google for a product or service they have heard about.

      As humans we naturally look for and use what is familiar and search engines will be what many people use for quite a few years to come.

      Just my thoughts.

      David

  2. Ralph Kooi says:

    I believe RSS will be bigger, to a lot of people (outside marketing en sometimes even in marketing) don’t know what RSS is can what it can do. If everyone is pushing email again, then people will be flooded and will search for an alternative.. RSS

    When RSS is becoming more socially known and accepted it will be used even more.
    I check my RSS daily and its pretty much the way I get my news fix. FB and Twitter are side options for me.

  3. Darren, great article and this was me until recently. My Google reader had become unwieldy and not particularly enticing to visit. But that has changed – more about that in a sec.

    My preferred aggregator of content is my facebook, however, many great sites I love still do not post all their content to a fan page and, if for some reason you cannot check your facebook for a few days, scrolling back through all the updates becomes a nightmare. So i think this will be a great future tool, but it still needs work.

    My Twitter accounts also need some housekeeping so its hard to discern what’s important.

    The game changer for me however is feedly. (Disclaimer – nothing to do with me). feedly makes the content from your google reader beautiful. On the web, on a table or on your android or iphone, feedly is a killer RSS app.

    @Branika, agreed that RSS is more for geeks, but a a lot of non geeks would find feedly a really great experience also.

    Now just to find a way to mesh my RSS, Twitter and Facebook worlds into one.

  4. WPWebHost says:

    To me, social media is just like a platform for us to interact with your readers/client/fans. Still regular quality post and strong SEO is still the main driving force for traffic.

  5. blog tips says:

    Interesting article. Personally I’ve never even used RSS to check my daily blogs. The most of my traffic comes from search engines and other sites.

  6. RSS is a great platform to reach niche audience but i must admit the fact that visitors from Rss is declining as said in this post

  7. I think if there is to be one truly sexy method of getting traffic it’s having your own product. All other methods require a lot of work and offer comparatively little in return, but if you have your own product you can build connections with affiliates who will promote it to their email lists, on their high-ranking websites and to followers across their social media profiles. Not to mention, you can have thousands of people doing the same thing – it adds up to a lot of traffic, and potentially a lot of money. Sure, it takes a while to set up – but just think about how long it would take you to build your own massive list of subscribers, or to get the top-ranking for a highly competitive and profitable search term. Probably a lot longer, with a lot less return – and even then you’re still limited to what you can achieve on your own.

  8. smurgle77 says:

    We’ve been doing a fair amount of work generating content and using offsite channels, but our metrics still show that search engines are still by far the best channel for driving traffic to our site. Caveat: we might not have been at it long enough (6 months?) so I would definitely not let go of any of the other methods yet!

  9. grokcode says:

    The key is to focus on a variety of traffic sources. That way if your search engine rankings drop, you will still have social media traffic. If you loose a bunch of twitter followers, you will still be able to count on stumbleupon traffic. I think it worth the time investment to work on getting traffic from a variety of sources because you never know what will pay off in the future.

  10. For me, e-mail is the only way to go, in terms of how I sign up for blog subscriptions. It is just SO MUCH easier than RSS it’s not even funny! RSS might as well be DOA as far as I am concerned. To each his own, I guess!
    Best,

    Peter

  11. Sam Burdett says:

    I’ve found that my traffic does vary between a few different websites and it does seem that things are rather inconsistent in the way they work. I use an array (atleast try too) of different things, I put my blog on twitter, submit it to stumble upon a few times, I have input my blog url too google, yahoo and bing. I have also found that putting my blog url in a signature for a forum that I use does attractive traffic, especially when my url is in quite large blue letters, also commenting and reading other blogs does boost my traffic from day to day.

  12. You’ve started an interesting conversation here, with some important considerations. I just recently studied my traffic and found a high percentage coming from Facebook and Twitter. Because I maintain a lot of content pages, Google also sends traffic over from search.

    I also don’t keep up with my RSS reader as much as I’d like. And the reality is that I don’t keep up with e-mail as much either. In fact, I have unsubscribed from most mailing lists and instead rely on social media to get interesting information.

    I’m not sure where this is all headed, though I’m glad you sparked some consideration here. I’m definitely going to pay closer attention to what’s going on with traffic and where my audience is paying the most attention. Thanks!

  13. David says:

    I though email was going away until late in 2010. My clients seem to be getting more of a response lately. I think people can’t keep up and are overwhelmed with all the social media sites in front of them. They don’t like logging in to these sites so they rely on their email inbox to find the latest news, specials and updates. I think that is why Groupon and other Deal sites are working: they go to your inbox.

    Very awesome post!

  14. Sounds like sending out that initial tweet turned out to be a great way of doing some traffic research! The results you received make sense… but do you think that the fact that your information was coming from people using Twitter had anything to do with the general consensus you received from them? I’m willing to bet that if you’d asked a group of people who found your article via an RSS reader the same thing, they would have told you they use them all the time.

    Just some food for thought.

  15. tipsntricks says:

    Right, I accessed this article through my RSS feeds :) His insights might be true but no one can conclude.

  16. broadbill says:

    The more things change, the more they stay the same!

  17. jezza101 says:

    I would be interested to what people use instead of RSS? I use it to quickly check for updates on my favourite blogs. I don’t see what else can really do that?

    Twitter seems terrible at ensuring you see everything you want to see, most of us don’t have the time to monitor it 24/7 and keep looking at everyone we follow on the off chance that this was the hour they tweeted the thing we needed to read. Twitter demands our attention but I have more valuable ways to spend my time!

    Facebook is much like Twitter. I actually limit it to close friends, and they aren’t really interested in blogging and stuff. I suppose I can “like” lots of things but then my feed gets clogged up – I use FB to keep track of what my friends are up to and don’t want to be overrun with blog updates.

    Email is useful for notifcations but I don’t want an email from each of the 50 or so blogs I like to track. Some blogs get 10s of updates a day. Many blogs, especially in the MMO world, just use email as a sales channel and that’s a big turn off for me.

    I’m all for progress and new ideas, but I still don’t see what I can use to keep track of blog updates that’s better than RSS? Fire up Google Reader, check updates in my favourites folder, scan down for anything else that grabs my attention. I get to read all the updates I want, don’t miss anything and do it when I say so, not when someone else wants me to.

  18. Kristi says:

    I still use RSS in both my Google Reader for my Friday roundup and through Twitterfeed to share my favorite blogs’ latest posts with my Twitter followers.

  19. Dawn says:

    For my own site most of my traffic comes from Search Engines with Google being by far the biggest.

    However I arrived at your site through your RSS feed. Just goes to show that any way that brings someone to your site or blog is good.

  20. Thanks for the helpful tips. I didn’t realize until I read this that I didn’t give my users the option to subscribe via email.

    Needless to say, I just enabled the feature in FeedBurner. ;)

  21. Extremely helpful and timely post for me. Thank you!!! My blog isn’t on FB or Twitter. At this point, it’s growing nicely without the extra time and effort I’d need to put into those social media outlets. I’m on FB and sometimes share my blog posts with friends.

  22. I use RSS to follow the blogs that I read personally because it helps me not only to read new posts but to easily go back and find old posts that I might want to refer to.

    I am a new blogger and found myself reading this post because I was curious how to best promote my blogs. I have the options to subscribe via email and RSS on my blog, but haven’t had much luck with that yet, but they’ve only been added on my site a short time.

    I’ve found that most of my traffic comes from Google and Facebook, but I hope that to expand as I learn more about marketing my blog. Thanks for this post!