Yesterday I shared the story of how back in 2004 I almost losing my business overnight. That big blip made me realise that I had too many eggs in one basket when it came to both traffic and income.
At that time the basket that all my eggs were in was ‘Google’.
I was reliant upon Google for most of my traffic and most of my income (by monetising purely through Google AdSense).
Over the next week, I want to suggest a number of ways I’ve tried to diversify my business since 2004, to build something that isn’t quite so reliant upon any one thing.
My hope was and is to build a business that could survive any one source of traffic, income stream, type of content or trend disappearing.
Today I want to start with the most obvious area and one that was a big problem for me….
Diversifying Sources of Traffic
Yesterdays story is the perfect example of why this is important. I was reliant upon Google for around 80% of my traffic so when that traffic all but disappeared – so did my income.
If I’m honest with myself I think I had become a little complacent about traffic in 2004.
Two years earlier I had worked hard to grow my readership. Every day I networked with other bloggers, submitted content to other blogs, engaged in forums on my topics, commented on other blogs, learned about SEO and much more. The result was growth in profile and traffic. All of the above also contributed to a growth in search engine rankings.
So in 2004, when I was getting decent traffic from Google and was making a decent income, rather than pushing to grow my blogs through every avenue available, I’d allowed myself to become reliant upon search traffic and stopped pushing as hard.
That traffic disappearing was a wake up call that I needed. I’m actually grateful for it because it started a sequence of events that led to much faster growth of my blogs.
At the time I decided to do a number of things to grow new traffic streams to my blogs including:
1. Identifying WHO I Wanted to Read my Blogs
Part of this process was paying more attention to thinking about what type of reader I wanted to attract to my blog. This thinking later led me to create reader profiles for my blogs.
Action Item: spend some time working on reader profiles for your blog.
2. A Renewed Focus Upon Creating Great Content
It dawned on me that I’d not only become a little complacent with growing my readership but I’d probably also become complacent about creating compelling and useful content for my blogs.
This wakeup call changed all of that. I began to identify my readers’ problems and needs, and write content that served my readers rather than content that I thought might rank well in Google. In doing so I created content that made a big impression upon the readers I did have – and they did the next step, sharing it with their friends!
Action Item: spend a little time each day dedicated to trying to understand your readers needs. This might be by creating a survey for your readers, engaging with readers on social media, running a poll or discussion oriented post or perhaps even shooting some emails out to those who’ve left comments on your blog to try to get to know them.
3. Writing Content on Other Blogs as a Guest Author
At the time the term ‘guest posting’ wasn’t that common but people did feature content from other bloggers from time to time. I sought out a number of these opportunities and they drew new traffic to my blog but they also helped me get ranking again through new incoming links to my site.
Action Item: identify a few other blogs in your niche that accept guest posts and try to come up with some ideas to pitch them for posts.
4. Starting a Newsletter
At the time I didn’t realise how important this would end up being but I started a free newsletter for readers of my site.
I offered to email monthly updates to anyone who signed up with the best content from the blog. It started very slow and initially only sent a trickle of traffic to my blogs each week but today we now have over 1,000,000 subscribers and each week when I send these emails the result is great waves of traffic.
Action Item: if you’ve not got a newsletter already, set one up today!
5. Promoting Other Subscription Methods
At the same time I began to realise that I should be working hard to promote other ways to subscribe to my blogs. I began to promote our RSS feed more prominently both in navigation areas but also occasionally in blog posts.
Action Item: when was the last time you mentioned your RSS feed on your blog? Perhaps it is time to incorporate a Call to Action to subscribe to it?
6. Social Bookmarking
Back in 2004/5 social bookmarking sites were just starting to hit the scene. Over the next few years we saw sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious and Reddit rise in popularity. I didn’t spend a heap of time on them but certainly began to create occasional content that I thought might have a ‘shareable’ appeal to it which led to some great spikes in traffic when that content did hit the mark and get shared around.
Action Item: spend a little time on sites like StumbleUpon or Reddit to research the kind of content that gets shared around on the topics that you write about.
7. Social Networking
At the time there wasn’t a lot of social networks around but in the years that followed I certainly began to jump onto networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ as a way to engage with readers but also drive traffic.
Action Item: another thing to spend some time researching is what social networks your readers are on. You can find this out with a survey or poll – but also check out what other blogs in your niche are focusing their energies upon.
I also spent more time getting to know other bloggers at this time. At the time as there were so few social networks this was largely done through commenting on other people’s blogs and email.
At one point in my early years I made a point of emailing one other blogger in my niche (or related niches) every week. This led to some great friendships and a few profitable partnerships in time too.
Action Item: Set a little time aside this week to reach out to another blogger in your niche. You never know where it might lead!
2005 saw me make a decision to start finding readers to my blogs through attending and running events. It started very humbly by me running some free workshops in my local library to 20-30 people at a time but in time I saved enough money to attend some conferences relevant to my content – and eventually even got invited to speak at a couple. All of this helped grow traffic, little by little.
Action Item: is there a meetup or event that is running in the coming months in your local area that relates to your niche? If not – why not try pulling one together? It need not be anything major – even a small gathering could lead to some interesting opportunities.
10. Personal Interactions with Readers
At this time I also realised that while all my Google traffic had vanished, I still had something pretty powerful – I had regular readers. The people who had already subscribed via RSS or had bookmarked the site in their browser were real people and they were connected with a lot of other people.
Rather than spending all my efforts looking for new readers, I decided to spend some serious time looking after the ones I already had. So spending more time in comments on my blog, emailing readers to thank them for contributions, linking to their blogs, running site challenges and engaging with them on social media all helped to build relationships which led to readers telling others about the site.
Action Item: look through the last comments left on your blog and choose one reader to give some personal attention to. Shoot them an email, visit their blog, follow them on Twitter – get to know them!
11. Pitching Other Blogs
Another technique that helped grow my blog a lot at this time was promoting the content I was writing to other bloggers in the hope that they might link up. I didn’t do this for every post but when I’d written something that related to the topics of other blogs I would email those bloggers suggesting that they take a look.
Back in 2004, this would often lead to those other bloggers blogging about it. Things have changed a little and I find that most times these days when you pitch other bloggers they share the posts on Twitter or Facebook – perhaps not quite as good as a link on a blog but still a great way to grow your traffic.
Action Item: Choose the best post you’ve written in the last few weeks and find a blogger to shoot the link to. Before you do – check out my post on How to Pitch Bloggers which is written for PR people but is also relevant to us sharing our content too.
The Twist: An Unintended Impact of Doing All of the Above
My intent with engaging in the above strategies was to diversify the sources of traffic coming into my blog and become less reliant upon search engines.
I’m glad to report that the strategy worked and traffic from other places did increase, however the unintended implication of doing all of the above was that my traffic from Google actually increased too!
While I’d previously done some SEO on my blogs with limited success this intentional effort to grow my readership from other sources than Google actually increased my search rankings higher than they’d ever been before.
The satisfying thing is that while I’d hate to fall out of Google again my business today wouldn’t but sunk by that happening. It’d hurt – but the blow wouldn’t be fatal any more.
Further Teaching on Finding Readers for Your Blog
Looking for more teaching on the topic of growing your readership? Check out my free webinar on the topic here (it’s completely free without any need to register).
You might also like to read my recent post that analyses 5 posts from the first year of my main blog – Digital Photography School – and how they led to 6 million views since publishing.
PS: in the coming days I want to turn my attention to other areas that I think it might be wise to diversify in as a blogger.