Recently I shared the stories of how my two blogs grew. One (ProBlogger) had a ‘tipping point’ early on which grew traffic almost overnight and the other (Digital Photography School) had slow but steady growth over several years with no real tipping point.
There were some great comments on that post including this one from Steve:
I have seen a recent increase in traffic, but it didn’t happen by accident. I spent a good deal of time promoting my blog in various ways. I suspect your increases resulted from similar efforts.
I ran an experiment to see what would happen if I made a concerted effort to promote my blog. My readership increased, which is extremely gratifying. But it came at a cost. My marketing diverted time away from producing high quality content.
I want a lot of readers, and I want them to see my best work. I have yet to figure out how to do the marketing and still have enough time to produce my best content. Do you have any thoughts on this?
I wanted to publish Steve’s comment for a few reasons.
Firstly – I think a lot of us could learn from Steve’s observation that growing traffic to a site almost always is the result of time and effort spent intentionally trying to grow your blog.
I don’t know how Steve went about growing his traffic but there are a couple of ways I’ve seen bloggers work hard at doing it:
1. prolific networking – we’ve all seen bloggers do this. They are on every Twitter chat, commenting on many blogs, attending meetups and events, participating in forums and Facebook groups, emailing other bloggers and generally putting themselves out there many times every single day. The result is that they seem to be everywhere and are on the radar of everyone.
This approach takes MASSIVE effort!
2. guest posting – I can think of numerous bloggers (I’ll share one example later in this post) who have used strategic guest posting to grow their profile and traffic. Those who do it best write amazingly helpful content and usually appear on multiple blogs. They usually also pay a heap of attention to the comments sections on those guest posts (answering every single comment left) and social media.
Another approach that probably fits into this guest posting approach are those who put themselves out there constantly to be interviewed or to interview others. Also in this category are those who put themselves out there in speaking at events.
This approach takes a MASSIVE effort!
But it Doesn’t Stop There
The above two strategies are not the only two that can be used to grow traffic to a blog (and they are not mutually exclusive – many do both) but I think you’ll agree that they illustrate this idea that growing traffic is not a passive thing – it takes significant work.
But it doesn’t stop there… and this is the second reason I love Steve’s comment.
To grow a successful and well read blog takes a lot more than just putting yourself out there to promote your blog prolifically.
As Steve observes – it also takes time to create high quality content for your own blog.
This is where the juggle begins because as we all know, creating great content for your blog on a regular basis takes a MASSIVE effort!
Of course the work doesn’t stop at the creation of content, there’s also serving those readers who come as a result of your promotion who are reading that content.
Many of the most successful bloggers that I’ve seen rise to prominence over the past few years also have an incredible focus upon building community with and serving the readers that they currently have.
They respond to comments on blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email etc.
This takes a MASSIVE effort!
Throw into the mix the challenge of monetising your blog, the technical challenges keeping a blog up and running can throw at you, paying attention to your blog design and the challenges of having a family, ‘real’ job, social life and staying healthy and you can see why many bloggers feel quite overwhelmed and disillusioned with blogging!
“Do you have any thoughts on this?”
Steve finished his comment with a question… one that many of us ask. What’s the answer to this massive tension that we all face?
To grow our blog’s traffic takes us away from creating content. To focus upon one thing means a ‘cost’ in another area.
I don’t have THE answer to this question but as I responded to Steve’s comment a couple of thoughts came to mind.
Firstly – Pay Attention to the Tension
It is very easy to get out of balance. Over the years I see bloggers often falling into one of two camps.
1. Focus Upon Content at the Expense of Promotion
This sometimes comes as a result of feeling too shy to put yourself out there but can also be the result of a ‘build it and they will come’ mindset and a belief that great content will attract readers.
This is a half truth.
Great content does help to attract and retain readers – but it’s a lot easier to do that if you’re ‘out there’ promoting that content in some way. This is especially true when you’re just starting out.
As your blog gets older and you do have an established readership you’ll find that they do share great content for you – but in the early days it’s you that needs to do that work!
2. Focus Upon Promotion at the Expense of Content
I’ve seen a number of bloggers lately who are ‘everywhere’ and doing an amazing job of networking, growing their profile and just generally being a fantastic contribution to their niche on social media.
The problem for them is that they do this at the expense of building their own blog. There comes a time where if you want to build a business around your blog that you need to get people engaged in what you do on your blog.
If you’re not paying attention to creating great content there and engaging the readers who come – much of your promotional effort will be wasted.
Pay attention to the tension – spot when you’re getting out of balance and adjust your approach as you do. It’s really important!
Secondly – Try a Promotional Burst Approach
It strikes me that some of the bloggers that come to mind who used guest posting to grow their blogs a few years back didn’t use the strategy indefinitely.
One of the bloggers who I marvelled at with regards to how he built his audience was Leo Babauta from Zen Habits.
Leo seemed to burst onto the blogging scene – seemingly from nowhere – back in 2006-2007. I don’t remember the first time that I came across him but I’m pretty sure it would have been in a guest post on someone else’s blog because Leo was prolific as a guest poster.
Leo would have these bursts of guest posting over a few weeks. It was almost as if every day over these weeks he’d be on a different blog (including here on ProBlogger). The result of the accumulation of all these posts must have been great traffic back to his blog.
The thing was that these bursts seemed to have quite inentional starts and ends to them. He’d be published everywhere (including publishing posts on his own blog) for a few weeks and then he’d pull right back and just focus upon his own blog.
I remember emailing him at one stage when I was going on holiday to see if he’d be interested in writing something for ProBlogger and he said no because he was just focusing upon writing for his own blog at that time. A few months later he was open to writing a guest post again.
I’ve never talked to Leo about this strategy but it strikes me that he must have worked really hard for a month or two before his burst of guest posting to either produce all those guest posts or have a backlog of posts to publish on his own blog and then he must have switched into ‘promotion mode’ and let it all loose.
The key though was that it was for a defined period before he got back to serving the readers he’d attracted.
I saw him do these bursts of promotion several times over a couple of years in which he built himself an amazing audience and real momentum. At this point he didn’t need to guest post so much (if at all) but his established audience began to promote him through word of mouth.
My Final Advice for Steve
There are a couple of things that I think we as bloggers always need to pay attention to – these being publishing regular high quality content on our blogs and looking after the readers we already have (community).
These activities are like a baseline. Take the focus off these at any point and your blog is likely to suffer fairly quickly.
Promoting a blog is something you should also have some baseline activities and rhythm around. For example sharing new content to social media (whether through automation or manually doing it) is good practice.
However I do think there are times where it’s probably well worth having a burst of concerted promotional effort to grow your blog.
Whether it be through guest posting, reaching out to mainstream media, attending/speaking at events or even paying for advertising – a burst of intentional promotional activity for a defined period can have some real benefits.
Giving it a ‘burst’ means that you’re able to plan for it and hopefully the baseline activities don’t suffer too much. Also by giving it a burst you can potentially get that ‘she’s everywhere’ effect that gets on people’s radar.
What’s Your Advice to Steve?
I’d LOVE to hear your advice for Steve on how to keep this balance between promotional activity and paying attention to the rest of your blogging right.
Over to you!