How to Blog, Part 2: Growing Your Traffic

pie_chart_3dIf you’ve been blogging for any length of time, you know it is NOT true that “if you blog it, they will come.” And yet, many new bloggers often expect just that. So if writing alone isn’t enough to bring in the masses, what is?

What are your traffic goals for your blog?

It goes without saying that your goals will affect your results, but if you haven’t really hashed out your goals and developed a plan to achieve them, you may not be receiving the results you’d like. Whether your goals are to build a large blog following or simply to make your content more accessible to interested readers, here’s a few steps you can take to increase your traffic.

Step #1: Participate in the blogosphere.

Nobody likes “takers” and everybody likes attention. Come on, you know it’s true.

Even those of us who get into blogging saying, “It’s not all about ME, I’m not going to be all VAIN and all THAT…” know that the truth is really that we have created a blog because we have something to say and we want someone to read it. Sure, some of us care more about the attention, but that’s fodder for another post.

I think it’s safe to say that we want traffic. So we can recognize that others want traffic, too.  Sometimes, by giving traffic you will receive traffic in return. How does that happen?

Reading and commenting on other blogs.

As you read other blogs and get to “know” some of them, as you comment, promote their carnivals and answer their questions, over time you’ll be recognized as a loyal follower and there’s a good chance they’ll return the favor, visit your blog, leave you comments and answer your questions. Of course, there’s always a chance that other readers of those blogs will click over to your blog, too. The more the merrier.

Bear in mind, though, that if you find a blog you really like to read which has a larger following, your comments or emails are like sugar crystals on a sugar cookie. Sweet, but hard to distinguish from all the other sugar crystals. It will take more time and involvement to develop blogging relationships with bigger bloggers. Don’t let that discourage you if you don’t get comments back from your favorite blogs. If you read them because you like them, keep on reading!

Also, try to always sign your name the same way when commenting or signing up for events on blogs. The common “Name@Blogname” method works well to represent who you are. If your blog name is too long for the text fields, you can either abbreviate it (like my good friend Katie at Boasting In My Weakness who signs her name, Katie @BIMW) or shorten it (like myself, I use Amber @ Classic Housewife instead of writing out the full name.) Signing your name consistently gives you credit where credit is due for comments and other participation and again, makes you visible to others. Often I’ll come across a blog whose name I recognize from comments on other people’s blogs and I’ll hang around a bit to check it out solely because of that.

If you need help keeping track of all the blogs you read, use a reader, such as Google Reader, which works like an email inbox for blog posts. It’s not complicated to set up, I promise.

Participating in carnivals and giveaways.

There is a certain amount of exposure gained by participating in regular carnivals, giveaways and other events. Of course, the majority of the traffic you’ll receive won’t hang around for long,  but you might gain a reader or two. I have “met” several people who read my blog, and I read theirs, through events such as The Ultimate Blog Party and Bloggy Giveaways Carnivals. It does happen.

Most likely, though, you’ll gain more traffic by hosting your own regular carnivals and giveaways and inviting others to join in. Of course, this is difficult to do if you don’t have a lot of traffic. It may seem like a bit of a catch 22 – need to host carnivals and giveaways to get more traffic, can’t host them without it. However, I believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, that most carnivals and events begin small. When you feel ready to give your first event a try, go for it. If you keep your expectations realistic, you’ll do well, even if you only gain a handful of readers.

Respond to comments.

This just makes sense, but when you can, respond to people’s comments – either on the blog page or via email. Personally, I prefer to respond via e-mail, and then if it is something everyone else would benefit from knowing also, copy/paste my answer to the blog comments. How you do it is a personal preference. Either way, responding to comments and answering questions shows your readers that you’re paying attention and lets them feel involved. Readers will like coming back when they know they’ll get interaction from the blogger.

Step #2: Use Social Media to Your Advantage

The most obvious benefit to joining these social media outlets is making more contacts. Unlike other social sites such as Myspace or Facebook, with Twitter and Stumbleupon, you actually WANT strangers connecting with you. Why? Because your Twitter page or Stumbleupon profile is a portal to your blog. It provides a brief bio or description of your blog, an insight to your personality (via links, articles and websites that you link to) and entices people who like what they see there to come find more at your blog.

Sign up  for Stumbleupon

There are several popular content sharing sites, but Stumbleupon seems to be the best combination of ease of use, availability and results.  Websites such as Stumbleupon are a valuable tool for increasing your blog presence and helping pages to get seen. When someone reads an article that they like, they will “stumble” (or share) the article through Stumbleupon. Others can then find the article and read it, too. The idea is to get your articles stumbled so that more people can find them. Some “musts” for using stumbleupon:

  • download the add-on for your web browser tool bar. Stumbling is way too complicated without it. With the tool bar you’ll be able to share a page as soon as you are done reading it. Simply click on the “thumbs up” in your tool bar, (add a few words if you’re the first one stumbling it,) and you’re done. Easy as pie.
  • make it easy for readers to stumble your posts. Not everyone has the toolbar add-on, so providing the opportunity to “stumble this!” at the end of your post will not only make it easy for those users but also invite and remind the toolbar users to stumble it if they liked it.
  • stumble a variety of posts from a variety of bloggers. It seems that stumbling the same blogs again and again decreases your stumble upon credibility and may affect how well Stumbleupon works for you.

At any rate, stumbling posts from your favorite blogs frequently could at the very least help you because of the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” mentality. Some bloggers, if they discover you’ve stumbled one of their articles, feel obliged to visit your blog to find something worthy of stumbling. Often times (through sites such as Twitter) stumbles can actually be traded, asked for or offered.

Note: I’m going into detail about Stumbleupon over other content sharing sites because: 1.) It seems everyone in my Twitter following uses Stumbleupon so the one I use the most, and 2.) It’s the one I am most familiar with. The key point to take with you, however, is that using a content sharing site (or a few!) can help increase your traffic. Digg, Kirtsy, Technorati and Delicious… these are all good sites, too.

Sign up for Twitter

Twitter is like a cross between blogging and texting. It’s micro-blogging. Each update, or tweet, is limited to 140 characters and answers the question, “What are you doing?” In addition, you can use Twitter to share information about your blog, other blogs, news articles, or to ask questions. You also have the ability to respond to other people’s tweets or forward them by “re-tweeting” them.

Websites such as Twitter are valuable for expanding your area of influence. When you sign up for these sites, you sign up to “follow” others (see what they write.) Likewise, others will follow you and be able to see what you write. Begin by looking up your favorite bloggers and websites – even many politicians, companies and celebrities have Twitter pages (or at least pages run for them.) Most people will automatically return the favor if you follow them. That being said, following a large number of people is the best way to increase your Twitter following – that and making it easy for your blog followers to connect with you directly from your blog.

As mentioned above, Twitter can be used as a trading ground for Stumbleupon. Sometimes this happens when one person offers to stumble a post in return for a stumble of their post. Often, people in my list just randomly ask for good posts to stumble (since it behooves them to stumble a variety of posts,) and not only is it nice to have the opportunity to offer a blog post for stumbling, but this also increases their visibility and my positive perception of them as a fellow blogger. Given that, it’s a good idea to return the favor from time to time.

Step #3: Don’t neglect those profiles!

Sure, you can gain visitors and subscribers without them, but the profile is your big chance to sell who you are and what your blog is about. It’s better than any one post could be because it’s shows your blog identity as a whole. While writing your profile (or your ‘About Me’ page on your blog), show your personality, describe what your blog is about, list any credentials if you have them (say if you have a food-related blog it would a good idea to mention if you’re a professional chef!) and mention any regular items you blog about. If you’re limited in characters narrow it down to one thought that sounds interesting. Whatever you do – don’t leave your profiles blank! For every social bookmarking, information sharing website you join, make sure your profile is current, complete and compelling.

And if large amounts of traffic is not your goal?

If one of your goals is to grow a large blog, then you’ll most likely want to follow each of the above steps if you haven’t already done so. Even if your desire isn’t to grow extremely large, following the above suggestions can still help get your blog off the ground, or give it a boost, and above all, help others find your content. You’ll still definitely want sign blog comments consistently and write regular weekly features on your blog to get your readers involved. I also still recommend signing up with Stumbleupon, adding the toolbar add-on, and signing up for Twitter. The difference will be the amount of time you spend reading blogs, commenting, responding to comments, stumbling other posts and writing updates in Twitter. The good thing about these sites is that you can use them as little or as much as you want to. With the stumblupon toolbar, I try to remember that it’s there while I do my normal daily surfing and stumble the things that catch my eye. For twitter, some people only log in occasionally to share something interesting or ask for feedback. Use these tools to the extent that you need them.

Regardless, don’t let it consume you.

Unless your blogging is your job, don’t treat it like one. The bottom line is that it’s just a blog and the world will not fall apart if you don’t get a post written on time or respond to every comment. Even if blogging IS your job, don’t let your traffic statistics consume you. They’re just numbers. Keep blogging according to the goals that you’ve set for yourself and don’t let real life take a back seat to those statistics.

Just a note, when I left my old blog and created this one at the beginning of December, I discovered that the majority of my traffic had been from google search engines. I had no idea. Actually, I felt disappointed because even though most of my followers moved with me, none of my google hits did and my statistics hadn’t been so low (at my old blog) in a long, long, time. It felt like a HUGE step backward. I chose not to focus on the numbers and just focus on the blogging. By working on these things (and some others) I’ve been able to more than double my traffic in a month – and only a tiny amt of that has been from search engines. The moral? Don’t obsess about the numbers. Focus on the blogging. The numbers will follow.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it…

Your assigment this week, should you choose to accept it, is to sign up for Stumbleupon if you haven’t already, download the add-on for your toolbar, consider joining Twitter, check all your profiles to make sure they are current, complete and compelling (I need to do this, too!,) and decide how you will sign your name from now on if you haven’t already. You also need to start thinking about some kind of regular weekly or monthly feature you could begin offering on your blog. Hold off on writing it yet, just start brainstorming it. Next week we’ll finish discussing traffic and then after that we’ll get into writing.

Extra Credit Reading:

Next week, Part 3 will address writing — which is actually part of growing your traffic but large enough to be contained in it’s own piece. We’ll discuss content, frequency, branding, and all that jazz. Don’t forget to come back then – or subscribe so you don’t miss it!

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