After I published my October goals and traffic report, a couple of people asked me how I managed to grow my blog to the stage it’s currently at.
Now, I’d love to be able to give a quick and easy answer to that, but the fact is, there just isn’t one: I have, however, managed to identify five key things that I think helped, and here they are…
Gave it time
This is the one piece of advice no one really wants to hear, but you know that quote about not comparing your start to someone else’s middle? THAT. It takes a long time to build a readership, and by that I mean it takes YEARS. I’ve been blogging for almost a decade now (OMG), and while I’d like to think it doesn’t necessarily have to take THAT long, it’s not something that happens overnight – or even over a LOT of nights.
Often when I see someone getting discouraged by what they see as a lack of success, it turns out that they’ve only been blogging for a few months, and are somehow expecting to be getting the same kind of traffic as established sites. It just doesn’t work that way, though: sure, you could get lucky, have a post go viral and become an overnight success… but probably not, you know? It’s more likely that you’ll have to give it time, and be prepared to work at it: oh, and stop comparing yourself to everyone else!
Made my blog a priority
As I said, I’ve had this blog for almost a decade now, but for a lot of that time I was blogging for…. well, nothing, really. For years and years (and years and years) this site just ticked along, without getting many visitors. Sure, I had a small group of loyal readers, who I was (and am) extremely grateful to, but the number of those readers didn’t ever change, and nor did the pageviews increase.
I’d always assumed that if I just kept at it long enough, my readership would grow gradually, but NOPE, that didn’t happen. I’m the living proof that you can blog for years and NOT get popular, because patience may be a virtue, but it isn’t a guarantee of success. Yes, it takes time to grow a blog, but time itself isn’t enough to do it. Might as well give up now, huh? Well, no, not quite. The fact is, during all of those years when my blog wasn’t growing, I wasn’t actually doing anything to MAKE it grow.
It wasn’t until I decided to start taking it seriously, and make a concerted effort to increase my readership that I started to see an increase in traffic. You can’t just build it and hope they’ll come, because they probably won’t, so if you want to turn your blog into a business – or even a very successful hobby – you need to have the mindset of a business-person, and that means making your blog your number one priority.
Experimented with different types of content
Once I decided to start taking my blog more seriously, the first thing I did was to look at the type of content I was creating for it. The site had always been a personal diary, and I didn’t want to lose that element of it: I enjoyed writing those posts, and they were what got me into blogging in the first place. The problem was that there’s only so much you can say about your life: mine just isn’t that interesting, and even on a good week, there’s very little I could say about it that anyone would want to read.
Sometimes people tell me they miss the more personal posts I “used” to write, and I always get the impression that they think I’m deliberately withholding stuff: that at some point I made a decision to stop sharing personal stories in favour of outfit posts and beauty reviews. The fact is, though, I still write the same number of personal posts I always did: it’s just that now I write other content too – and it’s that other content that finally made the site start to grow.
As I mentioned in my October traffic report, people might enjoy reading personal stories, but they don’t tend to share them, and they don’t actively seek them out either. No one’s going to Google and typing in “stories about women who pocket dial themselves“, for instance, although it would be fun for me if they did.
When my blog was purely a diary, I was only able to update it occasionally, because that’s how often something would happen that I thought was worth writing about. Once I decided to start doing outfit and beauty posts too, I was able to continue writing those ‘diary’ style posts, but on the days – and there are a lot of them – when there was nothing really going on I could write about, at least I had something else I could fall back on. I don’t commit random acts of stupidity every day, thankfully, but I DO get dressed every day (well, most days, anyway), so having other topics to write about meant I could post more often, and get traffic from sources other than my parents and the other five people who were, for reasons unknown, interested in reading about my life.
The TL:DR : if your blog isn’t growing, no matter how hard you try, it might be worth considering a change of direction, or just experimenting with the type of things you write about to see what works and what doesn’t.
Started posting more regularly
This is another one that people tend not to want to hear, but in very general terms, the more often you post, the more traffic you’ll get, because there’s more for people to see, and more reasons for them to come back. If you post once a week, people will only visit your blog once a week: stands to reason, right? Posting more often increases your visibility on social media, and gives people more content to read and share, and while I’m not suggesting you should force yourself to stick to a rigid schedule, or post when you don’t really have anything to say (which could end up doing more harm than good), my traffic and follower numbers increased when I started posting more regularly than the “whenever I feel like it” schedule I’d previously been on.
Wrote the posts I was afraid to write
Some of the posts that have been most successful for my blog have been the ones I was most afraid to publish – either because I worried they’d be controversial, that they were way too long, or that they were just plain boring. The fact is, though, that those kind of posts can be the ones that stand out most (well, maybe not the really boring ones, but even those will occasionally surprise you by resonating with someone, and generating more interest than you expected…): they’re the posts that come from the heart, and people tend to respond to that.
If I’ve written something very long, or slightly controversial (I don’t think I’ve ever written anything REALLY controversial, but it’s amazing what people will take offence to!), it’s because I really cared about that topic, and had something to say about it, and that kind of post will almost always work better than something I’ve forced myself to write because I thought I SHOULD. Not all of those posts have worked out well, of course, but the ones that did really helped attract new readers and grow my blog – so sometimes it can be worth taking what feels like a bit of a risk: it might just pay off.
Concentrated on SEO and evergreen content
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is one of the boring, more technical sides of blogging that no one really wants to have to think about. The fact is, though, while social media or a share on a popular website might give your traffic a temporary boost, if you want traffic that keeps on coming, month after month, year after year, you have to be thinking about SEO, and how you can make your posts rank well in Google, and other search engines. That also means writing content that is evergreen: i.e. post that will stand the test of time, and still be relevant a few years from now, rather than ones (like shopping wish lists, for instance), that become useless shortly after they’re published. Some of the most popular posts on my blog are ones I wrote years ago, but which rank well in search engines, and so still attract traffic: that wish list I wrote in 2009, on the other hand? Yeah, not so much.
There’s a short guide to SEO here, and some more info on evergreen content here: you don’t have to ONLY write for search engines, obviously, because you want your posts to be useful and interesting to regular readers too, but you should aim to have at least some ‘cornerstone’ posts on your site that won’t date, and which are optimised for search engines.
Started getting into Pinterest
Finally, if you’re not using Pinterest to promote your blog posts, I want you to stop what you’re doing, and go over there right now to sign up for an account. (You’ll find mine here, if you want to give it a follow). In terms of growing blog traffic, I’d say Pinterest has been the single most useful thing I’ve done: I get almost as much traffic from Pinterest as a I do from Google, and on very good days, I get much, much more. There’s a post on how to use Pinterest to promote your blog posts here, but it’s very out of date at the moment, so I’m going to try to update it soon: in the meantime, here’s how I more than doubled my Pinterest traffic in 30 days, and trust me: if I can get those kind of results, you can too.