Getting your blog to 1.000 visitors a month is your first step towards getting serious about blogging. Getting a domain helps. Setting up WordPress is useful. Having share buttons all over your blog is nice. But in the end, that's not going to bring you traffic.
Traffic that you can monetize later, that is. What WILL bring you traffic is CONTENT. I wrote that all in caps because I really wanted you to hear it.
There was no real, consistent, white-hat way of getting backlinks or getting followers and shares (there wasn't any sharing going on, at least not in the sense we now understand). So what was there? Hiding keywords to match the background color, placing special text inside of your HTML code to fool Google, submitting your site to top 100 websites and hoping that something might happen.
It was all…well…guesswork mostly. You'd try something out and see what worked. There weren't any Google penalties. Then again, people didn't really think in terms of SERPs, which to most people is still h4ck l33t talk; it stands for Search Engine Results Page. It's important because it's not just Google in the mix.
If you'll have a look at your Analytics account, you'll notice there's quite a bit of bing search going on. Then Russia has its Yandex search engine and Duck Duck Go seems to have been everywhere in the news this year for its take on anonymity and search.
This is all quite a big introduction, but it should help you get an idea how hard it was to get your first 1.000 blog visitors back in the day. Which brings us to…
It's still pretty hard to get traffic, but it's gotten easier. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but stay with me. It's still hard, but in other ways. While before it was technically hard, as you didn't really know where to look for solutions online (or know how to search using special commands like filetype:pdf SEO guide – searching for SEO guides in PDF format or film: new york – searching for showtimes for movies in New York), now it's more in the realm of challenging.
It's challenging because not only are you up against fellow bloggers and content writers doing this on a daily basis, who may or may not be highly-trained and skilled, but you're also up against the behemoths. The corporations, the huge viral sites, the community blogs that have hundreds of volunteers or paid writers. That's the bad part.
The good part is that you can learn from all of these people and entities (with specific tools for analysis and suggestions) and improve along the way. But don't worry, if you start your blog right, you won't have to worry about those big blogs, because you'll not be competing in the same league – niche that is.
With tens and hundreds of guides and thousands upon thousands of marketing blogs, the answers are out there. The problem is they're all either personal opinion, work only in some areas or are outdated by now. Oh, and some are fluffed with all sort of explanations like how to submit your picture to picture sharing sites.
While it might prove useful, if you've started a blog and have access to the internet, I'm going to assume you don't need me (or anyone else, for that matter) showing you trivial things like creating website accounts. I will however provide useful tips, throughout this guide, in a condensed and very practical manner.
The basic principle of traffic today is this:
- Create exceptional content
- Derive that content
- Spread and share that content
We're calling it the Create-Derive-Spread traffic framework.
I'm going to take you one step at a time, but first a quick overview of what that means.
Create Exceptional Content
If you're creating a blog and you want to get traffic, you have to take SEO into account. And when I say Search Engine Optimization I don't mean (just) the common ranking factors like backlinks and keywords in headlines. I'm also referring to usability, user experience and overall design.
You want your content (be it an article, a podcast, a video, an image an so on) to not only be valuable, but also flow beautifully. A bad design, a horrible page structure, a lack of graphics can mean the difference between page 1 of google (and the traffic benefits from that) and buried somewhere on page 6.
Most people skip over the usability factor and you start seeing these long-winded articles without any thought given to the user. You know, the actual person. The person that brings you the traffic you crave for.
Derive That Content
We all understand and learn in different ways. Some people can scan a text quickly and immediately tell you what a whole block of text is all about (I'm one of those). Some enjoy a nice visual presentation, where the images blend in with the text and this package seals in the information (who doesn't love great visual content, right?).
Taking this into account, we want to make sure we're reaching as many specific people as we can. Notice the little difference there – specific people. We don't just want 1.000 random users. What's the point of 1.000 kids visiting our “Get your pilot license if you're over 50 years old” blog? What would they understand? What incentive would they have to share it with their friends? And most importantly – how would you monetize those users?
The technique is very simple: create a piece of exceptional content -> create additional pieces of exceptional content connected to the first one. Not filler, not sequels, just connected.
For example, image you own the same “Get your pilot license if you're over 50 years old” blog. You write a first article on the requirements of getting a pilot license – stuff like age, health, criminal record requirements and so on.
The next step is to create that complementary content, derived from the article.
Create an infographic illustrating the main points you've just made, for people who learn faster using images.
Create an audio version of the article by recording yourself actually reading the piece you've created, for people who are slow readers and/or are more attracted to this method of consuming media.
Take the infographic and the audio recording and blend them together into a video. Now you've got a video to go along the article.
Once you've created and derived multiple pieces of content, you're ready to set them free. Ready to share your valuable content with the world. Simply sharing your finished article on your personal social-media accounts is no longer worth doing (that is, unless you've got thousands of fans/followers/subscribers). You need to take that sharing to the next level, by targeting influencers.
You do this because it makes sense: why bother trying to go after thousands of different people in hundreds of different communities, when you can just reach out to the influencers of those communities? It makes sense when you're thinking about the time effort, but also about how you're going to be perceived.
It's one thing to try and market yourself to potential target users and another thing to create your article as a guest-post on a much larger blog. You'll get more out of that situation, because people trust these guardians of communities. You can link back to your original blog, setup an email lead capture page/popup and you're starting to think like the big bloggers.
1. Create Exceptional Content
You might be a writer. Or a painter. Or a musician. Whatever your main passion is, you should start with that. The complementary pieces of content you create afterwards should reflect that. Always start with what you're skilled at most. If you love creation in all avenues, I suggest starting with a basic outline – a very short written piece on what your article will be about.
Lesson #1: Start Asking Yourself Questions Like:
- Who am I targeting?
- What's my motivation for writing this?
- What's their motivation for reading this?
- What's the best method for delivering this type of content?
- Is it new?
- Does it excite me?
- Is it of value?
- If so, will it still be valuable in other other languages?
- Will it still be valuable and current 5 years from now?
- Is it actionable?
It might seem like an awful lot of questions, but won't worry! Create the outline first and THEN think about all these questions. This helps because you don't want anything to stand between you and the piece of paper (or computer screen).
Lesson #2: You Want to Start Writing the Second You Get an Idea and Don't Stop until You Feel You've Exhausted All Excitement
As a quote mistakenly attributed to Ernest Hemingway goes:
Write drunk, edit sober
Editing should be all about cutting what's not necessary. What isn't needed. What isn't exciting. What doesn't jump up at the reader. Editing is also about structuring your content – we'll take an article as an example – so that it's easier to scan.
A basic checklist for article editing:
- What's the one thing I want my readers to remember after reading this article?
- How many ways am I mentioning and repeating this one thing?
- If someone looked for only 10 seconds over the article, what key elements or structures do I want to emphasize?
- Are there specific call to actions within the article (“Get the PDF of this article here” or “Don't miss the next 5 articles in the series by subscribing to the newsletter here” and so on)?
- Is it readable on a mobile device?
- If I remove all the images, will the article still make sense?
Lesson #3: Finding Things to Write about – Start from Within
One of the most common issues when starting a blog has to do with writing topics. You might say to yourself “Yes, I do enjoy hunting, but I doubt I'd have anything to write about that”. And here's the SECRET. Beneath all the research and competition spying lies the SECRET to exceptional and UNIQUE content:
Write about your own experiences.
No one can take those away from you. And no one can tell that story better than you.
Creating a case study once in a while should be as easy as: I've done X, I'm going to teach you X, let me tell you why X is important, here's how you can achieve X+1. A specific case study would be me telling you all about how I started a blog about startups in Romania. And then I wanted to grow my traffic so I started a small podcast, which helped me a great deal, by getting the influencers I interviewed to share my content – more on that in Section 3.
Lesson #4: Break down every aspect of your topic into smaller pieces
Going back to your case study and your passion for hunting, start by breaking down the process and the equipment. Talk about locations, weather, traps, weapons you've used, people you've met. Make it accessible, fun and vivid.
Use phrases like “Imagine if you…”, “Think about the last time you…”, “See if this ever happens to you…” Go for your target audience and use their words. Make it conversational. Then grow that reach a bit to include people who enjoy fishing – find similarities.
Lesson #5: Create Your Realistic Content Plan – The Old Fashioned Way
Getting organized is important if you want to get to your 1.000 unique visitors within your first month. Creating a content plan is easier than it sounds – you don't need special software and it doesn't actually require weeks of research and preparation. Pen and paper work fine for me, but I sometimes enjoy having all my article drafts within WordPress itself.
One reason I enjoy writing on paper is that it's basically distraction-free. There are no facebook notifications popping up, there are no new emails to check or reply to. Just me and the blank piece of paper.
People get trapped in numbers, because those give them safety. They like formulas and figures. Unfortunately, there's no magic number of posts that will get you to your 1.000 visitors destination. You could have 1 post or 30. Or 60 even. It's a matter of trial and error, which is a helpful exercise for you to improve your craft and your marketing techniques. Over time, you'll get better at every part of the process, but you do have to be consistent.
Your blog is a living organism – content, comments, plugins, widgets – things are moving, conversations are going on. And you want to be there. You want to create, engage, reply. Repeat and rinse until you feel you've gotten the hang of it.
So now that we've gone through the lessons on creating exceptional content, let's move forward with the second section.
2. Derive That Content
Let's say you've created an article on hunting clothes. Do you feel anything is missing? Do you think that the reader would benefit from actually SEEING the clothes you describe? Of course he would! And here's where we've found our first piece of complementary/derived content: an image or better yet an infographic on popular/useful hunting clothes.
Now that we have this idea for content, what are our next steps?
Step 1: Create the Infographic
You can do this a few ways: do it yourself, ask a designer friend or hire a designer. If you're looking for cheap designers, you can go ahead and use Fiverr for that purpose. If you do decide to create it yourself, you can start with HubSpot's basic infographic templates.
Besides sharing plugins like Flare or SumoMe Share, implement an embed code right after your infographic. For this you can use the free Embed Code Generator. Make sure you also include a message asking people to share and embed your content with their friends and community, if they found it useful/entertaining.
Step 3: Allow People to Discover Your Infographic
NOTE: This is NOT the same as spreading your content yourself – we'll talk about that and the differences between these 2 elements the third section.
Your final infographic should get some momentum by the time you decide to begin influencer outreach. It's one thing to say: “Hey, would you please take a look at my post and share my infographic with your community?” and another one to say: “Hey, I'm on the front page of SlideShare, with 10.000 views in 24 hours. Do you think your community would be interested in this content?”
While there are over 100 targets for you to think about, here are 10 infographic submission sites/directories to get you started:
- Reddit Infographics
- GOOD Infographics
- Cool Infographics
- Daily Infographic
- Best Infographics
- Submit Infographics
- Love Infographics
- Video Infographic
In regards to the types of additional content you can create: the article -> the audio version -> the podcast -> the infographic -> the short video -> the kindle ebook -> the udemy course and so on.
The sky's the limit when it comes to taking your original article and transforming it into something else. You can also start from another type of content – if you're a very talented musician, you can start a music blog. Post your song on SoundCloud, shoot a basic video and share it on YouTube and then cut that down to a single Vine clip.
Make your idea and your content so powerful and shareable, regardless the medium, that you can't be ignored. Be everywhere, while providing value and offering your opinion and tone of voice. Which takes us to the third and final section.
Starting a blog is easy nowadays. Building content is hard. What's even harder? Building relationships. Creating communities. Engaging your users on a daily basis. Moving people towards action. Getting people involved in the thought process and the content creation.
Lucky for you, I've managed to shrink down thousands of words of advice into a just a few:
A. When you're quoting someone in your article, make sure you send them a quick email letting them know about your content.
You can do this while you're creating it, saying something like: “I've included this quote about you in this piece I'm writing. Should be done by X. Is it ok if I send it to you afterwards?”. The same applies when you've created the content and the piece is done, just looking for some feedback and a second opinion on the topic. You can also tweet them, but most likely you won't be able to send them a direct message, so it might be a bit of a gamble.
B. Start the influencer relationship by providing value, not asking for shares.
You can, for example, create a complementary piece of content for an article they published and send it to them. It makes sense to do that – they get great free stuff they can share with their community.
Not only that, but since you didn't ask for anything in return (yet), you'll far more likely to be remembered. Because we live in the real world. And in the real world, top influencers get pitched a lot on a daily basis. You want to stand out from the crowd and build your relationship one email, tweet and share at a time.
C. Take your content to the right person.
If you haven't written before and you're just starting your blog, your content won't be amazing. But that's ok, our target is not 1.000.000 visitors a month, it's just 1.000 to get you started. So your content might be more suitable for smaller influencers and communities. You can use a tool like BuzzSumo to find key influencers and what their reputation is. When you start getting links and attention, you can take your content higher on the expert ladder.
Other ideas for spreading your content:
- Carefully mention it at the end of great answer on Quora – don't be spammy
- Create a short email blast to your subscribers – grow them using SumoMe, here's how
- Share it with specific communities – Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Pulse, Google+ Communities
Remember: With every piece of content we create, we're looking for small wins. A little bit of traffic from this article, another bit from this video and before you know it, you'll zoom by your initial target of 1.000 unique visitors a month!
There's no doubt in my mind that this is just the beginning. Learning how to create valuable content today will make you a better marketer and blogger tomorrow. If you look at the evolution of media and the way people consume it, we notice a few trends.
First off – people are no longer looking at just one screen. Whether it's a tablet next to a PC or a phone next to a laptop, people are paying attention to multiple screens. And they will expect more and more from those experiences. “Mobile first” mentality will become stale and all your content should look and function beautifully on all devices – yes, even smartwatches.
Second – the way people read and learn has dramatically changed. They will be able to switch from a piece of content on one device to another with instant continuity, without missing a beat. What will trump all of this will be interactivity. That is where the real content marketing war of the future will be fought.
Third – learning and teaching online is commonplace. Brands and publishers will harness the power of online teaching platforms and build interactive, in-depth courses, to keep users hooked to the content. They'll use all of these tactics for their brands to remain top of mind.
As always, if you've enjoyed this guide, if you've found it useful, share it with your peers. Also let us know what you think in the comments below. Look out for more in-depth guides and articles – don't miss any by subscribing to the Kevin Muldoon email newsletter!
Note: All images in this taken were taken from the Creative Commons friendly website Startup Stock Photos.