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The Rise to 10,000 Visits Per Month

John Doherty —  March 8, 2012
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I finally get to write the “How I built a 10,000 visits/month site” post. This is that post. In February, I finally crossed the 10k visits mark, which was a goal I had set for myself. For some reason, 10,000 visits is the number that a lot of people choose to measure success by, whether it’s subscribers, money made, or visits.

This is actually a difficult post for me to write. Often these posts say “I did [this] and I tripled my traffic and built a huge following”. These posts frustrate me and others because they are such rare occurrences that they are not repeatable, or they give people false hope.

What I hope this post will show you, from my experience over the past year of writing on this site, is that blogging takes hard work. Add on a day job (in my case, switching jobs AND cities), a social life, hobbies, other sites, speaking engagements, and family (if you have one), or even traveling, and blogging gets REALLY difficult to do consistently. Then add on the fears of not doing well and combine that with perfectionism, and blogging becomes even tougher.

What I want to do is show you real numbers. I want to show you the events that have been paramount to my blogging success (if I can even call it that). I’ll show you how the traffic numbers going up is pretty even with the number of Twitter followers I have.

I also want to tell you both the things I have done, as well as the things that I have not done, to build the traffic to my site. What you read may surprise you.

Traffic stats

As I said above, in February I had over 10,000 visits. Actually, the number is 14,888. When I take out the traffic coming from [news.ycombinator.com], since I don’t feel like that is “earned” traffic that should count, the number comes to 11,779. Compare this to my first month of blogging, February 2011, which was 220 visitors. Ha! Crazy.

Here’s a screenshot of the month-over-month growth of traffic:

Here’s a screenshot of the month-over-month growth in organic traffic only:

Here is what you will notice about these numbers: they are slow and steady.

With very few exceptions, I didn’t really see many traffic jumps. Sure, I saw some around different times that popular posts went live, and traffic really spiked when I wrote the Google Author Search post, but other than that, traffic was steadily increasing.

What I did: Continuous publishing, recaps, some news.

Twitter stats

Twitter stats are a little different. When I started tweeting in December 2010, I had about 40 followers. Not bad for tweeting like 3 times before that. I guess most of my followers were bots at that point, right?

Well, fast forward 16 months and things are different. Here’s the graph of how my Twitter following has grown:

What I did: Engaged with others and curated content.

RSS Subscribers

Until recently, I didn’t really focus on growing my RSS subscribers. This was something I wanted to do, but never really got around to doing. I installed What Would Seth Godin Do to put the box at the top of my post with a call to action to subscribe, but I didn’t make it obvious. About a month ago, I added in the orange button that you see (and generally tried to make my site prettier to users). So a stronger call to action really does influence conversions. Who knew :-)

So in the past month, RSS subscribers have grown by 25%. Here’s the chart:

What I did: Strong(er) Call to Action

What I did

There are a number of activities that I have done over the past year that you can take note of. Just so you know, one happening that I think greatly affected my success was joining Distilled back in June of 2011. Changing jobs to a well-recognized agency is not something that everyone can do, so I don’t want to make people believe that “Oh yeah, you can do this, no problem, just follow these three steps to overnight blogging success!” No.

But there are some things I have done that you can do as well to help grow your audience.

Conference recaps (aka hot news)

I have been lucky to get to go to a lot of conferences in the past year. For almost every conference that I went to, I not only live-tweeted it (and got rate-limited a few times by Twitter), but I also write a recap. I wrote them for Linklove, Mozcon Days 1, 2, and 3, and Searchlove (both days). I also spoke at SMX in September (and what I spoke about is mostly here), which caused a spike in traffic even though I didn’t recap it.

Check out the traffic spikes.

Personal branding (aka get your name out there)

Another big part to my success, I think, was personal branding. Of course, I made sure to rank this site first for my name. I’ve also engaged with people on Twitter and Google+. As my follower counts on there have risen, and as my exposure in the community has gotten broader, I’ve seen searches for my name, and increasingly more for [john doherty distilled] and [john doherty seo[ rise. Here’s the graph of searches for my name:

Personal branding works. If you’re looking for a great post on personal branding, check out Ross Hudgens’ post from YOUmoz last fall where he gave some GREAT pointers about personal branding online that I took to heart. Thanks Ross.

Guest posting (write other places)

I’ve guest posted all over the place in the SEO world in the past year. I’ve done the following:

All of these have helped to spread my name, though that’s not why I did them by any means.

Consistency

I have written 162 posts since I started this site. WOW. Divide that by 52, and on average I have posted 3.1 times per week.

Now, this number is a bit skewed, because I wrote a ton of individual posts for my Linklove and Mozcon recaps. But I have tried to post twice a week, usually on Tuesday and Thursday, though sometimes I’ll write a post and want to get it out on the weekends or something like that.

It’s the consistency in posting that I think that helped to keep the site going. While organic traffic has risen consistently, I think the biggest indicator of the success of consistency is the overall rise in organic traffic month on month.

Sometimes I’ve been asked how I generate ideas. Often, ideas come to me as I am working and dealing with new issues with clients. When an idea comes, I put it into Evernote, tagged as ‘blog’ and ‘draft’. I’ll come back to it later then. If I think the idea has legs, it goes to the admin section of my site. Even then, sometimes posts die in the boneyard and are later deleted.

Remember – not every idea has to be published! If you focus on providing value, instead of just mass, you’ll find more success. Check out SEOmoz, Distilled, and others (even large sites like salon.com) for proof of this.

What I have not done

There are a few things that I have not done that people would probably expect me to have been doing for my site. I want to highlight those here. Funny enough, just this week I’ve been doing one of them (keyword research) and working towards ranking for some other terms. To this point, I’ve been focused on building my site’s authority.

First, outreach emails. I have sent exactly TWO outreach emails. I sent one to a journalism site in the UK that mentioned me, but did not link. I wanted that PR6! Then I sent one to Wired, to a guy that I know there, when I was mentioned in this post. Once again, I wanted that PR8 link! Other than that, no outreach emails! Linkbuilding has been all organic.

Second, I have done very little keyword research. I did some for my Minimum Viable Keyword Research article. Just recently I did keyword research and some onsite optimization for a keyword I am trying to rank one of my categories for. Other than that, other than a year ago when my site was named “The Beginner SEO” and I was going for “beginner SEO”, I have not done keyword research. Also, I dropped “The Beginner SEO” because I didn’t want to brand myself as that.


So that’s it! That’s what I’ve done to grow this site. Nothing fancy, nothing tricky. I’ve ground it out, through the inspiration and lack thereof, and built this site. I’m proud of it.

What’s next? Next is trying to focus the content. I’ve been pretty all over the place. As I figure out more and more what I love and want to write about, I’ll put it here. Expect to see more content marketing thought, some more presentations that I do (I’m speaking at Linklove next month), and hopefully more case studies.

Stay tuned!

John Doherty

Posts

I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

21 responses to The Rise to 10,000 Visits Per Month

  1. Andrew Isidoro March 8, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Nice one John.

    Makes a nice change to see hard work and consistency being talked about rather than the generic “How I got 10,000 RSS subcribers in 28 Days” posts.

    I’m finding it very difficult to maintain a two post a week schedule on my own blog. Going to have to step it up!

  2. Anthony Pensabene March 8, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Good points, John. This and Dr. Pete’s open letter to New SEOs [ http://www.seomoz.org/blog/an-open-letter-to-new-seos ] work nicely together. It’s encouraging to see it really does take patience; and, though one may feel they have the passion to ‘set things on fire,’ the reality is more like a slow burn.

    One thing I personally got from you and Dr. Pete today was personal branding. The online optimization industry is becoming more crowded and diverse. While it’s important to try and do several things well, it may be befitting to align with a particular niche. (personal ex. I’ve adopted ‘online marketing’ label but have a natural gravitation toward writing, branding, rep. management) – The Dr. prescribes ‘telling’ people what you do; I think digesting that spoonful results in better self and blog direction.

    “..blogging takes hard work. Add on a day job..” and etc.. I hear ya. Thanks for the insight.

  3. John, first of all congrats on the milestone and secondly, wow this is great insight. It’s really useful to be able to see “behind the scenes” and witness some good, ol fashion hard work in action :)

    Question: what did you use to track twitter followers growth?

  4. John, congrats on the growth. On the topic of your GA reports where you mentioned you “messed up” some filters you should always have a test profile in your GA account for that domain which you specifically use for testing filters. Additionally you should also always have a raw data profile. Just one of the tricks of the trade I would bring up in case you hadn’t seen it done before.

  5. As a new blogger, this is certainly inspirational John. Good reason for me to continue with my new addiction.

  6. Congrats John!

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and hope for many more :)

  7. Good actionable advice here. Well actually it’s not so much actionable as much as it is solid instruction on how to get a blog up and running.

    I’ve lately been taking a lot of hurdles in my own adventures (both SEO and Computer/Technical stuff) and turning them into blog posts, especially when Google/Bing couldn’t provide the answers to my specific questions.

    Quick question for you. I noticed you had a rather large traffic spike in one of your diagrams (the picture directly above “PERSONAL BRANDING”) – any reason in particular why that one wasn’t labeled?

    • Thanks Dan! It’s hard work. Hard work wins.

      That big spike was when Rand shared a post of mine. I didn’t highlight it because it wasn’t having to do with conference recaps. A lot of my spikes happened when other influencers shared content. But I didn’t want to harp on about that. Making friends is the way to go.

  8. Congratulations John! Well deserved. I wish I’d thought to do this kind of post.

    I’ve taken a different path to get there so it’s interesting to see how you’ve gotten from point A to point B.

    One thing is very consistent though, whether it is you or Dr. Pete and that is the need for personal branding.

  9. Congrats, John! Well done, and thanks for the inspiration.
    So I guess I’m just 155 posts away from greatness? Ok, I’ll keep slogging it out :)

  10. Thomas Ballantyne March 9, 2012 at 1:13 am

    I like the candid look at your cumulative efforts. I have seen too many bounce from “X was my key to success” to the next big “Y was the key to my success”. Success is never just one big thing. In truth it is all the little things that just keep adding up. Every big river grows through it’s 100s or 1000s of small tributaries.

    Thanks for sharing and outlining your efforts. And congrats.

  11. Awesome John! Looking forward to your 100,000 visitors per month post.

    I’m curious, what do you think the top benefits are of growing your audience to this level? I am at about 3,000 currently and debating whether it is worth it to sacrifice things like exercise to spend more time on my blog to get to the next level.

  12. Ive just been able to get one of my clients to start a blog. We got some really good ghost writers who run successful blogs themselves so I hope this time next year we’re able to see these numbers from the blog.

    The site itself gets 8,866 Unique Visitors and 66,019 Pageviews.. with 47.24% Bounce Rate – really dropping those numbers by changing pages with high bounce rate to accommodate the keywords that are coming in.

    This itself was a interesting post though. Great job!

  13. First of all, congrats on achieving the milestone! Those are some pretty impressive stats! Second of all, it’s quite encouraging and inspiring for me (and my website that I set up only a couple of months ago), as I am still seeing similar visitor stats to yours during the initial months. The challenge as you quite rightly note is managing so many roles at one time (work, social, traveling – add to that a long distance relationship) and consistency becomes the biggest hurdle to overcome.

    Anyway, congrats and well done once again! Keep up the great work John!

  14. Hi John,

    Thanks for the first realistic indication of ‘what to expect’ as a blogger. I have blogged consistently since December and watched my numbers steadily grow, but I had nothing to compare it to other than the grand claims of less than credible resources. Thanks for letting me know that I’m on the right track.

    Cheers,

    Owen.

  15. Hi,

    I was wondering if you could answer a question I have.

    It seems that a big problem SEO has to face today is that so many forums, blogs, directories are NO Follow.

    People don’t want to do link exchanges anymore.

    How can you get back links?

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