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.
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 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.
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:
- 8 posts on SEOmoz
- 9 posts on Distilled
- 1 post on Wordstream
- 1 post on TheEverywhereist (not even SEO related) after a post about her site on my blog
All of these have helped to spread my name, though that’s not why I did them by any means.
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.