From the category archives:

traffic strategies

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In the post-BlogHer View definition in a new window 2010 mania, including the many posts about bloggers crying in bathrooms and being snubbed by people with social skills that are at the preschool level, we were hypothesizing (in the comment section to a post here recently) as to why anyone would bother with going to these kinds of conferences only to undergo this kind of torture. Yet I keep maintaining that you must — you simply must, if you want to build your blogging business, and I’m going to try to explain why with this post. The short answer for why is that, quite simply, your traffic will increase. My traffic increased about 20% overall (sustained) after BlogHer 2009, and another similar jump after Mom 2.0. It’s too soon to say the effect of BlogHer 2010, but I maintain that there has always been a significant traffic jump for me in the wake of a conference. As to why, well, that’s a tougher question, but I’ve worked out some hypothetical explanations below.

The Conference Is a Constellation Out Of Which A Potentially Viral Number of “Sales” Or “Leads” Are Made

When you go to a big conference in your niche — I’m talking about something like BlogHer for the mommies here — there is a viral effect to your attendance that cannot happen any other way to the same degree. You meet a few people, make a few connections, have a few connections: it doesn’t seem like a big deal or any different from anything else, but it is, and here is why. A conference like BlogHer ends up with a ton of tweets, posts, Flickr uploads, and incoming links, both before and after the conference. If you meet one person there, at one party, and make a good impression, you might end up on their blog, with an incoming link, on their Flickr page tagged into a picture, @replied on Twitter, follow friday’ed on Twitter because of it, discussed later in some hotel room with that person’s roommate because of it, discussed later with someone else’s roommate because that person saw you talking to that person at so and so’s party, or because you showed up talking to so and so in the background of a picture that showed up on Flickr.

These are just some of the possible combinations of social media that can lead to your “brand” being viral as a result of a few connections made at a big conference like BlogHer. I haven’t even discussed all of the possibilities presented by the Flickr Frenzy View definition in a new window, but suffice to say that there is a good reason that people freak out about losing weight every year before BlogHer. If you look good in photos, you will show up in more of them, and people will put you on more pages, in more blog posts, and that is a form of acceptance. People will wonder who you are, and that is a kind of advertisement. This is all about getting people to look at your blog, and that is the name of the game.

You Cannot Understand The Real Of The Community Without Going To A Conference

Particularly in the mommyblogosphere — though I would guess this applies to all different online communities — there is a gap between what happens out in the public online space and what happens behind the closed doors of DMs and private emails. You cannot get a feel for what is really going on in a community, therefore, unless you go to a conference and observe things in real life every once in a while. You need to see people in person to figure out who is somebody you want to partner with and who is somebody you want to stay away from. You need to see who is really friends with whom and who is just in a strategic alliance. You need to see who drinks too much to be a reliable business partner and who is a social climber. This is all stuff you’d be able to figure out in an office job by working with people face to face but because we are online, we can sometimes hide this stuff — sometimes, but not always — behind our screens. The offline stuff is key just to cover our asses.

Now. Maybe you’re not going to be able to do this to the same degree with every conference. Not every conference will have every person you need to meet in attendance. But find the ones that do and go to those. Don’t bother with ones that don’t have people you don’t need to meet — I don’t. And by the way, who I need to meet (or observe, or whatever) might not be the same as who you need to meet. We all have different criteria for these things. Figure out what kinds of connections you need to make and figure out where those people are going to be, and go there.

It Works If You Work It & Other Cliches

Inevitably somebody will tell me they have been going to conferences and have never had these kinds of traffic jumps, I’m sure. I’m guessing, though, that they are not doing what I am doing, and repeatedly going out of the comfort zone to make new connections (or difficulties, as the case may be, with me) on a regular basis. For instance, I went to lunch by myself at BlogHer on both days so that I met new people, I went to several parties at which I’m not sure I was particularly welcome that led to interesting connections, I wandered around the conference alone and met some new people with interesting stories to tell and new perspectives to bring to the table. I did not rely on my friends 100% of the time and it forces me to grow, and my traffic tends to grow as a result (I suspect, anyway). Please share any other strategies or theories you have for this kind of stuff in the comments.

traffic

Last week, I wrote a post on traffic strategies that had worked for mommybloggers, provided you viewed their careers retrospectively. But what if you are a newer blogger who is looking to build traffic and are not too keen on having to endure some kind of trauma to your life in order to build your traffic as a mommy blogger? What are your options? Well, as one of my commenters pointed out, perhaps it might be nice to feature some ideas for you as well. So today, I will share with you some ideas on traffic building, both from my own experience and from my reading throughout the web, with some thoughts on what works in this niche and what doesn’t. I hope everybody will chime in in the comments with their thoughts as well — crowdsourcing usually yields the best ideas on these kinds of posts.

  1. Advertise.
    For those of you who do not know this, I advertised on Dooce View definition in a new window for about two months when I first started blogging. This was expensive. But I believe it was well worth the investment — to this day, many of my regular readers found me this way. I bought text ads, and at the time they were about $125 a week, though I think I bought them by the month and received a discount. For that amount of money, I remember getting about 60-70 click throughs a day. I later recouped the money through display ads once I was picked up by an ad network, and I viewed the money as an investment in my business.

    I also bought a few ads on other blogs through Federated Media, and as a rough guide I can give you the following advice: it’s generally “worth it” to advertise that way if you’re going with a blog that gets over 100,000 pageviews per month. Under that, it is going to be difficult to get enough click throughs to make it worth the expenditures without being in the content column. This was my impression at the time, though this was over two years ago, so things may have changed.

    I also have the Featured Blogger Program here at ABDPBT View definition in a new window, which is a far lower cost option than the ones listed above, but there is also a waiting list and I’m on the lower end of the traffic spectrum at about 100,000 pageviews on a good month. If I had it to do over again I would probably go with the Dooce option, frankly — provided that is a match for your audience. You should always think about those kinds of things carefully before you buy ad space. In my case, Dooce’s audience is a fairly good match to my own in a very general sense, so it was good to pull prospects from there. This may or may not be the case for you, so bear this in mind before you buy.

  2. Go to conferences.

    I know, this is not what you want to hear. Listen, my readership jumped like crazy after BlogHer View definition in a new window last year, and then again after Mom 2.0 in February. The material I was able to write about after both — particularly after Mom 2.0 — was far better as well. Conferences can be stressful (they are very stressful for me) and expensive (particularly if you have to fly across the country, as I nearly always have to do), but I have found them to be the single best and fastest way to grow your blog in this niche. What happens is that you go and increase the buzz about your blog exponentially just by being there and meeting a few people, talking to a few people, who then go and say, “Did you meet so and so?” There’s just no other way to get that concentration of traffic-building buzz around your blog before and after a conference without being there. You’ve got to be there to be a part of it.

    If you cannot afford to go to a conference, start aggressively pursuing sponsorships. There are tons of small businesses that would love to pay for you to represent them at mommyblogging conferences, particularly the larger ones like BlogHer. Find those companies and pitch an offer. Do not wait for them to come to you, that’s not how it works. It’s a good deal for them to pay for you to go, when viewed against what it would cost for them to set up a booth on the Expo hall. And if one company can’t swing a full sponsorship, then piece together a few companies until you have everything covered. Be clear about what you are and are not willing to do — you are the one who sets the terms. Most conference organizers will have set rules about how and where you can distribute materials, but beyond that, you should be setting rules about when you will be on the clock and when you will be free to do your own thing.

  3. Comment, comment, comment.

    Especially in the beginning of your time in the blogosphere, it’s good to try to comment as much as possible on a variety of blogs, just to get a feel for the space and try to find “your people.” As much as you can, try not to get caught up in reciprocity for comments — it’s just going to make you resentful. People have very different views on this topic, not to mention radically different computer time budgets. But, the more you comment, the more people who will see your name on other people’s blogs, and the more used to thinking of you as a part of the community they will become. And if your comments are thoughtful, insightful, intriguing, etc., this might get a click or two, even if it’s not from the owner of the blog. Also, you never know when you’re going to read something that inspires a good post topic.

  4. Guest Posting (?)

    We don’t do a lot of this in the mommyblogosphere, but many of the people in other niches advise guest posting as a means of building traffic. I think that this strategy works in niches like Personal Finance or Online Marketing or ProBlogging because those are so-called “useful” or “advice” topics, and the readers are always looking to find more sources of information on that same general theme. But here’s my experience with guest posting in the mommyblogosphere — it’s not so successful as a strategy for traffic building, strangely enough. It’s fun, but not always successful as a large-scale traffic builder. My theory for why is this: mommyblogging is basically a form of personal blogging, and audiences generally grow slowly over time. They develop a relationship with the blogger. A guest post might be tolerated or even enjoyed, but it doesn’t necessarily result in a huge influx of new readers. It might result, though, in a few. And if you’re looking for a few good prospects, then a guest post here or there on a blog that matches your readership might be a good strategy, provided you choose the blogs where you guest post with care.

  5. Become friends with powerful bloggers.

    OK, so this is super manipulative, but it works, and people do it all the time. If you get in good with people who have high traffic, you end up with high traffic yourself sometimes. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you get a link from the person, just people knowing that you are friends with the person sometimes leads to higher traffic by association. The thing is, you kind of have to be around the person a lot for this to happen, so unless you happen to live in the same town as, say, Ree Drummond, you might have to actually go to some conferences and try to meet some people. And as an aside, you are probably going to find that people in other communities within the blogosphere are more open to this kind of networking than the mom blogosphere. While mommybloggers are fairly friendly and open at conferences, I’m not sure that they are as well-versed in the “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of give and take as people in the, say, online marketing niche would be. If you can develop connections in that world, they are much more likely to be open to helping you without you having to pretend that this is not the entire reason that you’re approaching them in the first place.

  6. Useful content.

    Maybe you are wondering why there are so many sections on this blog. Well, there are a couple different reasons. First, I wanted to write on a bunch of different topics, and I didn’t want to have them all on the same feed — I wanted people to be able to subscribe separately, so that they didn’t have to look week through Personal Finance posts to get to the mommy posts unless they wanted to read both, etc. But I also wanted them to be on the same URL, because I knew that the way that the web sets up hierarchies for web presence has to do with how much information is on one URL — in other words, it’s better to have one site with a whole bunch of information on it, even if it’s on disparate subjects, in terms of page rank and SEO, than it is to have a bunch of different sites.

    But the other thing was, when I started blogging, I wanted to be able to have a personal space and also a space where I could provide useful content, because the problem with mommyblogging is that it is not “useful,” and the bulk of the market for blogging is for content that solves some kind of problem. Most people come to the web to solve a problem. They enter the problem into google and go to a page that answers their problem. You have to try to be the site that answers a problem. If you are only a personal blogger, you have no chance of doing that. Sure, if you are Dooce, you don’t do that, you have never done that, and you have a big enough audience to where you probably won’t ever have to do that. But that’s not true for the rest of us. That’s right — it’s not true for any of the rest of us, not even Ree Drummond — notice her site is full of useful information, that’s why she’s so wildly successful, I think she’s about three or four times as successful (in pageviews) as Dooce now, in fact. She’s got useful information on photography, cooking, homeschooling, and home decorating. She’s fashioned her brand, in fact, so that she can provide useful information on any topic, pretty much, and she doesn’t even have to be the one to provide it. She’s like the Oprah of the internet. It’s brilliant.

    What can you provide that is useful? I’m not saying you cannot be personal, too. In fact, it’s imperative that you also be personal — this is the hallmark of blogging versus other genres. But if you want to move out of the trap of the personal blogging traffic glass ceiling, you have got to start thinking about what you have to offer the audience that is coming to you.

Glossary terms: Dooce, crowdsource View definition in a new window, EVENT View definition in a new window

photo by uggboy on flickr

A while back, I mentioned that, in order to be catapulted into a higher realm of popularity in the mommyblogosphere, there was nearly always some kind of EVENT View definition in a new window that had to take place in the life of the blogger. This EVENT was often (but not always) tragic, and was usually something over which the blogger could not possibly have any control. The upswing in traffic came as a result of the combination of the EVENT and the blogger’s desire to blog through it, and traffic grew as a natural result of people wanting to come back to follow the story, to see how things turned out. It is not surprising that this would happen in blogging when you consider that people come to blogs with a set of expectations built upon a lifetime of reading narratives with a beginning, middle, and an end, and some of these expectations carry over even into a genre that defies those expectations. I used to think that it meant that all you had to do, really, to sustain longterm traffic as a blogger was to keep at it for years and years at a time, and eventually the traffic would come, and to a certain degree this is true: most mommybloggers (and other personal bloggers) give up after a few months, so people who have been doing it for years and years do tend to build up traffic eventually if they are doing it with any kind of consistency. However, I’ve since realized the traffic situation is a little bit more complicated than just keeping at it day in and day out for years at a time.

What separates a five-year-old personal (or mommy-) blog with 50,000 pageviews from one with over 300,000? The difference is not, as some would have you believe, in writing skill or talent, though certainly these can help you. The difference is some kind of narrative hook that will keep people coming back to check in with the blogger. It is an offshoot of the EVENT idea, because it does not necessarily have to be an earth shattering, life altering horrific and astonishing event. It can be something much smaller or something that many people go through, but if the blogger writes about it in an unusual way or somehow becomes attached to it, then that can be the thing that is “their story” and then gets them into the area of a well known personal blogger, rather than just somebody who has been doing it for a long time. Below are some of the examples of things that have worked this way for different bloggers, and a discussion of how well they work, and whether they are something that can work for other bloggers. And before everybody gets up in arms, I’m not suggesting that anybody go out and do these things on purpose or pretend to do these things, I’m merely looking at blogs and narrative technique from a critical standpoint, not advocating action here. Everybody simmer down.

  1. Pregnancy.
    For a mommyblogger, there’s no better way to stay relevant than to get pregnant. Again. In some cases, again and again and again. This often results in a traffic surge, particularly right when the pregnancy is announced, though often continuing throughout the pregnancy and surging again right around the birth of the baby. If there are complications, repeat ad nauseum. This is a traffic strategy with definite benefits, including gifts from readers, lots of cute photos, memories captured for the ages, but people tend to lose interest after the kid hits age 2 or so, so if you depend too much on the baby crowd, you’re going to have to keep getting pregnant over and over again, which is hard to keep up year after year after year. Also, the bummer of it is that there are tons of people who can get pregnant, so you’re really not differentiating yourself too much by doing it and blogging about it. But it’s better than nothing, and if your blog is stale, it might be just the thing you need to get back in the swing of things.
  2. Infertility.
    This is far more effective than pregnancy as a blogging topic, both because of the uncertainty involved, the potential years and years of procedures and questions and decisions to make, and the potential support you can provide for others. Also, if you do ever manage to get pregnant, then you will be an inspiration for others, and your pregnancy will be far more meaningful than just an average mommyblogger pregnancy. If you don’t get pregnant, then you can be a paradigm of grace and dignity whilst undergoing the pain of trying to decide what to do with these decisions you never thought you’d ever have to make. As far as blogs go, infertility is kind of a narrative jackpot, actually — which is probably fitting, given that it’s a shitty card to be dealt in life.
  3. Depression.
    This one is tricky. It would seem like a good narrative hook, but since so many bloggers have it already, it doesn’t really work that well. You cannot really become known as the blogger who blogged through depression because it’s like, “Which one?” Also, most people these days have some form of depression for which they’ve been medicated. There was a brief period where talking about post partum depression seemed kind of important, but I’m not sure that it’s very revolutionary anymore. Also, bottom line — people might worry about a blogger who sounds depressed, but they don’t really want to hear about depression all the time. They need to hear stuff that is going to make them feel at least sort of OK about life in order to keep coming back to the blog. It’s tough to get that from somebody who is in a full blown depressive state.
  4. Child with Chronic Condition Of Some Kind.
    Mothers of kids who have some kind of condition that requires regular updates (e.g. learning disabilities, sensory disorders, chronic illnesses that are not life threatening) also have a narrative hook that keep readers interested over time. When readers get attached to the kids of the blogger, and then find out that they have some kind of problem, they will want to check in to see how the kid is doing as they age — did they get over the problem they had with chronic ear infections? Have they adjusted well to their new school? This works well to differentiate a blogger from a crowd of other bloggers who have similar stories, and as long as the conditions of the kids are not serious enough to make the readers feel emotionally taxed by reading about them, it can keep them reading a blog for years just to learn about how the kids are doing adjusting to new phases of their lives.
  5. Beauty.
    Blogs may be about democratizing the everyday, and putting media platforms in the hands of everyone, but the fact remains that we are all shallow motherfuckers. If a mommyblogger is exceptionally attractive (either by blog standards, or objective standards), and especially if she has a particularly attractive family that she features in photographs frequently, then she is far more likely to end up with a higher readership than otherwise. People like escapism, they like looking at pretty pictures of pretty people, and looking into their lives, even when they are bloggers. So if you’re pretty, put up pictures. It will probably help your traffic.
  6. Trainwreck Relationships And/Or Divorce. If a blogger is particularly bad in relationships, this can be a great traffic builder. Not only does it invite all of the people who delight in schadenfreude, it also gives all of the fixers something to do on their lunch breaks. Plus, when there’s some kind of meltdown, it can lead to the kind of traffic that crashes servers and leads to people having to chip in to move somebody off DreamHost and onto a dedicated server at LiquidWeb. Now, when a blogger is married and in a trainwreck relationship, this is a special situation, because people do not tend to want to openly hope for it not to work out, but they will still tune in, day after day, and wring their hands over what will happen to the children, &c..

What am I missing?

Edit to add glossary terms: Lunchables View definition in a new window, Gluten Free Girl View definition in a new window, creepythesis View definition in a new window

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