How We Grew Our Traffic By 323% in 15 Months

Excited, happy girl giving thumbs up showing success, isolated o

A few weeks ago, I was depressed about the Author Media blog.

Nothing seemed to be going right. Or right enough. You know how it goes – that awful artistic angst. It’s nothing you can put your finger on, but just a nagging feeling that you aren’t doing enough, or you’ll never be doing enough.

It plagues everyone.

Instead of letting myself bask in the angst, I decided to get factual with data. I opened up Google Analytics to track just what was going right…and what areas I could improve on.

What I saw blew my mind.

During the last 15 months, the traffic on Author Media had grown…by 323%!

The rest of this blog post is going to break down what we did and how you can do it as well. If you don’t have time for roughly 4,000 words of awesomeness (okay, data and ideas), you can skip to the end where I offer the distilled version of this article.

The Raw Numbers

Google analytics

The starting date for this data is January 1, 2012. The end date of this sample is March 31, 2013.

In January, we had 11,279 visitors.

In March, we had 34,825 visitors.

As you can see, it took us awhile to catch our stride. It wasn’t until June that we grew noticeably, and that was followed by a loss of readers in July. The most dramatic growth happened between December 2012 and March 31.

In March 2013, we had 34,825 visitors. Somewhere in the last year, we had attracted a small town of aspiring authors.

My data loving heart skipped a beat when I saw that. The first thing I did was smile and pull out a calculator.

  • It took us less than one month to double our traffic.
  • It took us one year to get 20,000 visitors a month consistently.
  • It took us 15 months to increase our traffic by 323%.

How did this happen???

It wasn’t just one thing. There were many things that influenced the growth of our traffic.

They are:

  • SEO
  • Newsletters
  • Webinars
  • Social Media
  • Outside influencers

We’ll be taking a look at each of those sections in-depth.

First, let’s look at where people were coming from at the beginning of 2012.

Traffic sources 1/2012

Traffic sources, January 2012

It looks pretty natural. Most of the inbound links were organic. There just weren’t a lot of them.

Here are last month’s stats:

March 2013 Traffic Sources

March 2013 Traffic Sources

Social Media sites are really starting to help drive traffic. But the number one traffic driver is Google.

That’s inbound marketing, folks.

Here’s the overview of the last 16 months – a flashback to the big picture:

Data sources

December 2011 – March 2013
Traffic Sources

While much of our traffic is coming from Facebook or Twitter, the bulk is still coming from organic search results. There’s a mad rush to use social media, but a lot of people still don’t get it.

People have to want to read your blog.

Reality check: it’s not about you. Or me. Its about them.

Your audience

That’s the “secret sauce.”

People don’t come to Author Media because they care about us (admit it, you don’t). They don’t come because I’m the coolest tech blogger out there (umm…Pete Cashmore has that spot secure). They don’t come because we make the best websites (although, honestly, MyBookTable is cool).

They come because they need help. Typically with a very specific question like “How do I add a hyperlink to WordPress“.

We were able to get to know our readers through:

Thomas has spent tens of thousands of hours working with author clients. He’s been able to create three detailed personas of who the readers are, what comfort level they have with technology, and what their specific goals are. It has been incredibly helpful to have those persona sheets on hand and to be able to give them to new writers.

When you sit down to blog, who are you writing for? Is it about your book or is it about helping your reader?

See, the same principles that businesses use in inbound marketing are true for authors.

Let’s look at those traffic drivers and see how you can implement them into your website strategy.

1. SEO

seo

This is going to be a long section but it’s a very important one.

Your first job as a writer is to tell a story. To communicate something of value to your readers.

Your second job as a writer is to make it easy for them to find the article. In this day and age, it means playing by Google’s rules.

Let’s hop back to Google analytics for a moment. The number one traffic source was Google and people searching for something that led them to Author Media.

What were they looking for?

In January, 2013

 

Keywords 2012

Top Searches – January 2012

 

In March, 2013:

March 2013 Searches

March 2013
Searches

And zooming out again –

December 2011 - March 2013 Searches

December 2011 – March 2013 Searches

You can see that there are some consistencies.

The MailChimp vs. Constant Contact debate still rages and authors need book promotion ideas. “Versus” posts are an easy way to get more traffic. What two things can you compare on your blog? And it looks like people from all walks of life want to know how to share something on Facebook.

When I look at this data, I can see what people have been looking for and make guesses on what they will be looking for in the future.

  • Book marketing
  • Social media help
  • Author websites

What do your readers want to see from you? Dig into your analytics on a quarterly, even monthly, basis, just to see what’s going on. You’ll be surprised at what you find.

There are probably a lot of successes that you don’t know about. Celebrate them! A success is a success, no matter how small it may seem.

SEO doesn’t have to be a headache.

SEO conflict

If only they had known about SEO Scribe…

 

There are two plugins that make SEO a little easier:

  1. Scribe SEO – it takes the guesswork out of SEO. Write your article, fill out the meta data, alt text, and links, and then press a button to see how it’s graded for that specific page – and how it fits with the rest of your site. It’s expensive – just shy of $100 a month (unless you host with Author Media) but well worth the money. We use it at Author Media.
  2. WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast – If you know SEO, you can get away with using this plugin. I know many people who use this plugin and love what it does for them. It’s free and it’s for WordPress. You’ve got to love that combo.

Think of the search engines, yes. But first think of the person reading the article. Computers and algorithms don’t have sentiment, affection, or feelings. They’ll drop you when you break their rules. But when you appeal to the sentiment, affection, or feeling of your readers, you hook them for life.

Don’t tell people you are trustworthy. Be trustworthy.

Editorial calendars are essential.

We all know that being proactive is much better than being reactive.  Most of us stay reactive. Why?It takes a lot of work to plan things in advance. The secret is that it saves you lots of time in the long run.

By having a plan, you don’t give yourself the space to encounter writer’s block.

I use the following tools:

At the end of every month, sit down and forecast what needed to be written for the next month – blog posts, website copy, newsletters – a little bit of everything. It’s important to be consistent.

  • Google Drive – I have a massive file called “Blog post ideas.” Any time I thought of a blog post idea, I put it in there. I also invited my coworkers to do the same. There’s also a blog SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) written out so that at any time in the blog writing process, I can point back and see what needs to happen next.
  • Google AdWords Keyword Tool There no use writing an article that no one wants to read. AdWords allows me to write smarter by seeing if people were even interested in the topics I wanted to write about. Quality over quantity is key, especially in our society of easy answers and mass content farms.
  • Google Calendar – Calendars make things happen. There’s an editorial calendar at Author Media so that anyone in the company can see what is going to be published. It also shows me how events will interact. If there’s a webinar coming up, I need to highlight it. If there’s a huge cultural event, I can reference it or show deference to it.
  • Emotional Headline Analyzer – Many people struggle with writing killer headlines. This tool makes it easier to write headlines that people will want to click on.

How does this work for you as an author?

Think of your writing as a business. It is a business. Your business. If you want people to take your words seriously, you need to take the time to figure out how to craft your message in a way that your audience understands.

Tweetables: 

  • Your writing = your business. Learn how to experience crazy growth this year. – Click to tweet.
  • Your first job as a writer is to tell stories, followed by writing them in an SEO-friendly way. – Click to tweet.
  • Reader personas + SEO = more of the right readers. – Click to tweet.
  • Don’t tell people you are trustworthy. BE trustworthy. – Click to tweet.
  • By having a plan, you don’t give yourself the space to encounter writer’s block. – Click to tweet.

2. Newsletters

Weekly Newsletters

Every week, we send out an email newsletter that highlights some of our most recent blog posts.

There are sign-ups on the side bar of our site and we also use Pippity to create non evil pop-ups that allow people to sign up. People also sign up in person when they hear Thomas speak.

What does this have to do with driving traffic?

Let’s say you come to the blog to read one article. You came across the link somewhere in cyberspace and just happened across the blog. Fantastic! Now you have a choice:

a. Sign up for the newsletter and be notified once a week when new content is being published.

b. Leave the site and resort to Google searches when you are trying to find that one article you want to reference.

Signing up for the newsletter is pretty painless. We have readers who only come to our site when they see something in their newsletter that they want to read. As the death of Google Reader comes closer, our goal is to get more people signed up for our newsletter. That way, we don’t lose them when Google finally kills it off.

For Author Media, that means using MailChimp.

MailChimp

You can set up MailChimp to do a simple RSS to email weekly newsletter but we like to poke around with ours a bit. Each week, we run A/B Split tests to discover what our readers want to read about. MailChimp makes it easy to set these up.

As we write, we also have to take into consideration that many of our readers check their email via mobile device. So it’s important to keep things short and sweet.

We use many of the same tools referenced in the previous section – the most important being the Emotional Headline Analyzer.

From time to time, we also cull the list – getting rid of email addresses from folks who don’t open our emails. As a result, our list is pretty clean and our readers are highly engaged.

It’s important to maintain a clean list. Abuse complaints and being marked as “spam” too many times can get you in serious trouble with MailChimp, and even cause you to be banned. The last thing you want is to be cut off from your subscribers.

Level up. 

We recommend that you use MailChimp because it’s easy to use and your first 2,000 subscribers are free. MailChimp also can be integrated with Google Analytics – giving you even more information about your readers. This can be valuable as you are shopping for an agent and trying to sell your book.

If you are new to MailChimp, the best thing you can do is start reading their guides.  Each guide has been written with a specific topic.

We recommend starting with:

What are you using for a newsletter? How often do you send it?

Tweetables:

  • Make signing up for your newsletter painless. – Click to tweet.
  • More newsletter readers = more website readers. It’s a pretty cool cycle. – Click to tweet.
  • Has anyone else tried any of these MailChimp tips? – Click to tweet.
  • Keep your newsletter list squeaky clean. No fake people allowed! – Click to tweet.
  • Using a pop-up newsletter form is a great way to get more subscribers. – Click to tweet.

3. Webinars

Webinars

We really started amping up our webinars in January – right around the traffic spike.

This affected our traffic because when someone signs up for a webinar, they also sign up for our weekly newsletter, which in turn, draws them back to our blog.

After the webinar, we can then send the registrants the link (and codes) for their free copy of the webinar recording as well as webinar-exclusive materials (see “Paid vs. Free”). The landing page is your chance to call them to action so make sure you write this page very carefully.

We do a mix of paid and free webinars. The value of the webinar is not just in the event at the time but in the recording. With every recording, we create a product that we can sell in our store at a later date.

Our free webinars are usually in collaboration with writing organizations. Our paid webinars are with industry leaders about very specific issues that authors face.

We make the differentiation because not all webinars/hang-outs/meetings are created equal. If you are going to charge for something, you need to make sure that your viewers find it valuable enough to pay money for it.

Suggested webinar resources:

Currently, we use Meeting Burner for our webinars. MeetingBurner is free if your webinar only hosts 10 people. After that, you must pay a fee. Other features include:

  • Audio Conferencing
  • In Meeting Chat
  • Customizable Meeting Registration Page
  • Automated Email Reminders
  • Meeting Analytics

Read the full feature list to see what else in included. Meeting Burner is not for the timid webinar host.

Another webinar solution is Google+. This allows you upload the recording straight to YouTube. This is what Max Minzer does every week with the “Max Impact” Hangouts. Just a few minutes after the hang-out is finished, it is live on YouTube and available on demand.

The final word on webinars…

Before announcing a hosting a webinar, make sure you go through a few trial runs. The learning curve on a webinar (during the webinar) is dangerously sharp.

Do you ever host webinars? Why or why not?

Tweetables:

  • Don’t launch a webinar without a trial run first. The learning curve is dangerously sharp. – Click to tweet.
  • What do you use for your webinars? Google+, Meeting Burner…something else? – Click to tweet.
  • If you want to charge for a product, make sure it’s valuable enough that people will want to pay for it. – Click to tweet.
  • Webinars can bring lots of traffic to your website. – Click to tweet.
  • Would you pay to go to a webinar? – Click to tweet.

4. Social Media

Social Media

Are you sharing what you write on social media? Are you letting people know when you have a new book out?

The key to getting people to talk about you on social media is to start the conversation. Social media is about relationships more than it is about marketing.

Mari Smith gives an 80/20 rule (so do many other experts so who knows where it originated)…be about yourself 20% of the time and others 80%.

Be about other people. Connect with them. Cheer for them. Ask their opinion.

Why social?

Google Reader is dying. More people are getting their news from “the stream,” which simply means that they are going to social media to aggregate their news instead of traditional news sources. It’s just a matter of getting your blog posts in the stream of the right people.

As the analytics indicated, thousands of people come to us every month via social media.

Author Media is primarily active on:

Every time something happens, we post it to those outlets. We also use them to spread blog posts, webinars, and upcoming products. We post to all of them by hand because our audiences are different.

Buying or advertising? 

We grew our Author Media Facebook page dramatically by advertising and creating images that authors want to share.

There are a few different ways to advertise on Facebook and we’ve played with different methods. As Facebook molds into an interactive newspaper, promoted stories will become more vital to your advertorial success.

For instance, if I wanted to help this post to go viral, I would want to invest in some “promoted story” advertisements. That way, the post would inch it’s way up to the top of the Author Media fans newsfeed and find it’s way into the newsfeed of people associated with the fans.

The success to Facebook advertising goes back to knowing your personas well. Facebook is a marketer’s dream because you can make your target audience as specific as you want.

Many social media sites offer advertising options as a way to increase your reach and grow your audience. We have used Facebook Ads to help grow the number of followers we have. Twitter now offers it’s own package of advertising. I personally haven’t used it so I can’t speak to it’s effectiveness.

Advertising is different than buying followers. The difference is that buying followers meaning paying for fake accounts to follow you to inflate your numbers. Advertising helps get you in front of real people who may have never heard of you before.

Social media is about relationships, not just numbers. Paying to artificially inflate your following doesn’t improve your engagement, sell more books, or bring more people to your website. Don’t do it.

Be focused.

With so many social media outlets, it’s easy to feel scatterbrained. Keep your focus razor-sharp by sharing the same message across multiple platforms.

You can schedule your posts ahead of time across multiple platforms with:

We use Buffer.

It’s important to remember that some messages translate well, but others don’t. Twitter only allows 140 characters while Facebook and Google+ are practically limitless when it comes to length. For the curious, Facebook limits your updates to 63,206 characters while Google+ has a rumored limit of 100,000 characters.

Generally speaking, the shorter the better.

Make sure that your social media lines up with your editorial calendar. Social media should propel what you are doing, not distract people from your message.

A final thought on social media:

The important thing to remember about posting to social media outlets is that you need to point back to your website. The only website you own is your own. At any given time, these social sites shut town, change their terms of service, or simply close your account, all without telling you. Many authors have woken up to nasty surprises.

That’s why you can’t count on social media. You need to focus on your website and building the readership there.

Tweetables:

  • All of your social media posts need to point back to one specific place – your website. – Click to tweet.
  • Social media should propel your work, not distract people from your message. – Click to tweet.
  • Sick of social media? Remember, it’s about people. – Click to tweet.
  • Focus your social media efforts by sharing the same message across multiple platforms. – Click to tweet.
  • People are already talking about you. Are you making it easy to join the conversation? – Click to tweet.

5. Outside Influencers

There are three different types of media – paid, earned, and owned.

Ely Rosenstock, one of the brilliant minds at Addiction, broke it down into this ven diagram:

Media Types

Outside influencers are core members of “earned media.”

They are the ones who do the work for you. They like what you do (in the non-Facebook way) and then “like” what you do…by sharing via social media, blog posts, and if you are lucky, they buy you a billboard in Times Square. That hasn’t happened to us yet. But if it ever does, we’ll let you know.

Our core outside influencers have continually cheered us on and helped share our message to authors around the world. We wouldn’t have grown without their support.

Our top outside influencers this past year include:

Who are your top outside influencers? Have you thanked them lately?

Tweetables:

  • Outside influencers like you and help others to like you. – Click to tweet.
  • You are more than welcome to buy us a billboard in Times Square. – Click to tweet.
  • I need to start saying thank you to all my outside influencers! – Click to tweet. 
  • Building a website community is never the work of one person. – Click to tweet.
  • Start saying thank you to your outside influencers. It makes a difference. – Click to tweet.

Plan, then proceed.

Editorial calendar

Give yourself the space to write and to write well. There are thousands of articles that will tell you the perfect time of day to write.

They are all rubbish. The one thing they tell you is the perfect time for that author.  

Find a time that works for you, create it if you have to, and then sit down and write. The big jump in our traffic happened when our team started playing to our strengths.

As the main blogger, that meant cutting out all my other roles in the company and just writing. Some days, that means getting up at 5 am, grabbing a mug of coffee, and blogging as I watch the sunrise over the mountains. I’ve found that my best writing comes before noon. By the time the afternoon rolls around, I’m ready to go for a hike in the woods or do something outside.

It’s not that way for everyone.  Know your personal rhythm and play to it.

If writing is your business, treat it like such. Don’t come lightly to the keyboard. Come with an agenda and your A-game.

Tweetables

  • “Know your audience – get to know them through your analytics.”  – Click to tweet.
  • Be about your audience – put your ego on hold. Helping them will help you in the long run. – Click to tweet.
  • Stay curious – break down big concepts into bite sized chunks for your audience. – Click to tweet.
  • Plan ahead – don’t write knee-jerk response blogs…unless you need to. – Click to tweet.
  • Think of your writing as a business – keep office hours. – Click to tweet.
  • Share what you are learning – you can help someone else!  – Click to tweet.

Resources

Here are the people that I’m constantly learning from when it comes to marketing, SEO, business, and writing. They heavily influenced this article and the actions behind it.

People

Products  + Plugins

One final word…

If you are discouraged by your blogging, don’t be. Every “failure” is an opportunity for success. Dig into your analytics and see just how far you’ve come.

Growth takes time and it also takes energy. There is no such thing as an “overnight” success…just a lot of rolled up sleeves, cups of coffee, and hours spent typing. Success shows up long after you do.

Don’t give up.

I’d love to hear about some of your successes – how you track them, how you define them, and if this article has helped in any way at all.