So you want to draw more people to your site. There are three ways to do this
- Produce great content.
- Make sure people know about it
- Be incredibly famous
How do you do these things? The secret of being incredibly famous still eludes me, so I’ll concentrate on the first two topics.
How do you produce great content?
Apart from being talented (which, of course, you are) what can you do to produce great content? Great content is, at least in part, stuff that other people want to read. Nathaniel Tower writes a blog which I really like. In January 2018 he published a helpful post on writing what people want to read. In summary, his 5 tips are:
- Write about something that answers a commonly-asked question.
He recommends using something like Moz Keyword Explorer to find out what questions people are asking. This will tell you that 11,000-30,000 people a month are asking questions about writing.
You can also use the stats from your own site to identify what search terms drew people to your posts. In my case for example two frequent search terms were variants of “formula for flash fiction” and “scenes, sequels and MRUs”. These drew people to two of my most popular post – Scenes, Sequels and MRUs and My Secret Formula for Flash Fiction. This tells you it’s worth putting some effort into thinking about your titles.
- Write about something that will help people.
Like, for example, how to drive more visitors to your site. Last year I tried this in a big way, with an online writing course. It never took off because I’d neglected the third of my three principles – fame. I’m not a famous writer, so why would anyone listen?
- Write about something that’s controversial or polarising
Nathaniel gives the example of his post on whether you should write every day. He advises that you cover both sides of the controversy so you engage all the readers rather than turning off half of them.
- Write about something you’ve never seen written about before
- Write about something that means a lot to you
How do you make sure people know about your site?
If I was writing as an expert, I’d try out all the ideas and then tell you the result. But I’m writing as I learn, so I’m going to share the experiment with you instead. These are some of things I’ve tinkered with and intend to try more systematically over the coming year
- Join an online community
This has been far and away the most successful strategy I’ve used. In the first nine months of this blog, I got an average of 53 views and 23 visitors per month. WordPress has 74.6 million blogs and receives 21 billion page views per month. That’s an average of 281 views per blog per month (if the reads were distributed evenly, which they’re not). So my hits were distinctly below par.
In the next year, views of my site jumped over 10-fold to 592 a month and unique visitors to 174.
This wasn’t because my content was so much better. One simple thing changed in February 2016 – I joined an online community. Friday Fictioneers is a group of writers that varies between 70 and 100 people a month, producing a hundred-word flash fiction each week. Posting these stories exposed me to a bigger audience, not just for the weekly stories but also for my other content. Why not join it too? It’s managed by Rochelle Wisoff .
Since joining the community, my stats have continued to build slowly. In the 10 months to January 2018, views grew a further 22% to an average of 721 a month and individual visitors rose 28% to 222 a month.
The slow growth coming from Friday Fictioneers will take a long time to reach the next level (say 1,000 hits a month). But this strategy worked so well that it may be worth finding other communities. The difference between a community and the other approaches is that it’s not a one-off: you’re engaging permanently – building credibility, trust and relationships.
Strategies I’ve tried
|Strategy||Average increase in reads||Permanent change|
|Cross post in other communities||15||1 follower|
|Mentions by others||40||No|
Other writing communities
However. I have tried other communities in the past – Webook, a writers’ community about to go into liquidation, as well as publishing online on Wattpad and on Big World Network. None has been as effective as Friday Fictioneers.
Authors Publish suggests four communities worth joining.
- Lit Hive aims to be a community that unites writers with readers. The most widely read book received 19 comments, the most recent over two years ago. The discussion boards seem equally inactive.
- Scribophile is a large members-only community of writers and claims 858,776 critiques for 145,608 works, an average of just under six responses per work. Being a closed group, it has the advantage that it shouldn’t prevent you submitting your work elsewhere.
- Writers Network is another writing community.
- Writers Café is another writing community. Its server was achingly slow when I tested it.
2. Engage more with readers and potential readers
I have probably not been as generous as I should be in reciprocating readers’ interest. I pretty much do respond to all comments, but I don’t necessarily reciprocate follows and likes or build a conversation. Some ideas are:
- Follow more people (particularly if they follow me)
- Join in the conversation on others’ sites
- Build and maintain an e-mail list with unique content for regular followers and attentive commenters. There’s a saying in marketing about the importance of e-mail promotion “the money’s in the list”. This is the strategy I’m currently experimenting with.
The reason I haven’t done these things isn’t aloofness. It’s shyness. I engage with friends and colleagues I know well, but it takes me out of my comfort zone to do that with strangers. In a very British way, it just seems pushy. The whole language of “building your author brand” just makes me a little queasy. But, building trust and relationships I understand. So of course, I have to spend time outside my comfort zone if I want to engage with the community of other writers and readers. The idea of building relationships (rather than selling) is fundamental here.
3. Engage other people’s readers
Engaging other people’s readers might help make the next jump.
- Guest posts. Invite other people to do guest posts on my blog and solicit invitations to post on theirs. I tried this a little bit in the past on A Writer’s Path (with over 26,000 followers), which didn’t generate much evident short-term boost to my stats, but then I haven’t explored this systematically. I have a guest post coming up 4 May on Dee Cee Taylor’s blog It’s All About Books as part of a blog tour to promote the Climate Fiction anthology Nothing is as it was (in which I have a story) to be published on Earth Day 22 April by Retreat West Books.
- Reblog other people’s posts. Hopefully they’ll reciprocate.
- Interview other people. I had intended to establish a regular series of interviews with other writers. I did one in 2015, a conversation with A U Latif, author of Songs From the Laughing Tree. I never got around to doing any more, until this February when I published an interview with Claire Fuller.
I can track an additional 19 reads this brought to my blog, so this isn’t going to boost my followers into the thousands. However one friend did say “Would love to see you post more such interviews. So helpful to compare another writer’s process with mine, get new ideas for approaching research, see how things evolve.” So it falls into the category of posting what others want to read.
- Mention other people in your posts and tell them you’ve done so. For example, I wrote one post thanking some writers for their support. Their friends did read the post.
- Write a “top ten” list, any top ten list, it doesn’t really matter. For example, the top ten sites for advice to writers. This is a much more intricate take on the previous idea. The idea is that at least some of them and their followers will read your post and you’ll pick up some as your own readers.
- Include reviews of books you’ve liked. Again, I’ve done this sporadically on my blog, but most of my book reviews go on Goodreads, where I don’t have much of a profile.
The basic driver behind all these ideas is good old-fashioned vanity. Everyone likes to see themselves in print. We read our reviews and what others are saying about us. (You obviously have to let the people know you’ve done it, so they’ll go and look and tell their friends about it). And, of course, if you choose people with thousands of followers, you’re more likely to pick up new readers. The challenge, though, is to convert them into regular readers, which goes back to having good content. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: ruthless self-promotion will only end up looking like what it is; you have to engage with what people want, not with what they can do for you. In other words, be genuine and interested in them and, if you can’t, don’t do it all.
4. The techie stuff – don’t worry about keywords
It used to be the case that spending a lot of time massaging the tags and keywords on your site could make a huge difference to your ranking on search engines. There still are ways in which you can manipulate this, but it’s much less important than it used to be. Google no longer uses keywords to rank its output.
To prove this, I checked out the page rank score for my blog on the Moz site and compared it with two other writers’ sites (which I won’t name). My site has one keyword (my name) and a page rank of 40. The page rank indicates how prominent the page is likely to be on search engines, out of a possible 100. The two writers I compared myself with (both with significant followings) have 80 and 19 keywords respectively and both have page ranks of 41. J.K. Rowling, by comparison, has a page rank of 77.
So, if like me you’re bored with fiddling under the hood of your site, you can pretty much ignore this. The only thing you need to know is that you’ll rank higher if you include useful links in your posts, and particularly if others link to you.
5. More techie stuff – best time and day to publish
Another set of data you might or might not want to ignore is that on the best time and day to publish. There’s a useful summary of several studies by Garret Moon. These suggest that the best day for page views may be Monday morning between 9:00 and 12:00 Eastern Standard Time.
Two of the studies indicate that the best time for comments and shares is at the weekend. This would make sense, since there’s less competition from other posts then, and people have more free time. However, another study indicates that the best time for shares is Thursday at 10:00 a.m. EST.
The reality is probably that you should be guided by your own experience. A lot will depend on who your audience is and where they’re located. Your blog provider will probably give you some analytics and installing Google Analytics will give you more. In my case, around 35% of my readership is from the US, around 27% from the UK, and 17% from India. My highest page views come on Wednesday between 8:00 and 10:00 EST. That is for the simple reason that Friday Fictioneers publishes on a Wednesday.
I’ll let you know which of these strategies I experiment with, and with what results.
What strategies have you tried to increase traffic to your site? How did they work out? I’d love to hear your experience.