Simply Recipes gets over 20,000 visitors per day, and over 1,000,000 page views per month. Author Elise Bauer shared some of her learnings and opinions on best practices for building blog traffic with the women at BlogHer 2006:
Selecting the value that you deliver is key to developing an audience. Specifically, Bauer recommended that you choose one of these three types of information: useful, entertaining, or timely. It appears anecdotally that useful blog posts have the longest legs - they'll be read again and again, and maintain relevance over time, continuing to attract readers - but that timely blog posts will drive more traffic in the short term.
Bauer has three pillars for audience-building: good content, engaged community, and well-applied technology:
Focus Your Content
In order to build traffic, you need to blog about something you care about. Not only because it will come through in your writing, but also because if you don't care about the subject, you won't invest the time it takes to build a successful blog over years. Bauer broke down these top five tips for building traffic through your content:
- Post frequently, but not at the expense of quality. This is very important if you're a timely blogger.
- Use images and photographs. Humans are visual, so we're drawn to photographic elements. Using images will also break up the monotony of long text.
- Write well. Post as concisely as you can in a blog, since it's very difficult for the eye to go through a very long post. Write with two- to three-sentence paragraphs if you expect people to read your blog online rather than by printing it out.
- Consider headlines and post size. There are two approaches to headlines: use something snappy and eye-catching, or use something that a search engine would like. Bauer uses keywords that Google would like, since she most cares about being found in search results.
- Engage readers with polls, top 10 lists, contests, how-to's, interviews, and/or controversial topics. In particular, other bloggers love to link to Top 10 lists. These are all elements that will make your blog more interesting. One cautionary note: don't step into controversy, unless you feel passionate about a position and will invest in defending it.
Engage Your Community
Connect to bloggers who share your interests. Link to them, leave comments, and make contributions to the community. If you make thoughtful comments on someone else's site, they will start to notice you. You can also plan or join a blogging event such as Is My Blog Burning?, if you want to develop awareness.
Tune Your Site's Technology
Bauer ran through a quick primer on blog technology and its practical applications. To start with, be aware of the means by which other people will find your blog:
- Another Web site
- Google, Technorati, or other search engines
- Browser bookmarks to your site (repeat visitors)
- News feeds (RSS feeds) via news readers such as Bloglines, MyYahoo!, or Google
- Del.icio.us, Technorati, or other tagging and social bookmarking tools. Bauer gets a lot of traffic from del.icio.us because she uses it to bookmark the information on her own site.
- Someone emailed your URL
- Press. Make it easy for the journalists who cover your space to find you, and offer yourself as a knowledge resource about your space.
Search engines are likely to be your most significant channel for connecting with readers. All search engines work from algorithms, which decide what site will come to the top when a potential reader does a search. Develop these elements in order to enhance your page rank:
- Links from other Web sites
- Links from Web sites with a high page rank
- Text-based content, rather than Flash or images. (Search engines can't process Flash...it makes your pages look blank to a search engine.)
- Use of keywords in text
- Page titles
- Good HTML structure and appropriate use of header tags.
Bloggers should also be aware of what will detract from their page ranks:
- Links to link farms and spam sites. Although your rank doesn't get affected if a spam site links to you, your site could be delisted entirely if it links back to a spam site. This means that bloggers MUST check their comments - if someone adds a spam link in a comment on your post, the search engine will count it against you.
- 404 errors that go to pages that don't exist.
Bauer also provide a list of site design rules that can help in building readership:
- Keep image size to < 15.5K
- Keep page length and size to < 100K
- Use a readable font size
- Reduce clutter that makes your message hard to cull out
- Start at the upper left hand side, and learn about eye tracking methodology
- Avoid color backgrounds behind text - research studies have
repeatedly shown that black font on white background is vastly easier
- Use sans serif fonts for small blocks of text, and serifed fonts for long blocks of text
- Use search bars, especially if you have a deep content archive
- Provide categories
- Test your site for multiple browsers - different browsers render quite differently
- Support a screen resolution of 800 x 600
Promote Your Feed
Feeds send updates to feed readers. Feedburner (which I use and recommend) provides intelligent feed management and feed statistics. Another service, Feedblitz (which I also use and recommend), will send your most recent content to readers via email.
Bauer's final advice: Align yourself with other people with like interests in order to develop traffic. Focus your attention as much as possible onto whatever that one thing is. This will not only help you to attract other people, but also to use your own energy effectively.