Just as I had almost announced the end of (my) blogs in Spring 2013 after my first attendance at South by South West (SxSW), I took to blogging quite passionately again after my second trip to Austin this Spring.
I couldn’t really explain why but the urge to share stories, tips and insights on what matters to me (and hopefully a few others too) was just too strong. As I started blogging again, I used the opportunity to test a number of blogging and digital communication strategies, nothing fancy, just a couple of best practices picked up here and there to see what would happen.
By no means did I have something scientific in mind, and my conclusions are based on around 50 blog posts, so I’m not building the case for a full-blown thesis. But for those of you who also blog personally or professionally, there might be a few worthwhile take-aways.
What the blog statistics say
Here are the 10 most visited blog posts since I started my blog in 2010.
- 10 Social media trends in 2016
- Uncovering new areas of my brain at my first meditation class
- Change by design: a book review
- Best free iPhone and iPad apps about the EU
- Mindfulness is to meditation what McDonald’s is to gastronomy
- Of grumpy cats, the next innovation and the end of (my) blogs
- Join global conversations on development policy, practice and research
- Participatory leadership and the Art of Hosting
- Anatomy of a modern travel diary
- First impressions from SxSW Interactive 2013
There are some clear trends:
Uneven years were more successful: nothing to do with superstition or the power of primary numbers, but more with what happened during those years (e.g. my attendance at South by South West in 2013 and 2015).
The most successful post is pretty recent, less than 1 month old, compared to the second most successful one which is 4 years old. It’s a <strong>’viral’ success, not surprising considering its topic 🙂
2015 is by far my most active year and the one in which I’ve implemented some of the blogging techniques I’ll detail below, which could explain the relative success of several posts from 2015.
There is no French post in my top 10 although 43% of all my blog posts are in French. Interestingly, most blog posts in French reflect the deeper and more important topics in my life: motherhood, nature, autonomy, happiness, the meaning of life.
2015 blogging lessons learnt
Almost half of all my blog posts are in French, yet none of them made it to the top 10, why? There are several reasons I can identify:
- my website structure is in EN and all the metadata produced is in English; though this should only have a limited impact, it does count in terms of findability of my content on search engines;
- my community of regular readers is more English-speaking than French-speaking;
- the topics of these blog posts are less ‘sexy’ and appealing to blog readers.
Looking at the countries of the visitors of my blog, it also strikes me that most visitors would either understand their mother tongue (French being marginal) and for many of them English as an international language. The chances of getting more traffic on a English-speaking post are just mathematical higher in relation to my blog’s audience.
Tip 1: avoid multiple languages on a blog if you want more traffic. In my case, I don’t care because it’s my personal blog and it reflects who I am.
Some topics are just trendier
Put a cat on it and they’ll flock to your blog posts… Seriously? Yes! You’ve just proved my point.
The top 10 blog posts all relate to a limited number of topics, which are also among my pet subjects:
- social media, mobile and digital (1, 4, 6, 10)
- meditation (2, 5)
- innovation and leadership (3, 8)
- global development (7)
- travel (10)
Trending topics like social media, design thinking, mindfulness, innovation, Grumpy Cat therefore attracted more attention and created a virtuous loop of traffic with referrals from search engines, other sites and social networks, especially for the top blog post on social media trends in 2016.
Tip 2: Knowing which topics will work better is one of the skills of a good marketer and should be yours too if you want your blog posts to spread.
Controversy is not always a recipe for success…
But it helps!
3 out of the 10 top blog posts are controversial and two even make sure the controversy is stated clearly in the title. These 3 posts are nonetheless outliers compared to the more informative yet personal posts that garnered the majority of visits on my blog.
Tip 3: if you’re into controversy, make sure to keep it informative. If you’re into providing fact-based personal accounts on different topics, pick a provocative or controversial fact from your post and use it to promote your content online.
Newsletters and their impact on traffic
I’ve added a newsletter subscribe feature on my site sometime around summer 2015, and although the system is basic (you receive an HTML email with a teaser for my latest article), I noticed the number of regular visitors by 20% in 6 months.
How much the subscription feature played a role on it is still open though as I do not have a system that shows me referrals from newsletter links.
Which brings me to SuMoMe. Maybe you’ve heard about it: it’s the new whiz kid on the blog block. SuMoMe is a website traffic growth package composed of several tools that will help you grow blog traffic and increase engagement and loyalty. I loaded it to my WordPress site but haven’t had the chance to deploy it yet, although I find many of its features really interesting.
There are two reasons for that:
- The first one is that the free version is really quite basic, and even a bit too spammy for me (if I put myself in the shoes of a visitor). As I maintain a personal blog and don’t need to make money out of it, I really don’t see the point in going for the paid version.
- The second reason is that I’m lazy and there are quite a few things to configure on it before it looks really professional. So I haven’t totally given up on it, and hope to be able to report on its use in 2016 🙂
Tip 4: if you’re serious about your web traffic, get a tool that helps you boost traffic in an intelligent and non-spammy way. There are some really good tools out there, including SuMoMe, though none will provided totally satisfactory if you don’t chip in a few bucks.
Engagement is dead (on blogs)
Now this trend is pretty obvious on my blog, but I also noticed it on other people’s blogs I follow. I do get quite some interaction on my content when I publish it on social media, but the conversations that are started on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram never really make it to my blog.
I do the same actually: I never comment on blogs (sorry Jon!), but I will enter into (sometimes heated) debate on other people’s content published on social media channels.
I also receive a few questions per month via email about posts I published that people found via search engines. So I would say that on average my content does lean more toward the informational angle and less toward the controversial or hype angle. Not a bad thing per se as I wouldn’t simply have the time to read and react to dozens of comments per post!
I tried to implement a trick I spotted on some blogs to generate more engagement, which consists of adding an engaging question at the end to hear from your visitors. Either people don’t read till the end of my posts (probable in any case on the basis of web stats about skimming vs reading), or people are still too lazy to comment on blogs, or both, or still something completely different. I’ll never know, except that it didn’t work – I’m still doing it though as I like the question format as an ending to blog posts.
Tip 5: if you are serious about comments on your blog, you will need to put all the chances on our side (read: implement all the plugins that let people comment directly from social media) and be sure to spare some time to engage properly with those who comment.
Guest posts don’t work on personal blogs
I published my first guest blog post (link) in December following a proposal I received on a topic I found interesting. The experience was new to me and I thought “Why not?”. The blog post got almost 300 hits, which is quite decent, but the whole exercise didn’t make me feel good afterwards, because I thought it was odd to let other people express opinions on a blog which is supposed to be my take on the world.
I still like the idea though in theory and would love feedback from users about the concept of guest blog posts on personal blogs: does it make sense?
Tip 6: no tip actually, I’d love to hear from more experienced bloggers on guest blogging.
The old quality vs quantity debate
I couldn’t make up my mind whether the above stats were of any help in the old quantity vs. quality debate in terms of getting more traffic to your blog.
In fact, I consider most of my blog posts to be of good quality. I never publish things ‘à chaud’ as we say in French, in the heat of the moment, and always take time to get my facts right and to illustrate my content in a meaningful way.
I also make sure to create links with previous content or refer to previous articles that could be relevant to those reading me. This is not only good for internal search optimization; it also says more about me as a person than the only blog post they will maybe ever get to read. In the end I don’t really care if my blog posts get a lot of traffic or not, what I do care about it the conversations it triggers or the people it helps in doing their job better, changing their lifestyle or being less stressed as a mum. If I achieve some of these objectives – which are not measured in stats obviously – then I’m a happy bunny!
And then there’s the pleasure of writing in itself, which no amount of traffic, high or low, can spoil…
Tip 7: if you’re maintaining a personal blog, you shouldn’t give a damn about traffic – apart from that little ego boost from time to time 😉 If you’re maintain a professional blog, well, then it’s “all about the money” as they sing.
So fellow bloggers and writers, what are your lessons learnt from 2015?