Driving more traffic to my blog

I have been running my blog for a little over a year now and after getting over the fear of writing content, the next biggest challenge I ran into was driving traffic to it. It seems I did something right with one of my posts that brings in one or two organic visitors a day but I’m not entirely sure what I did to achieve that. For the rest of my content, I noticed the amount of traffic coming in is equal to the amount of effort I put into promoting it. I wanted to see if there was a more sustainable way of growing traffic for my blog so I reached out to some experts in the field to see what they had to say.

Luca Sartoni

Luca is a Growth Engineer at Automattic, he’s my go-to reference for everything a/b test related and as of now also SEO/SEM. When I asked Luca what I should do to get more traffic to my site he responded with the advice he gives everyone that asks the same question:

It’s all about consistency, differentiation of channels, and concertation.

Consistency: A piece of content should be consistently promoted across all your channels. Images and headlines are important for grabbing attention so make sure to use something that works well everywhere keeping in mind that images still need to be formatted appropriately for each channel. Luca suggests that you can’t go wrong with a title under 120 characters.

Differentiation of channels: For maximum impact, a piece of content should be distributed on all channels. Every channel has a different cost and reach so your overall distribution will be impacted by the amount of money or time you spend on it.

Luca finds that paid channels always out perform organic ones. Although organic channels are free, they end up being more expensive when you look at the time and resources you put into getting it right. It’s is hard to measure your efforts and can take a long time to see the results come through. Alternatively, with paid channels you can buy traffic and optimize your output in real time.

Concertation: Channels are not only interdependent on each other but also complimentary. It’s important to keep in mind how they all play off each other. Social media channels like Facebook also operate as search engines. For this reason, your efforts for picking the best keywords are not only important for search engines but also on social media channels. Another good example is how traffic coming to your site through an organic search can drive traffic to your social channels which would increase your ability to engage with these people.

Luca stresses that focusing on a single channel won’t get you the results you need. You shouldn’t be thinking of search engine optimization OR search engine advertising, it should be search engine optimization AND search engine advertising.

Simon Heaton

Simon is a Growth Marketing Manager at Shopify, we worked together for a couple years on the same team and saw some incredible growth on the Shopify Partners Blog thanks to Simon’s efforts. He believes that search engine optimization is a key contributor to sustainable growth. It can be hard to compete on keywords depending on your subject matter so Simon suggests going with a long-tail approach where you optimize for a bunch of small, more relevant keywords where the aggregate volume has potential to be larger than those whales.

According to Wordstream.com long-tail keywords are:

Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific keyword phrases that visitors are more likely to use when they’re closer to a point-of-purchase or when they’re using voice search. They’re a little bit counter-intuitive, at first, but they can be hugely valuable if you know how to use them.

Take this example: if you’re a company that sells classic furniture, the chances are that your pages are never going to appear near the top of an organic search for “furniture” because there’s too much competition (this is particularly true if you’re a smaller company or a startup). But if you specialize in, say, contemporary art-deco furniture, then keywords like “contemporary Art Deco-influenced semi-circle lounge” are going to reliably find those consumers looking for exactly that product.

Managing long-tail keywords is simply a matter of establishing better lines of communication between your business and the customers who are already out there, actively shopping for what you provide.

Obviously, you’re going to draw less traffic with a long-tail keyword than you would with a more common one, but the traffic you do draw will be better: more focused, more committed, and more desirous of your services.

Alex Hosselet

Alex is Digital & Marketing Strategist for United Way Ottawa, we worked together a number of years where Alex was a marketing manager on a product I designed for. I always admired Alex’s passion for connecting with people and measuring results.

Alex’s advice was to make sure you have a good combination of content strategy and search engine optimization. Content strategy is all about making the right content that attracts people. That involves taking the time to understand your audience and developing a plan with clear goals that can be measured. Search engine optimization is a combination of writing, research, and coding best practices.

Takeaways

My biggest take away is there’s no silver bullet to getting more traffic — it’s a lot of hard work. If you want people to visit your site, you need to pay with your time or money. Based on these conversations, here are some of the tactics I’ll employ to increase traffic to my blog:

  • Share content on as many channels as possible,
  • Try paid advertising,
  • Optimize posts for long-tail keywords and SEO best practices, and
  • Improve visibility of my social media channels on my website.

Creating empathy for your customers

In my last post, I wrote how we use interviews to learn about our customers. They allow us to ask them questions and in their responses we find insights and get inspired. In this post, I’d like to share some other ways we build empathy for the people using our products.

Support Rotation 💬

It starts from our first day on the job. Everyone that joins Automattic spends three weeks doing what’s called a support rotation. We learn about our products by reading support documentation and running through exercises. Once we’ve completed our training, we get to business and start offering support to our customers with our Happiness team. We start by answering inquiries by email and then upgrade to doing live chat.

After we complete our rotation we are released into our new roles with a wealth of knowledge about our company and our customers. That’s not the end though, once a year we return back to the Happiness for a week to offer more customer support. It’s a great way for us to keep in touch with the challenges our customers are facing.

Business concierge 💼

When people sign up for the WordPress.com Business plan they get access to a one on one setup appointment from a member of our Happiness team. The sessions are conducted over live chat or screen share and usually last around 30 minutes. The goal for these sessions is for the user to walk away feeling comfortable and confident building their site on WordPress.com.

In addition to helping our customers, we use these sessions to learn. Anyone can join in real time or listen to a recording at a time that suits them. There is no limit to how many sessions you can attend. After each session, the recording and notes are tagged and posted. Our support team uses these posts to generate monthly reports that give us great insights into who our customers are and the challenges they face. For someone like me that works on our signup and onboarding experiences the content in these reports is invaluable.

User research campfires 🔥

Every month members from across Automattic gather to share their stories about the research they’re conducting. We do presentations, have discussions, and talk about our processes. Through these sessions we hear about our customers and what we’re doing to overcome their challenges. It’s a great place to learn from each other and grow our skills a team. The meetups are recorded for people that can’t attend and serve as a reference to new people joining our team.

Web chefs 🍜

We are often encouraged to build sites for people we know or encounter. There is no better way to experience your product than using it in real world situations. With limited time, resources, and budgets you get a first hand encounter of the challenges people face using your product.

Out of all the activities I’ve written in this post, this is my favorite way of getting close to our customers and building empathy for them. The insights I’ve gained have helped me make better decisions in my design process and allow me to offer great feedback to my peers.

I’m always interested to learn how people conduct their research. What have you found to be an effective way of learning from your customers? Let me know in the comments below.

This post also appeared in Automattic’s product design blog.

Observing your customers in the wild

I’ve been trying a new ethnographic research technique called Sales Safari. It was developed by cross functional designers Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman. It unfortunately isn’t very well documented so I decided to write about it after reading how to do it in a book called  “Designing Products People Love” by Scott Hurff.

The goal of this approach is to create great products by studying what your customers are saying. Insights come from analyzing large quantities of data collected from online public spaces like forums and social networks. I thought it might work well to craft a great signup experience for our customers on the new project I’m working on.

How I ran my Sales Safari

I started by identifying the places where our customers hang out. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Reddit and the WP.com forums where a good places to start. Later, I also reviewed some of our customer’s sites, survey responses, and support requests. I closely read through the conversations while visiting each location. Phrases that stuck out to me were copied and pasted in a spreadsheet. I created a single keyword to summarize the phrase so I could categorize them later. Here’s how Hillman describes what you should be looking for:

“You start collecting jargon, some of their specific detailed language and words they use to describe the problem […] Elements and contributions to their worldview, their deep-seated beliefs that are unshakable. Then also the things that they talk about, they recommend. The things that they buy.”

As I progressed, I felt like this was a never ending process. There is so much content out there. Each conversation lead to another and sometimes even to a whole new “watering hole” — a term Amy uses to describe places where people go to share their views. I eventually decided I had enough data to take a peek. As I started grouping the phrases by keyword, the patterns started to become clear right away.

What I learned

After going through this process I definitely feel like I know more about our customers than when we started. This kind of research takes a lot of time and isn’t ever really over. I intend to continue doing it on a regular basis to stay in touch with what our customers are saying and feeling. This new understanding of our customers has both empowered and inspired me to explore different ways we can show people the value of our product early on so we they can stick around with us for longer.

Share your thoughts

Have you tried this approach before? Do you have other ways you like to learn from your customers? Reach out on Twitter and let me know.