Zak’s Top-10 Tips for Blog Traffic

In today’s (Nov 9th) St. Louis Post-Dispatch (p. M1), Dan Zak from the Washington Post has an article entitled “Long-haul Blogging” that gives a top ten list for increasing blogging traffic and survival. I can’t seem to find the article online to link to so I will paraphrase the top ten list and offer a few comments.

  1. Tell engaging stories This is something I need to work on, but Zak is also talking about not putting up mainly a post with just a link to somewhere else. On the other hand, the carnival posts are very popular and useful for those who get linked. I guess the answer is just don’t overdo it, and post other things too.
  2. Create your own voice: Zak is talking here about claiming your own niche (on one topic) or posting on many topics with a “singular tone”. Well, I think I have staked out my niche — early medieval North Britain and its saints through the ages. Probably too narrow to attract much traffic. In time I hope to branch out to the rest of the British Isles, but its still a small niche. I still need to work on developing a catchy tone.
  3. Easy navigation: This is where the indexes on the left margin of my blog come in. All those words in the Tag Cloud are links to categories and relative size indicates how many posts it represents. They do work well at generating hits. The categories and tags help search engines find posts. I get at least 10-15 hits from search engines per day and that is growing. Zak suggests setting up a tool to feature high quality blogs by using a “most commented on blogs” tool for the left margin. I added top posts to my sidebar instead. I always find it interesting to see which old posts are keeping up with the new ones. WordPress calculates top posts as top hits over the last 24-48 hours. I think the “Recent Comments” tool is also very helpful at getting a conversation started, if you have enough comments to keep it active (and I don’t always). Derek the Ænglican is the king of comments so I know how well the tool works on haligweork. (There is nothing mainline Christians like to ‘discuss’ more than liturgy! 😉 )
  4. Create a blogroll: Most blogs I read have this down pat.
  5. Include traffic directing widgets: There is some limitation here in that wordpress does not allow java code on their blogs and most of these widgets use java. I’ll have to do without these as I really like wordpress’s other features.
  6. Comment on other blogs: the article suggests spending twice as much time commenting on other blogs as you spend on your own. I think this is a little hard on medievalist blogs because we cover such different topics. There are many blogs that I like to read, but they are just too far out of my area to really comment on. Some of my most read blogs include: Unlocked Wordhoard (popular medievalism), Haligweorc (medieval and modern liturgy), 10th century Europe (medieval Catalonia/general medieval), Following Columba (Spirituality), and Episcopal Cafe (magazine-type group blog). Either they don’t really invite comments or they are usually too far out of my area.
  7. Get linked by “the Big Boys”: A big thank you to everyone who has linked me to their blogs, particularly Dr. Nokes and Derek the Ænglican.
  8. Nominate your blog for awards: Not really my style.
  9. Post consistently and with passion: This one should be much higher up than #9. I know here at Heavenfield there is a direct correlation between blogging frequency and consistent hits. It makes sense that this is necessary to develop regular readers. I think two or three blogs a week are probably the minimum (not that I always meet that).
  10. Join blogging community groups: Well, whenever I make my way back to Kalamazoo, I hope there is a blogger meet-up, but short of that its hard for medievalists scattered all over to meet. The next best suggestion would be a discussion list restricted to bloggers.

My nominations for 11th and 12th tip:

  • Come up with a regular feature and keep it up: Jennifer Lynn Jordan’s Weird Medieval Animal Monday (WMAM) is a good example that I think is probably generating a lot of traffic for her. I’m giving this a shot with my ‘person of the week’ and ‘lost kingdom of the month’. Other possibilities would be something like a quote of the week.
  • Pay attention to what topics get the most hits: WordPress provides really good stats so it is possible to see the actual terms that people put into search engines. Between those terms and which old posts continue to get hits it should be possible to determine what your readers want to read about. I haven’t really haven’t made any major changes in my topics based on this but I am more open to some topics than I might have otherwise been. Now what might have been a one time topic may occasionally reappear.

So what do you all think of Zak’s top-10 and my additions? I’m certainly open to suggestions that could improve how Heavenfield functions.

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6 thoughts on “Zak’s Top-10 Tips for Blog Traffic

  1. I’m always a little skeptical of these “How to Make Your Blog Get 10 Zillion Hits an Hour” articles, because I’m not sure having a lot of readers is the point. If blogs were sitcoms in the pre-cable TV era, having lots and lots of viewers would be the point. Blogs, however, aren’t so much about touching the most people — they’re about touching the RIGHT people, i.e. people who are interested in your topic. If you’re only getting 50 hits a month, but those 50 hits are from people who are interested in what you are writing and are doing more than scanning and moving along … well, you’re having an impact.

    In my case, for example, I didn’t choose my niche, my niche chose me. If you look at my first months of blog posting, it was all over the place. After a while, narrowed it down to focus on anything literary. After that, I narrowed it further to focus on the medieval. Finally, I found that so many non-scholars were using my site as a portal into the rest of the medieval blogosphere that the best community-building service I could do would be to have the site be broadly-medieval, focused on popular medievalism as the “bait.”

    The point is, you don’t have to change everything about your blog to get more traffic, but you might consider changes that serve the traffic you already have. As far as I can tell, you’re doing a fine job in that area. You’ve been blogging, what, about seven months, and have in excess of 2,000 hits. That’s not the Drudge Report or the Daily Kos, but it’s a lot more than most blogs see — and in your case, it’s the right people, people who are interested enough that they’re going to read your whole post.

    Don’t forget, too, RSS readership, which doesn’t register as a “hit” on your counter. When I compare my hit tracker with who my commenters are, I can see that most of my traffic probably never registers on the hit counter. That’s actually GOOD news, because that means that most people who read my site care enough to want to read (or at least glance at) every post. I, for one, subscribe to your site through Google Reader, so while I don’t usually count as a hit on your counter, I read every single post you write.

    In other words, take Zak’s advice, but don’t make changes in pursuit of traffic unless those changes are things you want to write about. You’re already doing a great job!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement! I hesitate to say it, but I’m pretty happy with the way Heavenfield is developing. I don’t plan on making any major changes. Tips on things like blog settings etc are welcome. WordPress’ stats package does register a few hits from Google Reader, so I don’t know if that is people following links on Google Reader to the main site to look around more, or if it is them reading their Google Reader feeds. Do you recommend RSS feeds being full posts or summaries?

    I would like to see more medieval blogs and that is part of the reason I put this post up. I bet a lot of people are working on projects that they could blog their way through that would interest other medievalists. It might also be useful to the field for people to see medievalists at work, to see their method. I would think that students would like to see senior scholars at work (if only to know that senior scholars run into dead-ends and have frustrations too).

  3. I follow this blog via iGoogle. Every time there’s a new post, whap, I’m there. Personally, I’d like to see the full post rather than a snippet or a summary; it’s my feeling that as more of us migrate to viewing via mobile platforms, we might have less patience with that extra step. (FYI I’m a very long way from that, myself, but I know others who only look at the web these day via their iPhone.)

    I’d like to see more blogs, too. (I’m enjoying this one immensely.) I’d start one myself, but I’m not a medievalist, I’m a novelist, and I’m not sure scholars would enjoy my weekly puzzlement at yet another thing I thought I knew turning to dust in my hands as I begin to actually write. There again, perhaps it would be a form of light relief (ha ha ha, she thinks five year-old girls wore veils!) after a hard day in the archives or standing in front of a class.

  4. Definitely keep doing what you’re doing. Niche blogs will only reach so many readers; the goal is to do your niche well, and to have a good sense of what things about your niche keep your readers interested.

    The lack of Javascript support on WordPress really frustrates me. I love the engine but that limitation is a biggy in my book.

    I wouldn’t consider myself on the “Big Boys” but thank you… 🙂 It is true that there nothing like a volatile (liturgical) topic to bring commenters out of the woodwork!

    The single biggest influence on my traffic isn’t mentioned here and that’s to participate in a successful group blog. Since I started writing for the Episcopal Cafe my traffic my daily hit count has reached a new baseline almost double of what it was before…

  5. Derek, I think the Episcopal Cafe is in a league of its own. There are 2+ million Episcopalians in the US and that’s a small fraction of world-wide Anglicans (some of whom will drop by the cafe). If you get 5-10% of TEC dropping by occasionally, that’s a massive number of people. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m on the rector search committee at my church and we just completed a parish survey. I made sure there was a technology question in the demographics part and the results surprised me… 82% of the parish can be reached by email or has internet access. I thought that it would be a majority but 82% was a pleasant surprise.

    Nicola, good point about the hand-held readers. I can’t imagine that the iPhone is really the same as looking at a full size screen. I imagine most people who use hand-held devices use readers that just deliver text. I don’t know of any novelists who do blogs, but I haven’t really looked. A group of historical novelists might be a good group for a group blog.

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