Friday, January 05, 2007

Where the Traffic Comes From

The first step towards building a successful marketing plan is understanding your potential customers.

As bloggers, many of us watch our SiteMeter readings to see how many people have stopped by our blogs and read our work. There are endless posts out there giving tips on how to increase your traffic. I've watched mine for almost a year and I have a really good handle on how it works. Very recently, I started looking at others' SiteMeter accounts to see how they get hits. It's been very illuminating.

First of all, forget about digg and technorati and the rest of those rate-my-blog-post things. I looked through at least a dozen blogs, many of them much more popular than mine, and didn't find even one hit from those kinds of sites. Not one. I've avoided putting links to those sites at the bottom of my posts for aesthetic reasons, but I always wondered if I was throwing away tons of traffic. I wasn't. They're like the lottery. If you hit, it's traffic beyond your imagination.

You never hit.

What I found were three classes of blogs. They are differentiated by what you see on their SiteMeter "by Referrals" page. Here's my current "by Referrals" page so you can see how my blog works.

The first set are the blogs with lots of loyal readers. For them, most of the entries are "unknown." That means that the visitors came from their browser's favorites list and showed up because they love to read the site. These bloggers post frequently and focus on a single subject. The readers know what they're going to find and know they'll enjoy the visit.

The second set are the ones that get most of their hits from search engines. These bloggers post frequently about many different subjects. As time goes on, the number of search terms that produces them as a link increases and so does their traffic. My guess is that these visitors are random traffic that beams in and beams out. For example, I had a hit recently on the search term "vampire attacks" for this post. I doubt that visitor will be back.

The last set are those that rely on secondary traffic. They get links from bloggers in the first set linking to individual posts. That's me. Over time, a large percentage of my traffic has come from the WOG Squad, which has several members with tons of loyal readers and the two Carnivals I participate in every week, the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. Both of these are guaranteed to have a large number of loyal visitors, a subset of which will come to your post. Since these visitors are there just to see that particular post, they don't stay long. They return to the referring blog and move on from there. You can tell this by looking at the details page in SiteMeter. If they see only one page then they read your post and backed out the way they came. Here's mine.

Once you understand how your blog traffic works, you can start to tailor your blog posts to maximize it. If you are in the first class, I would think that honing your writing skills and interacting with your readers would be crucial. Loyalty to your readers is everything.

If you are in the second class, it's just a matter of posting as much as you can. You are sifting random visitors out of the eddies and currents of the Internet. The more ways you have to get into your blog, the more visitors you will get.

If you are in the third set, you need to cultivate relationships with your linkers and find more. Make sure that you're writing posts they like and will link to. Look through their blogrolls for similar bloggers who might be willing to link and send traffic. In this case you're serving both the reader and the linker.

When I started this blog, I thought I would be in the first set and that I could develop a growing, loyal readership. Instead, I watched SiteMeter too closely and distorted my writing to get quick, big strikes. If you want to be in the first class of bloggers, you have to accept that reader growth will be very slow and spend your time honing your skills.

For more posts on blogging and cash, visit Kumiko's Carnival.


Aloysius said...

Interesting analysis. I get a modest amount of traffic from COTC and the Friday Ark. There are also some subjects that people seem to be endlessly curious about, such as whether cats snore. Some of those who look up those evergreen subjects seem to stay and poke around a bit to see what else I've posted.

Heather in Beautiful BC said...

Hey, I don't have time to read your whole post right now, but it sounds really helpful.

Thanks for your funny comment about the aliens - I haven't gone yet :)

I'll put a link up right after I get home from dinner!