As a follow-up to our series on writing for the Web, we decided to focus on what NOT to do when you blog and how to drive traffic away running and screaming. You’ll notice we left out the tip “Don’t write insanely long blog posts” because, well, if you dive in deep to a topic it’s tough to limit to the standard 500 words—so let’s jump right into it!
Write vague headlines
According to Brian Clark of Copyblogger fame, eight of ten people only read headlines—which means only two fortunate souls of every ten continue to read the entire article. As a writer, that stings a little, but it makes sense. Your headline will appear in search results, feed readers, and subject lines with only a handful of words to stop readers cold and draw them into your article.
While you may have heard that authors often don’t title their books until they’re finished writing, this isn’t Eat. Pray. Love.—it’s a blog post. Writing the headline first can help you approach the article with a clear idea of what you’re trying to communicate and why it’s worth reading. This will force you to stay on message and write with direct purpose.
Here are a few tips for developing a compelling headline:
- Use Google’s free Adwords Keyword Tool to determine competitive phrases and words around your topic
- Make sure your headline includes as many as possible of what Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics and guest blogger for Moz, calls the four U-words: “Unique. Ultra-specific. Useful. Urgent.”
- Run it past friends and colleagues
- Don’t just craft a headline once—workshop it.
Write a journal
This is not your diary. Offer value to readers with your own opinion sprinkled in. It’s important to provide a resource, something your readers can learn from or use in the future. The value is the main dish; your personality is the seasoning. Make sure you’re providing a healthy portion that readers can sink their teeth into with some of your own flavor peppered throughout.
Don’t give up. Seriously . . . make a schedule and stick to it. Dips and plunges in blog traffic are consistently attributed to irregular updates. Take your time and dive deep into topics over time, rather than simply regurgitating the top of your feed reader at random intervals. Some blogs can take up to two years of providing consistent, valuable content to be called anything close to a success, so don’t get discouraged—just keep writing.
Dance around your expertise
Unless you work for Stuff You Should Know or Radiolab, chances are you have a specific field of expertise, so stick with that. Rolling in an analogy comparing volcanic eruptions in Hawaii to your recent content strategy innovation is great. Writing about volcanoes in your digital marketing blog is not so great. Readers will return for your wisdom on subjects you know, not for the posts you researched in an afternoon.
Plagiarize like crazy
A professor I had once told the class, “C’mon guys. I have the Internet too. I know when you’re pulling a copy/paste on me.” Readers will find out if you’re poaching content. Stealing content is illegal, immoral, stupid, and pretty rude. This is not to say that you can’t use someone else’s content. In fact, properly attributed content can:
- Pull other writers and readers into the conversation
- Give credit where it’s due
- Improve traffic with outbound links
Neil Patel, again, expands on this issue with this well-written link-building article over at Moz.
Don’t worry about editing
Theodore H. White said, “There are two kinds of editors, those who correct your copy and those who say it’s wonderful.” A critical read-through from an experienced editor is crucial if you care at all about your article. Most writers, myself included, have a tough time self-editing. We get sucked into the details and miss the obvious pitfalls. Editing not only for grammar, sentence structure, and spelling, but also for readability, can turn a mediocre post into a brilliant one.
Add popups and music
Thinking of trying some auto popups and music?
I immediately click back to my search results when I land on a blog that throws a popup window in my face. I don’t want to sign up for your newsletter, dammit, just let me read what you’ve got first. Don’t annoy your readers with popups. If you offer high-quality, useful content, they’ll subscribe.
Auto-music should be a no-brainer, too. I really don’t want to hear Kanye West’s “Stronger” blaring through my earbuds—especially when I’m just looking for a good quiche recipe.
Create long, intimidating blocks of copy
There’s nothing that turns readers away more quickly than a wall of text. Unless they’re your mother, they’ll probably shy away and go look for the summary or the TL;DR. Write short paragraphs with descriptive headings so readers can skim and focus on the content they deem most relevant. Getting some of your content consumed is better than none.
Any number of “cool” design elements can pull attention away from the written content on the page—try to eliminate all of them.
- Busy color palettes. Keep your colors consistent, and stick to just a few. Look at the some of the biggest blogs out there—Mashable, Seth Godin, Buzzfeed—, they all have simple palettes.
- Cluttered sidebars. An archive and a conversion point are the only “must haves.”
- Too many social sharing buttons. Is anyone using Digg anymore? Or StumbleUpon? Try to limit social sharing buttons to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and maybe an RSS reader.
- Too many ads. If you’re using Google Adsense ads on your blog, be wary of placing ads where they may be annoying or distracting.
Use stock images
We can all recognize stock photography. If you have the chops, create or snap original images or photos for your article. By uploading and hosting images, you create another traffic source for your content, via image search, and often tremendously improve your readers’ engagement and enjoyment.
Create confusing URLs
While you may be at the mercy of the root domain name, try to create a URL with recognizable keywords. If your headline can’t be perfectly optimized for your intended audience, it’s a good idea to edit the permalink to reflect the keywords you wish to target.
Example of a clunky URL:
Example of a clean URL:
Forget the metadata
If you’re using WordPress, a plugin like All-in-One SEO Pack or Yoast will allow you to edit the title, description, and keywords for each post. That metadata is critical to search engines, allowing them to index your site meaningfully. Forgetting to fill in this data will eliminate any chance your post will rank on search engines.
Never link internally
Every post you write should include a good number of internal links. They not only drive traffic to those older posts; they also communicate credibility and expertise to readers by showing them articles you’ve written on similar subjects in the past. Internal links are also one of the best ways to direct Google spiders through your site, raising your search profile.
Don’t start a conversation
The comment section of the blog is a powerful tool—when it’s actually used. Invite readers to challenge your ideas or provide their own insight into areas you may have glanced over. Start a conversation and keep the dialogue going in the comments. Granted, comments just don’t appear, so don’t be discouraged if you’re a new blogger. Keep writing and the feedback will come.
The feedback won’t come if nobody knows you’re out there. To promote your blog, be active on the major social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and especially Google+. Try to engage with similar bloggers by using Google+ ripples to see who is talking and sharing about the subject you blog about. Reach out to other writers and your sources on Twitter, letting them know you’ve published material they may be interested in.
We hope the reverse psychology tactic worked and you’re prepared to boost your blog traffic exponentially. If you have any other tips or advice, or think we missed something (we probably did), let us know in the comments below.
UPDATE- 2/24/14: Thanks to Dan over at WebpageFX for sending along this huge list of free ideas to drive traffic to your website. That’s certainly a resource!