by Deacon Michael Hyatt
Deacon Michael Hyatt is the Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Bible publisher in the world. His blog is a treasure chest of wisdom and enlightenment on leadership, vision and responsibility. He also has a popular podcast, At The Intersection of East and West, on Ancient Faith Radio. This post is excellent advice for getting readers, and keeping them.
Assuming you want to increase your blog traffic, there are certain mistakes you must avoid to be successful. If you commit these mistakes, your traffic will never gain momentum. Worse, it may plateau or begin to decrease.
How do I know? After writing more than 1,000 posts and receiving more than 20,000 comments, I have made most of the mistakes you can make—numerous times. As a result, I have begun to see certain patterns emerge.
These are my top ten traffic-killers.
- Mistake #1: You don’t post enough. Hobby bloggers may go weeks between posts. But frequency is what separates the men from the boys. You cannot build solid traffic without frequent posts. I have seen time and time again (via Google Analytics) that there is a direct correlation between frequency and traffic. The more I post—within reason—the greater my traffic.
- Mistake #2: You post too much. Yes, this is possible, too. I don’t need to hear from anyone more than once a day—unless it is a group blog or a news site. You would do better to focus on writing one really great post a day rather than several mediocre ones. The trick is to find your frequency sweet spot. For me, it is four to five posts a week.
- Mistake #3: Your post is too long. Seth Godin is the master of the short, pithy post. His are usually in the 200–400 word range. I shoot for less than 500 words. But I often post 750 words and sometimes more. You can get away with this if your posts are “scannable”—that is, you make use of subheads, lists, and other devices that keep people moving through your content. If a post starts getting too long, consider breaking it up into several posts.
- Mistake #4: You don’t invite engagement. When I talk about “engagement,” I am referring to a combination of page views, reader comments, and social media mentions. Postrank.com is a great tool for measuring this kind of engagement. The posts that generate the most engagement for me are those that are controversial, transparent (especially about failure), and open-ended. This is why I try to end every post with a question.
- Mistake #5: You don’t participate in the conversation. When bloggers don’t participate in conversation by commenting on their own posts and responding to their readers, it is like hosting a party at your home, making a brief appearance, and then disappearing. In any other context, this behavior would be perceived as rude or odd. The same is true in blogging. People want to have a conversation—with YOU.
- Mistake #6: You don’t make your content accessible. Since I am in the publishing business, I often get asked if I think people are reading less. The simple answer is “No.” In fact, I think they are reading more than ever. But they are reading differently. Readers have shorter attention spans. They are scanning content, looking for items that interest them. When you use subheads, lists of bullets or numbers, it draws readers in by making your content accessible. Shorter paragraphs also help.
- Mistake #7: You don’t create catchy headlines. According to Brian Clark, who runs the must-read site, CopyBlogger, “on average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” This means your headlines are the most important thing you write. Fortunately, Brian has an entire series of posts called “How to Write Magnetic Headlines.” I suggest you read every post.
- Mistake #8: Your first paragraph is weak. This is critical. Assuming that you have written a great headline, people will next read your first paragraph. You must use this paragraph to pull them into the rest of your blog post. Start with a story, a promise, or a startling fact. The idea is to grab their attention and hang onto it. Many bloggers spend too much time trying to setup the post or provide context. Just get to the point.
- Mistake #9: Your post is off-brand. I have often been guilty of this one. If you are a hobby blogger, you can get away with the occasional post that strays from your primary message or brand. But if you are trying to build traffic, you need to find an editorial focus and stick to it. A tighter focus leads to higher traffic. This is why I have tried to narrow my own focus to three areas: leadership, social media, and publishing. If I want to write on something else (e.g., fitness), I do so through one of these three lenses.
- Mistake #10: Your post is about YOU. Unless you are a mega-celebrity, readers don’t care about you. Not really. They care about themselves. They want to know what’s in it for THEM. Your personal stories can be a doorway to that, but in the end, the best posts are about your readers’ needs, fears, problems, or concerns. Always ask, “What’s the take-away for my reader?”
There are other mistakes, too; I doubt this list is exhaustive. But I think I have covered the major ones. If you can avoid these, you will be well on your way to increasing your traffic and growing your audience.