I stumbled upon something on June 29: posts can be discovered on the world wide web!
Oh please, what a revelation, right? 300 views a day? That’s peanuts. It’s true, compared to leading platforms like Matador Network for travel and CrazyEgg for content marketing. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know how hard it is to get there. You’ve probably researched things like SEO (search engine optimisation), social media engagement and getting your blog discovered. The lists are many, and the transparent cases few. So I’m sharing how I got from 20+ daily views to 300+ average views a day in a month. Just as importantly, I want to share what happened to me after.
This isn’t just the typical how-to. You’ll find the tips at the bottom of each section. In addition, I’m sharing my reactions, and the impact it had on my life. This is a digital nomad and content marketing person’s in-progress diary because I believe in transparency.
An Accidental Splash
The first 24-hours was just initial shock that I got something right. I made the post on an impulsive hunch within 48-hours. Other posts I struggled with for days. For the Tokyo Coffee Festival, I hacked together some photos, did minimal formatting, and shared it onto Reddit even though I never previously did such visual stuff because:
- I took my photos in RAW format, and I wanted to do something with them rather than have waste away in my hard drive like others have for 5 years.
- Every blogging tip says be visual, so may as well try.
- Editing photos is fun and easy to me, so it didn’t feel like work.
To be honest, the last part of putting in the links to all the participants felt like a bit of a drag. By the time I got there, I was already 90% done since the major work was cycling to the event, taking photos, and editing them afterwards. It felt more meaningful as I was editing to think that maybe these photos would make someone else happy too. I didn’t have much to lose by posting it onto the Reddit coffee forum, and woke up to an exploded page (compared to my 20-50).
Tip: Forget what you want to write or think should be written. Post what you accidentally spend hours doing and share it with your community.
Finding the Tipping Point
Part of the traffic spike was luck. Perhaps it was the right day, right time, right something else. The other part was intentional. I was building on some data points from previous responses from friends. Posts like 12 Best Cafes in Tokyo and Settling in for Introverts got some Facebook attention and 100+ views. Those always died out after one or two days.
My hypothesis was that people liked niche topics, and needed to see collections of content. To test that, I focused only on content creation between February and May and created a list of Off-Centre Tokyo Cafes, with maps and individual reviews. By the I posted my Tokyo Coffee Festival photo essay, I had plenty of things to link to and people who visited my site could check out my coffee guides, maps, and reviews. However, the photo essay was just the starting point that inspired a new strategy. It would take a month for me to build my actual tipping point.
Tip: Not having traffic yet can be a boon. It gives you time to find your voice, get into a writing habit, and play around with cool free tools like Buffer Pablo for visuals. Once people know your site, they want to click around, so have at least 20 posts. Also, make sure you have posts scheduled for the next two weeks. Start with one a week so you give yourself lead time and your readers know you update regularly.
Cleaning Up Success.
Success is exciting, but it’s an immediate scramble to accommodate it. It’s like trying to keep intact a shack that’s attracted a flood. I finally got the breakthrough I was looking for, and I needed to keep the tide rushing in interested. As I studied the numbers, I realised people looking at my photo essay weren’t clicking the other coffee links. Instead, they were clicking my home page, then moving on to other general information about Japan.
I realised I needed to fix the links between my pages and provide more intro information. You can see the dip in my stats in June even though I kept 3-4 posts a week. I spent most of my efforts cataloguing my cafes and developing research for more lists and visual essays. Next time, I wanted to be able to keep people coming.
Tip: If you get a hit, go back and clean up all your old posts. Be prepared in the 48-hour aftermath to do a lot of links, updated Call-to-Action (CTA) items at the end of old posts, and making sure your text is aligned and your images are all standardized. I have an upcoming diary post easy quick fixes to old content.
Revenge of the Blogger.
It’s only luck.
That statement may become true if you don’t follow-up. Seize that moment as a learning opportunity. Since the photo essay seemed to validate my hypothesis that sometimes the most viral things are easy, low-hanging fruit, I needed to test out all the possible factors to its success.
As I was cleaning up my existing posts, I improved the visuals and layout, I also adapted my content. The data was showing that clean, easy, lists were favoured. First-time readers aren’t going to go through my 3000-word thoroughly- researched descriptions of things. Still, I began the blog to share information, and I wanted to share legit content. My real wave began with another post: 23 Best Cofee Shops in Vancouver, also released on Reddit. By then, I knew how to use Reddit and began slowly seeding all my other listicles.
The successive posts that I hypothesised would work were:
- Lists (maps a bonus after people click)
- Photo essays + follow-up information posts
- Japan-related info
- Relevant to North American audiences
Tip: Use your first success to create a list of hypotheses of what worked. Create content to test each hypothesis.
I have no idea where I’m going.
‘I have no idea what people like’, as a sentiment rises proportionally to my increasingly consistent number of ‘hit’ pieces. I’ve homed in on a few topics like coffee, anime, Japan travel tips, a bit of startup and digital nomad stuff, and a foray into food (finally). What I mean is, I get them and I don’t. Since all the pieces got over 200 views, they all passed. However, the ones I thought would be a bigger hit (say 700 views) might end up with scraping 200 with lots of extra effort; on the other hand, some that I wrote offhand surprise me the next morning with 400+ views by 8am.
Also, the pieces that I’d written off as ‘failures’ from last year weren’t so bad after all. They were just missing the right channels. My runaway success recently was ‘Top 10 Apps to Travel Japan like a Local‘, but it was written last year. On StumbleUpon, it caught a mini-fire even though I’d entirely forgotten about it.
Even if I didn’t always relate to my readers’ interests, I figured out the formats they liked:
- Lists work.
- Clear sections work.
- Title then image. Not the other way around.
- More images, less text is fine. People mind too much text more than they mind missing information that only I agonised over.
Basically, what I’m saying is, it’s okay to not really get your readers. As in a lab experiment, if A always yields B, something is working and one doesn’t need to get too flustered by not ‘getting it’. It’s a learning process, and I’m still figuring out how to take inspiration from my readers and other writers who give me feedback.
Tip: Dig up old posts for new channels. It doesn’t hurt. When you’ve run out of those, take inspiration from the communities that have responded most strongly and asked for other things.
I’m kidding. As I’ve settled into this higher traffic rhythm, I’ve learned to take myself less and less seriously.
In the beginning, I wanted to say what I thought was true and helpful. I wanted to write in my own style. Now, I tell people what they want to know. The blog posts weren’t meant to be pieces of literature. Actually, they’re not meant to be remotely literary. They’re just information pieces. Just get the stuff out there in a way people like.
Let’s face it. It feels good to be well received. It’s easy to get sucked in. It’s hard to remember your self-worth isn’t just defined by your new-found internet mini-success. You might find your writing style changing to fit your most responsive readers. It’s good learning, but are you a sell-out? In my case, adapting my writing to help share information better made sense. My writing doesn’t read like James Joyce, Kawabata Yasunari, or Peter Matthiessen. My readers are probably thinking, “Thank goodness”!
Tip: Have the life-crisis if necessary. Find your bottom-line, and no matter what, make sure you continue to enjoy what you do.
Owning It Means Working It
Honestly, my life went to shit after I got those views. I have two part-time jobs (i.e. one full-time job) and both are in content marketing. I’m trying to be a one-woman-band doing the optimal Instagram posts, Tweets, Reddit tips, and the laundry and daily cooking. On the other hand, there’s nothing more validating than seeing that what you do directly impacts your views.
At first, I set a goal for 300+ views for one week. Then it became another, and then a month. The momentum focused my strategy and motivated me to push through certain posts.It got me thinking all the time about improving my traction.The good thing is, the goal kept me on track. Staying on track, slowly bust surely, built up to 10,000+ views within 3 weeks.
Also, constantly needing new content made me want to explore new places, which gave me a renewed interest in things I’d begun to take for granted.
In short, a small success can get the ball rolling.
Tip: Check out Kevan’s tips on how to write a blog post. The best way to get going is to change one small thing at a time. At first, it might just make your blog look better. Looking better also means more readers!
Because I was trying to prove to myself I had figured out the right content for my readers, I was constantly thinking about how to improve my blog. On braindead evenings when I swore to watch movies, I ended up editing. For dinner, I lost interest in cooking. I had to force myself to cycle, see friends, or go for a walk without the phone because there were too many days where I was staring at the screen for 14 hours with a headache.
I decided to focus on certain channels, and automate other ones. Apart from Buffer, I did social media manually because I was OCD about the sentences, image grabs, and layout. With 3 posts a week and limited time, I focused on the channel that I liked most (Reddit) while automating my Pintrest and Tumblr posts with free tools like If This Then That (IFTTT).
Tip: Prioritise your promotion channels. Understand your highest-traffic channels. Experiment on second-tier channels to grow them. Automate posts to strategic third-tier ones. Everyone’s blog has different appropriate channels. I higly recommend these tools: If This Then That (IFTTT), Buffer or Hootsuite.
Let it Go.
What am I doing after a month of this? Drop it. Okay, I didn’t turn away and slam the door, and I’d like a following-super power that I can’t hold back. Disney references aside, I have realised it’s really tiring to keep the 300+ reach mark. It was a good reach, but hitting about 200 every day isn’t bad either!
This experience has clarified my priorities: 1) to share quality information, 2) to get it to the people who need / want it.
Ultimately, in order to take my blog to the next level, I need to learn more skills than just the ones I’ve gained in the past month. I’m getting better at efficiently doing my posts and sharing them to relevant platforms, but I am also letting the numbers dip a bit as I focus on my next learning phase.
Tip: Let go of the numbers if you know you know exactly where to focus for your next growth phase. That’s not the case for every channel, such as Instagram or Facebook, where people expect regular posts.
This month has taught me a few things:
- the first spike was not a fluke
- I know (roughly) what I’m doing
- There’s still a lot I don’t know.
- The channels are open: I can reach the people who want my information.
- How to format my posts faster
My next two goals are:
- Partnerships and guest blogging.
- Figuring out (finally) my e-mail list.
- Using my visual content to bring traffic.
- Cross-platform automation.
I need to be able to reach people who want my content outside my limited social circle. The best thing is to use trusted platforms with high traffic. Now that I’ve proven that my content is valuable with numbers, I can begin pitching to partners. In addition, I now need to capture my visitors to create a solid following. I have people message me and ask me about a newsletter, and yet I’ve never capitalised on this. These are the people most likely to read my content, give me feedback, and share my stuff. I should be contacting them.
Where should you start?
Tip: If you haven’t already, check out Buffer, Copyblogger, and other content marketing blogs that cut straight to the how-tos. You can start with this Buffer post on the formula behind a great blog post.
Many professionals take for granted their skills, so they don’t delve as much into the emotional experiences, tough decisions, internalisation of habits, and realisations. In my future posts, I will continue to share my personal journey along with the useful tips I’ve figured out along the way.