What sells a blog post and drives traffic on your blog?

If you’ve clicked on over looking for a how-to post about styling yourself as a mega-blogger … sorry. This is not that. Too much talk about branding yourself and building a platform tends to make my eyes glaze over and my brain yawn, but for those of you looking for that sort of information I’ve included some relevant links at the end of this post.

No, this isn’t going to be a blog on the importance of compelling titles and posting consistently on topics closely linked to your niche and brand. Instead, I just wanted to share something I’ve been thinking about during the last month:

So here’s a screen shot of my recent blog traffic. The spikes on the far right shrink everything else down a bit, but there have actually been three unusual “spikey areas” in recent weeks.

The first came around the 14th of January, the day I put up this post in memory of my friend, Patrick, who passed away last month.

The second big jump began on January 24th, the day of Dominic’s accident, and continued all week as people tracked our stay in hospital and return to Laos.

The third, an unprecedented leap, came out of nowhere on February 7th when a whole bunch of people suddenly took it into their heads to share a post I’d written weeks earlier called 24 things that have surprised me about motherhood: I never thought I would… on facebook.

What to make of all of this?

I wanted to write a thoughtful commentary relating these blog stats to the flavor of what we consume as “news”, but the last three weeks has seen our little family blessed with two sets of parents in town, one broken leg, three days in hospital, two international flights, three head colds, two courses of antibiotics, and not nearly enough sleep. Also, we have given notice on our house and are starting to prepare to move in six weeks to another house in town that will hopefully be devoid of constant woodworking noise, dangerous spiral staircases, and unfenced pools.

Ergo, no bandwidth for thoughtful commentary.

Ergo, a list.

1. People pay attention to bad news and sad news.

Anyone who has driven past a car accident or watches the evening news shouldn’t be surprised by this – what we call news is a litany of all that’s going most wrong in the world (punctuated by the occasional celebrity death or sweet animal story).

It is still a little weird, however, to see the power of the bad&sad to draw attention play out on your own blog. And for the record, I am not advocating anyone adopt the bad&sad model to grow their blog audience. It’s so not worth it.

2. People pay attention to things that make them laugh

After all the stress of the last couple of weeks, it was actually really nice to see something get more attention than our medical dramas. It reminded me that in addition to being hardwired to pay attention to the bad&sad we also hunger to encounter things that make us laugh and warm our hearts, and that when we find those things we like to share them.

3. The power of social networks like facebook or twitter to promote something is awe-inspiring. It is also impossible to really predict or control.

Strangers sharing a single post on facebook were responsible for a banner day of blog traffic, but it was also not something I had much to do with. It wasn’t the post I would have predicted to go viral or the time (nearly three weeks after I first posted it) that I would have thought it might get picked up.

I probably helped the process along by putting the “share on facebook” button at the bottom of the post and participating in Sarah Bessey’s blog carnival last week (I suspect it was one of the visitors from her site that picked up the post that first time) but the whole experience simply reminded me that if I want to maximize the likelihood that people will share my posts on facebook, twitter, or their own blogs, I should just:

  1. Write good posts
  2. Make it easy for people to share them
  3. Engage with people on facebook, twitter and their own blogs (and when I say “engage” I mean “interact because I want to, with sincerity, not because I’m trying to build a brand or lure people into following my blog.”)

(“Congratulations,” Mike said when he read that third point. “You’ve managed to outline a strategy for making friends.” To which I said, “Perfect.”)

4.     Sex sells, too

No, I didn’t manage to extract this lesson from those blog stats – you can thank my father for that piece of unrelated wisdom. I was discussing this blog post with my parents and Mike over lunch. We were talking about how people are drawn to pay attention to the extremes – the sad, the bad, the funny, the touching.

“And sex,” my father said. “People pay attention to sex.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot all about that,” I said.

“Yeah,” Mike said mournfully. “Yeah.”

And on that awkward note, I promised links to posts that will actually furnish you with useful information on strategies to increase your blog traffic. Here are six of them:

  1. 7 Ways To Grow Your Blog Readership (Amanda Ludeke)
  2. 5 Audacious Goals Every Blogger Should Have For 2012 (Alexis Grant)
  3. What social media can do for your blog (Alexis Grant)
  4. 21 ways to increase blog traffic (over on SEOMOZ)
  5. What Not To Blog About (Rachelle Gardener)
  6. Platform and Social Media Must Not Be Your Center (Jane Friedman)

Bloggers, what lessons have you learned about what influences traffic on your own site? What resources have you found helpful in thinking about marketing and platform?

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13 responses to “What sells a blog post and drives traffic on your blog?

  1. Number 4. amused me somewhat, given that I’ve known the aforementioned dad for 43 years 🙂

    And note to Mike… Dont be to mournful, things can happen post bubby time that might not be quite in the grand plan shall we say… (email me if you want details)

  2. I’ll add controversy to your list. Step on people’s toes in a big way, and they come. I was discussing this very topic with my husband the other day. I was telling him the two most popular searches and blog posts on my blog are probably my two most controversial. 1. Can Christians – fictional or real life – wear bikinis and 2. Is it possible to write AND PUBLISH a Hunger Games-like novel for CBA.

    I just thought it was interesting. I don’t look at my stats very often, but I am curious to know what has attracted new visitors. What works and what doesn’t. Those two posts were published a while ago, and I still get visitors each week to both.

    • Ah, yes! Controversy. There have been a couple of topics Mike and I have floated that I haven’t touched yet that would fall into this category. We’ll see whether I venture there. And, not that anyone’s asking me to comment on the controversies that you named (and I haven’t read the posts so I might be disagreeing with you on this one), but here’s my take. (1) I sure hope so, and (2) I sure hope so. (PS, have you ever read Karen Hanckock’s Arena?? That’s what came to mind in relation to number 2).

  3. Bad, sad and sex sell! But not in that order and definitely not bad sex or sad sex but all of those things really make blog posts go viral. When I first started blogging, just over a year ago, I was getting maybe 20-40 reads/blog. So some of my friends were humoring me or trying to encourage me. When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, almost a year ago, I was trying to explain fission (not fiction) to my husband, when I decided to blog about it. I was getting a couple hundred reads a day, from countries all over the world, some of which I had never heard of.

    Other popular ones were on abstinence and why married sex is the best sex (bet you know the answer to that one 🙂 Surprisingly, current trends in book censorship has topped them all with thousands of reads. That was a surprise.

    I just write about topics that interest me with personal anecdotes in them, but it is fascinating to see what people like to read.

    • Actually, I’m pretty sure bad sex regularly makes blog posts go viral :). It’s a bit of a mystery what really tops the charts, isn’t it. One of my most popular posts is such a random one I wrote while I was pregnant on good gifts for pregnant women. I always shake my head a little when I see it at the top of the daily read list.

  4. My friend Erika referred me to this post b/c I’m relatively new at blogging. Loving it, but struggling for traffic. this post was fantastic and so helpful! Thank you 🙂 But above all classy–how to be yourself without just trolling for hits. Awesome, again, thank you and I look forward to following your blog!

    • Ugh, I tried to leave a comment on your sick days post but Blogger sometimes hates wordpress bloggers and refuses to let them comment (I don’t know why). So I couldn’t. But here it is: “Yeah, I got sick recently and was totally wistful for those pre-kid “curl up in bed with a good book days”.” Thanks for stopping by Meredith.

  5. As a small blogger it’s been interesting to think about all of this recently as I ponder whose blogs to link to. Thing is, it’s bigger or massive blogs that I often am most struck by, which makes sense because their good writing is what drew me to them in the first place.

    And yet they certainly don’t need my linkage, and perhaps among the interesting-but-not-amazing posts I read, perhaps there is a blogger who only needs more experience and encouragement to begin to develop into an amazing blogger who can add so much to the blogosphere. So – I’m attempting to be intentional about commenting and linking to “the little guy” sometimes. I’ve certainly been very encourage when bloggers I respect have been interactive with me.

    However, I’m a small blogger, so my “link” probably doesn’t matter much anyways!

    • That’s such a cool way to think about it. And I think that to anyone except the huge mega bloggers who simply cannot keep up with tracking where their links come from (Glennon Mellon’s probably in this category at the moment, Sarah Bessey might be too) any link is a boost and an encouragement – it doesn’t matter which size blog. I’ve been really touched and encouraged when you’ve linked to me.

  6. I don’t have a blog of my own but here is why I read yours: I came here because I read a comment you made on someone else’s blog that I liked, I got curious about your pregnancy stories because I was pregnant myself, and I stayed because of your wit and honesty, because you don’t try to build a brand, and because you interact with people who comment – #1 and 3 of your strategy worked 🙂

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