The Internet is packed with opportunities for unique, influential, and ambitious people to succeed. From would-be bloggers to potentially successful entrepreneurs, the number of people sharing the common goal of online success is staggering – a number rivaled only by the number of people wishing they knew how to achieve it.
Over the last month, I, with my business partner, Matty Craig, have seen online success — albeit on a much smaller scale than some of the Internet’s leading blogs or authoritative websites.
A design and development blog that I’ve been involved in — AddToDesign — has been visited by hundreds of thousands of people and recommended by thousands of social media users in the short time that it has been up.
Moreover, we’ve built a dedicated online following without the backing of any other established website.
Our marketing efforts weren’t commissioned and carried out by online superstars, our design wasn’t built on a huge budget or expansive scale, and our content hasn’t been pieced together by a research team or stable of professional writers.
In essence, we’ve built a popular website in a very competitive field without any of the resources that many people believe are requirements.
While we’re far from the pinnacle of online success, AddToDesign’s rapid growth has taught me some interesting lessons in online promotion.
I’ve had beliefs that I once held to be completely true, disproved. I’ve had an equal number of online publishing assumptions squashed flat.
My story aims to demonstrate several things:
- How launching a major website isn’t that difficult.
- What steps are required to rise above competitors initially.
- How important social media, partnerships, and your own network is.
Increasing User Engagement Is the Initial Goal
There are hundreds of reasons to launch a blog, each offering its own set of challenges and difficulties.
While we do plan on opening up AddToDesign to advertisers, our initial goals weren’t related to generating revenue.
Our goals were all related to popularity and increased readership. In the early days of the blog, our aim was to increase engagement and create a resource that readers would return to.
Besides the most obvious currency for return visitors – quality content – we found several key elements that we believe brought people back to AddToDesign for second, third, and fourth reads.
Use Engaging Content
One key element was the use of blog competitions. Our initial goals weren’t a flood of traffic, but a flood of traffic that remained on our website.
Competitions, resource-style posts, and other engaging content can increase the amount of time readers spend on your website, and even act as a reason for them to subscribe.
That’s why our initial content wasn’t designed to lure in readers and have them exit quickly, but to draw in an audience that would stay with us long term. We have more competitions coming up, aimed at achieving the same purpose: keeping long-term readers with us and building a subscribership base rather than a quick spurt of initial traffic.
A blog is a long-term investment — we accepted that from the start — and it’s essential for us to build a deep connection with our readers right from the start.
Measure engagement times (using handy software like Google Analytics) and subscriber count in the early days, and don’t freak out if you’re receiving less traffic that you’d like – it’ll even out in the end.
How Social Media Plays a Big Part at the Start
It’s obviously difficult to provide promotional advice that applies to every blog. There are blogs out there aimed at helping people fix nail fungus and cataloging junk food. The chance of any of them succeeding on social news sites like Digg, Reddit, or Twitter is relatively low — these types of topics, in general, aren’t interesting to the stereotypical social news site users.
But for a design blog, the coast is relatively clear when it comes to social news site marketing opportunities. I had some early assumptions about the value of social media as a marketing tool, several of which were proven untrue by the results they gave us.
Authentic Social Networking
Firstly, real networking is by far the most important strategy for promoting your blog, business, or online presence.
Social media has given us all a valuable chance to interact, and the majority of its users are squandering it by focusing on flimsy connections.
The most successful social media efforts we had were those which moved through real friends, business contacts, and power users – not the result of mindlessly expanding our follower lists or LinkedIn accounts.
Social Media Can Be a Huge Source of Site Traffic at the Start
At the moment, social media contributes approximately 45-50 percent of our traffic. This is very high for a blog, but we can attribute it to the fact that we’re the new kids on the block and our website isn’t clearly visible in the search engines yet.
As we grow older and gain a greater list of subscribers, become more visible in search results, and build more long-term reader connections, we have a feeling that social media traffic may peel away slightly.
Do You Need to Network to Succeed?
Put simply, yes.
In its first ten days of existence, AddToDesign received 150,000 unique visitors – an overwhelming amount for a relatively new website.
Our traffic extended to the point where our ultra-cheap server simply couldn’t handle everything, and we were forced to take the entire website down for several hours and move to a new host.
How did this flood of traffic happen? Through the natural connections we’d built over the years before our launch.
By connecting with website owners, guest posting on a wide variety of blogs, and consistently aiming to help people in our field, we created real connections that allowed us the privilege of guest posting to their blogs upon launch.
Thanks to the extreme variety within the design world, we’ve been visited by people from over 25 different countries. Almost 150 of them subscribed to our blog, and over 400 are now following us on Twitter.
It all comes down to real connections — not false friendships, impersonal email blasts, and social media spamming.
How Much Maintenance Does a High-Traffic Blog Need?
Maintaining a high-traffic blog isn’t a simple task. While it’s far from complex to piece together the content required for a blog, the sheer amount of effort required to manage the other things — your audience, your contacts, and your publishing schedule — can be quite tiring.
This is not a field for get-rich-quick schemers and would-be successes — in many ways, blogging can feel like a full time job.
The sad reality is that most blogs go unattended, or at least barely attended to. Even Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, only seems to update his personal blog once in a blue moon.
Without the energy, the schedule, and the reason to update a high-traffic blog regularly, it’s very likely that your audience and influence will quickly taper off.
With that said, there appears to be a tipping point where frequency of updating a website becomes less important in blogging. A range of popular blogs (and websites, some of which predate blogging software) have sat dormant for several months without seeing their traffic disappear. This is something that comes with your content — news-style blogs will ultimately see a quick drop in traffic as publishing slows, while timeless content may receive attention forever.
What Would We Do Differently?
AddToDesign is the first high-traffic blog I’ve launched, and it was certainly a learning experience that I won’t forget.
Looking back over the launch, there are hundreds of small errors, misjudgments, and assumptions that could have been fixed given the perspective we’ve gained, but for the most part, they’re not a large cause for concern. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff.
For example, we could have built a greater presence on social bookmarking websites – Digg, Reddit, and the like.
We could have networked with more bloggers, made more connections, and had more media out there to support us during the launch. We could have put an opt-in form on our website to keep Diggers there longer, but we didn’t.
The thing is, it’s not a huge problem that we missed out on opportunities along the way. What matters most — at least to me — is that we put our blog together and made it visible, regardless of how refined or complete it may be.
Looking back on the launch is frustrating as there are lots of small things we could have changed, but also fantastic because it’s helped us learn so much more information that we will use going ahead, not just on AddToDesign, but on other future Web ventures.
What Has Helped You Succeed Online?
Launching a blog, promoting it through social media, and building connections in the blogging world has helped me change a lot of my preconceptions, but I certainly don’t know everything about how to succeed as a blogger.
If you’ve launched your own blog, please share your experiences with us in the comments.