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Have you been blogging for a year or less and feel like you’re working your tail off and not seeing any results? It’s frustrating trying to work around your job and family, writing posts when most people are sleeping. So frustrating in fact, that most people give up on their blog in the first year.
I ran into that wall four months in. But I took a step back, regrouped and was able to see a few things that were impeding my progress. Things that I should have incorporated right from the start, but didn’t out of inexperience.
Whether you’re blogging or trying to solve an algebra problem, sometimes we’re so intent on the task at hand that we don’t see what’s holding us back unless we back away for a bit.
That’s what I did. And it worked.
I don’t have hundreds of thousands of page views yet, but I was able to bring my site to the next level by taking a step back and re-examining a few things. If you too are struggling to get some traction with your blog, there may be a few things here that’ll help you.
Why Did I Take a Step Back?
I never expected that writing a blog would be a magic carpet ride to success. Building a successful blog can’t be done in a month. You’ll probably spend the better part of a year just refining your message and creating content in a format that will resonate with your intended audience.
But after several months, and hundreds of hours of writing and learning it can be frustrating when you don’t see any growth.
You remind yourself that you’ve got to stick it out, but still. Nothing.
It’s easy to start second guessing yourself. “What if I keep banging out posts for another six months and still nothing?” “Is there anything I’m doing wrong or leaving out?”
My aim for the first year was to have somewhere around 50-60 posts of useful content. I’d have a good understanding of affiliate marketing, be implementing some social strategies, building up an email list and have implemented an ad network.
But three months in, after publishing about 25 posts I had almost no readership. My one-day record was 43 pageviews! And half of them were probably me!
One night I thought, “what are successful bloggers doing that I’m not?”
So, I took a day and studied three of the blogs that I read regularly whom I knew were successful. I compared what they were doing that I wasn’t. And I found four significant differences.
If I was going to make four improvements I wanted to incorporate them into my entire site, not just going forward. So if I put posting on the back burner and spent a week improving things I’d consider it a learning experience.
Check out the graph below of the month of May. I completed my updates on May 20th. And a few days later I woke up and saw 28 people on my site.
28 simultaneous visits may not be earth shattering to established bloggers. But for someone who’d never broken 43 in a day, it was pretty eye-opening. Maybe this blogging thing could work. I ended that day with 4342 page views.
Here’s a look at the month of May. The days before May 12th are barely visible on the graph.
What Were They Doing That I Wasn’t?
1. They Were Using Good Quality, Huge Images on Each of Their Posts.
Comparing theirs to mine, I was using smaller images, around 350 x 500 pixels that I interspersed around the text. I’d either right or left justify the small picture and have the text wrap around it, kind of like a newspaper, like this:
When I compared our sites, I could see right away that combining large images that relate to your content do make the blog more visually appealing. Content is king, of course, but formatting it with the right images, headings, and structure is important too.
Readers skim a blog post and decide within five seconds if it’s something worth a few minutes of their time. So, if it’s written in long multi-sentence paragraphs with no breaks, subheads, links or images, it’s not going to draw the reader in.
So, I went through every post and upgraded every image. If you’re worried about slowing down your site with larger images, you can use sites like JPEGMini or PunyPNG to optimize them.
See the difference with the image below? It displays more like a magazine and grabs the reader’s attention more. If you think of some of the most popular magazines, like People, National Geographic, or the old Life magazine, one reason people are drawn to them are the great photos.
2. They Used Tons of Internal Links
I noticed the other blogs had multiple ‘Related Post’ links in each post. Some at the end of a section, and some at the end of the post.
It makes sense. If your aim is to provide useful content, why attract someone to one article that dead ends with no incentive to look anywhere else on your site? By placing links strategically within your posts you’ll help them to locate them.
The longer the reader is engaged with your site, the better chance they’ll remember it, bookmark it and come back. And you’ll see your bounce rate begin to decline. Once you’ve written 20-30 posts, there’s got to be a few that relate to the one you’re writing.
One tip, always select the option to “open link in a new tab”. This way when they click your link, your site will still be open on a tab in their browser.
3. They Each Invested Some Money in a Nice Looking Paid Theme
They each had very simple, clean layouts with a clear menu. An uncluttered layout enables the reader to focus more on your content than multiple font styles and sizes. And a more minimal theme will look less crowded if you eventually start inserting ads.
When I started my blog, I was trying to save costs. I chose the free magazine style layout called Colormag, which looked great in the samples. But the more I worked with it, I realized it didn’t have nearly as may customizable options as the paid themes. And I preferred something less busy.
So, I spent $59 on a new theme and about another $10 for 12 months of support on it. Working with it the first night, I was amazed at the number of options I could tweak and adjust the way I wanted. For less than $70, I knew immediately it was a good move.
If you’re thinking about migrating to a new theme and are looking for ideas, think about some of the blogs you regularly read. Try using the site What WordPress Theme is That. You can enter a site name there and if it’s a WordPress theme it’ll usually be able to show you the theme name. It’ a good way to get a few ideas and see how various themes can be customized
4. They Each Used Several Social Media Platforms to Promote Their Site
I’m not sure what the best ratio is between producing content and promoting it. I think it boils down to how far along you are with your particular site. If you were opening a brick and mortar store, you wouldn;t advertise the opening until the shelves were stocked and the employees were trained.
You don’t want to start promoting your site until you have enough to promote. Having enough content that readers will find helpful or inspiring, and a site design that’s visually appealing and easy to navigate will entice readers to bookmark it.
Ruth Soukup talks about waiting to promote your blog until it’s developed sufficiently in her book, How to Blog For Profit Without Selling Your Soul …”There really is no point in trying to build your blog as a business if your content is just okay, your navigation is an exercise in frustration, your do-it-yourself design screams amateur, and your poor quality images are completely uninspiring and un-pin-worthy….sustainable blog traffic growth only happens if your content rocks.”
So here’s what I did.
Since I had about 25 posts done, I figured I could start spending part of my time getting accustomed to a few social media platforms. I did have a Pinterest account and had published about 15 pins, none of which were really attracting much attention.
I went through every pin, creating larger, more eye-catching designs that had a call to action. I had used Canva up to that point, but I’d heard good things about Pic Monkey so I thought I’d give that a try. Pic Monkey, in my opinion, has better features to adjust your images and fonts. I’m no graphic designer, but I found it pretty easy to jump in and navigate around quickly and get things done.
Here’s the difference in one of the first pins I created.
I made this one below, using Canva in my first month of blogging. The dimensions were 350×525 and I wasn’t seeing much of a response.
Below, is how I redid it using Pic Monkey.
Like I said, I’m no graphic designer, but the second one stands out more. It’s bigger, brighter and is more eye catching. I created this about three weeks ago and as of today, it has close to two thousand repins.
When I check my site stats, this one is consistently head and shoulders ahead of every other post. And since most of the traffic is coming from Pinterest it’s easy to see that an effective pin makes a huge difference. In fact, I’d recommend creating at least two pins for each post. Sometimes it’s hard to predict which one will appeal more to readers.
If you’re in the first year of blogging and things don’t seem to be happening as quickly as you thought, hopefully, this will provide a bit of encouragement. Beginning a blog is filled with tasks that at times, seem like they’re not leading you anywhere.
You’re trying to conceptualize your imaginary reader and what content would serve them well. You’re spending hundreds of hours writing posts. You’re learning about things you’d never heard of a year ago. Things like SEO and plugins and meta descriptions.
Like Ruth said above, “There really is no point in trying to build your blog as a business if your content is just okay.” But at some point, eventually, you start to wonder if anyone out there is listening.
So, if you feel that your content is addressing the pain points of your audience, then try a few of these checks.
- Is your site visually appealing?
- Is the menu clearly laid out with well-defined categories?
- Do you have quality images that relate to your content?
- Are you using internal links to promote your other content?
- And lastly, are you promoting it effectively?
Feel free to let me know in the comments below, how you were able to get past a plateau with your site. Were there other things that worked for you?
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