Referring Traffic to Your Blog via Social Media: The Network Matters

 

This is where my web traffic comes from.

I am by no means an SEO expert, but I have learned a few tricks about driving meaningful traffic to my blog, TedCurran.net. This post outlines some of the tricks I use to average around 1500 hits a day on an education technology blog.

Post, then Publicize

After publishing each blog post, I make sure to share that post individually to a variety of social networks where it can be seen by different online communities. The WordPress Jetpack plugin makes it easy to shoot a link to Facebook, Twitter, G+, and LinkedIn automatically whenever I publish a new post. This way, whichever network people choose to hang out in, they’re more likely to see my posts. Different social networks attract different people, and so you may need to explore them to find where your potential audience is hiding!

Finding Your Audience

TedCurran.net is, first and foremost, an education technology blog– it’s a niche source of information focused on a very narrowly-defined audience. If your site is as narrowly focused as mine, you will probably need to figure out where your audience normally hangs out online. Here are a few places you can look to find people:

Google+ Communities

Google+ has an unfortunate reputation as a “ghost town”, but I think this based on a mistaken expectation that it will look like Facebook, with lots of public oversharing on display. In fact, more of the activity in G+ is not publicly visible, so it looks like less is going on in there. I actually get the highest engagement numbers from the members of their enthusiastic and supportive G+ Communities. I have discovered a couple of G+ Communities that revolve around EdTech topics, and then I post a link there every time I publish a blog post. An inordinate number of users will give my posts +1s, comments, reshares, and even (the holy grail) thoughtful, well-written responses. All of this activity actually boosts my Google Search rankings, making each article more likely to rise to the top of search results. Don’t write off G+ as a ghost town — give it a shot.

StumbleUpon

StumbleUpon is a less-well known (but surprisingly large) social bookmarking community with an interesting gimmick– it has a simple “stumble” button that takes readers to a randomly selected site that’s been recommended by members. They call it “channel flipping for the web”, and like surfing channels, users never really know where it’s going to take them next. You might open up the “Education” channel, and it might just bring you to one of the many posts I’ve submitted to the service.

I find that StumbleUpon drives a huge percentage of my site’s traffic because it’s bringing lots of unsuspecting users directly to my site to look around. Of course, a large percentage of them will quickly stumble away from my site, but some of them will stay, read, and recommend. I used to think of this as “low quality traffic” but now I’m not so sure– I think that the traffic StumbleUpon brings in leads to a wider overall readership of people who would not normally seek out my site.

Twitter Hashtags

On Twitter, hashtags are the way that communities form around the same topic of interest. Your audience may be out there, using a hashtag or two to stay together, waiting for you to join them. Check out Hashtags.org to learn which hashtags are the most popular on each topic of interest, then start listening in on those hashtagged conversations and tagging your posts to reach these existing groups. I routinely share my posts to the #edtech hashtag, but I’d say the level of engagement and traffic this generates is on the lower side (though not trivial). Some posts catch fire and spread widely via Twitter, but others get few views and even fewer comments back. Even when my posts don’t generate crazy traffic, they are seen by movers and shakers in the education technology community, enhancing my reputation and opening me up as an authority on the subject. Of course, your work, your topic, and your community might produce very different results. Give it a try!

Google Searches

A large amount of my traffic comes through blind Google searches, so it is good to know the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) to make your posts more easily findable. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can buy your way to the top of Google search results, or otherwise game the system — Google is all about relevance to the user, so if your post isn’t genuinely useful to anyone you won’t get far.

Instead, focus on creating good quality content that’s relevant to your audience, then use WordPress’ great built-in tools for SEO, use Zemanta‘s intelligent recommendations for links and tags, and run the venerabel Yoast SEO plugin  to help Googlers find it!

Pounding the (Virtual) Pavement

From time to time, take a break from shouting into your virtual megaphone and go read blogs and social media feeds from other people whose ideas you respect. Get involved in online discussions, blog comment sections, meetups, Q&A sites, and other places where people are actively discussing the kinds of topics you blog about. People love talking about themselves and they love getting feedback on their ideas — they like this waaay more than they like you spamming their Facebook feed with your blog posts. I have so many good posts written now that I feel like I’ve captured my thinking on a range of different edtech issues. I can now join online discussions where people are trying to think these ideas through, and refer them to my relevant blog post wherever it’s appropriate and polite to do so. I can even use these discussions as a jumping off point for new blog posts, as they stimulate me to answer questions I’ve never asked myself.

Sharing your work in the context of actually forming human relationships with other people is a great way to network in your field and make a valuable contribution to the overall conversation. It also makes people much more likely to click through and learn more about you and your ideas. My blog gets very few comments overall, but most of those commenters are people whose blogs I’ve commented on. This creates a small but high-quality community of people whose traffic leads directly to engagement.

 

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