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Improve Your Visitor Count

August 20, 2006
Blogging in Bed
Live Bed Blogging! Photo by Trois Tetes (TT)

At the moment Archaeoastronomy ranks as the fourth most popular English language blog on, so now is the perfect time for me to post this. I can pretend to have sagcity, though I don’t really know why I’m having a traffic spike. Ok I do, it’s because I’m on the front page of Reddit, but I don’t know how that happened.. Tomorrow my rank will not so much drop as plummet. On the other hand I was planning to post on increasing visitors as I tend to get 200-300 page views (not including my own) on a daily basis. So here are my tips for to make your readership figures more satisfying.

I Stop caring about the numbers

It’s easy for me to say, and it is nice when viewers arrive. It can even be a bit hypnotic watching new people arrive. I did used to care about figures, but these days I’m not that bothered. There are a lot of simple tricks you can do to improve your figures rapidly. I like ancient history. I like archaeology. Of the millions upon millions of internet viewers out there most couldn’t care less. So if I really want a big rise in readers then I should stop boring the world with all that and write about and post on blogging, the web in general, music or porn or Britney Spears.

It can be done, but why bother? It wouldn’t then be a blog that I like. The simple truth is that whatever you write about there’ll be a huge majority of people who couldn’t care less. Moreover their interest in your blog will be purely at the whims of changing fashions. The biggest post I had, until How Perpetual Motion Works, was Bosnian Pyramid? I thought it would be read by a couple of dozen people and then gather dust in the archives. Most days it’s far and away the most read post on the site. I don’t know why, but most of the visitors have no interest in the ancient past, simply in pyramid-shaped hills or negative energy clouds. For some reason it’s caught the imagination, or just as often ire, of the internet and keeps getting read.

If you want a rapid rise then it’s only shifting fashions and a lot of luck which will help, and just as soon as it arrives it’ll evaporate. In the long term day-to-day visitor counts don’t matter. It’s simply beyond your control.

II Link to others

To get visitors you need people to tell them about your blog. You can get visits from search engines, but it would be so much better when you have just written the perfect article on custard (or even Britney Spears technocustard – I’m chasing visitors) if other people linked to your site saying “Check out this amazing post on Blogging about the new webtech Britney Spears technocustard”. But how will other bloggers know about your website and why would they care about linking to yours? Linking to them will let them know you’re out there. Maybe only 10% will have any interest in your site, but if you’re linking to other people on a regular basis this will have a cumulative effect.

They have to be the right sort of links. They have to show you’ve read what they’re saying. People are not going to be impressed if you link to their site randomly, or tangentially. In this case by almost randomly linking to this page at Techcrunch, simply because it has the word random in the text is not going to impress them. They will not be linking back. It’s one step away from spamming. A more appropriate link following point one Stop Caring would be to Lorelle’s excellent article on defining success. Like Techcrunch it’s well written, but it’s also relevant to what I’m talking about. I don’t honestly expect her to link back, but linking to that page improves this entry anyway – which is another very good reason to link.

III Respond rapidly

I’m never going to be a major blogger because I don’t respond rapidly to events. Over a week ago there was a paper published on Monet’s painting of Parliament and what astronomical analysis might reveal about pollution in Victorian London. It was, briefly, news. The reason I haven’t posted about it is that I want to read the paper before I comment. But there are stacks of things I miss. If you comment on the news when it is news, then people are more likely to find it via a search engine.

It’s hard to combine rapid response with links to other blogs or is it? In the case of Monet I could have linked to other peoples thoughts on Monet. The Open Instinct found Monet’s paintings “visually evocative” which would be fascinating if I were talking about Monet. Again links can give depth to a post as well as building up networks.

IV Choose good titles for your posts

I’m lousy at titles. I’m really really awful. I get heckled for them sometimes at conferences. How Perpetual Motion Works is the wrong title for the post. Steorn in a teacup would have been worse. Often the title is the difference between someone clicking on a link or moving on. «Celebrity» Sex Tape is the current title of choice which takes this to extremes. Obviously you have to choose the right celebrity – in the UK it’s Imogen from Big Brother, a former Miss Wales. In the USA it might be Ann Coulter, or Dr. Ruth. I don’t know. More realistically direct titles for posts are more likely to work than clever ones.

V Use images

I get a lot of visitors from search engines. There’s the usual bunch, Google and Yahoo! are the major sources. But another is Google image search. I like to illustrate entries, if I can, with a photo. The photo also has the attribute alt="Blogging in Bed". In the photo at the top of the page and you should see what the alt text is. When people search for images, they pull up results from all sorts of places – including this site. Where can you get photos from if you’re not the artistic type?

I get most of mine from Flickr by searching for CC licences photos. These are photos where the photographer would like them to be used. In the interests of shareabout I also licence my photos under a CC licence. Another source would be the Stock Exchange. A large proportion of my visitors are from image searches – which is another reason why I’m not that bothered by my visitor count.

VI Say something that’s worth coming back to

All the above points work, but are they worth it? Imagine if a convenient virus wiped out every search engine for a day. How many visitors would you get? Those are the visitors who interest me, the ones who return, rather than visitors who stumble upon the site and move off. If your only visitors are people who visit once and move off are you really making much of a difference? This is perhaps why I don’t care about viewing figures unless something really odd happens. My stats are swamped by people visiting for the only time and it’s the returning visitors who are valuable. Not because they’re numbers, but because they’re people

This brings it all back to point one. Stop caring about the numbers. If numbers are what your after then you’ll never be satisfied, because there’ll always be someone with more visitors than you. Blogging differs from other publishing because it can be interactive (if you think Blogging isn’t interactive leave a comment telling me so). Good blogging is going to explore that and draw in people rather than numbers.

  1. August 20, 2006 7:27 pm

    Using tags probably wouldn’t hurt either. Oh, and get mentioned on a big blog. “Instapundit” mentioned an old blog of mine a couple of years back, and I got 1200 visits in a couple of hours as a result. The next day it was back down to 5 (per day).

  2. August 20, 2006 8:28 pm

    Post links to new entries on relevant mailing lists and web forums.

    Post links to new entries to relevant high profile bloggers.

    Participate in blog carnivals.

    Host blog carnivals.

  3. August 20, 2006 9:11 pm

    I had a visitor counter/stat thingy on my blog before moving sites. I found myself writing things specifically in the hopes that it would attract new readers and became a slave to checking the counter/visitor report. However, it took the enjoyment out of blogging for me. Who cares if no one else thinks I’m interesting. I don’t know any of these people anyways and will likely never meet them. I’ve been lucky that the two or three returning visitors I have enjoy reading what I write (even if it won’t change the way the world works).

    I’m a bit confused by a couple of things though that you and Martin have written. What’s a blog carnival? When you talk about linking, is that what I’ve been doing? I noticed that some sites (like yours) have the “permalink” option…what?

    All in all, I say write what you want, especially if it’s something your passionate about. Those who chose to return will be the kind of people you want visiting, and not the ones searching for “Britney Spears Naked Celebrity Pics”. Who wants to see those anyway?

  4. August 20, 2006 10:05 pm

    Yes, when I say link I’m talking about <a href=”…”>link text</a>

    A permalink is a permanent link. If you want to link to something specific, like your comment then a permalink should be a way of easily linking directly to it. Try:

    A Blog Carnival is a post that gathers together the best posts in a certain topic, usually from the past fortnight or month. You can read more about them at if:book.

  5. SilverThorn permalink
    August 21, 2006 2:07 am

    Don’t forget to post your blog on Technorati anf Google Blog Search!!

  6. August 21, 2006 4:49 pm

    Yeah, I get more hits when I post about sex/sexuality or HBO’s Rome. When I post about both–well, that’s like gold. Then again, posting about HBO’s Rome at all automatically is posting about sex, isn’t it?

    Hopefully, my copious use of “sex” in this comment will aid you in getting google hits.

  7. August 21, 2006 5:01 pm

    Karen, instead of reading about a blog carnival, why not actually read a carnival?

    I started a carnival on my weblog last month; here’s a link to the first edition:

    My blog’s quite specialized, so will never cater to a huge readership. But it is relatively suucessful, with about 200 hits a day, links from bigger blogs, and a Technorati ranking of about 40,000. It’s also made the WordPress Blogs of the Day and Hot Posts lists a few times.

    Also, I discovered yesterday that mine is the ‘Featured Blog’ in a number of WordPress tags, because I post more entries with those particular tags than other WordPress users. However, there hasn’t been a noticable increase in traffic as yet because of this.

    I want to take my blog to the next level, and I think I need to use social bookmarking sites like Reddit and Digg in order to do so.

    I believe that writing original, well-written material is one of the keys to successful blogging. Such a post, which gets noticed by someone who uses Reddit, Digg or similar sites, has the potential to be transmitted ‘virally’ across the web.

    Having said that, I’d rather have a smaller number of regular visitors than thousands of daily hits from people who don’t stay very long. I’ve got 2 RSS feeds, with an average of 200 subscribers who read my blog every day. That in itself is very satisfying.

  8. August 21, 2006 5:42 pm

    Coturnix has sent me the link on blog carnivals I was looking for. All you could possibly want to know about them.

    I feel very silly for missing out on reading Encephalon so far. It’ll take a while for me to catch-up.

  9. August 21, 2006 7:06 pm

    Alun, editions of Encephalon are archived at the carnival’s homepage.

    One of the editions contains a post by me that you may be interested in, about pharaonic neurosurgery.

  10. August 22, 2006 3:55 pm

    Blogging is so introverted that we are only mumbling to others in the same room. Will it ever become a mainstream medium? I don’t think so. Why? Because it requires active effort, and passive media will always get the biggest numbers. So we carry on mumbling to each other…

  11. August 23, 2006 7:09 pm

    I feel like I’ve been vacuumed into some sort of dimensional vortex.

    I did in fact just link to you in a semi-random way. One among many. Not realllly for the kudos or backscratching reasons; more because I tend not to be very intrablogospherically motivated or propelled, and I am not very often likely to link to many of the people’s sites that I like.

    More usually I link to the ‘outside’ net — the repositories. But there are a bunch of places I drop into from time to time that aren’t in the sidebar. I thought about adding them there but…well…I’m beginning to understand the reasoning behind having the sidebar off the front page.

    Everything is so much a popularity contest and if you are disposed towards an empathetic outlook, the idea of taking links away from sites that have been ‘downgraded’ for one reason or another in your personal blog reading habits would feel kind of gauche or whatever. Hence I feel that leaving my sidebar alone and having a one-off (or maybe occasional) linkdump both lets visitors find some cool other places and returns some goodwill. Admittedly I say all this after having become something of a popularish site so if I was to return the linking favour across the board, well, it would just be insane and it would dilute the traffic for the sites I care about the most.

    I don’t know the key to traffic other than to employ at least a modicum of independent thinking. If the thinking and articulation are good quality and the subject matter has some reasonable level of interest, people will want to read and return. So I fully agree that looking after the returning visitor is the best way to at least consolidate a base.

    The 2 pieces of advice that I heard and modified to a slight extent when I started blogging were: 1. Rebecca Blood gave an anecdote about a link she made to site in which she mentioned someone’s name. That name was not mentioned at the linked site. But when you searched on that name later, the site came up, if you follow – a little piece of evidence that having instructive, relevant and cogent words when hyperlinking (and in post titles) will increase the likelihood that a search later on will bring your post/link to a higher position. That’s why I mostly try and mention a book and institution’s name when I provide a link — people searching later will find me more easily. (this is not just about traffic for mine, it’s about us all working smarter to organise information – my little version of web 2.0)

    Number 2. from Matt Haughey (runs Metafilter): find something that you like and stick to it. Love your niche and don’t stray is how I read that and although I’ve been tempted at times to move into a conversational tone and be more of a diarist-type blog, I’ve almost totally refrained from doing so.

    Thus this segues into the peacay rule of traffic watching (in reference only to my site, which is of course less like a ‘regular blog’ than most) which is: the success of the site tends toward an inversely proportional relationship to the magnitude of my presence on the site.

    So that means I try not to care toooo much about the numbers and when I do get posted to places like BoingBoing, I regard the traffic as due (as of course it really is) to the quality of material and I try not to get too much of an ego-boost from it.

    Sooooo, I thought because I had linked up all these cool sites yesterday that I ought to go around to those I haven’t visited in a while (including your good self) so that I wouldn’t feel so guilty about making a recommendation to a place I don’t view. Heh.

    Thus you have inavertently provided a venting service for which I’m grateful — I’ve been wrestling with the idea of posting a blog-0-centric navel gaze for a while and this will do as an acceptable alternative!

    I guess I understand what you mean by responding rapidly. I finally decided to ask someone tonight if I could nab a couple of their pix for a post – had been thinking about it for months – and then I find out that this guy has been linked just lately by the likes of kottke and drawn!. Good food for thought that — no matter what ocean you fish in. Be a bit more decisive I guess is the upshot.

    And the alt text is a good tip too. I only just started putting width/height attributes on images to help the page load more easily and I’ve thought that I was probably reducing image search traffic by being lazy with the alt tags (I think most of my image searchers arrive because of the hotlinked images I posted early on — which I never do any more). So I will fill in the alt text from now on (attributes are the bane of an image-junkie’s existence however).

    I’d better reverse thrust out of the vortex now and thank you for your hospitality squire.

  12. February 18, 2007 1:03 pm

    Good advice. Your keyword density for ‘Monet’ and for ‘Britney Spears’ suggests a lot to this ol’ SEO student who says, “I like your rambling musings… ” This is a blog worthy of reading completely. I too get visitors from Google image search. At least Google gives them a ‘framed’ opportunity to visit your web page. Traffic? Build it and they will come.

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