This is another “answering a reader request” post. This blog has grown quite a bit in its first six months. To be honest, it has grown further already in terms of readers than I had any realistic hopes of reaching EVER when I started out. The “angry 365 days a year” tag is not accidental – I set myself the goal of posting at least once a day, every day for a year, no matter what and then review the situation. Things have changed so quickly that I have been reviewing my situation blog-wise quite regularly.
I have been listed as the number one post of the day by WordPress about half a dozen times and been listed in the top ten maybe half a dozen times more, which led to being asked “how do you do that?” It’s a question I can actually answer as it didn’t happen by accident – I put quite a bit of effort into getting there. Having said that, this is a very shallow goal. Don’t fool yourself on that. I accepted quite a while ago that I was being very shallow in pursuing some level of blog micro-celebrity and I decided I’m OK with being shallow. Without further ado, here are my tried and true top tips for getting the number one post on WordPress.
1. Be Robert Scoble. I realise this suggestion is not terribly practical for most people but it remains true. No matter whether you personally love him, hate him or remain indifferent to him, Scoble is a bona fide blogging celebrity and there’s little doubt he’s WordPress’ number one blogger. He may occasionally cede the number one spot on a given day but over time his traffic is streets ahead of anyone else. In terms of numbers, he provided some insight into this back when the news broke he was leaving Microsoft. He showed an image of his WordPress blog stats graph which revealed that an average day for him was over 10,000 hits and this news produced a spike of over 90,000 hits in a day.
Yikes! It’s hard to compete with a heavyweight like that but what his success shows is this: if you are a recognised authority or personality in a given field, people will flock to your blog. Guy Kawasaki is another who springs to mind. I previously listed him as my unofficial mentor both because of his determination to climb to the top of the blogging pile and his cheerful admission of what a shallow goal this was. These guys are the exception – the vast majority of bloggers are like your humble correspondent; nobodies who have varying aspirations of possibly becoming a somebody through their blog. This is a hard road that will almost certainly end in not reaching any significant fame or financial reward. This is the reality that 99% of bloggers need to face, so I hope you’re having fun on the journey (I know I am.)
2. Choose a topic people want to read about. Check the top 10 posts list for a while and you’ll see the same themes popping up: technology, work, anime and celebrity gossip all seem very popular. My recommendation is that you pick a topic you’re actually knowledgeable and/or passionate about as it will be easier to stick with. Maybe you’re cynical enough to write about a topic you don’t care about simply to get attention but I’m not.
3. Be aware of the theme or tone of your blog and maintain it. This is not an absolute must-do but it will sure make your life easier. This is more about encouraging readers to return that winning them in the first place. If people get a consistent experience from your blog (consistent tone does not mean the same thing day in, day out) then they have a better idea of whether or not it’s worth returning.
If you’re an idiot like me and pick something as abstract as “anger” as the theme for your blog, you’re making your life harder than necessary. In retrospect, I have the singular genius to choose a theme that feels simultaneously vague and maddeningly narrow. If you make a choice like this, it’s a little harder for people to get a handle on why they should read your writing and, trust me, sticking with it can be bloody hard. On the other hand, one of my core beliefs is stick with what you know and I know the angry.
4. You can’t do it alone. There are two ways for us non-celebrity mortals to generate site traffic; the slow, organic way of reaching other bloggers one by one and the sudden surge in traffic driven by a referral from either a prominent website or a social bookmarking site (like Digg or Reddit). Trying to get featured on a prominent site is seductive, especially when hitting the front page of Digg can be worth tens of thousands of hits, but the important thing to remember is that this is fleeting – usually a two or three day wonder. You will be very lucky if 1% of a big surge become regular readers. Plus, don’t underestimate the influence of the smaller sites. I have never had a hit on either Digg or Reddit but several of my posts have been popular on the sub-reddit for Joel on Software. I also seem to be getting a bit of traffic from a site called stumbleupon – I must look into that one.
Commenting on other blogs encourages people to check out your blog. I’m talking about real comments where you contribute some meaningful insight to the conversation (or at least a good question). Leaving some variant of “hey, check out my blog” pisses people off. This is a slow and steady approach but it really is the best way to build up a core audience for your blog. Then the intermittent surges you might get from prominent referrals become gravy rather than the only traffic you have.
5. Write a how-to guide. People seem to be mad for the how-to guides. It appears you don’t have to be much of an expert for your guide – I’ve seen some really crap how-to’s get massive traffic (how to use MS Word – yeah, that’s some real fucking rocket science there). The thing is, if you write a how-to guide simply because it’s a topic you’re passionate about or willing to research, it can be a pleasant surprise when it generates huge interest.
When Range wrote his guide to High Dynamic Range (HDR) digital photography, he subtitled it “saturday morning relaxation”. He didn’t intend for it to be a major “hit”, it was simply one of his areas of interest. A similar how-to could easily work for you if there’s a particular topic on which you can share your knowledge. Coincidentally, he timed it with a weekend when WordPress’ stat counting went screwy – he’s since told me the traffic was as high as he thought at first. It was still good but not astronomical (my stats temporarily showed a boost of 10,000 that weekend too).
And the magic number is… This is the other half of the question I was asked: how many hits does it take to be listed as the number one post? Well, the slightly vague answer is that this number is relative. If you pick up a huge number of hits on the same day that other people pick up a similarly huge number then you will have more competition. So be lucky. But all things being equal, from my experience you need to get more than 600 hits to reach the top ten and more than 1,000 hits to hit number one. Bearing in mind this is hits to a particular post, not people landing on your home page. This is why you need the help of an inbound link from a major site or a hell of a lot of people coming in via your RSS feed.
So pursue these tips if you like and see if they work for you. But I can’t recommend strongly enough that your first step should be writing high quality content for your blog. I know when I look at some popular blogs I am completely dumbfounded; I find many of them boring or downright shitty. This is reality, get over it and stop worrying about what other people are getting away with. Set your own standards for quality and get to it. The more you write, the better your writing will get; trust me on this one.
And for god’s sake, have some personal goals that are more important to you that blog traffic. I’m not joking, this is a really shallow aspiration and you don’t want to base your life around such a shallow focus. Find new people online. Find like minds and different minds. Broaden your horizons and learn something new. I have found that blogging can create amazing new possibilities, so focus on the positives and don’t dwell on what you might not be getting. Life’s too short and a blog shouldn’t be your life.