This post is based on episode 62 of the ProBlogger podcast.
If there’s one thing we can all learn from Facebook’s recent spat with the Australian Government, it’s that you should never rely on a single source for all your blog traffic.
When Facebook decided to stop sharing news on its service in Australia, it blocked a lot more than just Australian news. It also blocked government web sites related to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health, emergency services, and even the Bureau of Meteorology.
It also affected a lot of bloggers who use Facebook to bring traffic to their blogs.
Facebook eventually removed the restrictions on these sites, and has since struck a deal with the Australian Government to bring news content back to Facebook in Australia. But losing traffic even for a day can have a devastating effect if you rely on it for your income.
As I discovered back in late 2004.
How I lost 85% of my income overnight
It was about a week before Christmas when it happened. I was blogging full-time, having quit my part-time job about three months before. My wife was working as a lawyer, but she’d just started out and so wasn’t earning a lot of money. So my blogging income was pretty much all we had to live on.
Like a lot of bloggers, I started the day by checking my stats. And it didn’t take long to realize something was seriously wrong. According to the stats package I was using at the time, my traffic had plummeted overnight to around a fifth or what it normally was.
My blog (a camera review blog) was ranking number one in Google for most cameras, at least in Australia. But it seemed my site had pretty much disappeared from Google completely.
And so had my traffic.
I’m still not sure what actually happened. I suspect Google had made a change to its algorithm (back then they didn’t announce their changes like they do now). But whatever reason, my traffic dropped by around 80%.
And because that’s where nearly all of my traffic was coming from, my income dropped by around 85%.
Having spend the past two years working on getting more and more traffic from Google, this was a major blow – especially considering it was Christmas. And for the next few weeks I felt quite depressed about it all.
I ended up getting another part-time job to get us through the next few months. But I also started working really hard on my blog, and working out how to diversify my traffic sources.
In retrospect, losing all that traffic was a good thing. It forced me to make changes that have really helped with my blogging over the years. Still, I wouldn’t with it on anyone, and so I’d like to share ten things I did that will help you diversify your traffic sources.
1. Identified my ideal reader
Up to this point I wasn’t paying much attention to who was reading my blog. All I was interested in was the traffic. But having lost all that traffic and income, I started thinking about the kind of readers I should be trying to attract – not just their demographics, but also their needs, problems and challenges.
I’ve talked about creating reader profiles a lot over the years (particularly on episode 33 of the podcast), and so I won’t go into it here. But I can tell you that knowing who I was trying to reach made finding those readers a lot easier.
2. Focused on solving those readers’ needs
One the reasons I was getting so much traffic from Google is I was optimizing everything I wrote to rank as highly as possible.
Unfortunately, I now realized that building traffic that way was like building a castle on sand. One small shift and it all falls down.
So I started writing for the people I wanted to bring to my blog instead. I thought about their needs, problems and challenges, and then wrote content to try and help them.
Switching my attention away from Google and towards my readers was a great move. Not only did it help me attract the readers I wanted, it also helped me increase my traffic. Why? Because a lot of people look for answers to their problems by typing them into Google. And guess whose blog they’re going to find in the search results?
Whether you’re an established blogger or are just starting out, asking about your readers and what their needs are is a great idea. It doesn’t need to be full-blown survey. You can just ask a few questions on your blog.
3. Worked on getting on other people’s blogs
While my own site had pretty much fallen off Google’s radar, a lot of other blogs in my niche were still there. And so I started thinking about how I could make an appearance on those blogs and try to grab some of the traffic they were getting.
Writing posts for other people’s blogs (guest posting) wasn’t really a thing back then. But that’s what I set out to do. I started reading their blogs a lot more, and commenting on their posts. And then I offered to write articles for them and be interviewed by them.
This not only brought traffic to my blog, but also helped me become known as an authority in my niche.
4. Started a newsletter
As I learned back then (and Facebook users have learned in the past few weeks), the only guaranteed way to avoid losing traffic this way is to use a platform you have complete control over.
Such as email.
And so I started writing a newsletter, and encouraging people to subscribe by giving me their email address. At first I was only getting a handful of subscribers each week. But over time the numbers grew, and these days I have more than a million subscribers.
Starting a newsletter and collecting people’s email addresses is probably the most powerful thing I’ve ever done, and I really wish I’d started doing it earlier.
Just make sure you’re not just collecting emails for the sake of it. Unless you’re actually sending out a newsletter, or at least regular updates, it’s not much use.
5. Started promoting other ways to subscribe
As much as I love email and the power it can provide, I realized I didn’t want it to be my sole connection with my readers. After all, not everyone like receiving emails.
Back then RSS feeds were big, and so I started promoting my RSS feed in case people wanted to connect that way. But these days I tend to focus more on getting subscribers and followers on social media.
Exactly what social media platforms you focus on will depend a lot on where your readers hang out. (You might want to ask your readers which platforms they prefer.) But if you’re not sure where they are then Facebook and Twitter are two good platforms to start with.
6. Started networking more
These days we tend to take networking online for granted. But back in 2004 there were only a couple of options – email and forums.
And I wasn’t doing much networking with either of them.
But after my traffic scare I started putting aside a bit of time each week emailing getting to know other bloggers in my niche and asking if I could help in any way.
I even tried to meet them in person, which was a big step for me.
But my efforts paid off. Not only did it lead to some great friendships (and even a couple of profitable partnerships), it opened up opportunities to link to other bloggers, and for them to link to me.
And we know how much Google likes other sites linking to yours.
These days we have plenty of ways to network online – Facebook groups, Twitter, and even apps such as Clubhouse. But the best way to network is still face to face, and once we get past this pandemic you should look for ways to meet people in your niche. The chats you have with people during a session, over a meal, and even in the queue for a coffee can lead to all kinds of fruitful relationships.
7. Started running my own events
As well attending other people’s events, I started running my own.
The first event I ran was at my local library, which hosted workshops on various topics that people volunteered to run. I asked if they’d be interested in me running a class on how to use digital cameras.
“Sure,” the librarian said. “We’ve never had a photography class before. You can do it.”
So I put up a sign in the library, and in the end around 20 people came along to learn about photography. I ended up running a few of them, and while 20 people may not sound like many, some of our readers on Digital Photography School have stuck around simply because I met them in in one of those workshops.
And I’ll bet they introduced a lot of their friends to my blog as well, which has helped us increase our traffic numbers.
I’ve attended a lot of events, meetups and conferences over the years. And these days we have around 500 people attending our ProBlogger conferences. And they’ve all provided me with a great opportunity to meet people who have then become readers, and quite often advocates and evangelists for our sites.
8. Started having personal interactions with readers
Something else I started focusing on more was having more personal interactions with my readers.
As I just mentioned, your readers can become advocates and evangelists for your blog. But for them to do that they need to feel they have a connection with you.
And for that happen you actually need to connect.
So respond to their comments, interact with them on Twitter, and even email them out of the blue occasionally. Showing that you’ve noticed them and value them is a very powerful thing.
9. Started pitching to other bloggers
If you’ve written something that other readers in your niche might be interested in, you may want to try pitching it to other bloggers in that niche. Just shoot them a note on Facebook, Twitter or whatever platform they like to be contacted on and say, “Here’s something I wrote. It might be useful to your readers.”
Providing what you’ve written is useful, you’ll be amazed how many people will share it. After all, helping their readers by providing more useful information makes them look good too.
10. Ran a content event
The last thing I did was to start running what I’d now call a content event.
Around this time the ‘Idol’ shows (American Idol, Australian Idol, etc.) were quite popular, and so I decided to do ‘Blogger Idol’. I’d suggest a topic (I think the first one was ‘The ’80s’) and then encourage everyone to write a post about it and publish it on their blog. They’d then send me the link to it, and I’d publish a post with all the links.
Of course, most of them would then share my blog post, which sent traffic to both their site and mine. (Later on I repeated this as part of our 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge.)
Getting people involved in something like this is a great way to not only build traffic, but also get them coming back to your site.
An ironic footnote
By doing all of these things, I now get getting traffic from all sorts of places–other blogs, social media, my email and newsletter list, and even word of mouth. So if any one platform disappears, or my blogs disappear from it, I’ll still have traffic coming in.
Ironically, about six weeks after losing all my traffic, Google changed its algorithm and I got it all back.
Where is your traffic coming from?
Take a look at your Google Analytics, and see where your traffic is coming from. If you see a lot of it coming from a particular source, you should think about using some of the techniques I tried to diversify your traffic sources.
Because who knows what the future holds.
Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash