This guest post is by Nancy Sathre-Vogel of Family on Bikes.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Surely Google Analytics was confusing my site with another, way more popular site. There was no way my visitor numbers could be so high!
And yet they were. One of my posts had taken off and was spreading like wildfire. Those viral post phenomena that happen to others were now happening to me.
The first day, 17,000 visitors came to my website. The next day we topped out at 56,000. Readers were coming in droves.
It was exciting. It was exhilarating. My site, viral! Wow!
And then I took a moment to see what they were seeing. Oh my.
I, like so many other bloggers, had figured people would come to my site in the way I had designed it. They would enter via my homepage, then click on to individual posts. Everything was ready for that kind of traffic.
But the viral post, 50 Lessons I wish I had learned earlier, wasn’t following that pattern. Hundreds of thousands of visitors were pouring into my site directly to an individual post. When I took time to evaluate that post, I realized just how unprepared I was.
For the next few days, my husband and I scrambled to get our site up to snuff. We evaluated and planned and created images and installed widgets. Had we done all that before the spike hit, we could have captured more of that traffic.
Maybe it’s not too late for you. Here are six steps you can take to make sure your site is ready to capture new readers when one of your posts starts spreading like wildfire.
1. Create a new page with no text at all
You don’t want to be distracted by a post; you want to look at everything else on the page. Study your title, your sidebars, your footer. Look at the layout with no post there at all and see what kind of message it sends. Is it consistent with your goals?
2. What do you want your readers to know about you and/or about your site?
That one viral post may or may not be typical of your other posts, so make sure you’re crystal clear in terms of communicating what you’re about on every page.
Our site is about the lessons we learned as we bicycled from Alaska to Argentina, but nowhere on the viral post was that information to be found. Had the new readers entered through the home page, they would have read all about it, but they didn’t. So they didn’t! They had no idea what we’d done or what we were about. We quickly put together a brief bio to add to our sidebar.
3. What do you want your readers to do?
Do you want them to be inspired to take further action? Buy your book? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure that action is spelled out on every page. Maybe you’ll take care of it with a widget on your sidebar, or maybe a popup. However you want to get the message to them, make sure readers know what you want them to do when they enter your site.
We had written some books, and wanted to direct attention to them. But that information was on the home page, not on individual posts. We scrambled to get that up on the sidebar too.
4. Can they easily share your post?
If your Twitter and Facebook share buttons are hidden away down in the gobbledygook at the bottom of the post, how likely is it that your readers will find them? Likewise, if the buttons appear only at the top of the post, what’s the likelihood that they’ll scroll back up after reading?
Don’t clutter your site with share buttons everywhere, but make it easy for readers to find and access them.
5. Are your RSS feed, signup, Twitter, and Facebook buttons easy to find?
If your reader likes what he sees, you want to make it easy for him to follow you.
6. Are your categories self-explanatory and detailed enough?
Put yourself in the shoes of someone coming to your blog for the very first time. Will they be able to find the info you’ve just encouraged them to look for?
Remember that you’ve got only a few seconds to capture a new reader. Whichever page they use to enter your site, that’s the page that needs to be prepared. Which means, of course, that every page needs to be prepared. If you’ve done everything you can to get key information in your sidebar, header, and footer, then you’re ready to go. Let it fly!
Nancy Sathre-Vogel is chief blogger at Family on Bikes. Together with her family, she spent three years cycling from Alaska to Argentina. Now, she back at home writing books and blog posts about their adventures.