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The Unsexy Truth about Finding Traffic for Your Blog

Last week I tweeted that I’d not checked my Google Reader account in a month. Well, it turns out that I’m not the only one.

Within minutes, I started getting tweets back from others saying that they rarely check their RSS feeds any more. Instead, people were finding content from other sources including:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Paper.li
  • email subscriptions
  • apps (some drew in RSS feeds, but others were recommendation engines)

The decline of RSS?

It struck me just how much things have changed over the last two or three years.

It wasn’t long ago that bloggers were promoting their RSS feeds above all other methods of subscribing to their blogs. Email was dead and RSS was going to be the number one way that people would connect with you.

RSS does continue to drive traffic (at least, my Feedburner stats seem to indicate that) but as I look at my own statistics to see where people are arriving on my sites from, the percentage of those coming from RSS/Feedburner seems to be on the decline. The decline is only slight, but in comparison to the steady increases I saw a few years back, it’s been declining (as a percentage of overall traffic) for me, at least.

Fluctuations in social media traffic

What I do notice is that some sources of traffic fluctuate quite a bit from year to year.

For example, different social media sites have been rather inconsistent. Some months, Twitter can be good, but other months it can be down. Facebook, StumbleUpon, Digg, and other social media sites have provided great influxes of traffic at times; other months, they’re very low.

Some of the traffic levels will depend on the types of content we’re writing, but in other cases, it’s more to do with the rise or decline of the sites themselves (for example, Digg seems to have suffered a lot lately).

Overall, I’ve seen traffic levels from Twitter and Facebook rise, but this has varied from month to month, and despite quite a bit of effort in building my network, the percentage of my overall traffic coming from social media has been relatively small (less than 10%).

Steady growth in…

So RSS seems to be in decline (for me) and social media traffic has been fluctuating … but overall traffic has been continuing to grow.

So what is performing? Is there some new, sexy form of traffic that I’ve been focusing on?

I’m afraid not. If anything, the traffic sources that I’m seeing steadily grow have been a little, well, retro. There are two of them:

  1. Email. I keep seeing people talk about how they’re giving up on email, and that it’s a technology that’s dying, but I’m just not seeing that. Perhaps those at the cutting edge are giving it up, but “normal” people certainly aren’t. It’s increasing the traffic to my sites through newsletters, and continues to bring conversions when it comes to sales.
  2. Search Engines. Also regularly reported is that search engines are under threat from social media as more and more people use social media sites to search and find content to read. I’ve no doubt that there’s some truth to that, but search engines are by no means dead. Again, “normal” people still head to Google to find content. I’ve not put a lot of time into SEO or particularly targeted search traffic, but one of the side-effects of adding daily content to a blog is that you naturally build up the pages being indexed by search engines, so search traffic will naturally grow.


By no means am I suggesting that social media isn’t worth your time and effort, or that you should kill your RSS feeds and solely focus your attention on email or SEO. These observations are my own, from my four blogs, and they may not be typical.

I think the key take-aways for me are these:

  • Do some analysis of your own traffic and where it’s coming from. Doing this analysis myself today has challenged me to think about how much time and energy I do put into social media, and whether it’s really paying off as much as if I’d made other choices for my focus!
  • Don’t throw all your efforts into just the new, “sexy” forms of marketing (like social media). They have incredible potential, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
  • Keep in mind that the average internet user doesn’t always know and use new technology like the social-media savvy bloggers that you and I are. It’ll vary from niche to niche, but good old email and search engines might be good places to focus your efforts!

I’d love to hear some analysis of your own sites’ traffic sources. Have you seen any shifts in the sources of your traffic? Do they correlate with where you put your time and energy when it comes to marketing?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  1. I find it interesting in how traffic sources vary depending upon the niche your blog operates in. A blog operating within a niche full of technical people (Web design, Web hosting etc) will usually have a higher percentage of people using RSS, whereas a niche full of non-tech-savvy people (a niche full of stay-at-home-moms for example) will probably use more email and less RSS. For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed the trend of more email and less RSS too. Each time I launch a new blog, I’ll generally see a larger percentage of subscribers subscribing via email, rather than RSS.

    The other thing that I find interesting is how we, as bloggers, often define the success of our blog on the number of RSS subscribers (email or RSS reader based). I think a lot of us need to accept that it is actually interaction within our blogs that is the true measure of success.


    • I think you’re entirely correct in focusing on the type and subject (the “niche”) of blog. Mine is a typical academic-making-their-way-into-more-public-forum blog, so I’ve always expected traffic to be fairly low, at least for the first year, until (here’s the advantage of such a blog) high quality content and writing win regular readers.

      After I developed a bit of sophistication about these matters, I started going beyond just using FB to publicize new entries, and incorporated Twitter, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu (just what it sounds like: an increasingly useful SM site for academics) — still rather low-key compared to what one could do with SM, of course.

      I’ve been paying attention to the site stats, and found that a good portion of my traffic comes from SM, another portion from search engines, and the third. . . .? From sites on which I leave comments, particularly if I include a link to a relevant blog post.

      One of my pieces alone, discussing the ethics of taking pleasure in student failure (http://tinyurl.com/4z2q79q), accounts for over 10% of my total reads (538 out of 5,153), precisely because of all of the traffic from the Chronicle of Higher Ed website. I think for the niche I’m in — definitely not for every kind of niche — high quality comments on other sites are a good way of generating traffic.

      As to defining success, I don’t base it on subscriptions, nor just on interaction on the blog — my entries tend to be long and involved, and there are not a lot of comments and back and forth exchanges so far. I look to discussion about my posts in SM, retweets and other shares. And I also look at the fact that I’ve somehow developed an international readership as some measure.

      It would be really interesting to see how other niches define success and what they use to develop readership.

  2. Great observation Darren. I check my traffic stat almost everyday and the winners are still search engines.
    So I agree with you that dding daily content to a blog naturally builds up the pages being indexed by search engines, so search traffic will naturally grow. Thanks for sharing this good observation.

    • Guys, I need an answer to this; Why do I rank well for my major keywords on Google.com but would show on page 4-6 for same on the likes of Google.in?

      • Location of your backlinks.

        • Thanks Blog Tyrant I kinda like your blog and subscribed. Could you explain further? Thanks

          • But I think it is good that your site rank well in google.com,that means you are getting traffic from US.

          • Hi Fisayo,

            It is all geological. If your blog ranks for a particular keyword in Google.com, this means you are the popular person for that keyword in US. But not necessarily in India for the same keyword. There may be other competitors in India, and that’s why the difference.

            That is why you have an option for geo-targeting in advertising.


      • Might be a obvious answer, but you are using a .com domain, so this is automatically associated with the US by Google. Have you been into your webmaster tools and changed the setting to associate it with India or whichever country you are trying to target? Try that, if you already have then I am not sure, maybe try and get links from a .in source

  3. Email will also always convert better than the others. It will be interesting to see what happens now that Facebook has email and links to SMS, chat, etc. It’s totally mixed.

  4. I still use Google Reader pretty much exclusively – all of my email is tagged, archived, and prioritized as it hits my inbox, and it may be days or weeks before I get to things that don’t require action on my part.

    Darren, do your stats include people who read your blog in a feedreader, or only those who actually click in to your posts? I would guess that I actually click into someone’s blog 3-5% of the time I read a post, but my read rate is near 100%. I unsubscribe immediately from blogs that include only an excerpt in their feed.

  5. Deja vu or it’s the whole being bald thing that has us on the same page. I have not checked my RSS subscribers in I don’t know how long. I had even forgotten my FeedBurner address for the longest. I have been watching my stats bounce up and down for a little while now, and have been thinking about the next step in drawing traffic to the site.

    My first thought was: too many people are reading it from external sources other than the site itself. There are many ways to access the RSS feed as well as get the content from other social networks such as networked blogs and Facebook.

    I have actually removed links to my RSS feed, though the feed is still active. Have my stats gone up? Only slightly, but that could be related to a number of factors. RSS was big when I first started blogging, but now seems to be a fading outsource for content. Personally, I welcome the death of RSS, if that is in fact coming, and plan to focus on other ways of driving traffic to the site itself.

  6. I have never had an occasion where traffic to sites I’ve been involved in did not spike after the email. Anyone can look at the first page of Google Anlytics and see when the email went out. Many more people rely on email to point them to content to these sites than any social media source.

    To bloggers I want to defend RSS as the “hot news wire.” That’s where it’s happening first in most niches and you’d better make regular stops there.

    Great article, Darren.

  7. SEs have accounted for the majority of my traffic and it makes sense because thats what i put the majority of my focus on.

    Now I’m doing the same with Social Media. Hopefully I will see similar results. The potential of SM is too big to ignore.

  8. My top 5 sources of traffic:

    1) Feedburner – 20% (so feeds are doing ok for me)
    2) Direct traffic – 14 %
    3) Google – 11%
    4) Twitter – 10%
    5) StumbleUpon – 8%

    Am very grateful for traffic from my RSS feeds. They provide the best quality traffic for me. They bring the best bounce rate, spend the most time on my site and they view the most pages.

    I am, of course, grateful for the all the traffic I get and, for a small blog, I am quite happy with the progress with my traffic.

    I have one observation though – I would rather the traffic that came to my site was of good quality so the likes of Reddit and StumbleUpon I am not too worried about as they play havoc with my stats like bounce rate and page views.

    One question – does anybody else get traffic from the likes of Reddit etc that does do more for their stats than just increase page views?

  9. It is quite interesting that some of the older ways are coming back. It seems a lot of these fads are cyclical. IN a year RSS will probably be the “thing” again.

    It just goes to show that you should use as many “lures” as possible and try to have a presence in ALL the methods of getting people to your doorstep since it is hard to predict what will be the “hot” method in the future.

  10. It’s funny that you mention this, because it seems for me that I am consistently checking my Google Reader account more and more frequently. That’s how I found this post!

    I think one of the reasons that RSS feeds may seem to be on the decline is because, well frankly people don’t know about it! I say “people” referring to my peers at least. I’m a 20 year old college student and whenever I mention Google Reader to one of my friends, I have to explain to them exactly what it is and what it is used for.

    Hmm. Sounds like a new post idea to me. Thanks!


  11. I get the most traffic to my blog from StumbleUpon and Facebook. Twitter has a limited or almost no impact.
    So far RSS has been of insignificant importance as a traffic generator .

    By contrast, as an individual I heavily rely on RSS as a source of infromation.

  12. RSS as method of gathering news/info from different souces may be on the wane but it is now a way of joining things up. Facebook takes RSS, from blog to fan page etc. Twitter can be feed with Twitterfeed. Google Webmaster can take RSS as site maps. Have an email list? Automate it with RSS.

    As an information source RSS is not as popular as it once was. However it has become more of a protocol in it’s own right for joining different services together.

  13. Yes, totally agreed. Traffic from social media is fluactuating and the conversion rate is inconsistent. So I have to still use my email list and ads.

  14. I think half the reason RSS didn’t take take off was that very few feed readers were well designed. NetNewsWire, which was Mac-only, was the gold standard…except that it was desktop based, so you were tied to one computer. Most of the other feed readers I ever tried were little better than bookmarking your favorite sites and visiting them manually.

    When web browsers started including integrated feed readers, that was supposed to take RSS mainstream. But the browsers’ feed readers were even worse than most of the others.

    Google Reader has some good strengths, but also some fatal weaknesses: no ability to subscribe to password-protected feeds, slow refresh of less-popular feeds, no 3-pane layout option (not everybody likes the 3-pane layout, but I find it MUCH more efficient for scanning lots of content and reading just what’s interesting).

    I still pretty much live in my feed reader. I subscribe to my Twitter feed in it, so Twitter’ll never replace it for me.

    A good feed reader kills email in reading experience. One big difference is the assumptions feed readers and email clients make about what you want to do with content once you’ve read it. Email clients assume you want to keep it unless you delete it. Feed readers assume you want to delete it unless you flag it. For the kinds of content feed readers are used for, the latter assumption is more accurate, so it saves you a lot of manual deleting.

    Paper.li hasn’t appealed to me at all — seems like too much clutter, and too much on topics I’m not interested in. Maybe I just haven’t caught the vision yet, but I don’t see it becoming part of my day.

  15. As a family history/memoir/genealogy blogger, posting commentary on diaries and letters spanning the last century (at the 100-year-old ones now), discoveries in Romania, and connecting the dots life today, my blog would appeal to family history and just plain history buffs as well as writers. In general, my audience is older. Very few of my friends (there are exceptions) use Twitter (the word sends shivers down the spines of many) and my Facebook page doesn’t have the traffic that those of twenty/thirty/forty-somethings do. So while I use these social media outlets, I’m not sure they do that much for my site. I think my emails get the most response — as well as visits from others in the genealogical community who have found my site and like it. Search engine shows up as sliver of the pie that gets people to my site. I’d like to increase that. I’m starting an Adwords campaign — not sure it’s right for my type of site, but we’ll see. I’m always open to suggestions. BTW, per Blog Tyrant: what are backlinks — and how does one work those to come up higher in searches?
    Thanks for starting the conversation, Darren.

  16. My site’s traffic sources is depended only upon social networking site.I need to work on SEO to get traffic from organic sources.Thanks for sharing.

  17. According to my stats, my highest forms of traffic come from Networked Blogs (via Facebook) and Twitter. Following them is a blog I guest post on once a month and then any other blogs I’ve been featured on.

    My advice? Guest post. That really helps drive traffic as well–and do it regularly. :)

    People come from email before they do RSS feed (on my blog). Hope this gives a little insight.

  18. My stats fluctuate like this as well. It’s hard to gage. It will be interesting to see how Facebook email plays out in all of this. Anybody using Facebook as their primary email?

    Celene Harrelson

  19. I’m definitely seeing the same things, Darren. RSS traffic is way down from where I saw it three or four years ago and I know I certainly don’t push it as much these days. I still use RSS myself (heck, I’m commenting right now inside the Reeder app), but it’s cumbersome to deal with once you subscribe to a lot of sources so I can see why most people are backing off. Personally, I’ve been putting more effort into direct traffic. Encouraging people to bookmark, or even just remember my site enough to type it in to the address bar every day and visit. So far, that focus is paying off, but who knows what will fall in and out of favor over the next year :-)

  20. Its still great to use rss feeds..but yes its true that a lot of sites are going to social site for content..however the old school ways will continue to stick around no matter what.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  21. I prefer to focus on social media. When I check my source of traffic a few days ago, both facebook and twitter have brought me a great traffic. And now I’m still working on it to create some promotion on those social media.

  22. Thanks for this post Darren. I am pretty tech savvy (compared to my industry) but have never really liked subscribing to the feeds. I found that I was usually focused on something else and didn’t read the vast majority of them.


  23. We get a fair amount of traffic from Twitter, but Facebook doesn’t seem to convert as well. We offer RSS, but I don’t ever check my numbers because we show full feed on our RSS, which means less conversion. Our email lists continues to grow everyday and we get about a 30% to 40% click through rate every week.

  24. In the arts and classical music niche, I’ve found that I get a sizable amount of daily traffic via my blog’s Facebook Page, especially if I take the time to provide interesting link commentary and respond to comments.

  25. Oops – incorrect website link on the previous comment. The correct one is posted above.

  26. I don’t think that email is “dying” at all. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the one that converts best in my opinion. A few weeks ago for example, I wrote a series of posts that I promoted via email and email only to my subscribers. Those posts in some instances received the most comments versus other posts that I shared via social media. This suggests two things: 1.) Email works very well, 2.) Social Media traffic can be shallow. People will RT and click but often rarely stick around to read/comment.

    Just my observations anyway…

  27. I found my way to this article via Facebook.

    The bulk of the traffic to my blog currently arrives from Facebook and Twitter.

    My guess is, that “how to” technical topics obtain more traffic from search engines, while inspirational lifestyle topics obtain more traffic from social media channels.

    But, you know, I’m only guessing at this point. My analytics are like yours, Darren, in that they: fluctuate.

    In my case, my viewers (target demographic) are a bit older — though they might own the latest gadgets, they’re still not so tech-y that they use Google Reader regularly.

    { twitter = @danenow }

  28. Interesting observations. I think they are definitely in line with what a lot of people have been saying. While it isn’t sexy, email is still an amazing way to read readers and fans. It is universally something that everyone understands, and with email programs getting better and better at filtering spam open rates are getting better all the time. Email marketing will be here for a long while and in my opinion is part of social media.

  29. Another question would be how targetted is the traffic you get from social media.
    I get a lot of traffic from LinkedIn and it is targetted but I don’t think it happens the same with Facebook and Twitter. They are mostly ramdom visitors.

    Btw, I still use RSS reader and love it. It’s like a treasure box. Everytime I check it I found pearls to read from the bloggers I really like.


  30. Hi Darren,

    Yes it is indeed true that RSS is on the decline. People are finding “used to” the sexy media. But email is something more personal. As long as we can give the personal touch and flavor to it, one can rock with traffic through emails.

    Thanks for putting up the nice thought, Darren.


  31. I’m thinking because my blog tends to follow the more “personal diary” approach than some of the others here, I find that the majority of my traffic comes from my social media feeds and website links. But I also tend to over Tweet from my Twitter account, keeping in mind the things I learned from Darren about the timing of when blogs are read, etc.

  32. I couldn’t tell you the last time I checked my reader. I use it more like a supplemental “favorites” list. The blogs I read regularly are subscribed via email, since I’m checking that multiple times a day anyway. It’s just easier for me to keep up with the ones I’m really interested in and enjoy. The rest? Ah…that’s more along the lines of “hmm…I need a little inspiration, or hmm…don’t I follow someone’s blog with info about that?”

    In terms of my own traffic, 30% of mine comes from search engines and another 30% comes from referral sites. The rest is a mix of social media, RSS, direct traffic, etc. I would say then, with over 60% of my traffic coming from SEO and backlinks, and my traffic numbers steadily increasing…I must be doing something right. I could probably do more, but I’m more interested in developing a community than trying to “convert” anyone.

    My focus is shifting more towards encouraging comments and interaction with my audience than just traffic…but as with any blog, it’s always a work in progress.

  33. Darren,

    I like the point that the average reader isn’t as technologically advanced as most bloggers. This is good to keep in mind.

    Before recently, I was operating under the assumption that people read my content in one of two ways: 1) from a subscription, RSS or e-mail 2) from Google search. Then it dawned on me that a lot of my readers, even regular readers don’t do either of these. They check back on my blog the same way that they check back to Yahoo News.

    This made me realize how important it is to post consistent content. Before I thought that it didn’t matter that much because my readers will no when content is out based on their subscription. Wrong. Not all of them will.

    So the lesson to learn is that not everyone uses technology the way that advanced bloggers do. Realizing that they don’t can help you to serve readers better.

    What do you think? Is this a good illustration?


  34. Yes, I have no doubt that the use of RSS is on decline too. I hardly read any RSS feeds myself. If I want to read about some stuff, I just go directly to where I want to read about it. But still, I find search engine and email traffic to be more reliable than RSS.

    A lot of people are using their social media as a means for reading the latest updates, so it’s much easier than using and logging into an RSS reader I guess. Not necessarily a bad thing though, because it also makes it a lot easier for them to like and retweet what they’re reading about if they enjoy it. :)

    Well, overall I think it’s best to have a good spread of different traffic sources. You never know what changes might happen in the future.

  35. I personally never got around using the Google Reader, but I check the RSS Feeds I subscribed to from the personalized google homepage almost every day. The way I am used to use twitter is not very effective and filtering out the noise just takes to long if compared to how “news” are represented on facebook. let’s see what the next big thing in social media will be ;-)

  36. My RSS/Email subscribers are my greatest traffic but next to that it’s StumbleUpon. Twitter not so much but Facebook is becoming stronger and stronger each month.

  37. Well I must be one of weird ones in the bunch. I use my desktop RSS feed reader all the time! (BTW: that’s how I knew about this post (wink))

    I find Twitter too “noisy” to consider it a source for information, other than a world event happening.

    Most of my traffic is from good old organic search results.

    You guys do know that you can follow someone on Facebook or Twitter via a RSS feed right?

  38. I use my RSS feed about once or twice a month too, but on purpose. I only subscribe to 5 or so feeds, but they’re the best of the best I’ve found. They’re the ones I don’t want to miss – and I might miss them as they go through my Twitter feed.

    Email is also the way I get regulars to my blog. If they don’t click over after 10 or so emails, I deactivate their subscription (so that my custom autoresponder isn’t caught sending emails to dormant accounts, which hurts deliverability). In any case, that gives my subscribers a reason to click on over regularly.

  39. I disagree when it comes to email and readers. I love my google reader. I use it every day. It’s right up there with my calendar and my tasks. It’s a daily part of my life.

  40. In my opinion SEO is the best source of traffic. I have to admit that is not easy to do SEO but it’s worths all the time in the world!

  41. I also according to my own experience found that RSS is on decline.

  42. My blog is still relatively new, but I seem to get more traffic from search engines than other areas. Personally, I’m a fan of reading email subscriptions. Like you said, I believe it’s a good idea to use different forms of marketing. Thanks for the article, by the way. I’ll keep my eye out for any changes in where my traffic originates.

  43. “despite quite a bit of effort in building my network, the percentage of my overall traffic coming from social media has been relatively small (less than 10%).”

    That’s the key point. RSS is “set it and forget it,” whereas social media can take a tremendous amount of effort for not much payoff. When I dive into my stats across multiple sites, I find that RSS readers are more loyal, stick around longer, and read more posts than visitors from other sources. Bleeding edge tech types love to proclaim things to be dead whenever something shinier and newer comes along, but reality is that the market moves much more slowly than they do.

  44. I’ve found that my search engine traffic – particularly from Google – has recently doubled. It may be just because my blog isn’t quite as new as it used to be, but I suspect it has something to do with the change Google made that scared everyone. Instead of losing traffic as many bloggers feared, the change seems to be rewarding people who put out quality content. Since I seem to spend a great deal of time writing my posts, I’d say the traffic is in line with the effort I put into it.

    Facebook/Twitter are secondary sources now. Posting on them is largely automated for me now, but I have spent time making sure I’m a “real” person on their, not just a link spammer. Again, traffic seems to be in line with the time spent.

  45. I agree that everything is changing in every way. But sometimes it seems that everything is reduced to cyclothymia people to choose a method. Sometimes one and sometimes another.

  46. Checking it at the very moment I write this comment:

    The #1 source of my traffic is StumbleUpon.
    Followed by ‘good’ old Google and Youtube.
    The rest is from advertisement I’m doing on other websites.

    I nearly never check my feedburner statistics and just let the whole thing for what it is. I don’t put any effort in this one and it doesn’t hurt me.

    There where moments where I thought about to stop with the Aweber newsletter but I just paid for another year, so I’ll see if I put some more effort in it. This one really needs some more of my attention to make it worth the bucks I pay for it.

    Anyway, even though I don’t really sell anything there is more money coming in than going out. This brings me to the conclusion that I at least don’t have a reason to stop blogging anywhere soon.

  47. In the beginning, Twitter really boost my traffic. If I do interesting tweets or show an interest in someone and do more than just post other links or promote myself, then I do get an influx of new readers. However, that died a little and FB became my traffic driver. Recently, I discovered twitter brought in a new reader or two.

  48. I have just launched my site and I am working diligently getting back links. I have leaned the best way to get top rankings in Google is to post articles on related but non competitive sites ranked PR 3 and up. Best to submit an original exclusive article that is well written with 2-3 links back to pages on your blog or website. The goal is to have anywhere from 15-20 articles on other sites/blogs to start. Of course, it is wise to continue this process as much as possible to get the rankings. And contributing to blogs such as this is another great way to get back links as well. After all, isn’t targeted traffic the name of the game?

  49. I find a lot of my traffic comes from Facebook and Twitter right now. I do have a ton of trickle traffic from blogs I visit. Hopefully the search engines will start working once I have a few more pages indexed! LOL

  50. I love my RSS for getting info. Twitter only gives room for a headline, Facebook is for hearing what my friends are up to, so links kinda get in the way of that. And I don’t like non-actionable stuff cluttering my email inbox :)

    But I do get a large amount of traffic from search engines and coming second to that is feedreaders – a lot of people using Google Reader, but also personalised Google pages too. I’ve only got a tiny handful of email subscribers, but it’s no trouble to cater to them and they’re much more likely to engage with me by emailing a question or sending me leads on interesting stories.

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