If I were to summarize what I did to grow this blog for the past year, it is (a) find a niche topic and target audience, (b) keep writing relevant, quality contents, and (c) let contents be found through Google and social media. And ultimately, the rewards of blogging go far beyond traffic numbers.
Unexpected numbers: The growing traffic and exposure
Traffic to this blog was single digit in February 2012. A year later, this blog receives about 4,000 page views for the month of February 2013. A modest number in the eyes of big-name bloggers, it nonetheless far exceeds my expectations.
I started this blog in 2009, out of personal interests, when digital or multimedia journalism was more of a concept than practice. After some off-and-on postings, I stopped writing and this blog went into hiatus till early 2012, when I started making preparations for a “Convergent Journalism” class for fall 2012.
During the hiatus, traffic to this blog was close to zero. Below is a chart of monthly page views from 2009 through 2011 – there were 71 page views for the year of 2011:
I “jump started” the blog in February 2012 and began to see traffic; monthly average in 2012 has been about 2,000 page views. Traffic has been showing a steady growth since 2013; below is a chart that shows monthly stats of page views and visitors:
(this post was written in February 2013 and this chart was updated in May 2014)
Identify a niche topic and target audience for the blog
When planning to restart this blog last year, I decided that I needed to identify a niche topic, as well as a target audience group. To attract the target group, there needs to be some sort of “anchor” or “evergreen” projects or posts.
Back in February 2012, I was having a hard time trying to figure out what digital journalism is, what it entails, and more importantly, how to teach/learn it. I then thought there should be many other people who are in a similar situation: journalism instructors who want to teach, students and freelancers who want to learn, mid-career professionals who want to stay current – I saw them as my target audiences.
I started by searching for journalism programs that offer such courses and the new tools and skills that I needed to teach myself first. Based on the searches and reading, I compiled a list of digital journalism programs; the initial compilation drew quite some traffic when I shared it in LinkedIn groups.
I continued compiling and improving this digital program list, and started writing a series of articles analyzing those programs. I also started writing about other aspects of digital journalism education and practice.
The results are encouraging. As I said in “About This Blog,” the page of digital journalism programs and other key posts on my blog routinely rank high on various Google searches. The standalone program list, in the form of an interactive map, has also attracted more than 6,000 visits as of this writing.
I use Twitter and the blog for cross promotion – my tweets are also about digital journalism education and practices. My Twitter account was created about the same time I jump-started this blog – I sent out my first tweet in March 2012 with zero followers. A year later and after 2,500 tweets, I’m tweeting to more than 600 followers @mututemple.
Keep writing relevant, quality contents for readers
I try to keep readers in mind when working on a new blog post: what about this topic that may interest journalism instructors/students/freelancers? what information should I include? where to find such information? how to structure the post?
On a daily basis, I scout social media and the web for readings about digital journalism: new tools, new practices, new issues, new discussions, etc. The sources I consult include Twitter and popular sites such as Nieman Lab, Poynter, journalism.co.uk and, lately and primarily, getprismatic.com.
It is like snowballing: when I read a post or article about a particular topic that interests me, I will save it, search for more, read and save again. When I feel I’ve done enough reading and thinking, I will start writing a post based on my own observation and thoughts, and use those saved readings as references.
I also believe that blog posts, a form of web writing, require some special writing techniques to facilitate on-screen reading. As I discussed in a separate posts, there are some special writing guidelines that I follow when writing a blog post.
Let contents be found: Good contents + Google, social media
Search engines, which include Google, Bing and Yahoo, have been the primary source of referred traffic to my blog. Also instrumental are social media referrals. See stats screenshot for the top referrers (June 2012 through February 2013):
You may wonder why my own site, mulinblog.com, is also on the list. That’s because when writing a new post, I always include at the end some “related posts” – posts I wrote that are related to the same topic. In the posts, there are also links to other posts on my blog. Obviously people are clicking to read the related posts thus generating “referred” traffic to my own site.
To help search engines find my blog, the one thing I routinely do with a new post is to work on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I use an SEO plugin called Yoast, which embeds SEO title and meta description to a new post. SEO title and meta description are not shown in the post itself – they are visible to the search engines and will be displayed in search results. I also use a program called KeywordXP to research for keywords that I can include in the SEO title and meta info.
As an example, when you Google for “multimedia journalism programs,” my blog post tops the list of three million results; the SEO title and meta description appear in the search results as in the screenshot below. Note that “Digital or multimedia journalism degree programs, schools and class” is NOT the title you will see on the actual page.
I have read various tips and tricks about online content promotion, but other than SEO and sharing new posts to my Twitter followers, there’s not much promotion that I do for the blog. Occasionally, I would share posts in LinkedIn groups or leave comments on other blogs or websites. I take sharing and commenting as a privilege – I only share/comment with appropriate contents, not solely for self-promotion.
Now and then, there was a burst of Twitter referred traffic, that’s because a particular post was picked up and tweeted by some influential names on Twitter; there have also been traffic spikes due to my posts being re-posted by popular sites such as socialmediatoday.com – they have carried three of my posts. Sometimes the comments I left on other websites or blogs may also bring some traffic to my blog.
But I think all these bursts and spikes help to gradually improve visibility of my blog – there must be returning visitors who come directly to the homepage, because stats show my homepage is the top-visited page of all time (that certainly includes visitors referred through a specific link and then click on homepage to explore the site).
The rewards go beyond numbers: It’s more about personal development and digital presence
To me, the real reward from this past year’s blogging is not the traffic growth, it’s personal development and being able to help/interact with others. Blogging about digital journalism has made me a confident instructor as well as a useful resource to others.
I have gained knowledge about a wide range of topics: curriculum design, program development, digital tools, web writing techniques, mobile reporting, industry practices, etc. I have been able to incorporate such knowledge into my digital journalism class. Journalism instructors at other colleges are using my blog posts as reading materials in their classes. I have made acquaintances and friends on Twitter and LinkedIn. And, also rewarding is when I look at the “global” audience to my blog in the “Top Views by Countries” chart; here is a partial country list from June 2012 to February 2013:
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