Can you succeed in blogging without really trying?

As it is probably apparent by glancing through this blog, the designers at Automattic were given a user empathy challenge. Our task was to pick one of our fellow designers’ blog posts and come up with a plan to get it over 1,000 views on a financial budget of $20 and a time budget of two hours.

As I started writing a bit late in the given timeline, there are already a lot of great posts up with different strategies and plans to improve readership. So, for my post I really wanted to focus on what a user’s experience might be if they only had two hours to figure out how to get 1,000 views on their blog. I loved that there was a time budget, as I think that’s the issue most of our users are going to run up against – finding the time to not only write their posts but put together a strategy to get them read.

The post I chose to try to promote was Joan Rho’s How to Create a Website for Your Small Business (a Three-Part Tutorial Series). I chose it because it was already performing well, had a clear audience, and contained lots of great info that would be helpful to its target readers.

So with featured blog post in hand, I started my two-hour timer to figure out how to make Joan’s post go viral [ish]. As it turns out, I am part of a marketing department that includes an entire team of people who can acquire site visitors like it’s their job (because it is). But, in keeping with my goal of understanding the average user experience, I intentionally didn’t reach out to any of them. 

I do have a basic understanding of what gets users to blogs: quality content (your posts are interesting and well-written), regular content (your blog is being updated frequently), and relevant content (you’re writing about what your target audience is searching for and they can find it). But, that is more of an action plan for a blog over the long-term. In this exercise, I was hoping to discover a more detailed, and perhaps a bit of a silver bullet for successfully promoting an article that’s already been written.

So, I did what I think most users would have done – hopped into Google with “how do I get more visitors to my blog?” The very first result was WordPress.com (woo!), which contained some very solid and expected advice on getting more traffic: sharing on social media, being mindful of SEO, blogging regularly, etc. I wanted more details and quickly discovered we actually have a whole Ebook about getting more traffic to your blog (double woo!). But then I realized the PDF was 128 pages, which reading and synthesizing was definitely going to put me outside of my two hour budget.

I headed back to Google to see what advice was out there beyond what WordPress.com had to offer. Honestly, the results were overwhelming and off-putting, with lots of spammy feeling headlines like How to get 150,000 people to read your blog in 1 week. Which, of course, I couldn’t help but click on. The first piece of advice in the article was to write “really remarkable content….like Tim Ferriss and Neil Patel…” And then I needed to give them my email address to to download the PDF to get the instructions for “a proven system for creating remarkable content.” Ugh.

The next article I clicked on 7 Proven Strategies to Increase Your Blog’s Traffic by 206% was, in fact, by the aforementioned Neil Patel. Despite its listicle title and overly specific percentage number, it actually contained quite a bit of solid, actionable information. But there was so much, I still couldn’t break it down to something useful in under an hour. What I was able to quickly discover is that advertisers have been using clickbait headlines for a REALLY long time. Neil pulled this gem from a magazine published in 1927. You won’t believe what happens next!
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At this point, I found myself at the end of my two hour limit. Which brought me to a few conclusions: If you want to get 1,000 quality views that matter (not that you just buy for the sake of padding the numbers) it’s going to take more than two hours. But also, that picking one blog post to drive traffic to may not be the most impactful result to strive for.

Building a reliable, quality readership is ultimately what most people are after and that is done by repeatedly and predictably producing interesting content that speaks to your audience’s needs. (And probably also reading and executing on the strategies in WordPress.com’s Ebook!) Because let’s face it, if there was a list of 5 Easy Tips on the first page of a Google search results with some kind of magic recipe to get any post 1,000 views — everyone’s blog posts would have a 1,000 views.

While there are “tricks” like buying views; changing the blog title to something click-baity; or advertising the post on Facebook with a photograph of a kitten and baby duck being best friends – none of that will ultimately achieve the high-quality readership that users want.

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