State of the Blog: Months 4-7 and the Importance of Blog Commenting

Airplane Taking Off

Image copyright ssuaphoto – iStockphoto.com

It’s been a little over seven months since I launched The Hobby Blogger, and it’s really starting to come into its own. I’ve fleshed out the blog’s structure and given it a new look. Traffic is growing. Posts are getting comments. It feels like a full-on blog now.

In this post I’ll tell you how have I’ve grown my traffic, and we’ll look back on the goals I set in the last update and see how well I stuck to them.

Strong traffic growth

During the first three months, I had very little traffic and no one had commented on any of my posts. I hadn’t performed any blog promotion either: no social media, only one comment on another blog, and I had told only two people about my blog.

Starting in December, I began regularly commenting on a number of blogs, growing my traffic significantly. Here’s a graphic showing the number of THB’s monthly unique visits. Note that Google Analytics data is missing because I didn’t install it until right before the New Year.

THB Unique Visitors First 7 Months

While the numbers between AWStats and Google Analytics differ significantly, the trend is the same: traffic has been roughly doubling every month since I began commenting on other blogs. The total visits also shows the same trend.

THB Total Visitors First 7 Months

In February, I got a big lift in traffic from a comment I made on StudioPress’s blog. It wasn’t the comment’s backlink that brought in the new traffic. Rather, Brian Gardner checked out my blog through the backlink, and liked my recent design changes so much that he featured The Hobby Blogger in their showcase.

You can see the traffic spike in the Referral component of traffic sources below. This is a stacked area plot in which the amount of each type of traffic is represented by how much area each color covers. So because you see very little green relative to the other colors, it means that the amount of direct traffic (via bookmarks or typing the site’s address into the browser’s address bar) I get is relatively small—about 20%.

THB Traffic Sources Jan-Apr 2012

The other interesting part of this graphic is the recent increase in search engine (organic) traffic. Recently, it’s been about 40-45% of my traffic. This is because I’ve been more mindful of putting relevant keywords in my post titles and headings.

Overall, the number of visitors is still quite small, but I’m psyched about the rate of growth. Also keep in mind that I still have no presence on any social networks yet, so there’s still a lot of growth potential.

One final traffic stat is that my Alexa Rank has gone from 8,899,358 on Dec. 6 (when I installed the Alexa Toolbar), to 428,726 as of March 31.

Regular comments

Most of my posts now get a handful of comments, and I gratefully reply to every one of them. It’s really nice because many of the comments have been helpful and pointed out things I’ve missed, or have given me something new to think about. A nice little community is starting to grow here.

Room for improvement

While I’m happy with the traffic and participation, the blog still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

  • Email list – I only have about 12 FeedBurner subscribers, two of them by email. Everyone says that the money is in the list. Well, I’ve got a long way to go then.
  • Revenue – I’ve earned a whopping total of $0.00. Not that I’m surprised. I’ve had quite a few click-throughs on my StudioPress affiliate links, but no commissions yet. That’s OK. I realize my traffic is way too low to be making any significant money. At this point, creating content is still my main focus.
  • Bounce rates – Bounce rates are running about 60%, which is still way too high. Though it’s understandable given that so much of my traffic is coming from the StudioPress showcase. Those visitors are probably bloggers just checking out the look of my theme, and unless they’re interested in this niche, few of them will stick around for long.
  • Posting schedule – I’m still struggling to post regularly every week. I’m striving to set a standard schedule of posting every Thursday. I don’t have any posts in reserve either. I’d like to build up a cache of five to ten posts to cover vacations, intense times at work, etc., and perhaps build up to posting twice a week.

Previous goals

Here’s a status report on the goals I set for months four through six, and how well I met them.

Add more basic blog elements

  • Contact page – Yep. I’ve even received a few emails through it.
  • Email subscription form – Got it. Though I only have two subscribers so far.
  • Newsletter subscription form – Nada. Can’t yet justify devoting any time to setting up a newsletter.
  • ChangeBlog – Check. Not yet sure if this is a “hit” yet, but it does get quite a few views, and it’s unique to my blog. My apologies to Internet Explorer users on the formatting. It’s the only browser that centers the text in each table cell, but a fix is on the way.
  • Privacy and disclosure policies – Extra credit. I didn’t originally plan for these pages, but I discovered their necessity when I started my affiliate programs.

Grow readership and traffic

  • Engage blogging community
    • Comment on blogs – Started doing this in earnest at the beginning of December, and that’s exactly when my traffic started to grow.
    • Participate in forums – Haven’t got around to doing this yet because of time, but I wonder if it’s even worth doing. I’ve wanted to join WarriorForum, but which gives more bang for the buck in terms of driving traffic: blog commenting or forum posts?
  • Create presence on Facebook, Google+, Twitter – FAIL. The good thing is that my traffic is still growing without the use of any social media.
  • Research/improve search engine optimization– I’ve slowly picked up and started implementing a few SEO tricks:
    • Front-loaded keyword-rich post titles that are less than 70 characters
    • Keyword-rich h2 and h3 headings
    • Using Google Web Master tools
    • Creating a sitemap using Google XML Sitemaps plugin
    • Changing my permalink structure to a custom structure with keyword-rich slugs

Site design

  • Create color scheme – More than just a color scheme change – also created a new logo, moved the navigation menu to the header, snazzier email subscription box.
  • Add visual gradients to comments – Haven’t gotten to this yet, but will soon. Not a super high priority though.
  • Security tweaks – Umm, yeah. Hackers, please stay away a little bit longer. Already have a few things locked down like changing the admin username and using a subfolder for the WordPress files.
  • Speed optimizations – enabled gzip compression, reducing bandwidth by half and hopefully speeding up your load times.
  • Development site – Extra credit. When I wanted to work on my design changes, I needed to install a local copy of the blog on my laptop so I could test design changes without messing up the live blog. It was indispensable in coming up with the new design.

Revenue groundwork

  • Become affiliate for Genesis, HostGator, and NameCheap, and add their banners to my sidebar – Got the first two done. Haven’t made a dime yet.
  • Experiment with Google AdSense – Not yet. As a nod to John Saddington’s recommendation of getting at least 250 unique visits a day before advertising, I’m going to hold off on implementing AdSense until I get more traffic, especially since there are far more pressing issues to deal with that will help increase said traffic.

Goals for next three months

Here’s what I’d like to accomplish by the end of June:

  • Add Google+, Facebook, Twitter presence – Though I’m worried about time being taken away from writing, I need to at least get going with Google+ to keep growing traffic.
  • Build up a reserve of at least five posts – This will help ensure I post regularly every week.
  • Blog enhancements
    • Add visual gradients to comments.
    • Add sitemap to blog – I want readers to be able to find older content more easily.
    • Security tweaks – Would love to be able to securely login on public wifi without worrying about my password getting hacked.
    • Speed tweaks – Add a caching plugin to speed up page loads.
    • Add an affiliate box like Darren Rowse does on ProBlogger that promotes Genesis and HostGator.
    • Update Prose theme to version 1.5 – I’m really excited about the responsive design aspect of this update so that the blog works better on mobile devices.

Bottom line

The main idea to take away from this post is that simply commenting on other blogs will help get your blog’s traffic off the ground. And doing a little search engine optimization on your posts will enhance that traffic. So if you’re pressed for time when you start out blogging, you can put off promoting your blog through social media, and you’ll still get visitors.

Keeping those visitors is a whole other ballgame. I’m only scratching the surface by analyzing visits. We should also be paying attention to repeat visits, bounce rates, how many pages deep our visitors go, and so on.

How did your blog’s traffic grow early on? Also, any tips to help me post more regularly? Let us know in the comments.

Article by Bryan Kerr

I love breaking down the techie side of blogging into easy-to-understand tutorials. That's mostly what you'll find here on The Hobby Blogger.

Comments

  1. Unless your job is blogging full time – we can only do what we can do. I think content is most important. Relevant, good quality content.
    Your posts are great – thorough, relative to bloggers and website owners, offers examples, advice and solutions. That is what keeps me coming back – a good read every time that gives me plenty to think about. I wish I could write as well. Good job.
    Last year this time my stats were less than 10 unique /day. Currently average is 80/day – I know it’s not a lot, but going in the right direction. Most all of my new clients come from my website. New posts and seo is how I did it.
    I’m going to try your commenting advice (starting right now). Will let you know how it goes.
    On a final note – I helped my dad develop his website several years ago to sell his products. To this day with some pages still unchanged, he is still taking orders. Just an example as to how each page anyone posts can have a RESIDUAL effect – that’s why I believe it’s best to write good quality relative content as you do.
    Thanks Bryan and congrats on your stat growth.

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      Thanks for the kind words Scott. That’s great your site is driving business. Well done. Definitely let us know how the commenting campaign goes.

  2. Great site, I just stumbled upon it. It looks as though you are going through the same growing pains I am now. I realized that I have to comment to get traffic here and that until my blog gets biggers that is mainly the only source of traffic. Some are coming from search engines but not much!

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      Thanks for stopping by Christopher. Looks like you’re doing a great job of commenting. I noticed you got your Alexa rank below 200,000 in less than two months. Awesome! If only I could find a way to post as often as you do.

      • Thanks for the kind words. It is a lot of work. Not going to lie! Your site as of today is at 434,479 pretty soon before you know it, you will be down as well! Once you get around 200k it goes alot slower I have noticed.

        • Bryan Kerr says:

          Yeah, I suppose the 80/20 rule applies here––20% of the work to pass 80% percent of the web sites out there, but climbing above the last 20% of sites takes the most work. The good thing for you is that there’s a lot of growth potential once you start leveraging search traffic. Are you on Google+ yet? It looks like having a presence on Google+ is going to play a more important role in Google’s search algorithms.

  3. Great article that inspires me a lot for ways in blogging and use them. I agree to getting backlinks from relative sites makes a big difference from other backlinks.Thanks for sharing!

  4. As a part time blogger myself I can feel your pain. I do have a few suggestions though:

    If you want more of a presence on Facebook and Google? Make sure you have pages created that point back to your blog! And I have added their plugins to my sidebar (the like box and Google + code) I strongly suggest getting Hootsuite and SocialBro and start working on Twitter as well.

    And… although I wouldn’t get rid of feedburner.. I would get onto aweber or MailChimp. Mailchimp has a free account buy you really want the additional features like auto responders and the like to help promote your blog and future products (i.e. a free e-book?) Plus… you can setup a customized RSS Newletter with a sidebar with either tidbits from your site or an advert from your affiliates?

    And awstats is horrible as a stat – because 90% of the traffic it shows is your bot traffic (which is good – it means your site is found!) Stick with Analytics – and I would check out Clicky and a few others (which I’ll be posting soon!) that I use to monitor traffic.

    You have a great site with awesome content. BUT – you have to remember it is 20% writing and 80% promotion! You have to become the crazy Carnival Barker selling your site to people to try and raise awareness that its here to be found. I spend probably 30-45 minutes a day total to promoting my blog on social media.

    And one last thing? Where is your SHARE BAR? I don’t see any social bookmarking for at least the big three anywhere? And I dont see any links for your RSS either? tsk tsk :-)

    Don’t worry – I’m in the same boat as you. Although I might be half a step ahead of you when it comes to these things – I’m sure you will catch up and surpass me in no time!

    Last thing… (sorry for the long comment) I’ve been at this for about the same amount of time… and I’m only making peanuts too. This is a long term goal to making some additional income for me. There are no shortcuts …. unless you work on promoting more that is!

    If you want feel free to email me (you have the address in the comment) if you have any questions. I’m not an expert – but I might be able to point you in a direction to get you where you need to go!

  5. Bryan Kerr says:

    Thanks for making me clarify Jason. Facebook and Google+ pages are what I meant by a “presence.” I’m probably going to do G+ first, wait a month or so, and then create a Facebook page. That way I can measure the impact of joining each network separately.

    My plan was to add a social media button when each social page is added using StudioPress’s Simple Social Icons. It seems silly to add them for just the RSS feed, which btw is linked to by the “FOLLOW” item in the banner menu at the top. Not the most obvious I know, but I didn’t want to delay the redesign any longer than I already had.

    I actually signed up for MailChimp back in November, but I haven’t used it yet because there were other things to get out of the way. I didn’t want to start using it until I have a chance to write about it, but yeah, it’s on the TODO list.

    My M.O. has been to roll out each feature step by step so I can research and write about it as I go along. The blog’s promotion suffers as a result, but it helps me write more comprehensive posts.

    You’re right about AWStats is overly, let’s say, optimistic about one’s traffic, but I use it more to look at trends than absolute numbers. The problem with Google Analytics is that I feel it misses legitimate traffic. I see legit referrals from comments on other blogs on AWStats that I don’t see in Analytics. It’s probably visitors that have ad blockers on and/or JavaScript turned off. Those users wouldn’t see AdSense blocks, so it make sense that Analytics is the more relevant of the two when thinking about advertising.

    Does the share bar work well for you? I feel like they tend to clutter up things, but if they drive a lot of traffic, maybe they’re worth it.

    Thanks for the complement on my content, and don’t worry about the long comment–it has a lot of good info for blogger. Heck, it’s practically a guest post!

    I’ll look forward to your review of stats trackers.

    • Sorry for the late reply, life gets in the way of blogging sometimes!

      I like your idea of a methodological approach to adding to your blog. Mine was more like the Tazmnian Devil approach lol! But I have to give it another month and I’ll start doing some write-ups on Monetization strategies (blunders) I’ve been using for my own blog.

      As for the Sharebar/Digg Digg? I would only add the social media elements you know your getting traffic from. The problem is.. if you don’t have a presence on there – you wont be getting anything to analyse. It’s like a catch-22. I would recommend Twitter, Google +, Facebook, and StumbleUpon to start with…. and if you start getting traction in other areas you can always add them easily.

      As for Email Marketing? After using MailChimp for awhile now – I can say that it is the most difficult, convoluted, pain in the b*** software I have ever used. It isn’t very intuitive and I will be biting the bullet to get Aweber.

      I truly believe in the power of Email marketing a blog. This way you get a set of visitors who will re-visit your blog and provide great return traffic instead of relying on Google (89% of my traffic!) Plus if you create that e-book or offer some other service – you already have people “in the wings” waiting for you to give it to them!

  6. Best Of Luck! Keep Up With Great Affords.

    You have nice plan. Only think twice before participating in forums. Nofollow forums are better than Dofollow because Google don’t link forum link building and is shown in penguin update last week

  7. An excellent review of your blog performance…could you just give some tips as to how you got the referral traffic..how much traffic is needed to earn through affliates

    • Bryan Kerr says:

      Thanks Shitji. The referral traffic was mostly from being lucky enough to be featured on StudioPress’s showcase. As for the amount of traffic needed to earn from affiliates, there are many factors including how well your content (and hence, audience) relates to the affiliate products, the quality of the affiliate, etc.

  8. Hi. You’ve been doing well. I appreciate your honesty in explaining all the big and little achievements. Many don’t have the guts to talk about things like 12 subscribers through the feedburner, ….

    I think you’re doing great and I have seen things to learn from you at this post. I’m quite thankful and would love to hang out more at your site.

    Rahman Mehraby
    TraveList New Distribution

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