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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Behind the Blog: How It Grew and How to Grow Your Blog


The question I get asked most often about blogging is for tips on growing a blog and how my blog grew.

I was originally going to make it short and simple and give you a list of 5-7 things you could do to grow your blog, but it started to feel like every other article I've read on growing your blog.  Stuff like this:
  • Comment with genuine things to say on other blogs and leave your URL. (That does not mean make a plea for someone to follow you back…it just means leave your URL in case they’re interested.) 
  • Participate in link-ups. It exposes you to other people who are surfing through the link ups looking for other blogs. 
  • Guest post – Ask other bloggers you’ve been connecting with to post on your blog. It’s a fun way to build relationship with other bloggers, and it introduces each of your readers to each other’s blogs.

Don't get me wrong.  This stuff is GREAT and helped grow PMT by hundreds, which ain't no small potatoes!  If you have less than a few hundred followers, start with those things for sure.  But as I reflect on and analyze what I think the main factors for growth were, I can pinpoint two major things that I believe are what helped grow things by the thousands.  I recognize there are LOTS of ways to grow a blog other than what I'm about to say, but this is how it happened here.  

I definitely started with the stuff above and if I started all over again, I would go the same route because it made blogging fun.  Those were the things that helped me make blog friends that I still keep up with today!  But, we are here to talk about blog growth, not making friends.  There were two things I was doing simultaneously that continue to sustain major growth to this day: 1) Focusing on useful, consistent, quality content, and 2) Making posts pinnable. (...and making up your own words...)




Useful, Consistent, Quality Content
I really believe, for PMT at least, it comes down to content.  If you are going to go this route, write consistently (at least 3 times a week), write for the type of readers you are looking for (not the ones you currently have, if they are different), and most importantly, incorporate content that is useful to others.  

This may not seem to be a strategy for growth because you are not actively trying to expand your reach.  Instead, it seems like, "If you build it, they will come."  But, will they REALLY come?  How will they know to come if they don't know you exist?  I think you do need to do things to get your name out there (which is why I said if you have less than a few hundred readers, start with the things I listed at the top), but in my experience there is also truth to the old Field of Dreams saying.  I really believe that quality content will bring the right people as well as create exponential momentum for you later on.

Write Useful Content
"Quality content" is kind of a broad term.  Do a quick Google search and plenty of articles will tell you the basis: well-written, consistent posting, etc.  But after thinking about how the heck this thing grew, this is the biggest piece of insight I could draw from the journey: write content that is useful to people.  

I didn't know this would be the greatest source of traffic when I started blogging--I just happened to have had a goal that was to help other people.  But, having useful content is the number one thing that has grown my blog.  Google searches make up 42% of my traffic, and it's not from people searching for "Putting Me Together."  They don't know this blog exists yet, so they wouldn't know to search for it.  They're searching for things like "building a new wardrobe" which leads them to the Building a Remixable Wardrobe Series and the Wardrobe From Scratch Series or "ways to style a dress" which leads them to some of my remixing posts.

Posts that provide useful information, like the BARW series, WFS series, packing and remix posts, style tips, and "how to wear" posts have been the major sources of traffic for me, from both Google and Pinterest.  So, "if you build it" came true.  People came and they continue to come because the content is there.  And, they share it with others because it's useful to them.  As I've talked to other bloggers and look at some of my favorite bloggers, this has been true for them as well.  Their most trafficked posts are sewing tutorials, clothing tricks, hair tutorials, beauty product recommendations, etc. which have consistently provided traffic over a long period of time.  

What I've especially loved about all of this is that somehow the content of the blog is spreading the word for itself or other people are now spreading the word for me.  I spend very, very, very little time promoting my own blog.  I'm sure my blog could grow even more if I did that in addition to continuing with useful content, but since I am at the mercy of limited time, I love that the content draws people on its own.  I see it as a cycle of mutual blessing.  I'm able to spend less time promoting my blog and more time writing those big posts you guys love, and in turn you (and Google) have been helping to spread the word for me.  (Thank you, by the way!)  

Even if you’re not a style blogger, what advice do you have to offer? Maybe it’s 5 beauty or hair tips, 5 things you've learned from parenting, inspirational quotes, insights from your day, or 10 tips to grow your blog ;). Are there useful things you’ve learned that you can share with readers?

Also, don’t have to feel like you have to have it figured out before you write it. Like I said, I wrote the BARW series out of what I was learning, and I said it as such. I didn’t say “I’m an expert remixer, so here’s what to do.” I was *just* getting a handle on remixing, and I said, “This is what I’ve been learning...I hope it’s helpful!” I even feel the same way with this post.  There are tons of blogs out there much larger than mine, so why would *I* have something worthwhile to say about how to grow your blog?  But, you never know who you might touch as you share what you’ve been learning!

*EDIT...adding a couple of things:

I don't think all of your content has to be "useful."  I wouldn't count my standard outfit posts high on the usefulness scale, but once in a while I write longer posts with tips, tricks, and tutorials.  I only had 3 non-outfit posts in 7 months when I first started out, but they ended up bringing a lot of new readers.  Plan to write them as often as you have time for, whether it's once a month, every two weeks, or every week.  Just try to incorporate them once in a while in an intentional way so that you can build your repertoire.

Try to organize your useful posts and make them easily findable to newcomers.  They will eventually get buried in your archives, which newcomers will not likely dig up.  Make those posts accessible by putting them into a table of contents, into your menu bar, or labeling them and linking to the labels somewhere on your homepage.  Think, "If I have 1 minute to make an impression on a newcomer, what posts would I hope they find?"




Pin-ability
While 42% of my traffic comes from Google, 37% comes from Pinterest.  Thank God for Pinterest!  When I say that to people, they ask me if it's from pinning my own images to get exposure, which is not the case.  So far I've only pinned one of my own outfits and it was for a sponsor.  

Reflecting on it all, here's how I think Pinterest helped grow this blog: 1) Content that is useful gets pinned, repinned, and visited, and 2) Creating pinnable images.  


Useful Content Gets Pinned...and Drives Traffic
I've already talked about useful content, but I took a screenshot below of what has most recently been pinned as I write this post.  There are about 18 pictures, and a whopping 12 of them are from BARW, WFS, a packing post, or Shabby to Chic.  That's 67%!  It's the useful things that get pinned.


Secondly, it's important to know that while my outfit posts get pinned, the things that actually drive traffic to my blog are the useful posts.  

Can I preach on content any harder?  :)


Pinnable Images
If you're going to go through the hard work of writing useful content, make an image that will help people want to pin it.  I'm not talking about a good quality photo, though that will definitely help.  I'm talking more like an image that summarizes what your post is about, both in image and with a title caption.

Here are some examples:


They all have images plus a short title to tell you a little more about what the photo describes.  They clearly display a load of information with just a quick glance, and not only does that make me want to pin them for reference later, but if I saw these floating around Pinterest I would actually be enticed to click into these to read more.  

It's a minor thing you can do to help readers effectively share the great things you're writing about.



There you have it!  I've spilled the beans and even shared some traffic stats.  Like I said, if you haven't yet, put some energy towards getting your name out there, making friends, and having fun.  If you want to grow your blog beyond that, beef up your useful content in the meantime.

Let me know if you have questions!  Also, there's a lot I didn't talk about here that people could do to grow their blogs.  Feel free to share for others what your BEST practices for growing your blog have been, or even what you've seen NOT work so that people don't waste their time with them!




Catch the rest of the Behind the Blog series by clicking here.

45 comments:

  1. Great tips! It's refreshing to hear that awesome content can draw readers even before you have a big fan base. I'm going to spend a day brainstorming how I can use your tips about making useful, Pinnable images. I'm an editor, and the focus of my blog is mainly writing/publishing tips--not quite as easy to make into a graphic as your cute outfits!

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  2. Amazing tips! I recently opened a beauty blog and i have a lot of traffic from pinterest only on one photo, and i couldn't figure out why, now i understand that, thank you!!!!

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  3. Love these tips! I'll definitely use this to create actionable steps to drive blog traffic.

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  4. Great tips, thanks for taking the time to share with us!

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  5. Thanks so much for sharing!!! This really helped :)

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  6. Thanks so much for these tips! As a new blogger, I found your suggestions very helpful. And thank you for writing such a quality, relatable blog - I follow a number of fashion blogs, and while yours is probably the simplest (in terms of the pieces you wear and the photos you use) it is by far my favorite, and the one I turn to when I am actually looking to put an outfit together for myself. Oh, and I initially found you (over a year ago) on Pinterest!

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  7. I love to visit your blog. There are a couple of things I really appreciate. You put together outfits using normal and affordable clothes. That's important to me and lots of others. I also love your ideas for different ways to style clothes. Keep up the great work!!

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  8. Thanks so much for sharing, this is very helpful

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  9. Excellent tutorial! As a new blogger myself, these tips are greatly appreciated. I like the idea of creating "pinnable images."

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  10. Thanks so much for these tips!

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  11. I love Pinterest! I think that going the extra step to make a "pinnable" summary infographic/picture is so key! Thanks for always making your information not only helpful but so approachable!

    xx
    Here&Now

    Enter my current giveaway!

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  12. HappinessatmidlifeSunday, January 12, 2014

    These are such great tips and I appreciate you sharing them. I just feel like I have nothing that's new that will help me readers to drive traffic.


    Alice
    www.happinessatmidlife.com

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  13. This is awesome, thanks for sharing! Very helpful for us newbies. :) Here's a follow up question though---at what point after starting the blog did you launch social media for it, ie Facebook pages etc?
    www.pralinesandpearls.com

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  14. Thanks for the tips, I'm a new blogger(I've been blogging for a year now) looking back at the past year, everything you have said here makes so much sense! Im going to incorporate your tips in my future posts.

    Dee

    Ms Dee Kay

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  15. These are excellent tips! Thank you for sharing. This community is so nice and helpful!

    xo, Nina

    afterthe40barfinish

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  16. Thanks for the tips!! It looks like I need to get to work on Pinterest!! Susan

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  17. This is so helpful Audrey- thank you!

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  18. Hey Audrey, thanks for sharing your road to growth.
    I'm definitely going to use some of your tips for my own blog SoJaded-Saturday.blogspot.com.
    Keep up the good work and be happy :-)

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  19. I can't begin to describe how thankful I am that you're willing to share your tips and secrets to your successful blog. These tips were very helpful and honestly probably the most helpful I've read so far about growing your blog. ;)
    http://www.Jazzyjstyle.blogspot.com

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  20. becauseshannasaidsoMonday, January 13, 2014

    This is so good...brilliant in fact. I am to the point where I need to take things to the next level...the hardest part is the "quality" content part and figuring out what that word "quality" means to the vast majority! And amen to Pinterest. Besides Bloglovin, that is my #1 traffic generator. Thanks for the tips and sharing the inside scoop! Congrats on all your successes! You deserve it!!

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  21. Audrey, thank you so much for these tips!


    My question is this: I'm very new to blogging (only been at it for a few months) so I feel like not only do I need to have quality content, but I need to have enough content that will capture readers' attention and make them decide they like what I have to offer, sort of like building up experience before getting the promotion (when comparing it to a job). What is your take on this?


    In reading your tips, my logic sounds kind of silly, right? I should just focus on quality content that is helpful and, if readers like it/find it useful, they'll keep coming back.


    Thanks again for sharing all of your awesome wisdom!
    -Nikki


    NCsquared Life

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  22. Before I shoot out an answer, can you clarify what would be the difference between content that builds up your experience versus content that is useful?

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  23. Sure! What I mean by content that builds up experience is the amount of content published. So, instead of having three posts, waiting until you have a dozen or more posts (that are of good quality). My thinking was that if I only have three posts, readers aren't going to get a good sense of what I'm offering. If I have several dozen, they can get a better sense of it. But I suppose if those three posts are completely useful, then it doesn't really matter because it will draw them in nonetheless. I might be overthinking it! :-)

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  24. I don't think it's a silly question at all. I wanted to add a bunch more stuff in this post, but it was getting really long so I didn't. Maybe I should have...oops!


    I don't think ALL of your content has to be useful and pinnable. I just think incorporating it on a more regular basis will be helpful. I only had 3 "useful" posts within 7 months of blogging--Hannah's wardrobe makeover (2mo into blogging), 10 Ways to Wear Plaid (3mo) and BARW (7mo). All the rest were outfit posts. And even now most of my posts are still the normal outfit posts with bigger posts sprinkled through out.


    Even Kate from The Small Things doesn't make every single post a hair tutorial. She often writes about her life with no images and no "useful" information. But I suspect what drives the traffic from outside sources is Google searches on hair tutorials, so it's important that she has a few of those and continues to do them. It's also important that she just writes about her life because her current readership is interested in that.


    My tip would be to make your useful content accessible to a new reader. They will get buried in your archives otherwise, and no one will even know they exist. I categorized mine into the navigation bar with hefty lists and tables of content, but you don't have to use the model I've done. A simpler way is to label your useful posts into a few different categories and post the link to the label in your nav bar.


    Keep doing your normal posts for sure! But beef up your useful content as well, maybe writing a post like that every week, every 2 weeks, or at least once a month.

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  25. Emily @ LaForce Be With YouMonday, January 13, 2014

    what are some options of places someone could easily make collage type photos that are great pin-able photos like the 3 in your example above?

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  26. I love this post- thank you for awesome insights!
    I think giveaways and commenting help too! When you're a legit friend to another blogger they almost always come over to yours and you gain readers and friends. Plus the comments help your SEO!

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  27. Such great tips, Audrey! I totally agree that my most visited posts are the ones that are more "how to" useful content types of things. As a bonus, it's so satisfying to write posts like that, when you find something interesting that YOU can offer (instead of doing the all-too-easy blogger comparison). And I'm happy you think the blazer 8 ways collage is pinnable because I totally made it ;-)

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  28. Zainab @ Blahnik BakerMonday, January 13, 2014

    Thanks for the great tips!! They really are the cornerstone to growing your blog.

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  29. Marissa @ The Modern AustenMonday, January 13, 2014

    Thanks so much for taking the time to outline this, Audrey. It is so helpful for people and a great reminder even for seasoned bloggers.


    Going into the new year, I realized that I wasn't posting a lot of "useful" content, like you mentioned. I am hoping to invest that little bit of extra time and effort to create helpful content. Maybe this means I won't be posting as often as I have been, but you've reminded me that it's okay and that people will come anyway because what I WILL write will be worthwhile.


    I think I'm also struggling with the fact that I don't necessarily have one specific niche. I do primarily write about fashion, but I also write about a lot of things because I am a dynamic person. I've read a multitude of opinions on this topic; some say it's crucial to stick with one niche because you'll gain a loyal following while others say to forget the "rules" of blogging and just be whomever you want to be. What are your (or anyone reading comments) thoughts? Do you think this also has an impact on readership growth?

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  30. I'd recommend looking for blogs that do the same thing you do (lifestyle + style) and who do it well in your opinion. Then study their blogs and figure out what makes it work. Kate from The Small Things is a great example because she's known for her hair tutorials, but she writes about all of her life plus a bunch of other topics. So ask yourself how does she make it work so well, and what can you take away from it?

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  31. Hi there! Im loving this series! Esp since I just started blogging. My question to you is about usefulness. I understand what you mean by wanting to help people and that is what I would like to do as well. I am just curious how you guage the usefulness of the content you provide. Is it through comments? Through increased subscribers? I would love to know your thoughts!

    Thanks!
    Marianne
    www.goodgirlgoneglam.com

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  32. Marissa @ The Modern AustenTuesday, January 14, 2014

    Thank you for the helpful and detailed reply! This is a good suggestion and one that I will definitely use going forward. It certainly doesn't hurt that Kate is simply GORGEOUS and super funny and relatable :) You rock, Audrey!

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  33. Haha! Well yeah, her blog is like wayyyyy high on the "aspire to be like" scale. But there are other blogs in a similar vein that might seem more attainable that you could glean from as well. Look at both enormous ones and ones that seem just a few steps ahead of you.

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  34. I love this post. I've follow a lot of fashion bloggers and while visually they are stunning, the written content can be a bit fluffy. This post (and others on your blog) is really meaty and has some great information. Keep it coming!

    http://rositablooming.wordpress.com

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  35. Usually it's by trial and experimentation, and I usually gage it through what people are saying in the comments as well as how often it's getting pinned and re-pinned.

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  36. Great tips! BTW speaking of link-ups, are you going to be doing another "One Piece Many Ways" link-up???? :)

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  37. I'd like to know this too, Audrey.

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  38. This is great! Thanks for sharing and your heart to help others. Love that about you!

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  39. Thanks, Audrey, for the helpful post! I am crazy new to blogging (we're talking weeks, not even months), but I'm trying hard to write content that I would like to read. I'll definitely be keeping your tips in the back of my mind!

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  40. This may be a silly question but what exactly is a link-up? I hope to connect with other bloggers interested in overall wellness/maintaining a balance lifestyle, but I have no idea where to begin! Creating an account on bloglovin' has helped a little, but I am I looking for ways to build more meaningful relationships with other bloggers. Any advice? Thanks in advance!

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  41. Link-ups are fund events where others can come post a link to their blog. Sometimes the host will give a prompt regarding a certain topic, and everyone who posts on that topic can link so that everyone can surf the entries, find new blogs, and be inspired. Blogs of all sorts of topics have them, and I'm sure there are some for wellness. An example of a style one would be What I Wore Wednesday from The Pleated Poppy. She hosts one every week and invites people to link style related posts from the week: http://thepleatedpoppy.com/category/what-i-wore/

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  42. Ohh thanks for shedding some light on link-ups for me! Great example. I'll have to keep an eye out for opportunities for me to link up with other bloggers.

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  43. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful post on this! I do social media for a living, but never saw the point in Pinterest for my clients until I started my blog. It drives so much traffic for me. Especially useful posts with the title in the image - you're SO right about that! I takes more time to create those images, but I think it's worth it.

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  44. Hey Kristen. So sorry for the delay in response! Disqus filtered this comment as spam and I finally went through them today.


    I didn't launch a FB page until this past July! I think FB is a great way to connect people who want to subscribe, but I'm not sure how effective it is at driving NEW subscribers as an entry point. I think you can definitely utilize it, as that's how J from J's Everyday Fashion grew and she nailed it. But I don't think most bloggers utilize it for getting new readers the way that it could be used, myself included.


    I've had a personal Twitter account since 2009, but I started @puttingme2gther a couple months after I started blogging (2011) to connect with other bloggers. I also used Instagram personally before blogging and only recently changed my IG name to @puttingmetogether. But as you can see from both of those, I don't advertise or announce things often on either Twitter or IG. That might change in the future, but for now I like to keep it to random life things, not announcements about new blog posts.


    I'd say start social media accounts sooner rather than later, at least Twitter and IG, and not necessarily for the purpose of announcing things. It's a great way to connect with other bloggers and readers!

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