7 Content Marketing Lessons Learned from Losing 225,418 Visitors a Month

kissmetrics

During its peak, the KISSmetrics blog received 768,766 visitors a month and was growing at a rapid pace. Can you guess what our monthly traffic is now?

We get 543,348 visitors, which means our traffic is down by a whopping 225,418 visitors. Some of the traffic drop is intentional, but some of it isn’t.

Here is what I learned from a 29% traffic drop:

Lesson #1: Don’t let people re-post your content

When you get hit up by big blogs like Business Insider to republish your content, it’s tempting to say yes. Why? Because you can get a lot of brand exposure.

For that reason, I would let every big brand republish our content. The problem with this strategy is that most big brands don’t understand SEO, which means they republish your content in a way that can hurt you.

Most of these blogs will take your content and link back to you, citing you as the original source. Although this may seem like the right thing to do, it actually isn’t.

The correct way is to use a rel canonical tag. For example, Search Engine Journal republishes content from Quick Sprout, such as this post, but in its source code it tells search engines to credit the original source – Quick Sprout – for the content.

The practice that Business Insider and other big blogs have been using, i.e., linking back to the original post directly instead of using a rel canonical tag, eventually resulted in a penalty for us. We got hit by Google’s Panda update.

kissmetrics traffic drop

As you can see from the graph above, we lost a lot of our search traffic. Over time, we’ll get this fixed. In the meantime, we learned a valuable lesson: don’t let people republish your content unless they use a rel canonical tag that points back to the original source.

Lesson #2: Stop scraper sites

There are a lot of scraper sites that will take your content and put it all over the web. You won’t be able to stop them all, and in most cases their actions won’t get you penalized by Google, but their bad practices can eventually hurt your rankings.

I solved this with Quick Sprout years ago, but I forgot to do the same for KISSmetrics. What you want to do is block Amazon Web Services’ IP addresses as most of the scrapers come from this particular hosting platform.

Email your web host and tell them to block traffic coming from these IP addresses.

When I did this change for the Quick Sprout blog, I saw no drop in traffic. We recently implemented it on KISSmetrics as well, and we saw no traffic drop there either.

You should consider doing it with your blog. Or you could sign up for Cloudflare, which works a bit better, but it will cost you $20 a month.

Lesson #3: Don’t take comments for granted

Other than encouraging comments on your blog, there are two aspects of commenting that you need to monitor:

  1. Spam comments – even if you use plugins like Akismet, spam comments will get through. Sure, the plugin is great, and it helps a lot, but nothing is perfect when it comes to fighting spam. The more popular your blog is, the more spam comments you’ll get. For example, Quick Sprout gets roughly 15,000 spam comments a day.
  2. Respond to comments – if you don’t respond to comments, you won’t build a relationship with your readers. Without this bond, it will be difficult to get your readers to convert into customers.

We didn’t do a good job at moderating spam comments on the KISSmetrics blog. We eventually fixed this, but a ton of bad comments got through and generated a lot of irrelevant text on our web pages. This, of course, hurt our overall traffic.

In addition to that, only some of our guest posters responded to the comments on their posts. We couldn’t make it a requirement because guest writers are not paid for writing their content. To help with the problem, I started to respond to comments on the KISSmetrics blog, just like I do on the Quick Sprout blog.

Lesson #4: Don’t just focus on traffic, focus on building the right audience

Another lesson I learned from running the KISSmetrics blog is that traffic isn’t everything. Many of our most popular posts are on social media and content marketing. But there is an issue with these topics and the type of visitors they attract.

Sure, these visitors are interested in online marketing, but very few of them buy our product. Why? Because they are not our ideal customers. E-commerce and SaaS companies are.

So, instead of focusing on building a marketing audience, we should focus on analytics-based content for our target audience. We would probably do well even with providing general marketing advice to them.

Our blog editor, Sean Work, is doing a great job at releasing more blog posts that are targeted towards our audience. He is super picky about what he publishes on the blog. He also knows that you can’t just flip a switch and release a different type of content the next day: you have to transition slowly.

If I had to start the KISSmetrics blog all over again, I would focus on helping SaaS and e-commerce companies with their online marketing. This would help generate more qualified leads for our sales team.

Focus on creating the right audience for your blog and not just on building up your traffic.

Lesson #5: Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal

One of the best strategies we used to grow the KISSmetrics blog was infographics. We’ve probably produced more infographics than anyone else in the marketing space.

Boy, did it pay off. As I explained in this blog post, it is the primary reason for the growth of the blog.

Within the two-year period, we’ve generated 2,512,596 visitors and 41,142 backlinks from 3,741 unique domains, all from those 47 infographics.

But the mistake we made is that we slowed down on infographics.

It wasn’t that we ran out of ideas. We simply shifted our design resources to other projects. Because we are a well-funded startup, cash has never been an issue for us. Even if it cost $5,000 or $10,000 a month, we should have hired a company or an individual to produce more infographics for the blog.

We are getting back into our routine of generating infographics once a week, but if I had to do things over, I wouldn’t have slowed down in the first place.

If you want to grow your blog at a rapid pace, consider creating infographics. They tend to get shared more than text-based blog posts.

Lesson #6: Edit everything, no matter who the author is

Sean edits every single post we receive for publication on the KISSmetrics blog. He even edits the posts I write for the blog. He’ll remove links to my own site, even if I think they are relevant. In essence, he does what he feels is best for the KISSmetrics community. And it shouldn’t be any other way, so I can’t really complain.

Do you know why Sean edits every post? Sure, ensuring the quality of the posts is one reason. The other is the fact that people try to sell links on our blog. I’ve even gotten emails from marketers who offered to get me a link on the KISSmetrics blog for $250! They probably didn’t know I was the co-founder of KISSmetrics, or else they wouldn’t have sent the email. It just goes to show that you can never be too careful.

If you don’t edit a submitted copy before it goes live, you won’t know if the author has linked to bad sites, submitted a plagiarized copy, or made statements that you don’t agree with.

At the end of the day, you are responsible for the content that gets published on your blog. It doesn’t matter if you were the author or someone else was. It’s your job to make sure it lives up to your standards and company values.

Lesson #7: Monetize early

I used to believe that you should get to 100,000 visitors before you monetize your blog. That way you can focus on building an audience without being distracted.

We actually waited till we hit 200,000 plus visitors a month before we started to generate leads from our KISSmetrics blog. The big problem we ran into was that we found that certain types of content generate better quality leads than others.

For example, webinars convert well. If we monetized early enough, we would have had this data, which would have helped shape the blog from the get go. Now we have to clean up and readjust the type of content we produce and the methods we use to generate leads.

You don’t want to monetize your blog if you have a few thousand visitors a month, but once you hit 10,000 monthly visitors, you should run tests. From there, you can shape your blog and audience the way you want.

You can turn off your monetization after the tests are complete, but before you do, try different methods to see where you stand.

Conclusion

No matter how good someone’s marketing looks, it can always be improved. Every company has its marketing issues, but what separates great marketers from the mediocre ones is that the great ones learn and adapt from their mistakes.

Even with the loss in traffic, the KISSmetrics blog is doing well, and we are climbing back. I hope you can learn from some of our mistakes and avoid them with your blog.

What other content marketing lessons have you learned?

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Comments

  1. Great post yet again. This made me laugh:

    “I’ve even gotten emails from marketers who offered to get me a link on the KISSmetrics blog for $250!”

    Just comes to show that double checking and triple checking every post before it goes live is vital.

    – V

  2. Hi Neil,

    I hope you guys at Kissmetrics recover soon. Thanks for the awesome post.

    Kind regards,

    Jimmy R.

  3. Hi Neil,

    I guess what you are saying is that any blog (and company for that matter) should focus on attracting the type of people who have the symptoms they have a cure for. Instead of traffic for the sake of traffic.

    Once there is a specific focus the media type and content type will be easier to decide (and analytics will show if the original hypothesis was correct).

    I hear you

    Thanks for the timely post….I am actually thinking who to attract and how to attract them :)

  4. Interesting post Neil, great tip about the info graphics, this is something we are currently looking into ourselves. One thing though, as the owner of a b2b blog, I get requests all the time to publish other peoples info graphics – I never have.

    How do you go about getting them shared, just hope it happens or is there an actual out reach strategy on that front?

    Cheers,
    John

  5. I’ve learned that marketing is overwhelming and I haven’t a clue how to target audiences, etc. Your blogs are really informative and interesting but I don’t know how to do the same for my blog.

  6. Great post. This is a new revelation to my online marketing experience.

  7. Hey Neil,

    Great lessons. These lessons are worth learning. We have to avoid these mistakes to gain more quality traffic.
    Thank you for sharing these with us… ;)

  8. Excellent post. What I liked the most, was the Lesson #7… we already have 10 k per month, but we were waiting until 50 k.

    Thanks!

  9. Hello Neil !!

    It really hurts to see cherished ones leave, readers are like cherished friends and we try to give them the best that we can ever offer, You are one of the great guy always thinking about his reader.. I hope you recover with more and exciting readers.. Thanks Neil for the share !!

    Regards,
    DOK Simon

  10. As usual, great post, Neil. I didn’t know about the rel tag. And thank you for being so open and honest about your learning experiences as well.

  11. Hi Neil,

    You recommend Cloudflare for blocking Ip’s, however for those who use Google PSS , what do you suggest ?

    We started using Google PSS after reading one of your blogs, and are very happy with the results.

    Thanks

  12. Hi Neil
    I just want you to give you an advice ( of course a humble advise) after being helped by you with so many great articles, these is my moment of glory :)).
    You were talking about that you have a lot of spam in your comments and yesterday i have read in an wpmudev blog post that anybody has created a plugin even better than akismet.
    It is called WordPress Zero Spam.
    And they say “Zero Spam makes blocking spam comments a cinch. Install, activate and enjoy a spam-free site”
    Of course i am not related with this plugin. I am spanish and i didnt even install in my site. Because i dont have this problem, i am very “petit” :))
    Anyway i hope this help you the same you are helping me since a few weeks ago.
    Thanks Neil and see you.

  13. It seems to me like you’d want to monetize your blog as soon as you can…….and use those funds to make your website better? This way you’re not payin out of picket? YES? No? Maybe?

    Is there a magic poof number of visitors, why 10,000 I wonder.

    At 100,000….ok, that seems like a no-brainer monetizing opportunity. Who cares about mass quantity audience if you’re missing out on quality target audience specifically? Why do marketers even care if you “only” get 5,000 visitors a month. If they’re the “RIGHT” visitors, the right audience than bingo, win win , yes?

  14. Neil, I was wondering about the SEO effect for original content that gets reposted to sites like Business Insider (didn’t realize they reposted content verbatim), Social Media Today, Business2Community and others of their ilk. So, thanks for clearing that up.

    It does beg the question of what happens to those sites. Do they change their business model to reflect a post-Panda world? Seems the use of a canonical tag would rectify matters.

    • Actually Business Insider is doing better than ever before. I used to contribute to BI for my blog and suffered the same issues that Neil mentions here.

      Neil – I am pretty sure that even the free version of cloudflare does a good job of protecting you from scrapers. After all cloudflare did begin from the Honeypot project.

    • Those guys will keep doing it and it makes sense for them. It helps them generate more ad revenue.

  15. Hi Neil, what do you mean by “monetization ” of a blog exactly? Thanks.

  16. I’ve learned that promotion is just as important as great content. Lots of people write content and expect it to get picked up on it’s own. Instead, they should spend more time sharing it / getting the word out, especially in the early stages of their blog.

  17. Neil, I’ve always wondered how you handle all of the spam comments you must get on this blog. Do you mind elaborating on what you do to manage the 15,000 spam comments you get everyday?

  18. Makes me feel better that even you run into these types of headaches all of us do. When I find out news like you did about your Panda problem my whole body gets hot and I start sweating uncontrollably, lol. The key is to let it motivate us to make us better or our problems can swallow us up.

  19. I have been trying to find a designer for infographics and how much it would cost. I searched around your blog and saw that you are playing about $600 per infograhics. Let me create few infographics and see how the shares and tweets look.

  20. Hi Neil, Had to swing by after getting your email earlier and leave you my
    quick two pennies worth! Seeing as we are on the same list in Ryan Biddulphs
    latest post.

    Wow I had no idea you got hit by the Panda and I had no idea how powerful
    the rel=canonical tag is. As a blogger and web designer/developer I know
    a bit about SEO but not everything! I just Focus on creating, designing,
    developing, sharing and commenting. I don’t really worry about my SEO efforts
    as I know that if I keep doing what I’m doing the SEO will look after itself.

    on Lesson #2 buddy can I do this by .htaccess? I mean use the *deny from ipaddress*
    line?

    Lesson #3 – Totally agree with you about responding to comments dude! I personally
    don’t use akismet but I use 2 or 3 other plugins instead! I use the same system
    on Ryan Biddulph’s new blog that i developed up a few weeks ago now! Debating
    whether it’s worth getting the commentluv premium plugin for my new blog.

    Lesson #4 – Yep agreed, focus on humans I always say at the end of the day we
    want human beings to read, find help and get inspired from our content thats
    what i focus on when writing my blog posts. SEO comes second in my book! As
    I said ealier if we focus on humans the seo will take care of itself.

    Lesson #5 – I have thought about doing infographics I am a dab hand at Adobe
    Fireworks and some Photoshop. Is there any website – software we could use
    to create infographics! I would struggle on the research side of it though!

    Lesson #7 – Yep totally agree with you there! I am just testing out infolinks
    at the mo as I have to relaunched my blog. However I am not a big fan of ads
    I do see it as beeing needed to done!

    I would add the fact that new bloggers should get an email autoresponder from
    the start. However I am shooting myself in the foot here as I am still crafting
    my forms using css and Mandrill with MailPoet and crafting together some
    automatic emails that provide value!

    Awesome Post Neil and I loved reading it! Will be back for more when you send me
    an email again dude! Till next time!

    – PD

  21. I have been a regular reader of your blogs (QuickSprout and KissMetrics) for months but I have never left comments (mostly because your blogs are not in my niche). However, I think this article warrants one. Thanks for sharing this. As an SEO and Web Marketing specialist, I know all too well the pitfalls of allowing republication of articles and blog posts. You don’t need me to tell you that your blogs are awesome…I think you already know that. I read your posts religiously and I have learnt a lot from you. Thanks again!

  22. Hi Neil,

    I’ve been reading your stuff forever, but I do believe this is the first time I’m leaving you a comment!

    It’s amazing to think about, but you lost more visitors (on average) in one month than many blogs will even SEE over a course of several years. Wow.

    This is a really helpful post. Most bloggers can’t relate to your volume, but we sure as heck can relate to losing 29% of our readership! That’s a number which hits home. Whether you get 1,000 visits a month or 100,000; 29% is a lot.

    Taking comments for granted is the thing I see most often on blogs. It’s something I’ve done myself in past blogs. Like the song says: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got til it’s gone?” Well, when our posts are getting lots of comments, we take it for granted. When they stop, or when traffic stops, we suddenly appreciate them!

    Thanks for the great insights, Neil.

    Have a good one…

  23. I found Lesson #1 – ‘Don’t let people re-post your content’ to be a real eye opener. Given many of us use outside agencies to help us with SEO, this tip gives me a good way to check the quality and knowledge of some of our service providers.

    On another point the changes Google has introduced is now forcing many of us to look at issues such as linking for the better. Without the penalties I am sure we would not have paid much attention to such thing and instead would have focused on quantity over quality.

    Keep up the good work. I always learn a lot from your posts. Thank you.

  24. Brilliant. Thanks for sharing the insider info Neil! It really helps to know that webinars convert, infographics get shared and especially how to block sites from scraping content. As usual, much appreciated!

    Ryan

  25. The thing with Google penalizing you because your content got re-published by some big brands is really surprising for me. I guess we all have to be careful when getting into any sort of content syndication agreement.

    By the way, do you have any experience asking those big brands for the “rel” tag? Are they up for including it manually?

  26. I really appreciate this post Neil specially these points about how other sites publish your content in correctly way, Block scrapper sites IPs and Infographic tip. Amazing Post As Always Neil Thanks :)

  27. Thank you for the information about the rel canonical tag! I’m about to look more into it, but I recently started a content share with one blog and talking about doing the same with a second, so this came at a great time.

    Also, thanks for sharing your mistakes. One thing I love about your blog is how you embrace your mistakes, learn from them and are willing to teach others. A 29% drop is a big deal and as a relatively new blogger, I appreciate seeing that even experts make mistakes and we should simply take them as an opportunity to grow.

  28. Hi Neil,

    4 and 5 scream to me. The whole post rocks though. Awesomeness.

    Traffic in and of itself is worthless. Numbers sound nice, and sway some visitors, but the quality of traffic counts most. Target, and focus on creating ONLY content appealing to your targeted audience.

    That 225K visitors lost is so heady because you were so successful in the first place. You did something right then you learned – by checking metrics – where you were going wrong.

    As for the foot off the pedal bit, I learned that lesson from my old blog. Now, I serve up what people want. People want blogging tips tied into my world travels, and they love 10 or more tips, so most times, I’ll follow this specific blueprint.

    I’ll not go off topic but I will change the titles a bit here and there to spice things up. Overall though, doing a great deal of outreach through featuring other bloggers, sharing my tips, which have helped retire to a life of island hopping, and simply writing only about stuff my hyper targeted audience needs to hear, matters to me.

    The key is, to check your domain name, title, tagline, ads, pictures, and all that stuff, before you bother writing or publishing a post. Does it totally vibe with all your blog’s elements? If so, write the post. If not, scrap it. And of course, keep your readers intrigued by pressing your foot on the gas pedal, and by doing what works, with each post.

    Which reminds me, time to shoot another video.

    Thanks Neil.

    Tweeting in a bit.

    Ryan

  29. Hi Neil

    Great post – especially lesson no 5 about infographics.
    Have you written something about how to make an infographic successfull? We recently starting out with creating some really great infographics for my business, but my biggest fear is that we drown in the ocean of infographics being created these days.

    We are going for the higher quality infographics and an outreach strategy to get them out – but I’m thinking that you must have some great tips on how to gain great success with this tactic.

    If you haven’t already written about this, then I hope you will someday soon :-)

  30. Fantastic post Neil. In terms of service business its the quality rather than quantity which matters. But in case of our website where we present viral stories to our audience our content is suited to almost 90% of our traffic.

  31. Nick Eberle :

    I’m a regular reader and this is one of your best posts yet. All of these seem stupidly obvious when I read this but I could see myself making the same mistakes. Thanks for letting me learn from yours!

  32. Hi Neil,

    I used to believe that if somebody is using your content and linking back to your resource then its ok with Google. But I was wrong, you need to ensure that they’re using rel canonical tag. This is a big myth you busted for me.

  33. Neil, Man you are awesome. You share almost everything with such transparency , it feels amazing to know the story behind traffic , ideas on a blog you go to everyday as a marketer.

    Thanks for being so transparent and I am sure you will recover on your traffic at Kissmetrics.

    Cheers !

  34. Hi Neil,

    I saw that Time literally duplicated an article on an interview from Tim Ferris, and i didn’t get why. Thanks for clearing that up.

    10,000 visitors a month seems like a long road right now, let alone 100,000..but it’s possible if you say so ;) I’ll keep at it!

    Cheers!

  35. Lesson #4 stands out for me, and I have been saying it for ages focus on your audience, and also infographics. They are a superb way of attracting clients to your website. As they say a picture speaks a 1000 words.

  36. I really liked your blog design Neil. Who are you using for design work?

  37. MOSES UKANNA :

    Hi Neil, Nicest and most explanatory post. Even the best marketers aren’t perfect. Some aren’t humble enough to admit mistakes.

  38. Neil,

    Fascinating glimpse at what things are like behind the scenes at KISSmetrics. I’ve been a fan of the blog over there since its early days and always did enjoy the infographics you shared there.

    Thank you for the tip about other sites reprinting your content. I didn’t realize that the canonical tag was so important and that not using it could have such a significant impact on your SEO. I will keep this in mind in the future.

    Another post full of helpful information, which is again appreciated.

  39. Thanks for this Neil – always good to catch a glimpse into what you’re doing.

    I’ve contributed to the Kissmetrics blog and you’re right, Sean is awesome :)

    While I replied to the comments, I had to keep checking the post for a couple of days afterwards to see if there were any new ones.

    Realize you probably can’t give every guest blogger an author profile, but having notifications would make it a bit easier to stay on top of the comments!

    Cheers!
    Hana

  40. Julian Adorney :

    Great post! I really liked your point about comments; I’ve always replied to comments on my articles, but rarely bothered to on my social media pages. Maybe I should change that :)

  41. Thank you so much…
    Everyone makes it so difficult to learn but this Article was so simple… very Useful blog.
    Thank you again!
    My blog is here: http://www.broovo.com/getting-online-service-provider-fixing-gadgets/?

  42. Losing 225,418 visitors in a month is not a simple thing to forget. But what is the great thing in that is you have learned lesson from that and you have provides us much useful and helpful information, that too in simple words to understand easily.

  43. Hey Neil,

    Great article,lossing 200k traffic is a sad issue but that made you learn new strategies about what to do and what to not do.I learned many things which i heard good are actually bad.You make everything clear!Thanks for sharing!

  44. Great advice – thanks for this. Once a blog hits roughly 10k monthly visits, what would you say are the top 3 monetization methods they should try?

    Thanks!

  45. Hi Neil,

    This is a great article on basic, sound marketing advice re SEO. I agree with everything you say such as the monetization strategy. We have done the same thing on a video project with great results.

    If I could summarize the single, most powerful statement on the entire article it is “Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal.” Hallelujah brother, hallelujah! This is awesome advice and not just about all of marketing but in accomplishing what you want in life. Until you get the result you want (and in business it is constant expansion) you must point in the right direction and keep your foot on the gas pedal.

    Thanks for this, appreciate it.

  46. Hi mate,
    Would you mind if I ask, How much traffic Quick Sprout gets?

    Your site in first page for “Motivation Quotes”, how did you do that, when you teach SEO?

  47. Hei Neil, if I have just a few hundred visitors and I already advertise on the website, is it that bad? Because your 10k visitors starting points, it’like 100 visitors strating point for me, hahah.

    Thanks, wainting an answer! :)

  48. Great advice Neil! I’m in the process of revamping #4 and #7. I built my site, drove traffic to it, but in the end – it ended up being the wrong traffic. Amazing what you can learn over the years!

    I also appreciate the thoughts on how Sean is handling the blog. It helps me to see I’m on the right track with how I’m managing each of my blogs. Thanks!

  49. I heard on this Nathan Barry podcast that duplicate content is no longer a problem for google, that if you give your original post a few days to index Google will recognize you as the source:

    http://nathanbarry.com/episode2/

    This post totally contradicts that. How do I know who’s right?

  50. Hi Neil,

    Great stuff. Thanks for sharing such a detailed study about content marketing.Here, I find allot to learn and the thought to edit articles, to challenge the way I think.

    Once again thanks a ton. I really appreciate it.

    Cheers!

  51. Alex Horoshkevich :

    Greate article as always. I personaly liked #1 and #5 because I really appreciate about your inforgaphic and consider them awesome!

    Cheers
    Alex

  52. Neil, very informative. Could You also tell how you are planning to bring back audience. I really want to know how to get disinfected from the panda and the recent penguin algorithm. my site sellrbuyr.in is a local classifieds. It has lost 60% of its traffic due to pigeon update? Do you have any insights. even your small ideas could do wonders.

  53. hi neil,

    really a huge fan of your blog. every time i see in my inbox a new mail with topic showing untouched areas of SEO and marketing. keep it up and thanks for sharing your hard earned knowledge :)

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  57. I really liked your tips on monetizing blogs early. I know I am not the first person to say this, but figuring out your blog audience and strong points are hard to do. Thanks for sharing the tips.

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