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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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?