To stay ahead of your competition in any niche, you need to actively grow and improve your blog.
There are many factors that go into building a successful blog. Utilizing the right set of data, choosing the best tools, and applying the best strategy all makes an impact on how successful your blog will be.
What’s in this guide?
In this guide, we will look into a number of things that you can do to continuously improve and grow your blog.
Our approach is similar to “Kaizen” – a term that usually refers to the statistical process that improves quality in every aspect of a business (originally, manufacturing) operation. We will focus on using data / specific web metrics to define our actions.
Some of the tips I mentioned require very little effort and can create instant positive results; while others take more time and skills to complete. It's like playing RPG video games – some levels are easy while some takes longer time/effort to master the necessary skills and breakthrough.
Depending upon the nature of your niche and level of understanding, you might look at different types of statistical data.
At first look, Google Analytics report can be overwhelming. So many numbers! And you may not be familiar with some of the metrics or concepts.
Well fear not because…
The numbers/concepts are not that complicated, and
Honestly I don't think bloggers should spend too much time in grinding Google Analytic reports.
Go simple. Your objective is to build a better blog for your users, not spending hours after hours learning the technicalities behind Google Analytic numbers.
Hence, I am suggesting only four Google Analytics numbers to track. And here are the four vital stats on Google Analytics that every blogger – regardless of the size of your blog or the niche you are in – should understand and keep an eye on.
1- Sessions / Users Acquired
By Google's definition: A session is a group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame.
Understand that there is a big difference between a session and a user in Google Analytic report.
A simple explanation (for more detail elaboration, read this) to this is that: A user is a person who comes to your blog and read your content. A single user can record multiple sessions a day in your Google Analytics report. For example, if he/she comes to your site read a couple of blog posts 8am in the morning and come back in again after lunch 1pm – that's two sessions recorded.
There are two methods by which a session ends:
Time-based expiration: After 30 minutes of inactivity / At midnight
Campaign change: If a user arrives via one campaign, leaves, and then comes back via a different campaign.
Tracking how many sessions/users your blog acquires is one way to measure growth. If your blog is acquiring more sessions this month than before, then surely you must be doing something right.
2- Traffic Channels / Referrals
Google Analytics groups traffic sources into multiple channels, common ones are Paid Search, Organic Search, Direct, Social, Referral, and so on.
Most of these terms are self-explanatory except for:
The term “Referral” refers to visitors coming from links on other websites;
“Direct” refers to users who visit your blog by typing in your web address in the address bar.
To get the numbers, login to Google Analytics, Dashboard > Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.
Take a good look at where your traffic is coming from.
Is there a site or a blog that stand out from Which social platform is sending the most traffic to your blog? Are you getting a lot of organic search traffic (lucky you!)? What efforts are wasted as far as traffic goes?
And the money question: What can I do to make this numbers higher next month?
(We will dig in some of the things you can do in the later part of our guide.)
3- Bounce Rate
A bounce is a single-page session on your blog. A bounced user comes to your blog and leaves without visiting a second page.
Bounce rate is a good measurement of your content or traffic quality:
Are you serving the right content to your audience?
Are you targeting the right audience with your content?
A high bounce rate is not necessary a bad thing.
If the success of your blog depends on users viewing more than one page – for instance, users visit your “start here” page and they are suppose to click on a link to read your other posts, then, yes, a high bounce rate is bad.
However, there are other cases where high bounce rate is preferable. For example if your blog depends on affiliate income, then a high bounce rate maybe a good thing – your users visit your blog, click on your affiliate links, and leave.
Bounce rate is an important metric because it triggers the “why-question”.
Why is there a sudden surge (or dip) in your blog's bounce rate?
Is there a broken image link? Is the site loading extra slow? Is the design alignment intact? Has the blog traffic source changed dramatically?
4- Average Time on Page
Keeping track of the time a person spends on your page helps you figure out ways to improve your content and blog’s stickiness.
In layman's term, Goals in Google Analytics measure how well your blog achieve your target objectives.
These objectives can be:
Signup to your newsletter, or
Visit and read a piece of content on your blog, or
Download your ebook, or
Make a purchase (if you are processing transaction).
Setting up Goals in Google Analytics is not a must – but highly recommended if you are reading to overcome the learning curve.
Having properly configured goals allows Google Analytics to provide you with critical information, such as the number of conversions and the conversion rate for your site – which in turn, help you evaluate the effectiveness of your content or marketing campaign.
We will talk more about how Goals are used in Tactic #2.
Once you have a grasp of the different types of data available for your site, here are some of the practical things you can do that will improve your blog.
Tactic #1: Know Your Audience Better
Who is your audience, really? What is their general age? What education level do they have? Any cultural specifics?
And most importantly: WHY are they at your site? How can you do better to serve them?
If you don't know who are your blog readers, you are shooting in the dark.
Here are three ways to know your audience better.
Try: Interview people in your readership zone
Start with people you know, then expand to names in your niche. Collect information, make statistics and graphs. As a blogger, you may find surveys and polls useful tools at hand. Polling your blog audience helps determine your demographics.
Use polls, surveys and interviews to find out who is reading as well as who might be reading — their ages, genders, occupations, interests, walks of life, etc. Invite them to contact you and introduce themselves and talk about what they like about your blog. Why did they choose to follow you? What kind of posts are their favorites? What is it about you and your content that lends you credibility in their eyes?
I always invite WHSR subscribers to hit “reply” in the newsletter so I get a chance to connect. You should do the same.
Here are three tools to help you create surveys for free:
There is plenty of information in your Facebook Page (I assume you have one for your blog, if not – go create one asap). You just need to know where to find them.
Forums are good to see what’s boiling in your field and what your audience is finding interesting and relevant at a given time.
Webmaster World and Web Hosting Talk are two typical examples of how a niche forum can give you an incredible amount of inputs to understand what people in my industry are concerned about.
One warning before you hop on though – don’t let the noise distract you from your goals. Forums host the good and the bad apple of the user base, so make sure you filter out any irrelevant discussions and only focus on what matters — especially topics that are basically help requests, as they give you background material to write an answer piece.
Tactic #2: Pour oil into fire: Focus on the winner
You are now are armed with the right data about your blog and audience, it's time for some actions.
The first thing to do is to figure out what is working and what isn’t for your blog.
Things you can do in real life:
1. Invest more money and effort into traffic sources that convert the best.
In the following example (see image below), Goal Conversion Rate for Facebook Mobile and Google Organic traffic are converting 7x to 20x better. What we should do here is to spend more effort, time, and money to obtain more traffic from these two sources.
2. Double up on an ad campaign that works.
If you are spending $50/month on a Twitter ad that is bringing in a lot of traffic, spend $100/month and reach even more people.
3. Expand your content (instead of creating new posts all the time)
Expand on content that gives the best engagement rates.
What topics seem to be most popular with your readers? Can you add more information into the post? Be creative – interview an industry expert, add in some new charts, make video tutorial, and so on. The key is to focus on winners and make the best out of them.
Tactic #3: Harvest the low hanging fruit
Low hanging fruit is pretty easy to grab off a fruit tree, and fortunately most websites have low hanging fruit for the picking as well. Basic tasks you can do in a few minutes a day can make a big impact on the overall success of your blog.
Things you can do in real life:
Some basic tasks you can do right now include:
Use IFTTT to promote your latest blog posts on social media.
Set up a social media profile specifically for your blog.
Add social sharing buttons to your website.
Create a contact page so site visitors know how to reach you.
Install a third party comment system, such as Disqus. This will improve user engagement rate.
Write a disclaimer page, so that readers know they can trust you to be upfront.
Share content more than once; use automation tool to re-share your old contnet. By re-sharing older content, you keep it in the public eye.
Create roundups that feature some of your best content.
Create an infographic that further explains a popular article.
Do some A/B testing to see how well everything from navigation to Call to Action buttons is working.
Create a Start Here page to serve your new visitors.
Figure out what your main theme is for your blog and make sure all the content matches up to your theme/goals.
Check for misspellings, grammar mistakes, and typos on your blog. Nothing makes a blog look more unprofessional than multiple and consistent mistakes in this area.
Develop a street team. This is a team of individuals who help spread the word about your blog. In return, you might send them a free T-shirt or other goodies.
Create an editorial calendar.
Schedule backups so you don’t lose your entire blog to a catastrophic site meltdown.
Study your tagline? Does it grab the reader’s interest? Does it effectively explain what you’re about?
Follow other blogs in your niche and connect with those blog owners.
Comment on other blogs and add valuable thoughts.
Find a mentor who has succeeded with their blog. Ask the mentor to help you make your own blog a success.
Make your call to action (CTA) wording as clear as possible. Replace words like “click here” with stronger commands such as “get free ebook.”
Make sure there is a balance between images and text, but that images are relevant to the post.
Fix any broken links. You can install a plugin that will easily allow you to find broken links on a WP blog.
Tactic #4: Build a list, collect visitors' emails
The people who visit your site have landed there because they are interested in the topic you cover. This is as targeted of an audience as you can meet. It is important that you collect their contact information so you can continue to market to these individuals.
Social media is overcrowded, but with email you are sending your materials to a very specific audience who has already decided they are interested in what you have to say.
In addition, you’ll want to use a professionally designed opt-in form, so there is no question that the user signed up for the mailing list. The last thing you want is to be accused of spamming those on your mailing list. Some of the email list tools mentioned above have built-in opt-in forms or plugins that sync up with your blog.
How to target and grow your email opt-in: Tips from Adam Connell
One of my favorite [list building] techniques is using ‘category targeted opt-ins’.
It’s a similar idea to content upgrades but it’s far easier to manage.
The idea is that you use opt-in forms to offer exclusive content that is relevant to a topic that someone is reading at the time.
For example, if you’re running a blog about food, you’d offer a different ‘lead magnet’ to people reading the category about meal recipes than you would those viewing the breakfast recipes category.
It’s what we used at UK Linkology to increase email sign ups by over 300%:
Here’s a quick outline of the process we used:
Re-organize & condense our blog categories to 4-5 core topics
Created a lead magnet for each core topic
Installed the Thrive Leads WordPress plugin which can target opt-in forms to specific categories
Setup opt-in forms to promote each lead magnet (we focused on sidebar, in-content and popover opt-in forms)
Activated category targeting to ensure each opt-in form would appear on the correct category
The key here is to offer a lead magnet that is closely related to what someone is reading at the time.
A truly amazing About page needs to have more than just the facts about your company. It should be the story of you and how you grew your business, what your core beliefs are and what makes you different than your competitors. Here are some key elements of a good About page.
About Page ideas to try out
Idea #1: Lead with an opening hook that grabs the reader.
Idea #2: Keep it personal.
Idea #3: Share your history.
Your About page should be a reflection of your business statement and your own personality. Make it interesting and readers will feel as though they know you on a personal level.
Tactic #6: Improve your blog visually
It takes the average person 0.05 seconds to make a judgement about your website. That translates to 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression on your visitor. In 50 milliseconds, it’s doubtful the person has time to read much of your text. What does that mean? That means most people’s first impression of your website is made based on the design and images, which the brain processes faster than text.
Generally, here's what I suggest with your blog visual elements:
Use relevant, clear screenshots and charts to add value to your post
Use infographic to summarize your points
Use irrelevant, ugly stock photos that do nothing to make your brand seem distinctive
Use photos with badly posed models
Here are three ways to find , you don’t have to hire a photographer and crew to get beautiful photos for your website.
Three easy ways to improve your blog visually
1- Create yourself
With so many free resources and web applications on Internet, it's super-easy to create stunning images by yourself – even if you are not a graphic designer by profession.
Want original graphics for your next blog post? Create it yourself by following these steps:
Record your screen and make it into GIF images. Free tool – ScreenToGif (Windows) and Kap (Mac).
2- Hire a freelance designer
In case graphic and photo shooting is really not your thing, you can always leave the work to a freelance designer.
Graphic and web design cost has decreased significantly in recent years thanks to free software and fierce competition. Based on my recent study – a designer charges about $26/hour averagely and you can go as low as $3/mo.
3- Pixabay (or other directories that offer beautiful images)
If you must add irrelevant photos to your post – the least you can do is to avoid ugly stock photos. Not only are they bland and in-distinctive, but they may appear on multiple other sites at any given time, making your blog look less unique.
There are countless image directories where you can get free, stunning photos. Pixabay is my favorite because of its flexibility. There are no attribution requirements, meaning that you can do whatever you want with the images you get from this source.
Additionally, it’s super simple to use – there’s even a simple search right on the homepage available before you even log in. You’ll get access to photos, vector images, and illustrations and can filter down as needed. Downloading the actual images is incredibly easy and, again, comes with options for image size (pixels and MB) so that the image you have in-hand is clear and quality for whatever your purpose might be (in my case, most likely online for your blog – no huge file size necessary).
When you’re looking to improve your blog, design is an obvious thing to look at. The overall look of your website is the first impression that a site visitor has of your blog. It is important to have a nice balance to the page. All the elements must come together into a usable and visually pleasing whole.
How to design with better efficiency
You don’t optimize pages. You optimize Thought Sequences.
Nature is the greatest Designer. While we design for the web, we have a lot to learn by studying Nature itself. At the end of the day, it's all about balance and harmony, contrast of shapes and colour.
4 tests you can run to validate the effectiveness of your design elements:
1- Attention: Each element must get the visitor’s attention and do so in the correct order. For example, first establish a high desirability factor, and then provide a Call-To-Action. Or first orientate the visitor, and THEN “create the need”.
2- Direction: Web design elements must fall logically into the visitor’s reading path: Left to right, top to bottom. Arouse the interest and orientation before “create-the-need”, before information and Call-To-Action.
3- Contrast: Strategically alter the path a visitor’s eyes follow on the screen using contrast. For example: Bright colors, particularly red and orange, catch a visitor’s attention. Also, larger elements, unusual shapes, or parallax effects with their “virtual” third dimension, will stand out more. Use movement too: “Flying images”, animated pull-down menus, sliders, hover effects work well. Lastly, remember that separating elements (i.e. rows in different background colors) stand out.
4- Balance: If we are to learn from Nature, Balance is of utmost importance. Keep the relative size of your components equal or use “quantity” to bring balance. For example, if you use columns of unequal widths, use multiple “heavier” elements (eg. images) on the narrow column to balance-out the weight of the wider column.
Example #2: Use a simple design to minimize distraction
Example #3: Use fewer items in your top navigation menu
Tactic #8: On-page search engine optimization
When you have better search engine rankings, you will see an increase in traffic and revenue. Figuring out the holy grail of how to rank higher in the search engines can seem overwhelming, though. While it’s true that research and improving off-page factors (such as obtaining links) are naturally important, there is plenty of low hanging fruit in SEO that many bloggers overlook.
Google regularly changes their algorithms, so it can be difficult to figure out just what Google wants. There are three things you need to focus on if you want to rank well in Google’s search engine: Content, performance authority, and user experience.
All of these factors come together and combine into what Google considers a “good” blog that is worthy of a higher ranking in their search results.
Increase your search traffic by 321% with onpage SEO
Lately, I have been studying the ways of increasing organic search traffic only through changing and formatting the content (On-Page SEO).
And I’ve got nice results.
The search traffic of one of my posts has increased by 321%!
Here are the basic On-Page SEO steps that will help you get more traffic:
1. Track outbound links to extend your content with the information your audience is interested in.
For example: In my article about the first blog post there are links to other resources with dozens of ideas for blog posts.
As soon as I added the code for tracking outbound links, I found out that my readers click on these links like crazy. What did I do? I extended my content with 57 ideas for the first blog post. And now this is my most popular keyword which brings the most of Google traffic.
2. Create a Table of Contents if you have more than 2,000 words written.
This will help you get quick links to Google SERP and increase your CTR.
3. Find the questions that are asked by your audience on the topic of your article and give answers.
You can take questions from Google in the “People also ask” block.
These actions will increase your chances of getting into the featured snippet.
4. Try to include relevant long-tail keywords in your H2.
But do not overdo it!
5. Use numbered and bulleted lists to have a chance to hit the featured snippet.
As soon as I was there, the clicks to my article on this query increased by 20%!
6. Always try a new Title for your pages if you are unhappy with the results of your traffic from Google.
Change it. Experiment! Add modifiers and new keywords.
For my most popular article, I changed the Title tag more than 20 times this year :)
And as a result, I increased traffic by 321% thanks to these simple On-page SEO steps.
There is no denying that good, well-written content is important if you want to engage your audience. But it simply isn’t enough to drive traffic to your site by itself.
You need to create content that your target audience most wants to read.
How do you know what they want to read?
Where to find great content ideas
1. Google Analytics
Look back to your Google Analytics. Find out what type of content your audience loves. Which pieces are they interacting with or sharing most often? Create more of those topics and less of the less popular ones (or repurpose the less popular ones to make them more like the popular posts).
2. Other media platforms
Get inspired by popular content on Podcast, YouTube Channels, SlideShare, and so on. This is a window into what people in your niche want to know more about. There is a reason that certain content is more popular at any given time.
For example, iTunes allows users to browse podcasts based on popularity. Take note of the topic as well as the way it is presented to the audience.
Use YouTube to see what vloggers in your niche are doing. Find out which videos are most popular in their channels. Turn those popular videos into blog content ideas.
On SlideShare, you can go to the Most Popular page to find out which slides are grabbing the interest of site visitors.
3. Trending on Twitter
What’s trending on Twitter? This can offer insight into current topics that your readers might want to know more about. Keep in mind:
Not everything that’s trending on Twitter is relevant to your niche. Brad’s wife might have gotten fired from Cracker Barrel, but does that really have anything to do with your business coaching business? Perhaps it does if you wanted to talk about how to overcome a social media firestorm.
You can always generate new blogging ideas can from What’s Trending on Twitter – even if it’s not exactly your niche. At WHSR – part of our growth comes from the content strategy where we merge our primary niche (blogging, web hosting, social media marketing) with other trending topics (World of War Craft, Dungeon Master, Shark Tank TV series, gardening, etc.). Marrying two very different topics expands readership and offers new writing angles on your topic.
Sites where people ask questions on a topic, such as Quora can also be a good source to see what people want to know more about.
Tactic #11: Create a hub page and feature your best content
Take a look at the different categories on your website. Are there any categories missing? Can you create a hub page (some call it “ribbon page”) and feature your very best content in that category? Or, perhaps you simply want to highlight a specific topic over others because your data analysis has shown that your site visitors are most interested in XYZ.
You can create charts that tie into the topics, group elements into a basic chart, and add color and interest to your site. Some of the types of content you might want to include would be:
How-to guides on a particular subject
Most popular topics in a specific category
Topics that are trending at the moment
Tactic #12: Improve site loading speed
We talked a little before about the importance of fast loading times for your website and how impatient people can be. Getting your blog to load faster requires that you look at many different elements.
Learn from the Pro: Daren Low
Extensive testing is required to optimize the loading speed of your website. It involves day-by-day fine tuning to achieve the best results, but your investment in time will pay off in terms of enhanced search engine optimization and conversion rate.
The one thing I consider most important is GZIP compression for your website. This is a method of compressing the webpage into small, easier and faster loading data files.
Fortunately, this is easy to accomplish with WordPress, via any number of specialized plugins. The one I use (at Bitcatcha, InMotion Hosting) is W3 Total Cache, which also caches your pages in addition to GZIP compression.
Most of the blogging guides you’ll find online today focus on improving your writing or adding more content.
However the truth is that more, or even better content, is not always the answer.
Sometimes, it is smarter to step away from creating more content and look into other things you can do to drive better results from blogging, such as networking with your peers.
At first thought, it might not seem like a good idea to talk to other bloggers in your niche. You are both vying for similar traffic after all.
However, connecting with other influencers can actually benefit you both. There is enough traffic to go around and when bloggers recommend one another, their site visitors tend to take notice.
Reach out and link up with other bloggers. You both are targeting similar audiences, so you’ll both benefit. You also can connect with bloggers in related niches. For example, if you make wooden signs and sell them, you will want to connect with a blog that talks about DIY décor.
Share information with other bloggers. Have you found a place to advertise that is particularly successful? Don’t be afraid to tell others. They, in turn, will tell you where they advertise.
Exchange guest posts with one another to reach each other’s audience.
Introduce your blogger friends to your readers by featuring an interview, putting an article about them in your newsletter, or just giving them a shout out on social media.
Share ideas about writing and editing.
Learn from the pro: Marius Kiniulis
Reaching out to influencers: How to improve response rate?
Always include a benefit that influencers might be interested in in your first outreach email. For example, if you're outreaching them about possible guest posting opportunities on their site, tell them that you will not only share that post with your social followers, but will also send an email to your 10,000 email subscribers.
If you first email didn't work – always followup. People might say whatever they want, but followups still work incredibly well. And if possible – include additional benefit. This might increase your chances to get a response.
Facebook is too big of a social media giant to be ignored. There are over 1.5 billion users on the social media giant. In 2015, advertisers spent $17.08 billion on Facebook. Because they have such a wide base of users from different locations and backgrounds, Facebook is the best option for brands and bloggers.
However, you must understand how Facebook works and spend the time on optimization to make it worth your while. Here are some alternatives to Facebook Ads in case you need options.
How to run effective Facebook ads
Here are some tips to get you started:
Keep track of new features (Facebook is releasing them on an almost weekly basis) – be the first to use new ad formats – Instagram video ads, DPA carousel ads, local awareness ads, Canvas ads, etc.
Use an ad tool for automatic A/B testing to cut down on ad cost and improve ad efficiency. I use Adespresso to run most of my ads on Facebook – it helps me to create and track hundreds of ad sets in one campaign easily.
Cross sell or cross promote. Even if you don’t sell an actual product, you can still apply the idea of cross selling to retain your existing visitors. When someone visits a page from your blog, you can automatically cross-promote your other relevant content to them using the retargeting feature. For example, if one was looking at your “how to create a photography blog”, you can follow up and promote your list of “must see WordPress plugins for photo blogs” on Facebook.
Understand how you can hone down your target audience with Facebook ads to reach the exact demographic you wish to reach.
Study what your competitors are doing. You can even target people who have visited your competitors’ Facebook pages and push ads to them.
Always promote a benefit, not a product. The sales of products, services, or content will come naturally from the relationship that you build with your audience. You must let your target audience know how your product/content can help them. What problem are you solving?
Post more photos. Wishpond found that photo posts get around 120% more engagement than posts without a photo. Posts with a photo album get about 180% more engagement.
Target your audience smartly. Facebook knows a lot about you (and which websites you visited), and it uses that information to let advertisers target their ads to select groups of people. Your FB ad performances rely a lot on how well you target your audience.
Real life Facebook Ad examples
Tactic #15: Build your team and expand
As your business grows, so should your team (btw, this is Team WHSR). Seek out people who are trustworthy and offer high quality work for your team. Once they are trained, these people should be able to complete tasks with just minor direction from you. This allows you to expand your promotional and content efforts almost as though you are cloning yourself. The goal would be for you to eventually manage the team and leave the actual work to them.
With the right team and continued effort, your blog should continue to expand its reach. Over time, you’ll gain a loyal following and regular new traffic from other efforts. Improving your blog is not a one-time effort. You must continue to improve your blog week after week if you want to find success.
About Jerry Low
Founder of WebHostingSecretRevealed.net (WHSR) - a hosting review trusted and used by 100,000's users. More than 15 years experience in web hosting, affiliate marketing, and SEO. Contributor to ProBlogger.net, Business.com, SocialMediaToday.com, and more.