58 billion URLs in the Latest, Largest Linkscape Index Update Yet

Posted by randfish

I've got good news. Today marks a new Linkscape index (only 14 days after our previous index rollout) which means new data in Open Site Explorer, the Mozbar, the Web App and the Moz API. It's also more than 60% larger than our previous update in early January and shows better correlations with rankings in Google.com; I'm pretty excited.

For the past couple years, SEOmoz has focused on surfacing quality links and high quality, well-correlated-with-rankings metrics to help provide a link graph that shows off a large sample of the web's link graph. However, we've heard feedback that this isn't enough and may not be exactly what many who research links are seeking (or at least, it's not fulfilling all the functions you need). We're responding by moving, starting with today's launch, to a new, consistently larger link index.

Today's data is different from how we've done Linkscape index updates in the past. Rather than take only those pages we've crawled in the past 3-4 weeks, we're using all of the pages we've found since October 2011, replacing anything that's been more recently updated/crawled with a newer version and producing an index more like what you'd see from Google or Bing (where "fresh" content gets recrawled more frequently and static content is crawled/updated less often). This new index format is something that will let us expose a much larger section of the web ongoing, and reduces the redundancies of crawling web pages that haven't been updated in months or years.

Below are two graphs showing the last year of Linkscape updates and their respective sizes in terms of individual URLs (at top) and root domains (at bottom):

Linkscape Index Size Over Time

As you can see, this latest index is considerably larger than anything we've produced recently. We had some success growing URL counts over the summer, but this actually lowered our domain diversity (and hurt some correlation numbers of metrics) so we rolled back to a previous index format until now.

This means you'll see more links pointing to your sites (on average, at least) and to those of your competitors. Our metrics' correlations are slightly increased (I hope to show off more detailed data on that in a future post with help from our data scientist, Matt), which was something we worried about with a much larger index, but we believe we've managed to retain mostly quality stuff (though I would expect there'll be more "junk" in this index than usual). The oldest crawled URLs included here were seen 82 days ago, and the newest stuff is as fresh as the New Year.

Despite this mix of old + new, the percent of "fresh" material is actually quite high. You can see a histogram below (ignore the green line) showing the distribution of URLs from various timeframes going into this new index. The most recent portion, crawled in the last 2/3rds of December, represents a solid majority.

Histogram of crawl for Index 49

Let's take a look at the raw stats for index 49:

  • 58,316,673,893 (58 billion) URLs
  • 639,806,598 (639 million) Subdomains
  • 135,392,083 (135 million) Root Domains
  • 617,554,278,005 (617 billion) Links
  • Followed vs. Nofollowed

    • 2.10% of all links found were nofollowed
    • 56.50% of nofollowed links are internal
    • 43.50% are external
  • Rel Canonical – 11.79% of all pages now employ a rel=canonical tag
  • The average page has 87.36 links on it

    • 73.06 internal links on average
    • 14.29 external links on average  

In addition to this good news, I have some potentially more hilarious and/or tragic stuff to share. I've made a deal with our Linkscape engineering group that if they release an index with 100+ billion URLs by March 30th (just 72 days away), I will shave/grow my facial hair to whatever style they collectively approve*. Thus, you may be seeing a Whiteboard Friday with a beardless or otherwise peculiar-looking presenter in the early Spring. :-)

As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated on this new index. If some of the pages or links are looking funny, please let us know.

* 20th century European dictator mustaches excluded

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How To Handle Downtime During Site Maintenance

Posted by Frederik Hyldig

In this post I will explain how to handle cases of planned downtime. That is, a short period of time wherein you purposely make your website inaccessible. This can be due to significant changes to the site or because of server maintenance.

It should always be the last resort to make the entire website inaccessible, but in some cases it can be necessary. Below you will find suggestions as to how to proceed with SEO in mind.

Tell both humans and robots that it's only a temporary shutdown.

In the case of a temporary shutdown, one should always inform both humans (visitors) and robots (search engines) so that they are aware that it is a planned closure, and that it is just temporary. If possible one should also state when the website is expected to be back online. This will ensure that both humans and robots will return at a later time to find what they expected to find in the first place.

There are two mistakes often seen when a website is made temporarily unavailable:

Mistake 1 – All files are removed from the server.

When both humans and robots attempt to find the website, it will result in a 404 error, which means that the requested page cannot be found. This informs neither humans nor search engines on what is actually happening. One will typically be shown a page that looks something like this:

The worst case scenario is that people will think the website no longer exists, and will therefore give up trying to find it again. Search engines handle this situation in a similar fashion. To them, a 404 error means that the page no longer exists, and it will in time be deleted from their index.

Mistake 2 – A simple page is put on the server with a short message explaining the closure.

An alternative solution to the one above is to remove all files and then put one very simple file on the server that explains why the website is closed in one or two sentences. All the old pages are then redirected to this file.

This method may tell humans what the problem is, but it still makes no sense to the search engines. The search engines can in fact become so confused by this that they believe that the temporary state of the website – the few sentences explaining the problem – is the permanent website in future.

Depending on how the redirection of the other pages has been carried out, one also risks the search engines thinking that all the other pages of the website have been (re)moved, and that only the front page is to be ranked in search results. This is a sure way to lose rankings.

Briefly on HTTP Status codes

Every time you visit a website your browser receives a message from the server that hosts the website. This message is called a HTTP Status code. As a SEO it is necessary to understand what the most important codes mean.

200 OK – The request has succeeded. This is the standard response for successful HTTP requests.

301 Moved Permanently – The requested resource has been assigned a new permanent location. This and all future requests should be directed to the given location. This status code is used for 301 redirects. In most instances, the 301 redirect is the best method for implementing redirects on a website. A 301 redirect will pass most, if not all the linkjuice from the original location.

302 Found - The requested resource resides temporarily at a different location. By using a 302 redirect instead of a 301, search engines will know that this is only a temporary state. No appreciable amount of linkjuice will be passed.

404 Not Found – The server has not found anything matching the requested location. No indication is given of whether the condition is temporary or permanent. In time, the page will be removed from the search engine's index.

503 Service Unavailable – The server is currently unavailable (this could be due to overload or maintenance). Search engines will know that this is a temporary state. This status code should be used when taking down a site for maintenance.

You can read more about HTTP status codes here. Also check out this infographic on HTTP status codes by Dr. Pete.

How to inform search engines that the downtime is temporary.

If you take down your website temporarily, you must inform search engines such as Google. As you could read above, this is done by utilizing the HTTP status code: 503 Service Unavailable, that informs the search engines that the server is temporarily unavailable. To do this one must first create a file that returns a 503 status code on the server. When the search engine sees this, it will understand the situation. This can be done by copying the four lines below into Notepad (or the like) and saving it as 503.php. You must then place this file in the root of your server.

The first two lines tell us that it is a 503 status code, and the last line is used to tell when the website is expected to be online again. Google understands this message, so it is possible to tell Google when to visit the website again. You must either provide a number (seconds) or a date. If you live in Denmark like I do and you expect to return on the 5th of January 2012, at 14:00, you must put down:

Notice that I wrote 13:00:00 in the code, even though I wrote 14:00:00 above. This is due to the fact that the time must be provided in GMT/UTC, which is, in my case, 1 hour behind local time.

But it is not enough to just put a 503 message on your server. You will receive visitors (Google included) from many different sources and to all sorts of pages of your website. They must all be redirected to the message explaining that the website is temporarily closed.

On an Apache/Linux server, this can be easily solved by using a .htaccess file to redirect all the pages towards the 503.php file. The .htaccess file is often used for 301 redirects, but that is not our purpose here. We will use a 302 redirect. You may have been previously warned about using this sort of redirect, and for good reason. It can do a great deal of damage if not used correctly. But in this case, it must be used, and in fact a 301 redirect would be detrimental in its place.

Save the 6 following lines as a .htaccess file and place it in the root of your server as well.

The 'R' in the last line indicates that this is a 302 redirect. R is 302 by default. To create a 301 redirect, it would have said [R=301, L]. The clever thing about this file, however, is that we can give ourselves access to the site and simultaneously show everyone else a 503 message. Let’s say you have the following IP address: 12.345.678.910. You then put the numbers in line 4 as shown below:

When you have placed the two files (503.php and .htaccess) on your server, you’re done. You now have peace and quiet to tinker with your website, as long as you leave those two files in the root of your server – and if Google visits, they’ll know that the site will be back later, and you’ve even let them know when to try again.

But what about passing on the message to your visitors?

How to tell your visitors that the website is only closed temporarily.

With a few additions to the 503.php file, which we made just before, we can pass on a message to visitors:

The above will result in the following message when one visits the website:

And if we look at the response the server provides Google with, with a tool such as FireBug, Web-Sniffer.net or the like, we get the following:

Now you have informed both humans and robots to come back later. This is the best way to handle server maintenance in order to prevent Google from indexing the temporary version of the website.

It should be possible to get through a temporary closure without the website’s rankings suffering serious consequences.

A Quick Note about SOPA Protests

Keri from SEOmoz here! This post is also helpful if you're wanting to protest SOPA tomorrow (January 18th) and want to minimize the effect on your rankings. Pierre Far from Google shared a a post on Google+ called Website outages and blackouts the right way that you might want to check out for some information straight from Google.

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Virgin Media announces 50Mbps customer boost

Virgin Media has been in a generous mood of late, and on top of its program of speed upgrades, an extra boost has now been announced for those on 50Mbps lines.

If you missed it, last week Virgin said it was rolling out a £110 million spend to increase the speed of all its broadband lines.

10Mbps customers will be doubled up to 20Mbps lines, and 20Mbps along with 30Mbps increased to 60Mbps.

The 50Mbps package was to become 100Mbps, and the top tier 100Mbps lines boosted to 120Mbps. Upstream speeds and fair usage allowances are set to double up, as well.

However, it seems Virgin accidentally sent out some emails to 50Mbps customers telling them their line speed will be increased to 120Mbps, not 100Mbps.

The company has now decided to make good on this erroneous promise, so 50Mbps packages will be more than doubled up to 120Mbps.

The good news is that this move comes at no extra cost, and indeed 100Mbps customers being upgraded to 120Mbps will see the price of their package cut to the current 50Mbps price, £35 per month.

Virgin’s upgrade program begins next month and continues on through to the middle of 2013. 50Mbps customers will initially get bumped up to 100Mbps, before accelerating to 120Mbps when the roll out goes live in their area.

All good news for higher end Virgin customers, then. BT has been planning to double up its FTTC service for some time now, from 40Mbps to 80Mbps, and this should start to happen in the spring.

Virgin’s move is doubtless a reaction to this upgrade, but obviously still a very welcome one.

21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic (Updated 2012)

Posted by randfish

It's easy to build a blog, but hard to build a successful blog with significant traffic. Over the years, we've grown the Moz blog to nearly a million visits each month and helped lots of other blogs, too. I launched a personal blog late last year and was amazed to see how quickly it gained thousands of visits to each post. There's an art to increasing a blog's traffic, and given that we seem to have stumbled on some of that knowledge, I felt it compulsory to give back by sharing what we've observed.

NOTE: This post replaces a popular one I wrote on the same topic in 2007. This post is intended to be useful to all forms of bloggers – independent folks, those seeking to monetize, and marketing professionals working an in-house blog from tiny startups to huge companies. Not all of the tactics will work for everyone, but at least some of these should be applicable and useful.

#1 – Target Your Content to an Audience Likely to Share

When strategizing about who you're writiing for, consider that audience's ability to help spread the word. Some readers will naturally be more or less active in evangelizing the work you do, but particular communities, topics, writing styles and content types regularly play better than others on the web. For example, great infographics that strike a chord (like this one), beautiful videos that tell a story (like this one) and remarkable collections of facts that challenge common assumptions (like this one) are all targeted at audiences likely to share (geeks with facial hair, those interested in weight loss and those with political thoughts about macroeconomics respectively).

A Blog's Target Audience

If you can identify groups that have high concentrations of the blue and orange circles in the diagram above, you dramatically improve the chances of reaching larger audiences and growing your traffic numbers. Targeting blog content at less-share-likely groups may not be a terrible decision (particularly if that's where you passion or your target audience lies), but it will decrease the propensity for your blog's work to spread like wildfire across the web.

#2 – Participate in the Communities Where Your Audience Already Gathers

Advertisers on Madison Avenue have spent billions researching and determing where consumers with various characteristics gather and what they spend their time doing so they can better target their messages. They do it because reaching a group of 65+ year old women with commercials for extreme sports equipment is known to be a waste of money, while reaching an 18-30 year old male demographic that attends rock-climbing gyms is likely to have a much higher ROI.

Thankfully, you don't need to spend a dime to figure out where a large portion of your audience can be found on the web. In fact, you probably already know a few blogs, forums, websites and social media communities where discussions and content are being posted on your topic (and if you don't a Google search will take you much of the way). From that list, you can do some easy expansion using a web-based tool like DoubleClick's Ad Planner:

Sites Also Visited via DoubleClick

Once you've determined the communities where your soon-to-be-readers gather, you can start participating. Create an account, read what others have written and don't jump in the conversation until you've got a good feel for what's appropriate and what's not. I've written a post here about rules for comment marketing, and all of them apply. Be a good web citizen and you'll be rewarded with traffic, trust and fans. Link-drop, spam or troll and you'll get a quick boot, or worse, a reputation as a blogger no one wants to associate with.

#3 – Make Your Blog's Content SEO-Friendly

Search engines are a massive opportunity for traffic, yet many bloggers ignore this channel for a variety of reasons that usually have more to do with fear and misunderstanding than true problems. As I've written before, "SEO, when done right, should never interfere with great writing." In 2011, Google received over 3 billion daily searches from around the world, and that number is only growing:

Daily Google Searches 2004-2011
sources: Comscore + Google

Taking advantage of this massive traffic opportunity is of tremendous value to bloggers, who often find that much of the business side of blogging, from inquiries for advertising to guest posting opportunities to press and discovery by major media entities comes via search.

SEO for blogs is both simple and easy to set up, particularly if you're using an SEO-friendly platform like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. For more information on how to execute on great SEO for blogs, check out the following resources:

Don't let bad press or poor experiences with spammers (spam is not SEO) taint the amazing power and valuable contributions SEO can make to your blog's traffic and overall success. 20% of the effort and tactics to make your content optimized for search engines will yield 80% of the value possible; embrace it and thousands of visitors seeking exactly what you've posted will be the reward.

#4 – Use Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to Share Your Posts & Find New Connections

Twitter just topped 465 million registered accounts. Facebook has over 850 million active users. Google+ has nearly 100 million. LinkedIn is over 130 million.  Together, these networks are attracting vast amounts of time and interest from Internet users around the world, and those that participate on these services fit into the "content distributors" description above, meaning they're likely to help spread the word about your blog.

Leveraging these networks to attract traffic requires patience, study, attention to changes by the social sites and consideration in what content to share and how to do it. My advice is to use the following process:

  • If you haven't already, register a personal account and a brand account at each of the following – Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn (those links will take you directly to the registration pages for brand pages). For example, my friend Dharmesh has a personal account for Twitter and a brand account for OnStartups (one of his blog projects). He also maintains brand pages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
  • Fill out each of those profiles to the fullest possible extent – use photos, write compelling descriptions and make each one as useful and credible as possible. Research shows that profiles with more information have a signifcant correlation with more successful accounts (and there's a lot of common sense here, too, given that spammy profiles frequently feature little to no profile work).
  • Connect with users on those sites with whom you already share a personal or professional relationships, and start following industry  luminaries, influencers and connectors. Services like FollowerWonk and FindPeopleonPlus can be incredible for this:

Followerwonk Search for "Seattle Chef"

  • Start sharing content – your own blog posts, those of peers in your industry who've impressed you and anything that you feel has a chance to go "viral" and earn sharing from others.
  • Interact with the community – use hash tags, searches and those you follow to find interesting conversations and content and jump in! Social networks are amazing environment for building a brand, familiarizing yourself with a topic and the people around it, and earning the trust of others through high quality, authentic participation and sharing

If you consistenly employ a strategy of participation, share great stuff and make a positive, memorable impression on those who see your interactions on these sites, your followers and fans will grow and your ability to drive traffic back to your blog by sharing content will be tremendous. For many bloggers, social media is the single largest source of traffic, particularly in the early months after launch, when SEO is a less consistent driver.

#5 – Install Analytics and Pay Attention to the Results

At the very least, I'd recommend most bloggers install Google Analytics (which is free), and watch to see where visits orignate, which sources drive quality traffic and what others might be saying about you and your content when they link over. If you want to get more advanced, check out this post on 18 Steps to Successful Metrics and Marketing.

Here's a screenshot from the analytics of my wife's travel blog, the Everywhereist:

Traffic Sources to Everywhereist from Google Analytics

As you can see, there's all sorts of great insights to be gleaned by looking at where visits orirginate, analyzing how they were earned and trying to repeat the successes, focus on the high quality and high traffic sources and put less effort into marketing paths that may not be effective. In this example, it's pretty clear that Facebook and Twitter are both excellent channels. StumbleUpon sends a lot of traffic, but they don't stay very long (averaging only 36 seconds vs. the general average of 4 minutes!).

Employing analytics is critical to knowing where you're succeeding, and where you have more opportunity. Don't ignore it, or you'll be doomed to never learn from mistakes or execute on potential. 

#6 – Add Graphics, Photos and Illustrations (with link-back licensing)

If you're someone who can produce graphics, take photos, illustrate or even just create funny doodles in MS Paint, you should leverage that talent on your blog. By uploading and hosting images (or using a third-party service like Flickr to embed your images with licensing requirements on that site), you create another traffic source for yourself via Image Search, and often massively improve the engagement and enjoyment of your visitors.

When using images, I highly recommend creating a way for others to use them on their own sites legally and with permission, but in such a way that benefits you as the content creator. For example, you could have a consistent notice under your images indicating that re-using is fine, but that those who do should link back to this post. You can also post that as a sidebar link, include it in your terms of use, or note it however you think will get the most adoption.

Some people will use your images without linking back, which sucks. However, you can find them by employing the Image Search function of "similar images," shown below:

Google's "Visually Similar" Search

Clicking the "similar" link on any given image will show you other images that Google thinks look alike, which can often uncover new sources of traffic. Just reach out and ask if you can get a link, nicely. Much of the time, you'll not only get your link, but make a valuable contact or new friend, too!

#7 – Conduct Keyword Research While Writing Your Posts

Not surprisingly, a big part of showing up in search engines is targeting the terms and phrases your audience are actually typing into a search engine. It's hard to know what these words will be unless you do some research, and luckily, there's a free tool from Google to help called the AdWords Keyword Tool.

Type some words at the top, hit search and AdWords will show you phrases that match the intent and/or terms you've employed. There's lots to play around with here, but watch out in particular for the "match types" options I've highlighted below:

Google AdWords Tool

When you choose "exact match" AdWords will show you only the quantity of searches estimated for that precise phrase. If you use broad match, they'll include any search phrases that use related/similar words in a pattern they think could have overlap with your keyword intent (which can get pretty darn broad). "Phrase match" will give you only those phrases that include the word or words in your search – still fairly wide-ranging, but between "exact" and "broad."

When you're writing a blog post, keyword research is best utilized for the title and headline of the post. For example, if I wanted to write a post here on Moz about how to generate good ideas for bloggers, I might craft something that uses the phrase "blog post ideas" or "blogging ideas" near the front of my title and headline, as in "Blog Post Ideas for When You're Truly Stuck," or "Blogging Ideas that Will Help You Clear Writer's Block."

Optimizing a post to target a specific keyword isn't nearly as hard as it sounds. 80% of the value comes from merely using the phrase effectively in the title of the blog post, and writing high quality content about the subject. If you're interested in more, read Perfecting Keyword Targeting and On-Page Optimization (a slightly older resource, but just as relevant today as when it was written).

#8 – Frequently Reference Your Own Posts and Those of Others

The web was not made for static, text-only content! Readers appreciate links, as do other bloggers, site owners and even search engines. When you reference your own material in-context and in a way that's not manipulative (watch out for over-optimizing by linking to a category, post or page every time a phrase is used – this is almost certainly discounted by search engines and looks terrible to those who want to read your posts), you potentially draw visitors to your other content AND give search engines a nice signal about those previous posts.

Perhaps even more valuable is referencing the content of others. The biblical expression "give and ye shall receive," perfectly applies on the web. Other site owners will often receive Google Alerts or look through their incoming referrers (as I showed above in tip #5) to see who's talking about them and what they're saying. Linking out is a direct line to earning links, social mentions, friendly emails and new relationships with those you reference. In its early days, this tactic was one of the best ways we earned recognition and traffic with the SEOmoz blog and the power continues to this day.

#9 – Participate in Social Sharing Communities Like Reddit + StumbleUpon

The major social networking sites aren't alone in their power to send traffic to a blog. Social community sites like Reddit (which now receives more than 2 billion! with a "B"! views each month), StumbleUpon, Pinterest, TumblrCare2 (for nonprofits and causes), GoodReads (books), Ravelry (knitting), Newsvine (news/politics) and many, many more (Wikipedia maintains a decent, though not comprehensive list here).

Each of these sites have different rules, formats and ways of participating and sharing content. As with participation in blog or forum communities described above in tactic #2, you need to add value to these communities to see value back. Simply drive-by spamming or leaving your link won't get you very far, and could even cause a backlash. Instead, learn the ropes, engage authentically and you'll find that fans, links and traffic can develop.

These communities are also excellent sources of inspiration for posts on your blog. By observing what performs well and earns recognition, you can tailor your content to meet those guidelines and reap the rewards in visits and awareness. My top recommendation for most bloggers is to at least check whether there's an appropriate subreddit in which you should be participating. Subreddits and their search function can help with that.

#10 – Guest Blog (and Accept the Guest Posts of Others)

When you're first starting out, it can be tough to convince other bloggers to allow you to post on their sites OR have an audience large enough to inspire others to want to contribute to your site. This is when friends and professional connections are critical. When you don't have a compelling marketing message, leverage your relationships – find the folks who know you, like you and trust you and ask those who have blog to let you take a shot at authoring something, then ask them to return the favor.

Guest blogging is a fantastic way to spread your brand to new folks who've never seen your work before, and it can be useful in earning early links and references back to your site, which will drive direct traffic and help your search rankings (diverse, external links are a key part of how search engines rank sites and pages). Several recommendations for those who engage in guest blogging:

  • Find sites that have a relevant audience – it sucks to pour your time into writing a post, only to see it fizzle because the readers weren't interested. Spend a bit more time researching the posts that succeed on your target site, the makeup of the audience, what types of comments they leave and you'll earn a much higher return with each post.
  • Don't be discouraged if you ask and get a "no" or a "no response." As your profile grows in your niche, you'll have more opportunities, requests and an easier time getting a "yes," so don't take early rejections too hard and watch out – in many marketing practices, persistence pays, but pestering a blogger to write for them is not one of these (and may get your email address permanently banned from their inbox).
  • When pitching your guest post make it as easy as possible for the other party. When requesting to post, have a phenomenal piece of writing all set to publish that's never been shared before and give them the ability to read it. These requests get far more "yes" replies than asking for the chance to write with no evidence of what you'll contribute. At the very least, make an outline and write a title + snippet.
  • Likewise, when requesting a contribution, especially from someone with a significant industry profile, asking for a very specific piece of writing is much easier than getting them to write an entire piece from scratch of their own design. You should also present statistics that highlight the value of posting on your site – traffic data, social followers, RSS subscribers, etc. can all be very persuasive to a skeptical writer.

A great tool for frequent guest bloggers is Ann Smarty's MyBlogGuest, which offers the ability to connect writers with those seeking guest contributions (and the reverse).

MyBlogGuest

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ are also great places to find guest blogging opportunities. In particular, check out the profiles of those you're connected with to see if they run blogs of their own that might be a good fit. Google's Blog Search function and Google Reader's Search are also solid tools for discovery.

#11 – Incorporate Great Design Into Your Site

The power of beautiful, usable, professional design can't be overstated. When readers look at a blog, the first thing they judge is how it "feels" from a design and UX perspective. Sites that use default templates or have horrifying, 1990's design will receive less trust, a lower time-on-page, fewer pages per visit and a lower liklihood of being shared. Those that feature stunning design that clearly indicates quality work will experience the reverse – and reap amazing benefits.

Blog Design Inspiration
These threads - 1, 2, 3 and 4 - feature some remarkable blog designs for inspiration

If you're looking for a designer to help upgrade the quality of your blog, there's a few resources I recommend:

  • Dribbble – great for finding high quality professional designers
  • Forrst – another excellent design profile community
  • Behance – featuring galleries from a wide range of visual professionals
  • Sortfolio – an awesome tool to ID designers by region, skill and budget
  • 99 Designs – a controversial site that provides designs on spec via contests (I have mixed feelings on this one, but many people find it useful, particularly for budget-conscious projects)

This is one area where budgeting a couple thousand dollars (if you can afford it) or even a few hundred (if you're low on cash) can make a big difference in the traffic, sharing and viral-impact of every post you write.

#12 – Interact on Other Blogs' Comments

As bloggers, we see a lot of comments. Many are spam, only a few add real value, and even fewer are truly fascinating and remarkable. If you can be in this final category consistently, in ways that make a blogger sit up and think "man, I wish that person commented here more often!" you can achieve great things for your own site's visibility through participation in the comments of other blogs.

Combine the tools presented in #10 (particularly Google Reader/Blog Search) and #4 (especially FollowerWonk) for discovery. The feed subscriber counts in Google Reader can be particularly helpful for identifying good blogs for participation. Then apply the principles covered in this post on comment marketing

Google Reader Subscriber Counts

Do be conscious of the name you use when commenting and the URL(s) you point back to. Consistency matters, particularly on naming, and linking to internal pages or using a name that's clearly made for keyword-spamming rather than true conversation will kill your efforts before they begin.

#13 – Participate in Q+A Sites

Every day, thousands of people ask questions on the web. Popular services like Yahoo! Answers, Answers.com, Quora, StackExchange, Formspring and more serve those hungry for information whose web searches couldn't track down the responses they needed.

The best strategy I've seen for engaging on Q+A sites isn't to answer every question that comes along, but rather, to strategically provide high value to a Q+A community by engaging in those places where:

  • The question quality is high, and responses thus far have been thin
  • The question receives high visibility (either by ranking well for search queries, being featured on the site or getting social traffic/referrals). Most of the Q+A sites will show some stats around the traffic of a question
  • The question is something you can answer in a way that provides remarkable value to anyone who's curious and drops by

I also find great value in answering a few questions in-depth by producing an actual blog post to tackle them, then linking back. This is also a way I personally find blog post topics – if people are interested in the answer on a Q+A site, chances are good that lots of folks would want to read it on my blog, too!

Just be authentic in your answer, particularly if you're linking. If you'd like to see some examples, I answer a lot of questions at Quora, frequently include relevant links, but am rarely accused of spamming or link dropping because it's clearly about providing relevant value, not just getting a link for SEO (links on most user-contributed sites are "nofollow" anyway, meaning they shouldn't pass search-engine value). There's a dangerous line to walk here, but if you do so with tact and candor, you can earn a great audience from your participation.

#14 - Enable Subscriptions via Feed + Email (and track them!)

If someone drops by your site, has a good experience and thinks "I should come back here and check this out again when they have more posts," chances are pretty high (I'd estimate 90%+) that you'll never see them again. That sucks! It shouldn't be the case, but we have busy lives and the Internet's filled with animated gifs of cats.

In order to pull back some of these would-be fans, I highly recommend creating an RSS feed using Feedburner and putting visible buttons on the sidebar, top or bottom of your blog posts encouraging those who enjoy your content to sign up (either via feed, or via email, both of which are popular options).

RSS Feeds with Feedburner

If you're using WordPress, there's some easy plugins for this, too.

Once you've set things up, visit every few weeks and check on your subscribers – are they clicking on posts? If so, which ones? Learning what plays well for those who subscribe to your content can help make you a better blogger, and earn more visits from RSS, too.

#15 – Attend and Host Events

Despite the immense power of the web to connect us all regardless of geography, in-person meetings are still remarkably useful for bloggers seeking to grow their traffic and influence. The people you meet and connect with in real-world settings are far more likely to naturally lead to discussions about your blog and ways you can help each other. This yields guest posts, links, tweets, shares, blogroll inclusion and general business development like nothing else.

Lanyrd Suggested Events

I'm a big advocate of Lanyrd, an event directory service that connects with your social networks to see who among your contacts will be at which events in which geographies. This can be phenomenally useful for identifying which meetups, conferences or gatherings are worth attending (and who you can carpool with).

The founder of Lanyrd also contributed this great answer on Quora about other search engines/directories for events (which makes me like them even more).

#16 – Use Your Email Connections (and Signature) to Promote Your Blog

As a blogger, you're likely to be sending a lot of email out to others who use the web and have the power to help spread your work. Make sure you're not ignoring email as a channel, one-to-one though it may be. When given an opporunity in a conversation that's relevant, feel free to bring up your blog, a specific post or a topic you've written about. I find myself using blogging as a way to scalably answer questions – if I receive the same question many times, I'll try to make a blog post that answers it so I can simply link to that in the future.

Email Footer Link

I also like to use my email signature to promote the content I share online. If I was really sharp, I'd do link tracking using a service like Bit.ly so I could see how many clicks email footers really earn. I suspect it's not high, but it's also not 0.

#17 – Survey Your Readers

Web surveys are easy to run and often produce high engagement and great topics for conversation. If there's a subject or discussion that's particularly contested, or where you suspect showing the distribution of beliefs, usage or opinions can be revealing, check out a tool like SurveyMonkey (they have a small free version) or PollDaddy. Google Docs also offers a survey tool that's totally free, but not yet great in my view.

#18 – Add Value to a Popular Conversation

Numerous niches in the blogosphere have a few "big sites" where key issues arise, get discussed and spawn conversations on other blogs and sites. Getting into the fray can be a great way to present your point-of-view, earn attention from those interested in the discussion and potentially get links and traffic from the industry leaders as part of the process.

You can see me trying this out with Fred Wilson's AVC blog last year (an incredibly popular and well-respected blog in the VC world). Fred wrote a post about Marketing that I disagreed with strongly and publicly and a day later, he wrote a follow-up where he included a graphic I made AND a link to my post.

If you're seeking sources to find these "popular conversations," Alltop, Topsy, Techmeme (in the tech world) and their sister sites MediaGazer, Memeorandum and WeSmirch, as well as PopURLs can all be useful.

#19 – Aggregate the Best of Your Niche

Bloggers, publishers and site owners of every variety in the web world love and hate to be compared and ranked against one another. It incites endless intrigue, discussion, methodology arguments and competitive behavior – but, it's amazing for earning attention. When a blogger publishes a list of "the best X" or "the top X" in their field, most everyone who's ranked highly praises the list, shares it and links to it. Here's an example from the world of marketing itself:

AdAge Power 150

That's a screenshot of the AdAge Power 150, a list that's been maintained for years in the marketing world and receives an endless amount of discussion by those listed (and not listed). For example, why is SEOmoz's Twitter score only a "13" when we have so many more followers, interactions and retweets than many of those with higher scores? Who knows. But I know it's good for AdAge. :-)

Now, obviously, I would encourage anyone building something like this to be as transparent, accurate and authentic as possible. A high quality resource that lists a "best and brightest" in your niche – be they blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, individual posts, people, conferences or whatever else you can think to rank – is an excellent piece of content for earning traffic and becoming a known quantity in your field.

Oh, and once you do produce it – make sure to let those featured know they've been listed. Tweeting at them with a link is a good way to do this, but if you have email addresses, by all means, reach out. It can often be the start of a great relationship!

#20 – Connect Your Web Profiles and Content to Your Blog

Many of you likely have profiles on services like YouTube, Slideshare, Yahoo!, DeviantArt and dozens of other social and Web 1.0 sites. You might be uploading content to Flickr, to Facebook, to Picasa or even something more esoteric like Prezi. Whatever you're producing on the web and wherever you're doing it, tie it back to your blog.

Including your blog's link on your actual profile pages is among the most obvious, but it's also incredibly valuable. On any service where interaction takes place, those interested in who you are and what you have to share will follow those links, and if they lead back to your blog, they become opportunities for capturing a loyal visitor or earning a share (or both!). But don't just do this with profiles – do it with content, too! If you've created a video for YouTube, make your blog's URL appear at the start or end of the video. Include it in the description of the video and on the uploading profile's page. If you're sharing photos on any of the dozens of photo services, use a watermark or even just some text with your domain name so interested users can find you.

If you're having trouble finding and updating all those old profiles (or figuring out where you might want to create/share some new ones), KnowEm is a great tool for discovering your own profiles (by searching for your name or pseudonyms you've used) and claiming profiles on sites you may not yet have participated in.

I'd also strongly recommend leveraging Google's relatively new protocol for rel=author. AJ Kohn wrote a great post on how to set it up here, and Yoast has another good one on building it into WordPress sites. The benefit for bloggers who do build large enough audiences to gain Google's trust is earning your profile photo next to all the content you author – a powerful markup advantage that likely drives extra clicks from the search results and creates great, memorable branding, too.

#21 – Uncover the Links of Your Fellow Bloggers (and Nab 'em!)

If other blogs in your niche have earned references from sites around the web, there's a decent chance that they'll link to you as well. Conducting competitive link research can also show you what content from your competition has performed well and the strategies they may be using to market their work. To uncover these links, you'll need to use some tools.

OpenSiteExplorer is my favorite, but I'm biased (it's made by Moz). However, it is free to use – if you create a registered account here, you can get unlimited use of the tool showing up to 1,000 links per page or site in perpetuity.

OpenSiteExplorer from Moz

There are other good tools for link research as well, including Blekko, Majestic, Ahrefs and, I've heard that in the near-future, SearchMetrics.

Finding a link is great, but it's through the exhaustive research of looking through dozens or hundreds that you can identify patterns and strategies. You're also likely to find a lot of guest blogging opportunities and other chances for outreach. If you maintain a great persona and brand in your niche, your ability to earn these will rise dramatically. 

Bonus #22 – Be Consistent and Don't Give Up

If there's one piece of advice I wish I could share with every blogger, it's this:

Why Bloggers Give Up Traffic Graph

The above image comes from Everywhereist's analytics. Geraldine could have given up 18 months into her daily blogging. After all, she was putting in 3-5 hours each day writing content, taking photos, visiting sites, coming up with topics, trying to guest blog and grow her Twitter followers and never doing any SEO (don't ask, it's a running joke between us). And then, almost two years after her blog began, and more than 500 posts in, things finally got going. She got some nice guest blogging gigs, had some posts of hers go "hot" in the social sphere, earned mentions on some bigger sites, then got really big press from Time's Best Blogs of 2011.

I'd guess there's hundreds of new bloggers on the web each day who have all the opportunity Geraldine had, but after months (maybe only weeks) of slogging away, they give up.

When I started the SEOmoz blog in 2004, I had some advantages (mostly a good deal of marketing and SEO knowledge), but it was nearly 2 years before the blog could be called anything like a success. Earning traffic isn't rocket science, but it does take time, perseverance and consistency. Don't give up. Stick to your schedule. Remember that everyone has a few posts that suck, and it's only by writing and publishing those sucky posts that you get into the habit necessary to eventually transform your blog into something remarkable.

Good luck and good blogging from all of us at Moz!


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