Last month, the designers at Automattic were given the following challenge:
Pick a colleague’s post, and explain why you chose that one. Outline a plan for the post to get 1,000+ views. Imagine that you have a US $20 budget to work with.
As a member of our Editorial team, I’m in a privileged place when it comes to this sort of thing. I have the opportunity to post to some high traffic publications, and I have a team full of editors who’re happy to help my posts succeed. For example: two of the posts I’ve written for this Automattic Design blog have been reposted to Longreads. Each of those Longreads reposts have had well over 1,000 views each. My first reaction to this challenge was to just find a post that I could repost to one our of high-traffic sites.
That’s clearly unfair though. Longreads (and all of our other websites) have high-traffic because we’ve all poured years of hard work and great writing into them. I’d just be piggybacking on that. This is meant to be an empathy challenge: many of our customers are bloggers who are hoping to expose their work to a larger audience. Our task was to put ourselves in their shoes and figure out how to grow our sites as if we were just starting out.
With that in mind, my first step would be to pick a post. I’d likely go with Jan’s post here:
How WordPress Changed My Life by Jan Cavan Boulas
Why? It’s an awesome personal story. I think honest, genuine content has the best opportunity to succeed, and Jan’s post really fits those characteristics. Of all the posts I’ve read on these blogs, this one stuck with me. I loved hearing about Jan’s career path, and I especially loved the screenshots of her old work. The title is also exceptionally shareable.
With that blog post in hand, I did a little reasearch. On WordPress.com, we have a lot of great resources for building traffic. Here are just a few:
- Blogging: Branding and Growth: a ten-day email course offered for free through Blogging University.
- The entire “Traffic & Growth” category of posts on The Daily Post.
- The Getting More Views and Traffic support document for WordPress.com.
Based on those, plus some conversations with colleagues, here’s my three-bullet “solution” for traffic:
- Create good content and share it widely. This is the toughest (but still the best!) way to get a steady following.
- To supplement your own sharing, you can purchase ads. If you’re smart about who sees your ads, you may gain some meaningful repeat visitors.
- You can also skip the middleman and just buy traffic. This seems like it’ll boost your stats temporarily, but won’t necessarily give you returning viewers.
So in terms of a specific plan for Jan’s post:
- We’ve got the good content, but it hasn’t been shared as widely as possible. My first step would be to share it through all of my personal social media accounts, and convince a few (or a dozen) or my friends + coworkers to do the same. I’d share it at least a few times through my personal accounts — the posts would be spaced out, and I’d use slightly different headlines each time.
- Next, I’d spend my $20 on ads. I’d probably purchase the ad on Facebook, because of their robust targeting tools — we want to get this in front of people who’ll click: the WordPress community, designers, etc.
Then, I’d sit back and see what happens.
But… to be entirely honest, my guess is that this method would fail to get 1,000 new views. (Sorry, Jan).
Without an existing audience to tap into, 1,000 views is a major longshot for most blog posts. $20 won’t help you much, either. It probably won’t buy you 1,000 views, and even if it did, I’m skeptical that those views would end up helping you recoup your $20 anytime soon.
When it comes down to it, my perception is that growing traffic isn’t a science — it’s a gamble. Maybe it’s a gamble with some scientific aspects to it, but there’s no guaranteed way to succeed. If there were, we wouldn’t be writing so many posts about it.
More importantly though, that’s probably fine for right now. All of our blog posts here are pieces of a much larger element: our Automattic brand. The thought, research, and viewpoints put into these posts all help build the collective voice and reputation of our brand. If we build that thoughtfully and carefully, the traffic will follow.