At the beginning of 2010, my blog was recognized as one of the top 10 social media blogs by Social Media Examiner. While that was a huge, huge honor, it was also unexpected and my site was unprepared for the instant swarm of traffic that followed. And I don’t mean just on the server side.
No matter how big or small you blog is, you should always have it ready for major exposure at any moment, because you never know when the big day will come when your blog is mentioned by a much larger site or you get to the front page of Digg. Whatever the source, you will want to be prepared for that big surge of incoming traffic!
Here are some essential steps you should take for when that big day arrives to make sure that your blog is ready to not just receive instant traffic, but encourage new visitors to stick around and return again in the future.
1. Optimize Your Site for Speed
First and foremost, you don’t want your site to throw up blank screen or error message when visitors are coming to your site for the first time. There are many ways to optimize your website for fast loading, including:
Making sure your images are optimized. Simple, free software such as Gimp will allow you to save images for your blog in compressed format so they will load quickly. Maybe one large image isn’t a bad thing, but if every one of your posts have a large image or thumbnail file, the result could be a slow loading home or archives page.
Use caching plugins for WordPress. I use WP-Super Cache for my blog, with the Use PHP to serve cache files option. There are also other popular options such as WP Total Cache that come highly recommended.
Eliminate unnecessary items from your blog. If you have a lot of plugins that your site no longer uses, or no longer needs, deactivate and remove them. Take some consideration when using graphics and widgets that load from other sites. If those sites are down or slow, your site will take a high in load time as well. One thing I do when possible is save images for banner ads to my own server as oppose to using the code that pulls them from other sites.
Put social share buttons on single post pages only. I know, it’s great to show off how many tweets, Facebook shares, likes, StumbleUpon views, Diggs, and so on that all of your posts are getting. But if you do that on your homepage and archives, if one of the social networks is down, the share buttons will lag and hold up the loading of the rest of your content beyond that button. It’s much easier for your website to get past one slow loading share button compared to 10+ of them on one page.
And by the way, if you don’t have social sharing buttons on your single post pages, be sure to at least put a retweet button your posts as this a guaranteed way to increase your posts shares on Twitter.
Update your platform and plugins. I have found that a simple update to the latest version of WordPress as well as plugins and themes has helped immensely in speeding up my site.
Learn more about site optimization in the following posts about how to make your WordPress site load faster, and how to make your blog load faster by offloading server resources.
2. Delay That Popup
Popup opt-in forms are all the rage these days. While I don’t use one on my main site personally, a lot of great bloggers that I trust use them and see lots of results from them.
My only suggestion is that you delay the popup from happening as your site is loading – give it at least a 30 second delay. Let new visitors to your site get a feel for what your site is about – chances are they will be more likely to sign up for your newsletter if they know a bit more about your content as opposed to just instinctively closing the popup.
Also, it helps in the above mentioned point about site load speed – I have seen some blogs get jammed up and the first impression of your site is your homepage under a half-loaded popup.
3. Put Ways to Follow Your Blog in Your Sidebar
An extremely important section for your sidebar near the top is following options for your blog. I personally like to offer buttons for the people who prefer to follow via RSS reader, email subscription, Twitter, or my Facebook fan page. Remember, while your goal maybe to increase your RSS subscribers or mailing list, it’s really not about you – it’s about your readers and their subscription preferences. So don’t force your new visitors to have only one option – give them several so they can follow you in the way they would like to.
4. Add a Short Summary of Your Blog in Your Sidebar
If you haven’t already, create a quick elevator pitch for your blog. Just a sentence or two that sums it up – like the answer you would give if someone walked up to you and said, “So what is your blog about?” Put that sentence in your sidebar near the top, either right above or below your blog’s following options. This way, no matter what page a reader lands on for their first visit, they will be able to quickly see what your site is all about.
Learn more about writing a killer elevator pitch for your blog.
5. Place an Opt-in Box for Your Mailing List in Your Sidebar
Whether or not you use a popup opt-in form, you should always have an opt-in for your mailing list in your sidebar. And, if you don’t have a mailing list, you probably should consider having one of those as well. If you don’t want to commit to a monthly fee using services like Aweber, you can start with services like MailChimp that give you a free account for up to 1,000 subscribers – perfect for a small blog.
If you’re saying to yourself right now, “I don’t need a mailing list because I’m not selling anything,” think again. There are many other benefits for bloggers to have a mailing list besides just affiliate marketing. You can make major announcements via your mailing list (such as your site is moving from a free blog platform to a new domain), you can survey your subscribers to see what topics they would like to read more about or how they feel about a new design change, you can let them know about your guest posts on other sites, or you can for help to promote posts you have written for blogging contests, such as the one here at Blog Engage. Needless to say, the possibilities are endless.
Also, if you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t have a free product,” no sweat. You can give away something free in the form of a service, but as I learned (the hard way) on my site that this is not always a scalable option. So don’t worry about it! Just put the opt-in form up there. If you have a great site with great content, people will opt-in to get updates about your content. Just be sure to tell people what they will be getting and don’t abuse your list!
6. Create Pillar Posts and Pages
Pillar posts or pages are simply those that highlight your best work. If your site covers multiple topics, create a pillar page that gives the top five posts for each topic. Or, if your site covers one topic exclusively, create a pillar page that gives a roadmap to your best posts in sub-categories. So if you have a site about gardening, you could break that down on your pillar page with the top five posts for beginning gardeners, indoor gardening, winter gardening, gardening tools, and so on.
Not sure what your most popular posts are? You can simply choose the posts that you feel are the strongest and are your favorites. Or you can visit PostRank and search for your blog. If your blog is listed, you can show only the posts with the most reader engagement (comments, social shares, etc.). If not, enter your URL, and have PostRank email you when your blog has been listed. This way, it will start collecting data on your blog and you can run this analysis in the future.
Learn more about creating a pillar articles for your blog.
7. Make Sure Your Key Pages Are Easy to Find
What are your key pages? These are the pages that most people would expect to find on a blog, and generally include your about page, archives page, contact page, guest post guidelines page, and advertising page (if you offer banner advertising on your site). They should be in your main navigation menu and/or sidebar.
These are the pages that help people determine who is behind a blog and learn more about it, digg further into the blog content, contact blog owner for any reason, see if guest posts are accepted and what the criteria for them are, and know if there are advertising opportunities available.
Also, while I mention your key pages, make sure these are updated regularly. If you can’t remember to do it all the time, make a little reminder alarm in your online calendar, Outlook, etc. to update these pages once a month. You’d be surprised at what information becomes irrelevant quickly or what new information crops up, such as the demise of a social media network or new site that you have created.
Learn more about 20 types of pages every blogger should consider adding to their blog.
8. List Your Main Categories
Help new readers find the information they are looking for by listing your main categories in the sidebar or within/underneath the main navigation bar. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to a site for the first time and found nothing but date based archive listings – it makes me bananas when I want to see what topics a blog covers and go directly to them, but can’t find any topic based category listings.
Putting Your Best Foot Forward
So what do the above elements look like? Here they are on my site, minus the non-visible things like the site speed and popup opt-in form (because I don’t have one).
As you can see, the main point is that you want to make sure that you put your best foot forward when it comes to what you want your visitors to see when they first come to your site. You want to make sure that what you want new visitors to find (your best content) and do (follow your blog and subscribe) is easily accessible so they can have the best experience on your blog without any frustrations.
Your Blog’s Best Features
I’m sure that, depending on your blog, you may have other items that hold priority when it comes to content you want new visitors to find and actions you want them to take. What other elements would you suggest bloggers add to their site (and where) to give a huge wave of new visitors the best experience possible when their blog hits the big time? Listen to this gem from the 80′s to get you in the mood to write your answer.