the art of getting more traffic for your blog/more people who give a damn




Attention = currency.

So how do I get more traffic for my blog? is akin to asking how do I get more money?

Traffic, like money, like happiness, happens best when you go after it obliquely. In other words: traffic is a side benefit that you get when you drive towards some other, bigger, better goal that has meaning for others as well as yourself. Going after traffic for the sheer sake of traffic could result in your own personal version of Enron: a blog based on pretense, distortions and meaningless data that ultimately collapses in its own house of cards.


Every now and then some freak thing – usually a massive blog or site that for some reason links to you – will create a dramatic spike in your traffic.

It’s thrilling for about thirty seconds. Then you find yourself asking: So what?

Does that spike translate into anything real? Do any of those people come back to you? Are they compelled to subscribe, or opt-in to your newsletter, or buy your books or your art or your digital products, or retweet your posts, or give a damn about your work in any way?

(During a spell of online procrastination, it’s possible for me to surf many blogs and give a damn about none. The ‘hit’ that I signal on their site stats means absolutely nothing.)

What do you actually want people to do?

(I, for example, would like some of you wondrous people to buy my future books. You’re certainly not obligated to; I enjoy having you here regardless; it just means that if you one day buy my stuff, I will love you that much more. Because I am shallow like that.)

I could dramatically increase my traffic if I posted topless photos of myself (I like to think that this would happen). But would it be the right kind of traffic, for the right reasons? I tend to think not.

So you have to know your ideal audience. If you’re not sure you know your audience, think of the kind of people you would most like to hang out with (because remember that your tribe = people that you will be spending a great deal of time with), people who resonate with you and vice versa.

Now compress that sense of your right people into one single person. Maybe that person is a real person.

(I actually have a few individuals – and you know not who you are, but you are very helpful in this regard and so I thank you – that I hold in my head for this purpose.)

And from now on, everything that you write, you write to that one person. You think about if they would like it and how they would like it or why they might not.

It’s perhaps one of the great paradoxes – in fiction as well as in blogging – that the more specific you are, the more universal your reach and impact. You arrive at the abstract through a mastery of detail, and vice versa.


Then all you have to do is write great content. Frequently and consistently.

You need to find ways to make it enjoyable and meaningful for yourself, or else you’ll burn out.

(You also need to find a way to make it complement your creative work instead of acting as a slapped-on piece of advertising for it, which will only waste everybody’s time, or as a substitute, which defeats the general purpose in the first place. But that, my friends, is a whole other blog post.)

You need to make it enjoyable and meaningful for others, or else they won’t ‘hit’ you again (or at all).

So you need to find that sweetspot where what works for you works for your audience. The most powerful writing happens, I think, when you actually become your audience; the two of you melt into each other; you write with passion and intensity because you think you’re writing for your audience when you’re truly writing for yourself. Or vice versa.


What does it mean anyway, this phrase ‘great content’?

If you’re a writer, especially a fiction writer, you should know that blogging is different from writing fiction (I, for one, find it a hell of a lot easier, but it requires its own learning curve and process of trial and error).

Know that even though your blog is free, it is not free. You are asking people to pay with their time and attention (remember that attention = currency) and then with their own reputation (since you want them to share your stuff with their networks and spread you around, which reflects directly on them).

So it’s not enough just to post your fiction on your website and expect strangers to come along and ‘pay’ for it when they have no idea why they should care.

You have to create meaning for them.

And then you have to promote that meaning in a clear and appealing way, through your headlines and your tagline (that line below your blog title that further defines what your blog is about).

In marketing they call this your unique selling point, or your differentiating point, or your ‘hook’, or whatever. Problem is, I think those descriptions don’t go deep enough to describe what is essentially the soul of your blog – which is also an authentic alignment of you: your values, obsessions, identity, viewpoint, persona, message to the world (other than ‘buy my stuff!’).

And this is part of the challenge as a creative person: it’s how to take the language of business and marketing that people use when they discuss this stuff, and translate it into a language that works for us, that serves both our readers and our art.


Blogging is both a skill and an art.

When you are trying to reach people emotionally as well as intellectually – which is the only way you can turn them into devoted fans – which is why Apple is so fiercely loved, for example, while Microsoft is merely respected – you involve the creative powers of design and storytelling. You create an experience.

You need passion, but you also need the skillset. The technique. The substance to your style.

Aim high.

As the blogosphere becomes increasingly cluttered by people who are teaching and practicing the same ‘best practices’, the level of artistry you bring to your message, your ‘meaning’, becomes more and more important. The ‘first movers’ – and the advantages they continue to reap — beat you to this a long time ago. What you have left is what you can do.


There are two types of blogging (at least to my mind): authority blogging and personal blogging. I have done both and received attention for both, and I think the most effective – and personally rewarding – form of blogging combines a problem to be solved through the information you impart (the ‘authority’) — along with a sense of personality, ‘voice’, storytelling and soul (the ‘personal’) — that together create that sense of overall meaning I was talking about earlier (the ‘unique point of awesomeness’ that sets you apart from the pack).

And this is how I think you go about that:

1. Figure out your ‘big gig’, the obsession that keeps coming up in your art, the central ‘riddle’ that you are trying to solve in your life, the ‘wound’ that you need to heal


2. Address problems and questions in your blog that relate to that.

I took the idea of your personal ‘big gig’ from the book THE IDEAS HUNTER by Andrew Boynton. From an interview:

You talk about “finding your gig” in The Idea Hunter. What are some key questions people need to ask themselves to find the “Big Gig” in their life?

Finding the Gig is essential and the book points to ways and refers to some other experts (and their sources) to look at. To start, think about what you are passionate about. (Not what others want you to be passionate about) and then consider are you any good at it, and is there a need for it in society. Without all three conditions aligned—it’s doubtful your gig will get you far. Knowing your gig is about blending your passion with your pragmatism.

He’s talking within the context of business. But we all have our central themes, our obsessions, that rise again and again in our work.

We are driven to learn – to work something out – because we’re coming from a related place of lack: from some inner void or wound that we need to heal.

When you recognize what that wound is, you can move in two directions: down, towards the increasingly pragmatic expressions of it, to the concrete problems that you can solve for your readers, and up, to more abstract musings re: identity and philosophy. Just remember that readers won’t come to you — at least at first — because they care about your philosophy. They care about what you can actually do for them that immediately improves their situation in some way. Solve a problem. Teach them something. Make them laugh. Forge a connection.

My wound has to do with experiences of powerlessness, with episodes of bullying and emotional/verbal abuse from my childhood that I went on to recreate through certain relationships in my adult years. The question or riddle I am trying to work out has to do with questions of power, with matters of empowerment. This is how I find enlightenment and healing.

So I’m interested in how I can empower myself (and others) as a creative (who happens to be a woman)….and how I can do my bit toward social change, a rebalancing of power in the world’s relationships with women and with the earth (since the two are connected).

Those are massive, abstract goals. What I have to do is follow them down – down – into their more immediate and pragmatic expressions, like “how do I find time to write?” and “where can I find a great workspace?” and “how can I best use social media?” and “what is author platform?” and “what does it mean to be both powerful and female?” and “how can I beat back episodes of depression that keep me from writing?” and “how can I best cultivate the network of healthy relationships that I need to function happily and productively?” and things of that nature.

Things that relate in a very personal way to me.

And since, to quote Jung, “That which is most personal is most common”, these issues, and my explorations of them, just might have some relevance for you.

Or as Lara Dair expresses it in her book NAKED, DRUNK AND WRITING, “the more intensely individual a person’s thoughts are, the more uniquely applicable to him or her, the more they will have meaning for other people.”

Meaning, baby.



Here’s the thing.

I believe that social media has the power to reshape capitalism and save the freaking world.

I’m not saying that it will.

I’m saying it has the potential….if we can only step up and learn how to use it.

(For further reading on this, I recommend the excellent books THE DRAGONFLY EFFECT and WE FIRST.)

As creatives, we stand in a unique sweetspot where we benefit ourselves first and foremost only if we set that desire aside to concentrate on a bigger picture. We promote ourselves through promoting a zone of ideas that help people improve their lives and make the world a little better.

I am not saying that you should create value for others just so you can capture it for yourself – although maybe that’s a stage that many of us have to work through, like puberty on the way to adulthood.

I am saying that we are most effective when we shift our vision outward – or when we look inward in order to look outward, understanding others through understanding ourselves.

When we move from asking, How can I get more traffic?

to questions like: How am I best equipped to serve my right readers? How can I best contribute to the relationships that make up my ‘platform’?

You cannot help yourself (at least in the long run) unless you genuinely help others – this is how interconnected and transparent we have become. The meaning you make for yourself is the meaning you make for the world. You are your audience, your Right Reader…and your audience is you.

We can see right through you, to where your soul is – or isn’t.

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Jul 23, 2011

31 comments · Add Yours

“We can see right through you, to where your soul is – or isn’t.” How appropriate. If we look at blogging as a means of making friends with our Right Readers, ourselves, we can hold those conversations that lead us to make connections rather than the lecture-y ones. We want to travel the road together. There is no bigger turn off than a blogger (or Tweeter, for that matter) who can do nothing but toot their own horn. They haven’t gotten the big picture yet. Blogging is connecting and reaching out. And people that read those blogs are looking for those connections. Thanks for the insight into who my right reader is.:)


I have just one word to say about this week’s post — YES. Thanks again for another check list.



I can’t get enough of your blog posts. I’m one who prefers shorter posts, except when it comes to yours. I could read it for hours.

C. Hope Clark


I respect Hope Clark’s opinions when it comes to writing. When I saw she recommended your blog, I stopped to take a look. You have given guidelines that make sense.


So. What you’re saying is… it’s complicated. ;)


Ha. Well, driving a car is complicated. Until it isn’t. :)


Before I started my blog three years ago I read a lot about how to go about it, not just the technical side of it, but what worked. All the articles say essentially the same things: quality content posted regularly, don’t go off-topic too often . . . and don’t hold your breath. It’s common sense really. I did all that and for weeks was lucky if I got a half-dozen hits in a day. An actual comment had me bouncing for joy. Then I started going out there and looking for people and, by a long chalk, the most effective way of attracting readers that stay is by making meaningful comments on their blogs: take a genuine interest in other people and there is a better than average chance that they will show some interest in you.

These days if I fall under an average of 150 a day I start to worry. I’ve tried several ways to attract readers. Entrecard was one and, yes, my stats leapt when I was a part of it but when I looked at the actual time spent on my site it was obvious that the ones who came from there were simply clicking on my site to earn points and weren’t reading anything. So I quit. But not until I’d made a couple of good friends so it wasn’t an entirely pointless exercise.

The trick to advertising is a simple enough one. You can try and get people to look your way or you can pay attention to where they’re already looking and go and stand in their line of vision. One of the most effective places for me has been Ron Silliman’s blog. If he posts a link to my site I can pretty much count on an additional 100 visitors.

I posted an article on Audacious Author called How to get people to read your blog> which shows what I do to try and attract people. It works but only a few become regular readers. The thing is you never know who might stumble across you. It is the nature of the Internet. It’s like adverts. I read this on a forum a couple of days ago: “I tried a Goodreads ad: $30, with over 100,000 views, netted me approximately 3 sales.”

There is no quick fix. If you’re not in this game for the long haul – and by ‘long’ I mean years and years – then have fun and when it stops being fun go and do something else. But if you treat your writing like a business you need to be proactive. This is me being proactive right now. The big catch to all this is that it takes time and suddenly you find yourself spending all your time keeping up your web presence and not doing any actual writing.


Another great post. It’s funny because I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this recently and have come to the same conclusions. I am trying too hard to be something for everyone. I need to narrow my focus not expand it to get the kind of following I want.


@Jim Murdoch Jim — Yeah, I should have made the point that you do what works for you, which is different for different people. I never did a lot of commenting on other blogs — no time — and I’ve only guest-posted once (on Lateral Action) although I want to do more of it when I’ve done the novel, for no other real reason that I enjoy it. I post my content and tweet it out, and that’s pretty much all I do. For me, being proactive has been all about the content — if it’s really strong, and if it resonates, people will find it and share it, and shareability is key.

I also read all those how-to-blog articles — I took an e-course with Leo of Zen Habits (good course, great blogger) — and I always found them a bit lacking in terms of *what* to blog about, especially if you’re a fiction writer trying to attract new readers who haven’t heard of you.


@Lovelyn One of the great things about blogging is when you get to the point when you comfortably realize that not everybody has to like you. In fact, you *don’t* want everybody to like you. And you *don’t* want everybody in your tribe. And I know it seems counter-intuitive to write narrow and deep instead of general and broad — I think we all start out that way, thinking diversity is good. But it just means that every time you start a new topic, or try to appeal to a new group, you’re trying to break in again with a whole new audience instead of deepening the one you already have.

I’ve always praised the power of the intersection — where different interests of yours run into each other, and you can write from that place where they meet (which for me seems to be a blend of social media, psychology, creativity). Then as you get more comfortable and confident you can write your way out to the different edges of your different interests (I could guest post for a psychology blog, for example) and attract a new audience without alienating the old.


Wow, I needed this. Thank you.


Love your posts! You always make me look deeper. Thanks!


@Hope Clark Ditto, C. Hope Clark. I actually print them out and read them after the morning jumble, when I have more time to learn, think, absorb, and benefit. Justine rates paper!


Going after traffic for the sheer sake of traffic could result in your own personal version of Enron: a blog based on pretense, distortions and meaningless data that ultimately collapses in its own house of cards.

Brilliant. I blog by the Field of Dreams theory.

If you build it, they will come. If you stay focused on the content, the audience and message, and don’t focus on RT’s and followers and Stumbles, the people come naturally. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you were bamboozled in to reading a blog post.

Influence is about conversion and the ability to convert visitors in to loyal/frequent readers. I’m so not down with these blogger networks that all agree to retweet each other and comment on each other’s posts to give the appearance of “popularity.” It’s transparent and insults the intelligence of your readers.


“…it just means that if you one day buy my stuff, I will love you that much more. Because I am shallow like that.”

Amazing(!) how that little bit of honesty — tongue-in-cheek or not — kept me reading.

Per going topless for traffic, let’s say you had written a book titled, “The Wooden Nipple” about a man who identifies himself as “breast women” and goes through life constantly seeking women younger than himself (you might even loosely base your story on the life of Charlie Chaplin). Then, I think your topless gig would draw the right traffic.

Fiction, non-fiction … it’s all storytelling.


Why do I not see clips from your CNBC appearance — not the whole thing, just clips: scenes (say, when you choked back a tear) — this to set up a story, say, written by a fictional woman watching you … expressing, say, some profound rage because her husband is an abusive alcoholic and she wishes he would just disappear from her life? Then, a series of blog posts talking writing principles you’ve employed in your story? Then links to your topless photo collection @ $1.99 a pop (just kidding!)…


@TC I tried hard to drink coffee but was too busy cracking up.
Thanks for that. I think.

Maybe you’re right + I need to go meta…


Justine, this is great. You’ve shown how ‘big’ ideas are the true juice behind our work. I’ve been driven to details and specifics so much – how to solve the problems of making time to write, etc. that I’ve forgotten how powerful and important our big, abstract motivators are.

I am also happy to say we share similar bigs – helping women feel empowered creatively and helping them find a sense of belonging through their creativity.

Thanks so much for your writing. I’d say damn you for setting such a high bar if I weren’t so inspired and, gotta say it, empowered. :)


…crack up intended. You’re welcome.

After posting my comment I noticed on your other blog that, you’ve published three books already. I’m gathering, too, you’re intent on maximizing your return on your effort: likewise venturing to widen horizons for authors generally who struggle to gain readers.

Well, I have one question: What do you suppose your books’ readers share in common?

I’m asking because maybe you could position yourself as a gifted writer the likes of which MTV/Simon&Schuster exclusively publish, yet sell something other than your books — something catering to your readers’ common interests — while giving away your books for FREE as a sweetener. Say, jewelry fitting your readers’ tastes. Maybe a line of stylish garlic necklaces?

All humor aside, you might find a line of wares offering a much greater profit potential and allow you to cater to a much broader audience than might be interested in your books alone. Setting the hook this way, you might also find demand for all your books increase as a result. Once one has been read and enjoyed, it seems you would have a much easier time promoting the others.

You wearing that coffee yet?


Wonderful article. I especially appreciated the point about the topics/obsessions/wounds that we come back to again and again. I think I know what mine is–my struggle with depression, bipolar disorder and rejection–but I don’t know how to help my readers in a pragmatic way. I also have no idea how to enjoy the process of blogging; I simply don’t enjoy spending my writing time doing it and I stress out over what to write on my weekly blog. Any ideas on how to get over this?


Excellent stuff, as usual, and food for thought. I write for people with the same interests as me, and there are reacurring themes that come up through my blogs in different ways, but you’ve inspired me to contemplate more precisely what my ‘big gig’ is.

Helping others is always a recipe for good karma, regardless of how it comes back to us. In this case, it could be more traffic, but as you way, the point isn’t the number of hits. It’s genuine readers who relate to what we write.


I am in favor of the “topless photos” plan.

…somebody had to say it.


Hi, Justine. What a pleasure it was to read your blog. My best friend and fellow writer recommended it. I’d burned out on my blogs, feeling like I lost the passion and sense of direction I had when I started 3 years ago. You just helped me find what I lost. It was that deeply personal level of writing to just one person, one real person, in a way that helps us both heal and grow. Just a few days ago I asked myself, “How can I fall in love with my blogs again?” Thanks for answering! :)


Thank you for that. I can relate on many levels and it is just plain good advice.


Thank you for this post. I especially found #6 helpful.


@Justine – I love your blog! It’s engaging. And like I mentioned in my last comment, I don’t usually like to read long posts. But yours? Yeah, I could read for hours.

I totally agree with @Jim Murdock, too. It’s about connecting with others. Being interested in other people.

Writing narrow and deep is certainly key as well.


That was the best article so far I read about “blogging” with out real person writing with passion and soul.


I just found this post … at pretty much the most right and perfect time. I guess that’s called serendipity. It put my eyes back on the path as opposed to looking about for another, different answer.

Thank you. I needed this.


You are your questions


This is one of the best posts about blogging I’ve ever read. Thank you for this – I needed to hear it.

(ps – found you through StumbleUpon!)


This is actually the best blog post I have come across on ‘getting more traffic’ – the others just deal out the same/similar kind of crap which is the same, just worded slightly differently. Will refer back to this again!


Phenomenal post. Especially like the paradox of being more personal and reaching a vast audience.

Found this by way of Twitter.

Let’s change the world.




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