Six ways to grow your traffic for free

Rebecca Weeks Watson · March 3, 2009 · Short URL:

How to use social media, audience research, syndication, and other tools to increase your audience

 Let’s be honest: developing content in today’s user-generated media world is easy; marketing that content successfully is not.

Numerous bloggers and site owners regularly ask me to explain how they can drive traffic to their sites in order to support their monetization goals.

After all,quality content (or a unique product) leads to traffic, traffic leads to branding, and the combination of branding and reach leads to monetization. I respond to these entrepreneurs by telling them that first and foremost they need to understand and utilize social media strategies and tools, all of which are free except for the investment of your time.

Below I’ve outlined a “cheat sheet” of the six most impactful actions you can take in the short-term to increase your site’s traffic.

1. Leverage your existing user base

Encouraging your current readers or users to promote your site is your cheapest and most efficient way to acquire new visitors. This requires taking the time and effort to understand who your most loyal users are. Show gratitude for their participation and reply to their comments or posts. I know a blogger that every week writes one post about a particular reader that she appreciates. Connecting personally with these users (and boosting their ego) will encourage them to talk about your interaction or your site with their friends and peers. Ask for their feedback about your site: what do they like most? Where do they spend the majority of their time? What do they want to see more of? Even small, creative tweaks to your site or content can result in a dramatic traffic upswing.

Allison of Mrs. Fussypants told me, “I knew early on that I needed something to get attention, something to offer my regular readers to spread the word. I had my readers subscribe via RSS, favorite my site on Technorati, and write a blog post about me. One reader joked that soon I would have them name their next child after me. But all of this doubled my traffic.”

After you’ve identified who your most active user base is and the reasons for their loyalty, find out where they came from and where they visit next on the Web. This is called upstream traffic (the sites they visited before they came to yours) and downstream traffic (the sites they visit after yours). Companies like comScore and HitWise provide this information. Quantcast, a free service, also shows sites that your audience is likely to visit. As an example, Fast Company readers are likely to also visit and Reviewing these sites and emerging patterns can help you learn more about your audience’s interests, suggest possible new content areas, and point out possible partners.

2. Access and empoweryour target audience within social communities

Social media doesn’t need to intimidate you. Simply start out by finding your friends, existing site users, and like-minded bloggers in online communities such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Youtube, Meetup, Naymz, etc. You can locate them by searching for certain topics, groups,affinities, etc., or by looking at the friends or connections of your existing users. Befriend the people you admire and consider inviting them as contributors on your site. But keep in mind that using social media for marketing must go beyond simply “collecting” a large amount of friends. People will see right through this approach. You need to connect with them in a genuine way, such as sharing with them some content they might appreciate or nominating them for an award. What’s more, some companies have launched new products and made exclusive offers to members of specific communities.

Twitter is a free, simple and effective tool for increasing exposure and authority for your site. Many publishers who use Twitter have said the benefits of Tweeting include keeping their brand in the public eye,humanizing them to readers on a daily basis, and building a stronger sense of community. I don’t want to go into too much detail about Twitter because it’s only one tool out of a handful you need to leverage, so you can read advice here about how to get started using Twitter.

3. Syndicate to and execute link exchanges with relevant publishers

In the Web 2.0 era and going forward, very few large media companies will pay to license your content. Does this mean that you should protect your content? No. Just the opposite: syndicating content or widgets to other publishers is a great way to increase your exposure and traffic. The key is to confirm a fair barter exchange. For example, you can provide videos orarticles as long as the partner displays your company’s byline, logo, and links back to your site. You can view here how Huffington Post displays content from my site DivineCaroline.

Another opportunity with partners is to agree to do link exchanges. This requires little effort and has the potential to drive tons of traffic, depending on the size of the partner’s audience and the relevancy of your content to what they are reading. (Remember that every interaction online needs to be a win-win for both you and the other party.) An easy way to execute link exchanges is to create a weekly round-up that links to articles or headlines on partner sites. AOL’s Lemondrop does a great job at creating a weekly Link Love round-up.

Keep reading next week: Part 2 describes three more tools to help grow your audience online.

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