Before I get to the tips, let me give you a little background on why this post is written. A few days ago, Greg Linden posted about research regarding Google PageRank. The actual research paper can also be found as a pdf here. While the heart of the paper is a bit heavy on the statistical analysis, it does contain some interesting information. More important is Greg’s summarization and analysis of the research, and he is far more qualified to do that than most anyway. The main point of the analysis is that PageRank is a poor predictor of traffic:

PageRank assumes every link from a page is followed with equal probability, but their data shows that “a few [links] carry a disproportionate amount of traffic while most carry very little traffic.” When they attempted to compensate for this with a version of PageRank they called Weighted PageRank (where the links are weighted based on click traffic), they found it helped only a little.

The main issue I have with this is that PageRank is not really meant as a predictor of traffic, it is more of an authority ranking. So, how do we predict how much traffic a site will have? Let me start by saying I am not an SEO professional, and I am not about to tell you how to do that. For a good overview of SEO, take a look at the work.com Guide to Learning SEO or head straight over to SEO Book. Also, you cannot reliably predict traffic for new sites because you never know who might link to them. Now, back to the point. In each of these cases, even the immensely useful SEO Book and the previously linked to guide, they all deal with your target user population as if they were all the same. So, if you have an internet marketing blog, a sports blog or a technical blog, your users behave in the same way. Behavior is something that the research paper talks about, but only in reference to the PageRank model. I think they could have found I very important research topic, user behavior.

The temporal traffic patterns display strong regularities, with a large portion of future requests being statistically predictable by past ones.

If you do a search for the definition of behavior, you will see much similarity between the above quote and the definitions found. So if user behavior is important, what do we need to know? Finally, 7 sources where your users will come from.

  1. Users will not get to your site based on searches. Unless your site is very specific to a niche and you do the relevant keyword research, search is probably a useless referral source for your site.
  2. Referral sources will be the major source of your traffic. I love StumbleUpon as it will slowly help your site get traffic, without a massive spike like can be seen from something like Digg.
  3. Do not try to get onto the front page of Digg. You will probably annoy a lot of people in the process as you submit every post you create and try to promote it as heavily as possible. Let the traffic grow more organically.
  4. RSS feeds are not the answer, maybe. Different types of users do different things. For technical people, RSS feeds are the only answer for continuous updates from the site. If you have something like a sports blog, an email newsletter or some email notification would be the best update method. Anyone on the internet should be comfortable with email by now. For the internet marketing or “blogging” blogs, the availability of both RSS and email is required.
  5. That being said, Feedburner is your friend. Feedburner gives you statistics for your feeds that would be somewhat difficult for most people to track. It also gives you the ability to have an RSS feed as well as an email update within one trackable unit.
  6. Social media is not the answer, maybe. Again, if you have a sports blog, you will have very little success with social media currently. More niche sites are appearing, like Ball Hype, so keep your eyes open on this. General purpose social media, think Digg, StumbleUpon, Mixx or Reddit, is a much tougher nut to crack. Visit the front page of the site to determine what is most popular. If your site does not fit the topic, don’t use the site. Some of these sites are getting niche oriented with things like sub sites or groups, so you could find a useful area within the site.
  7. Advertising is definitely not the answer. Ads can help, but you need to be very aware of your user’s behavior. Technical people rarely click on ads, unless there is a good game or book being advertised. It is doubtful they will click on an ad for your site. Other types of users may get some ad clicks, but for most ad campaigns, do not expect heavy traffic.

More important than these tips, if you love writing about your topic don’t worry about whether you have a huge subscriber base. Just do what you love to do. Users might flock to your site, or they might not. If blogging is something you want to do just to get your thoughts written in some concrete form, then do that.