How We Grew Blog Traffic by 650% in Two Years — Organically

As a digital content marketer, your job is to grow traffic that converts into leads and sales. Some of us in this field are lucky to work with companies that sell sexy products. It makes it a little easier. But that’s not always the case. This post is for the other marketers that work in the not-so-sexy fields. I can speak to this audience because up until the spring of this year, I was the Digital Content and Marketing Manager at a synthetic oil company. I won’t fault you if you don’t know what that is — we’ll get to it shortly.

Grow blog traffic, stat

In 2016, I joined a company that sold synthetic oil (the stuff in your engine that you change once every couple of months). One of my tasks was to grow website traffic, and the best channel I landed on was the company blog.

The corporate e-commerce website (yep, we sold engine oil online at a premium) was a political minefield, so I had very limited sway. The blog was not. A group of three contributors would meet weekly and throw spur-of-the-moment posts together. It had a sporadic publishing schedule. The topics were dry (it was a blog about motor oil, after all) and blog traffic was correspondingly sluggish. The blog at the time had averaged under 5,000 sessions a month. Within a year, we doubled it. Within two years, we scaled it up seven times. By the time I left, we had surpassed 100,000 sessions within a month threshold.

How we operationalized our blog for triple-digit growth

Within a few months of assuming leadership of the blog, we overhauled the entire publishing process, doubled the team of volunteer contributors, implemented a quarterly editorial calendar, and search-optimized the heck out of our blog posts.

These are the tactics I used to increase our sessions, search visibility, and subscribers in two years.

1. No man is an island — neither is your blog

Our company had a communications team of great writers. Correction: great-but-swamped writers. So we had to look elsewhere. I reached out to departments across the company in hopes of finding people that liked writing enough to publish something once or twice a month. The writer assigned to help manage the blog would proof and edit posts before they were published, so that these contributors wouldn’t have to worry about writing perfectly.

Our efforts paid off; we grew the team from three contributors to a group of eight.

2. Build a flexible calendar, yo

We cut back on the spur-of-the-moment publishing process and focused on getting content out three times a week. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were our days, initially.

I created a shared doc where contributors could add post topics. Each quarter, we went through the ideas and picked topics that we would publish. Then I ran each idea through keyword research (via Moz Keyword Explorer and Keyword Planner) and social research (Buzzsumo). This process gave us direction on which messaging resonated with different audiences and how we would distribute our content. Sometimes we wrote posts to answer search queries. Other times, we had a customer group in mind, or an event our marketing team was sponsoring.

One of the events we sponsored was the Sturgis Rally. In this case, the post we created was purely for our social media and events support. Luckily, the rally promoted it, which brought an influx of their fans to our blog. An audience we were targeting with our event sponsorship, because they were likely to know and care about which brand of oil they used on their bikes.

3. Ditch the corporate speak — write like you

We weren’t corporate mouthpieces. We were a team of individuals, each with our own personalities. One contributor was a handyman and liked to fix things; I encouraged him to write from that perspective. Another writer, Andy, was known for his colorful commentary (“Quaker, it takes more than one goose flying north to make a summer!”) so he infused his posts with some of it, as well. Our racing and events writer became a mom, and her son made an appearance in some of her posts. Our approach did not always align with our brand’s masculine tone. Not a best practice (shrug) but it made our posts a lot more genuine. Each piece we wrote had a distinct voice.

Did this have a direct correlation to traffic growth? Probably not. However, it did encourage people to write more often, because the writing was a more natural process. This helped us churn out new content several times a week, which did have an impact.

4. Not all posts shall be optimized equally — that’s ok

Despite our best efforts, the blog was a volunteer project slated among a slew of tasks we all had. Thus, not all posts were created equal. Some posts pulled more than their fair share of traffic. We focused on on-page optimization for those each summer with the help of our interns. On a given blog post, we might have:

  • Tweaked the blog post title
  • Added a table of contents (with anchor links and bonus points for voice search phrases)
  • Changed the URL (with a redirect, of course)
  • Implemented alt tags
  • Added crawl/human/voice search-friendly sub-heads
  • Added videos (where relevant)
  • Lengthened the post with relevant additional content

By implementing these tactics, several of our posts were able to gain Position 0 or 1 and garnered pretty significant spikes in traffic.

An example of a post that benefitted from some extra love was our engine flush blog post. It became our hallmark for how we could optimize good writing on a relevant topic into a high-ranking and ultra-SERP-friendly post.

5. Invest in AMP (if you haven’t already)

Not judging. Sometimes it takes months for larger organizations to adapt to changes that are for their benefit. When we implemented Accelerated Mobile Pages, it blew our search traffic through the roof.

But driving AMP traffic is not enough. We learned through the process that the standard AMP implementation strips out most aspects of the blog interface. As a result, we lost links to sign up for our blog emails or shop our e-commerce website (egad!). Even though our mobile traffic was up considerably, traffic to the website suffered or lagged.

Unfortunately, we had a custom-built design. Changes would have to be manual, and we didn’t have a budget or the resources for that. So we focused on doing a better job of highlighting our website and products within our posts.

6. Use social media to gather ideas

Yes, we promoted our posts on social, but we also used social media to curate ideas. Some ideas were published. As a thank you, we embedded shout-outs in the post and on social media to the source. It was a way of making our posts feel personal to our audience.

7. Add more pep to your blog email newsletter

Consistency is cool, but we tried to throw an element of surprise and delight into our blog emails. This meant taking time to create a clear and compelling reason why the recipient should open the email — not just listing new posts. Since there isn’t a lot of change month-to-month in the industry, we got creative. Each week I played with subject lines that were timely, relevant, fun, or attention-grabbing. I backed those up with a standard pre-header/teaser for consistency. Some subject lines we used included:

  • Spit into this tube, we’ll build a car for you.
  • Remember this classic SNL skit?
  • Cruisers, Firearms, and Cash
  • Can your truck go 500,000 miles?

I also used the blog newsletter as a channel to curate and promote older, evergreen posts when relevant, which helped bring fresh eyes to existing material.

8. Do one thing at a time

We split our goals into our top priorities each year, and focused on that. Once we achieved the first goal, we shifted focus to the next priority.

Year one, our focus was growing traffic from search engine results pages and social. To drive traffic, we created search-optimized, evergreen posts and chose relevant topics with significant search volume. We also held team sessions on beginner SEO where we went over best practices and gave the team access to easy keywording tools (I used Spyfu). We propelled our organic search traffic after a year of consistently following this protocol.

In year two, our goal was driving sign-ups. We created premium content and leveraged social to capture some of our fans through lead ads tied to blog content. These tactics drove our blog subscriber list up by 44%.

The third year, we focused on increasing the blog’s contribution to sales. We put our efforts into highlighting products in the blog email, publishing product-centric posts, and including very clear and compelling calls-to-action to shop our e-commerce website.

We gamified our team’s participation by establishing a blogger leaderboard and highlighting up-and-coming creators, or those whose posts were doing well across different metrics.

Could we have done this all concurrently? Probably. But that would have required more time and resources than what we had.

“Sexy” is what you make of it

For us, creating blog posts was something a team of volunteers contributed to between a myriad of other tasks that were actually on our job descriptions. But we grew the channel into a source of considerable traffic for the company. We rallied around an unsexy topic — synthetic oil — and turned it into a creative outlet that moved product. The project also sparked a team of empowered creators, stakeholders, and in-house champions across departments who were fired up by the results of a motley crew of writers, DIY-ers, and tinkerers.

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