by Juan Robin II
Started a blog but can’t get any readers? Let’s fix that.
In 2015, my friends and I started a breakdancing blog (now defunct).
Despite knowing nothing about blogging or SEO, we managed to hit 3,000 organic visitors per month at our peak.
In this time, I’ve learned a lot about how to get more traffic to a blog.
And in this post, I’ll share some of the tips I wished I knew when I started.
Let’s get to it.
Statista estimates that the number of bloggers in the U.S will reach 31.7 million by 2020. And that’s only the U.S!
Which means: if you’re starting a blog today, there’s a lot of competition.
Luckily, there is a way to stand out and attract readers to your blog:
What does that mean?
It means focusing on a hyper-specific topic and becoming the go-to expert on that topic.
For example, if you’re starting a travel blog, you might focus on only UK travel. If you’re starting a business blog, maybe starting a successful home-based business for time-strapped parents is the way to go.
Later, once your blog has gained some traction, you can branch out and cover broader topics.
This is what we did at Ahrefs. We started out focusing solely on SEO and trying to do it better than everyone else. This helped kickstart our initial growth spurt.
It’s not just us either. Plenty of top bloggers started the same way.
Mark Manson’s blog was originally about masculinity and dating. Ramit Sethi, founder of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, started his blog by writing about the intersection of psychology and personal finance.
The lesson is clear: if you want to gain traction, niche down.
51% of all website traffic comes from organic search. Which means: for your blog to do well, you need to write about topics people are searching for.
The question is: how do you find such topics?
The answer: Use a keyword research tool to generate ideas.
For example, you can enter a keyword into AnswerThePublic—a free tool—and it’ll show you related questions people are typing into Google.
There are plenty of free keyword tools out there, so take your pick.
Unfortunately, while such tools are excellent for ideas, most of them don’t show keyword metrics like monthly search volume. That’s a problem. After all, there’s no use writing about something if hardly anyone is searching for it.
The solution? Use a professional keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, where you’ll see a larger pool of ideas, plus important keyword metrics.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could see which of your competitors’ articles get the most traffic so you could try and replicate their success?
Many blogs show off their best-performing articles, like this:
From here, it’s relatively easy to figure out which keywords they’re trying to rank for by looking at their URL and headline.
For example, when I click through to the article—The Ultimate Guide to Men’s Hair Products—I can guess that Beardbrand is targeting the topic “men’s hair products” or “hair products.”
But this is not a very data-driven process. We have no idea how Beardbrand chose these “popular” posts, and we can’t tell if they drive traffic.
So a better way is to paste your competitor’s domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, then go to the “Top Pages” report to see which articles send them the most organic search traffic.
For example, we can see that Beardbrand’s article on beard styles gets an estimated 8,717 organic visits per month. And out of 3,260 keywords it ranks for, “beard styles” sends them the most traffic.
This is a great way to find good topics to write about.
Google aims to provide its users with the most relevant results for their queries. That means: if you want to rank high in Google and get passive, organic traffic, you need to be the most relevant result for the query.
Translation: you need to create content that aligns with search intent.
How do you figure out search intent?
Thankfully, since Google works to show the most relevant results, you can use this to your advantage. Just take a look at the top 10 results for your chosen topic, and see what types of pages are currently ranking.
For example, here are the top results for “coffee maker.”
Looks like most of the top-ranking pages are category pages selling different types of coffee machines. In this case, no matter how great your content is, you’ll have a hard time ranking with a blog post.
Compare that to “french press coffee.”
You can see that most of the top-ranking pages are how-to articles on making french press coffee.
To rank for this keyword, you likely have to create something similar — I.E., a “how-to” guide.
Learn more about search intent in our beginner’s guide here.
Four years ago, Tim, our Chief Marketing Officer, wrote an epic, 5,000-word article about strategic writing. He then reached out to Rand Fishkin, an influencer in the SEO/marketing niche, to let him know about it, hoping that he would share it with his audience.
Rand said no.
The reason? The post was long, but there was nothing unique about it. It was merely a rehash of existing tips on the web.
Four years later, Rand tweeted our post on podcast advertising, even though we didn’t tell him about it.
Why did he share it this time around? Simple: because we did the work, knew the ins and outs of podcast sponsorships, and could present a unique point-of-view no one else had.
In short, our article was worth referencing.
Telling you to create great content isn’t actionable. But making sure your content is—in Seth Godin’s words—worth remarking about is a more straightforward concept to work with.
It’s also much easier to tell if you genuinely have something wonderful on your hands.
- Is your article unique?
- Did you present ideas, opinions, or point-of-views that nobody else has talked about?
- Will people cite, quote, or link to your article?
- Will people share and talk about it?
If the answer is a resounding yes, then great! If not, get back to the lab and rework it. You can always add a unique perspective by including data, running surveys, or acquiring experience.
Tim once told me:
Nobody likes to read. They just want the information. If they could download it to their brain, they would.
Real talk: nobody is clamoring to read your article. They would rather watch Netflix than read your blog post.
Therefore, it is your job as a writer to help them decide to start reading. As famous copywriter Bond Halbert said, “Good writing creates effortless reading.”
To do this, you need to learn how to edit your copy so that it’s easy to read. The best book I’ve found on this subject is Bond Halbert’s book on editing. (It says ads on the cover, but really, it can be applied to any form of writing.)
Here are some tips I’ve applied to my own writing after reading the book.
- Use short paragraphs. Bond calls this “providing eye relief.” Huge chunks of text daunt readers, but short paragraphs invite them in. Tools like Hemingway help make this easier.
- Break up long sentences. People typically read in their mind’s voice. As such, long sentences make it hard to follow. Break up these sentences by finding instances where you used “and,” “because,” and “that.”
- Insert multimedia. Videos, images, GIFs, etc. can help further illustrate your points without having to add more words.
- Use formatting. Bold, italics, quotes, and lists break up chunks of copy and add extra emphasis to specific points.
- Read your copy out loud. This helps to pinpoint areas where your content doesn’t flow smoothly or is boring.
On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.
Most people discover content via search or social. And they likely decide which to read based on the headline.
That makes the headline the most crucial piece of your content. And you should learn how to write compelling ones that capture people’s attention and make them want to learn more.
However, that doesn’t mean you should be writing clickbait. But it does mean that you should understand how good headlines work.
- Check out some of the most popular blogs on the web and watch how they craft their headlines. Tim Ferriss may not brand himself as an internet marketer, but he certainly knows how to write headlines that attract readers (e.g. “From Geek to Freak: How I Gained 34 lbs. of Muscle in 4 Weeks” is an excellent headline.)
- Use templates. Most headlines are variations of proven formulas. Learn what they are and use them well.
- Use CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. Unsure if you’ve written something good? Check with this free tool.
Look at how I used to write my introductions:
It was a complete word-vomit. My readers probably hit the back button faster than you could say, “hip hop!”
The headline’s job is to get the reader to read the first sentence. Then, it’s the job of your introduction to hook them in and get them to read the post.
So, if your introduction is lengthy, boring, or reads like an academic paper, then it’s time to change up what you’re doing.
At Ahrefs, we follow (loosely) what we call the “APP” formula.
First, we Align. With a sentence or two, show your readers you understand the problem they’re facing.
Here’s an example from one of our posts:
With this, your readers will feel like you empathize with them and their challenges.
Next, Present your article as the solution.
Tell them you’ve found the solution to that problem. Alternatively, you can also explain the solution as briefly as possible without divulging everything. Give people something to nibble on so they’ll want to read further.
From the same example:
Finally, we have Proof.
This is where you explain why they should trust you. After all, it’s likely the first time they’ve encountered your blog. You’ll have to demonstrate your success, experience, or expertise.
On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing your content to rank higher in the search results.
Typically, this includes basic “best practices” like:
- Placing your target keyword in the title, meta description, and H1 tags. This helps demonstrate to searchers that your page is the most relevant result for their query.
- Using short, descriptive URLs. A descriptive URL lets you know what to expect from a page (e.g.
https://ahrefs.com/blog/seo-tips/is obviously a post about SEO tips.) Searchers are almost certainly more likely to click on a result that demonstrates what they should expect from the page.
If you’re a WordPress user, installing a plugin like Yoast SEO will make the above tips much easier to implement.
But on-page SEO is about more than including exact-match keywords in your copy. The presence of related words and phrases also matters.
Google confirms this by saying:
Just think: when you search for ‘dogs’, you probably don’t want a page with the word ‘dogs’ on it hundreds of times. With that in mind, algorithms assess if a page contains other relevant content beyond the keyword ‘dogs’ – such as pictures of dogs, videos or even a list of breeds.
The question is: how do you optimize for this?
If you’re writing about something you already know a lot about, you might not have to. I mean, chances are you’ll include relevant words and phrases without even trying.
However, if you’re not a subject matter expert, here’s a neat trick:
Paste a few of the top-ranking pages for your keyword into Ahrefs Content Gap tool, making sure to select “URL” mode from the dropdown.
Here are some of the top-ranking pages for “best protein powder”:
Hit search, and you’ll see the keywords that one or more of those pages rank for in the top 100.
Looking down this list, we can start to pluck out words, phrases, and subtopics that we’d probably want to mention in a post about the best protein powders. E.g., whey protein, isolates, supplements, bulk powders, and specific brands like optimum nutrition.
Just remember, this is not about stuffing keywords into your content. It’s about finding the things people are expecting to see on a page about [whatever topic you’re targeting].
Want to learn more about on-page SEO? Read this step-by-step guide.
For my first post on the Ahrefs blog, I took a month to write it.
It wasn’t because I was procrastinating. It was because my drafts were constantly ripped to shreds by our editors Tim and Josh.
Every post on our blog is subjected to that scrutiny. We take turns to read each other’s content and offer feedback. We identify areas that could be added/removed, points that could be clarified, sentences that could be worded better, etc.
I have zero doubts that’s the reason why people have consistently recommended our blog.
We even make sure to let our readers know that what they’re reading is not the work of one person, but of many people working together to make it great.
Don’t dismiss this advice just because you’re working on your blog alone. Ryan Holiday puts it succinctly:
Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else.
If you want exceptional work, you need the input of another person. It could be your spouse or a co-worker. You could ask on social if anyone’s interested in helping. Or you could join communities dedicated to improving drafts.
Their input will make your work much, much better.
Ever noticed how famous bloggers always know each other?
This isn’t accidental.
Blogging is hard work. It’s challenging to go at it alone. But with the help of others, it becomes manageable.
That’s why smart bloggers reach out and form relationships with one another. They give advice, offer help, and cross-promote each other.
That’s how they continue to grow day after day, year after year.
You should do the same.
The more people you know, the better your work becomes. More experienced people can offer input on your content. They can contribute insights, promote you, or link to you—and they can share your content with their followers.
Don’t be daunted by their reputation or huge following. Every famous blogger you know was once a nobody. But what set them apart was their willingness to set aside their fears and ego and reach out to those before them.
These bloggers understand. They will be more than happy to help you—but only if you use the right strategies.
What are these strategies?
Read our post on blogger outreach to learn how to do it.
Own a Facebook fan page? Good luck, because Facebook can take it down anytime.
Have a YouTube channel? They can delete you whenever they want.
If you’re building your following on a third-party platform, don’t be surprised if they remove you or limit your reach.
The best way to combat this is to build an email list.
For as long as your fans are subscribed to you, you can communicate with them anytime.
How do you build an email list?
You need two ingredients: traffic and something of value.
If you’re following the tips in this post, you’ll likely start getting traffic to your blog. So the next step is to persuade them to join your list.
To do that, you need to offer something in return for subscribing. For us at Ahrefs, we keep it simple by showing a slide-in box at the end of the article:
Since they’ve enjoyed our article (they made it to the end!), we’re offering to deliver more of the content they loved right in their inbox.
But the world’s your oyster. You can offer a free eBook, the PDF version of the post, an email course, whatever.
All you need is a bit of creativity.
Relevant online communities are those where your target audience hangs out. They could be communities on Facebook groups, Slack, Reddit, forums, etc.
This was the primary strategy I used to generate traction for my breakdance blog:
Judging by the comments, it was pretty well-received.
Sounds easy, right?
Not so fast, because what’s missing from the screenshot is the hard work I put in before submitting a post. To be able to submit a post like that, I had to become an active member, participate in discussions, and offer help.
Only then was my content accepted and encouraged.
If all you want to do is to join a few groups, drop links, and leave, don’t be surprised if you’re booted and banned.
But if you want to do this the right way, this comment by my friend—Nathan Collier—who runs the Content Marketing Lounge Facebook Group will guide you:
If you want to gain traction, don’t just write for your blog. Leverage the authority and following of other blogs to drive traffic, links, and build your brand.
But you might be wondering: why would they let you do that?
Simple. Most popular blogs are built on great content. But creating great content consistently is tough. So, if you offer to write an awesome article for them for free, why would they say no?
Now, most people find guest blogging opportunities in the same way. They use advanced search operators like these in Google:
- [your_topic] “write for us”
- [your_topic] “guest post”
- [your_topic] “guest article”
- [your_topic] “become an author”
- [your_topic] inurl:contribute
These will surface blogs that are actively looking for contributors.
However, you shouldn’t only pitch sites with “write for us” pages.
If a blog has written about relevant topics before, they’re likely open to guest posts on similar topics—even if they don’t have a “write for us” page.
To find these sites, enter a relevant word or phrase into Content Explorer, then toggle the “one article per domain” switch to avoid contacting the same sites twice.
Worried that authoritative sites won’t allow you to contribute? Use the Domain Rating filter to narrow the list down to those you’re comfortable writing for.
Start by focusing on blogs in the DR 21–70 range. Once you get more experience and have a few guest posts under your belt, pitch yourself to the larger blogs.
As you progress along your blogging journey, your thoughts, opinions, and knowledge will change. You’ll find out more about your industry, learn new things, and improve your writing style.
You’d be doing your audience a disservice if you do not update your older content to reflect your newfound knowledge and ideas.
Plus, updating your content has an SEO benefit too.
Think about it: even if you rank #1, competitors may try to fight for the top spot. Or Google may “demote” your rankings because it thinks your content is outdated.
So, you should aim to keep your content fresh and up-to-date.
We do this all the time at Ahrefs.
I absolutely love how @ahrefs new Content Explorer tool exposes how much our team works on updating/republishing our old content VS publishing new stuff 😇 💪
For example, we recently updated our post on how to drive traffic to your website, and organic traffic went through the roof.
If you have Google Analytics installed, you can find pages with decreasing traffic easily. If not, paste some of your older pages into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and look at the organic traffic graph in the “Overview” report.
Often, this happens because parts of your content become outdated (e.g., screenshots, process, stats, links, year in the title, etc.)
The solution then is to refresh the outdated sections. However, in some instances, you might find that you need to do a full rewrite of the article (again, this is something we often do.)
Learn more about keeping your content evergreen in our guide to evergreen content.
According to Ryan Holiday, a commonplace book is:
“… a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.”
Why should you keep one?
- Noticed how I’ve quoted plenty of people in this post? A commonplace book makes this easier and quicker.
- There are days when you’ll be stuck. Where you stare at your blank document for hours and have nothing to show for it, a quick review of your commonplace book can help inspire you and spark ideas for what needs to be written.
How do you create one?
Here’s how I do it. My commonplace book is set up on Notion, a project management app.
As I’m reading a book, I make tons of highlights. After I’m done, I transfer them to a new page in the appropriate category.
If I need something, I can easily navigate to any category or search for the things I’m looking for.
How did James Clear become one of the world’s most famous bloggers, and subsequently a bestselling author?
For four years, he committed to publishing one article on Monday and Thursday every week. This process honed his writing skills, popularized his blog, and eventually landed him a book deal that became Atomic Habits.
After all, it’s no secret. Blogging IS writing.
But to write well, you have to practice frequently.
It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular. Just focus on building a habit of putting pen to paper daily. It need not be a blog post—it could be a Facebook update, tweet, blog comment, email, or something else.
When I was running the breakdance blog, I did my best to write an email a day (Monday — Friday) to my list.
That was one of the best exercises I ever did for my writing.
The more you practice, the better your content will be.
Blogging is hard work. You need to publish consistently, promote your articles, network, and more.
The good news is: you’re not alone.
Plenty of bloggers (like us) have gone through the ups and downs. And with that hard-won experience, they’ve charted the path for you.
Now, all you have to do is to implement these tips and get to work.
Any questions? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.