Consider operating your blog as if you were running a restaurant.
If you owned a restaurant, you don’t want to be the place that gets either overflow customers from the “good” place down the road OR you just happen to be in the right place at the right time on some busy tourist street.
Instead, you want to be the restaurant that people will walk an extra couple of blocks to eat at or drive an extra 30 minutes to get to.
The same goes for your website.
Sure, you’ll take as much free Google search traffic as you can get, but wouldn’t you prefer building up an audience of people who bookmark your site or type the first three letters in their browser every day to check out what’s new?
I know what type of website I prefer.
Imagine your life if you were no longer dependent on Google or Pinterest for enough traffic to earn a great living.
That would be liberating. Actually, better than liberating. It’s financial stability – or as stable as an online business can be.
I’m not there with my sites, that’s for sure.
It’s a situation I need to change. I’m not sure I can, but I’m gonna try with at least one of my niche sites.
How do you free yourself from Google dependence for traffic?
It’s simple, but not easy.
You publish a website where hordes of people come to visit on their own accord regularly.
In other words, you build a real fanbase or loyal audience.
Many sites have done this.
Yes, many of those sites also scoop up Google search traffic by the truckload, but if their Google search traffic dried up overnight, they’d still be printing money. Now that’s awesome.
That should be your goal for your blog or niche website.
Even if you publish product review sites, you can build a loyal audience or an audience based on word-of-mouth. Enter Gearpatrol.com and Thewirecutter.com.
Think about becoming the authority for reviews in a niche where people tell their friends “oh, you need a generator, you gotta read XYZ.com – they really know their stuff. I chose one based on their reviews and couldn’t be happier.”
Do such websites exist?
You bet they do. In droves. Here are a few examples.
Input the following sites in Similarweb.com and notice how large a percentage of their traffic is direct. That to me is the mark of an authority site (in addition to the traffic volume being high – if a site gets 80% of its traffic directly but only has 100 visitors per day, it’s not an authority).
There are examples in any niche.
But hey Jon, you listed the obvious sites. We all know they are super popular and get all kinds of direct traffic.
You’re right. I did list the usual suspects – and that’s the point. Once upon a time all of those sites were brand new that nobody knew about. Even Google and Facebook took time to catch on.
How do you build such authority?
Notice the word “authority”. I think the term “authority site” has been watered down. I’m guilty of it big time.
A true authority site is one that gets a great deal of traffic directly.
I don’t like defining authority sites just because they get lots of search traffic. Like I said, I’m guilty of defining it in that way. Heck, I refer to my biggest niche site as authority site, but truth be told, it’s not. It is not the authority in the niche. I wish it were and I’m striving for that, but it’s not. That said, the crumbs I get are very good.
Here’s how to go about building a bulletproof blog.
1. Publish content that delights an audience
In order to become the go-to site in your niche, you need to publish content that delights an audience
Notice I didn’t say publishes the “best content””. Instead, it must excel in delighting visitors. There’s an important distinction between content that delights and that’s the best.
The best content connotes that it is the most thorough or most accurate or most informative. While that is one type of content that excels, it is not the only type of content that can catapult your site into true authority status.
How do you create and publish content that delights?
There is no magic formula. It comes in all shapes and sizes.
Take the listed site above greaterfool.ca. You probably never heard of it. It’s a Canadian investment website I read daily. It’s not the most informative site on investing. There are few charts. Articles aren’t long. However, it is funny and it makes reading about investing fun. More to the point, it receives over 1 million monthly visitors – most of whom visit directly. In fact, the Google search traffic is pitiful.
Here’s a list of ways to create content that delights. Make it:
If you excel at some or all of the above and that’s what an audience wants, you will have a winning site on your hands.
Note that your content need not be more informative than Wikipedia in order to delight. Wikipedia delights because it’s aim is to inform and it does so spectacularly. However, you need not take the same approach. Take Perezhilton.com as an example. He gets millions of direct monthly visitors. He does not barf out every fact and tidbit about celebrities he covers. His posts are short and funny. It works and I would definitely qualify his site as an authority site.
2. It takes time
Suppose the first 10 articles you publish are undeniably the best on the topic in your niche and they delighted the few people who read them. Does that establish your site as an authority?
Probably not. It’s not lack of quality. It’s lack of time and exposure.
A true authority site needs time to catch on and become the iconic institution it needs to be within the space.
It’s hard to imagine the iconic sites we all as once upon a time being obscure. The fact is, unless a site had a pre-existing print publication, all websites started with one article and zero traffic.
It took time for the authority to build.
What about promotion – does that help?
It might. I don’t do it and that may be my downfall.
I believe if a site is good, it will catch on organically. Word of mouth will spread. Visitors will return on their own accord.
However, getting exposure from other big sites can definitely speed up the process. It gives you legitimacy. You can either wait for exposure to happen organically or nudge it along with your own promotional efforts. I choose to focus my limited resources on more content, but if promotion is your thing, I can’t fault that.
Should you ignore organic search and other traffic sources?
Of course not. Most of the above-listed sites bring their A-game to SEO and it pays off. While a significant percentage of their traffic is direct, they also get millions from search and social.
The point here is not to forsake SEO and other solid traffic channels.
The point is to work towards no longer being dependent on SEO traffic.
Ironically, when you reach true authority status, you often mop up in the SEO department. There are exceptions such as Greaterfool.ca which doesn’t even try for SEO traffic (titles aren’t even optimized), but generally, your top-tier authority sites leverage their true authority for SEO and social traffic as well.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.