When I say popular I mean 17,000 visitors a month which to me is a lot of traffic for a blog I sometimes don’t update for a week or two at a time, I am of course talking about the music blog Kill Hipsters of which I designed and built all by myself and I’m not even a designer. In the space of roughly a year and a half I’ve managed to take Kill Hipsters from just another music blog to something decent without any promotion or effort, just commitment.
#1 – You need to stay committed
There are many times where I felt as though the reviews/metal blog thing had been overdone and saturated until I realised something all sites had in common I could do differently: tell the truth and not pretend to be a journalist. So all reviews on the site were my honest opinion, I wouldn’t venture too far out of my niche because heavy music is what I listen too and hence the music I know best. I work full-time and obviously working on my blog whilst at work during the day is something I would never be able to do, so I set out to create a routine that would allow me to run the blog without interrupting work and even freelance as well.
On my lunch breaks I would write out ideas for articles as well as any thoughts of albums I had been listening too for review. Earlier reviews were shocking, I had to find my footing and as a result my earlier reviews were inconsistent and poorly written, but they were honest and weren’t embellished with excessive use of metaphors or stories of how I started listening to a particular band. Throughout the day at work I would listen to albums on my iPhone repeatedly, listen to them on the way home to the point where I would be able to form dot-points of an opinion by the end of the day, then proceed to listen for the rest of the week.
Once I finish work I draft up post ideas and write skeletons of the reviews I am going to write as well as trawling my email for PR emails from various labels and firms with news about heavy bands the site covers. In the mornings I wake up early anyway and I work on post ideas a little bit more as well publishing or scheduling posts for days and sometimes weeks in advance, on my way to work (I catch the train) I would bust out my iPhone or laptop and continue to work on reviews and post ideas whilst still listening to the music on my phone.
Balancing work and a blog that wasn’t even known in the beginning was and still is a commitment. The routine is down-pat now, but if you’re working full-time you have to find the balance and determination to run your blog whilst ensuring it doesn’t detract or interfere with your day job, the job that pays the bills.
#2 – Spending money isn’t required
Naturally one would assume that you’d have to spend money on Google Adwords campaigns and Facebook ads to give the site a little kick-start wrong. To this day I haven’t spent one cent marketing the site, all of the traffic the site receives is organic and self-manifesting. For a blog that primarily posts reviews, it’s a little different because a surprisingly large amount of people love searching for reviews (especially if the album isn’t out yet) and bands love to post links to reviews (usually only favourable reviews) on their Facebook and Twitter profiles which in turn spurns natural traffic.
While the site doesn’t have a large social footprint, a lot of traffic comes from Facebook and sometimes Twitter depending on the post. When a well-known band posts a review on their Facebook wall and they have even just 50,000 fans you’d be surprised just how much traffic comes in. This one time a mock review of a William Shatner album was Tweeted by William Shatner himself via Twitter who has a large following, the site received so much traffic from that for at least a week before it dropped to average spouts of traffic from the Tweet.
It helps to know what people are and will be searching for. Pre-emptive targeted articles are usually the best kinds of traffic driving content, this applies to any niche but is easier to apply to a music blog.
#3 – The design doesn’t matter so much
When Kill Hipsters started it was using a heavily modified version of some free theme I found, it looked horrible. However, the content was readable and accessible and Google eventually learned to love the site quite well. The site has been through two redesigns (currently on it’s 3rd) and managed to stay well SEO’d, Google traffic is the main driver. The point of this all is, the site had two bad designs and while the third one is better: it’s still not that impressive in terms of design, I am a developer after all but the blog does extremely well because unless you have flashing GIF’s and rainbow colours, people don’t care and the design is not something you should be focusing on, rather the content. Content is king, cliché but very true.
#4 – You don’t need expensive hosting
Another misconception is you need to buy expensive hosting to run a popular blog. Unless you’re Techcrunch, you don’t need a $1000 a month hosting setup, Kill Hipsters has been running on a cheap $20 per month Linode VPS box (the lowest plan) without fail. Caching plugins as well as DB Query optimisation definitely help, but even just installing W3 Total Cache is enough to build a blog that can handle a lot of traffic, install NGINX and it can handle even more. Unless you’re getting 17,000 visitors per day, you don’t need fancy expensive hosting to run a blog.
#5 – User engagement is NOT essential
Kill Hipsters has very low user engagement, for 17,000 visitors per month you’d expect the site to have a few more comments like other sites. While the site is slowly getting there, it has no community as such (at least not yet), but it doesn’t matter. User engagement isn’t required to be able to discover what your readers like, frequently check your analytics (I sometimes check them twice an hour), Google Analytics is great but if you want real-time analytics, I suggest you use Clicky Analytics so you can see traffic coming to your site in real-time It’s not hard to see what your most popular content is and then ensuring you keep the same consistent quality to keep readership levels up.
#6 – File names matter
Surprisingly one aspect of Kill Hipsters people are amazed by is the fact that traffic from media searches (mostly Google Images) makes up a decent chunk of the overall traffic to the site thanks to relevant and descriptive image file names. For example when it comes to album artwork you can either have “782-SDSS.jpg” as the file name for artwork for Parkway Drive’s Atlas album or you can rename the file, “parkway_drive_atlas_album_artwork_cover_art_2012.jpg” and watch the traffic flow through, this is super effective. Some people think that media searches would result in a high bounce rate and that most visitors via Google Images won’t stick around, I’ve noticed that usually a visitor from a media search is more likely to stick around than someone coming to the site from a bands Facebook page. Descriptively name your files and it’ll help not only for media searches, but regular searches as well.
#7 – Know your audience
It’s important you don’t detract away from your original goal. The blog you set out to create originally has to remain the same blog in one or two years time. If you don’t stick to your original goal, you’ll fragment your traffic and end up having to change the content you write which means you’ll need to relearn your visitors and find out what makes them tick. Kill Hipsters started out as reviews and news for heavy music and to this day although more sections like media and interviews were added, it’s still the same core blog it was when the site was only receiving 100 visitors per month. Know what your audience likes and stick to it, don’t start posting recipes for Chinese food if you run an Indian recipe blog, stick to what you know.
#8 – You don’t need to focus on SEO
I do generally try and make a conscious effort to ensure descriptions on my posts are descriptive, but sometimes I am in such a rush a lot of the time I don’t even bother and yet I do quite well for a lot of search keywords and relevant Google traffic. Writing great content is the best kind of SEO, you can write super-descriptive and enticing meta descriptions but if you don’t have the great content to match, it’s not going to help you whatsoever. Ensure your content is concise, adequately formatted and there aren’t spelling errors. Google definitely takes into consideration how your posts are laid out, the language you use and whether or not you bothered to do a spell check or not.
#9 – Take advantage of Microformats
Because Kill Hipsters is primarily a site focused on reviews, taking advantage of the hReview Microformats standard is a must. All reviews on the site use the hReview format and as a result all reviews that come up in search results have a star rating, believe it or not the presence of a star rating is enough to make people click your review over an even bigger site that might not take advantage of Google’s support for Microformats, I am also a firm believer they contribute to how your site is ranked.