Growth. One of the most important factors for any online business. Increasing relevant traffic often correlates with an increased bottom line.
So what’s the secret to growing your traffic to impressive levels? To answer that question, we asked Fraser Cain, owner of Universe Today. Cain first worked hard to increase his number of daily visitors to 3,500. He has since then skyrocketed his traffic levels to over 100,000 unique visitors a day.
Eric Siu: Please introduce yourself.
Fraser Cain: My name is Fraser Cain, I’m the publisher of Universe Today; a space and astronomy news website read by more than 3 million people a month. I’m also the co-founder of Keyword Strategy, a web-based content marketing tool.
ES: Your site Universe Today is currently one of the most popular astronomy blogs on the net. You’ve reached some impressive numbers, let’s talk about the first big milestone: 3,500 visits per day. How did you get to 3,500 visits per day?
FC: I got those first 3,500 search visitors a day purely accidentally, though the sheer volume of content I had written over almost 10 years of being the webmaster of Universe Today. It was really unintentional and through various lucky stories that happened to match what people were looking for.
I’m firmly in the “build it and they’ll come” camp – focus 100 percent of your effort on your own website and the needs of your audience. Even brand new websites will bring in long tail search traffic from the search engines if they solve problems for people.
The problem is that people immediately try to focus on rankings; and that’s where the massive link building campaigns come in. But if you focus only on increasing your overall search traffic, and not battle for any specific keyword, your traffic just grows and grows. Over time, your increasing social network takes over and multiplies the impact of your writing.
ES: What were the important steps that got you to 3,500 visits/day?
FC: Right from the beginning of the website, I integrated a daily email newsletter into my publication schedule, so I was accumulating email subscribers a handful at a time. Over the years that list really built up, and served as the very core of my audience.
There’s nothing more powerful than a distribution platform that you can reach out through. So my initial audience came purely through word of mouth and building that subscriber base one person at a time.
ES: Now let’s hear about how you got to 100,000 visits per day. What were the most important steps you took to get you to this remarkable milestone?
FC: A lot of that growth happened naturally, but I became aware of the importance of search engine optimization about three years ago. Once I started incorporating SEO into my overall content process, my traffic jumped up in leaps and bounds. Until that point, I was only blogging and reporting on news, but I realized there was a whole class of evergreen content – the kind of concepts that people are always searching for.
Since I had built up such an expertise in the are of space and astronomy, it was a natural fit for me to incorporate some of that content into Universe Today. For example, I started to add articles about why Pluto isn’t a planet any more, or how long it takes to get to the Moon.
There are many ways to get traffic, but in my experience, you can create content that matches what people are searching for, and you’ll pick up long tail search queries. No link building, no social interaction, nothing. Just pure content on your site will drive some traffic. It starts out small and then builds up over time.
You need to do technical SEO, to make sure that your content is registered with Google Webmaster Tools, and fully crawlable by the search engines. But beyond that, you don’t need to do anything but focus on the quality of the content you’re producing.
It’s really important to make the distinction between blogging and SEO, though. When you’re blogging, you’re writing content that’s interesting and important, but nobody is actually searching for it, so that won’t generate any search traffic. You have to tackle the concepts that people are searching for to actually attract the engines.
ES: It’s been mentioned that you keep a massive database of 35,000 keywords to determine what to write. What steps do you take to generate this list of massive keywords?
FC: I’m a total keyword packrat. A lot of the keywords came directly from the AdWords Keyword Tool, and I’ve also used SEMRush and other tools to study concepts and extract keyword ideas. I like to look at the kinds of questions people are asking on Yahoo Answers and on Twitter.
ES: What are your criteria for selecting a topic to write about (e.g., keyword volume, keyword trends, etc.)?
FC: The exact match search traffic is important. That tells me if it’s a question or topic that a lot of people are searching for. Beyond that, I don’t really dig any deeper. I’m more concerned with the question about whether I’m well qualified to provide information.
I also use past experience to inform my article topics for the future. I know that there’s a flurry of traffic leading up to events like solar eclipses or rocket launches. I study what worked in the past and then apply that for upcoming events.
It’s important to note that I’m deeply in the “no link building” camp. I don’t do any off-site SEO, and let my articles attract links naturally. I also don’t really care about how my articles are ranking for any specific keywords. I’m concerned about the overall traffic to my website, not my rank for any specific keywords.
ES: How many writers did you start with initially?
FC: It was just me for the first eight years or so. I then added another writer who became my senior editor.
ES: How many writers do you have today?
FC: At any point I’ve got a team of about 10-15 freelance writers who contribute the occasional article.
ES: How many articles is the site creating each week?
FC: We’re writing 8-10 articles a day, so between 50-100 a week depending on the news volume.
ES: What types of articles are you writing?.
FC: I’d say we’re about 90 percent industry news now with another 10 percent which are the “evergreen content” articles.
ES: What other effective methods do you use to drive traffic to your blog?
FC: I rely heavily on social marketing methods now, especially Google+… search is just one of the various methods I use for generating traffic now. I’d say Google+ is the most important method in my mix now, both for the amazing community and the potential impact of author rank in the future. If I had one recommendation to any marketer: take Google+ very, very seriously.
It’s also really important to use other forms of media to “double down” on your successes. If you’ve got a successful article, create a video in YouTube to support that article and you’ll get twice the SEO benefit. The video sends traffic to the article and vice versa. You can see an example of this for my article about why Pluto isn’t a planet any more.
ES: You mention that it’s important to avoid content overlap – what’s your strategy for avoiding content overlap?
FC: Whenever I’m ready to target a concept, I do a few searches on my site to see if I’ve already covered that concept. If I have, I’ll improve the article itself or just avoid the keyword entirely.
We also build an overlapping content tool for Keyword Strategy that finds overlapping articles on an existing website so you can prune your website down.
ES: Tell us more about the SEO tool you developed: Keyword Strategy. What is it and why should people be using it?
FC: Keyword Strategy is based on the original database I used to manage all my keywords. It automatically connects with various keyword sources to get new keyword ideas, pulls referring keywords out of Google Analytics, tracks rank, etc. It’s for people like me – total keyword packrats who need an organized way to target an entire niche of keywords in an organized fashion.
Eric Siu: Thanks Fraser!
- Don’t forget about building an e-mail list.
- Create evergreen content to keep a steady flow of traffic.
- Don’t just write content for the sake of writing it. Write remarkable content that helps solve a problem.
- Use the AdWords Keyword Tool, SEMrush, and other tools to build out a database of keywords for you to pull ideas from.
- Don’t forget to use exact match when doing your keyword research.
- Cain didn’t focus on link building, he let his high quality articles bring in the links naturally.
- Google+ isn’t a total disaster. Cain’s site is a perfect example of Google+ working for someone.
- Double down on your successes with other forms of social media, such as YouTube.
- Focus on the content first. The other stuff will help bolster your great content.
It’s not every day that you get to ask a guy how he built his site into a traffic generating monster. Cain’s responses tell us something that we’ve been hearing all this time: build great, remarkable content and stick with it. With the recent Panda and Penguin updates, people are finally starting to understand that quality is the only sustainable strategy.
What are some content marketing tactics you’d like to share?