The Truth About Website Growth

From Writers in the Storm:

Statistics are interesting. Statistics can provide us with valuable information. Like, right now, there are over 8 billion people on the planet and over 1 billion websites (most of which are inactive). One of my favorite teachers said that it only takes 5000 true fans to be famous, although I can’t find any proof for that statement. Thinking of the various authors I’ve worked with, I will say that once your fan base gets up in those numbers, you’re generally happy with the income level.

Build it and they will come.

Aside from being a misquote, that sentiment is particularly misleading when related to author websites. No, there isn’t any guarantee that anyone will find your website or your book. Even if you have the most beautiful website or the most amazing book, there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever find it.

“Wow, Lisa. That sounds really negative. Isn’t this a big part of what you do?”

Yep. Every day. And I’ve seen sites grow from nothing to amazing. Google sends you a special email when you get 1 million visits in a month. I’ve seen websites outgrow their hosting, email lists that explode in popularity, and sites that provide their owners with a very comfortable living.

But I’ve also seen some websites that just sit there. Alone. Abandoned. 82% of websites are abandoned. If you’ve paid for hosting, you know that is a lot of money to spend doing… nothing.

I’ve studied statistics from many author websites: new authors, established authors, NYT bestsellers. I’ve watched how their websites grow over time. It is a lot of fun to go back over the history of a long blog, watching how the author experimented, played, and learned how to turn their digital space into something amazing.

Content is king.

When we talk about physical real estate, we say, “Location, location, location…” because location makes a huge difference in the value of a property.

With digital real estate, content is everything. Okay, so I’ve seen some people arguing this point, so let me say it this way: giving something of value is the key to success. Yep, it’s the same as we say about everything. Site visitors want to know “What’s in it for me?”

If there isn’t anything there for them, they don’t care.

“So, great! All I need to do is put stuff on my blog and it’ll work!”

No. Sorry. It is more complicated than that. Because it isn’t just content. It is useful content that people want.

This principle is so important that Google even has an algorithm named after it.

If your content is useful, you get rewarded by search engines and content aggregators*. Not useful? You get buried.

*Content aggregators, news aggregators, or news readers are apps that collect and display articles, blogs, podcasts, and other information. Content aggregators are a great way for entertainers to be discovered. Examples: Google News, Flipboard, Apple News, Smart News, and Feedly. Using tools like these is a great way to build a curated information source that will create a custom set of articles for you to read each day.

Entertainment has value.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it is important to remember: we’re in the entertainment industry. So “useful” for us means entertaining.

Write fantastic entertaining content on your website, and people will flock to it. Right? Maybe. I’ve seen some amazing growth with this method, but I’ve seen many people post once or twice and then stop. Why?

“It didn’t work for me.”

That’s usually the point at which I start screaming silently. (Because screaming loudly at clients is considered rude.)

Here’s the truth: one or two posts won’t do it.

In my years of teaching and coaching writers, I’ve only seen one person who went nearly viral with their first post. Their second post was fairly normal, and they didn’t post again. (Imagine me crying at the lost opportunity for that incredibly talented writer!)

That’s not how the internet works.

Why? Because it takes a while to really start connecting with your true fans. Most people don’t even know who their true fans ARE when they start their website. (What? You thought you were the only one who felt that way?)

I love looking at website statistics, because I can see when people start connecting and when things start getting shared around. Authors without stats often miss the early signs of growth entirely. My favorite moments are when authors tell me they want to stop, and then I show them the graph of people looking at their content.

Most authors start out with a long flat graph. They post and test content like it was pasta they are throwing at people’s social media walls. Sometimes something sticks. Most often, that sticky thing isn’t new, because it took a bit of time for people to find it. From my experience, I’d say most of the successful posts I’ve seen tend to be several months old. One of my most successful posts was years old before it was discovered.

Once an author realizes what their fans want, they start writing more of that, and you can watch the graph grow.

Some authors catch on really fast. Most take months or years.

Here are the hard numbers.

Neil Patel (a search engine optimization guru) compiled the analytics data of more than 1 million websites across different industries. (Entertainment is one of those industries, and the one we fit into.)

Of websites whose authors were writing consistent content each month:

  • Traffic increased 11.4% within the first 6 months
  • Another 9.58% traffic bump in months 6-12
  • The second year saw a 49.4% boost over Year 1
  • Year 3 was up 30.7% over Year 2
  • Year 4 grew another 13.5%

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm