Canva’s blog, Design School, was successful when I joined the team. Within 60 days of its November 8, 2014 launch, it was getting 269,714 visits.
The problem was that the number wasn’t growing. At the start of February 2015, Canva began a new strategy that in 60 days would grow the visits to 800,000.
We ran a bunch of experiments to find that key driver of growth – coupled with several adjustments to our mindset. Here’s what we learned from our journey:
1. All wheels are round for a reason
Let me paint a picture of our blog. It was founded with the vision to become a place where anyone could come to learn about design and included interesting articles, an interactive tutorial series, and an education portal. Our aim was to fill a gap in the market where design was being taught only to design professionals.
Our first thought was to provide interesting tutorial-based articles based around our product, which is an easy-to-use design platform.
If we only did tutorial content, we would have made a similar mistake that many people do – writing about what you find interesting. You’re the expert on the subject, right?
Wrong. Coming up with the best content is about finding an intersection of your passion and your audience’s interests. Provide content that would interest everyone in your industry (in our case, design), not just content relevant to your niche or product. (Note: We never stopped creating tutorials, we just added a greater variety of content.)
How can you do it? The best way to find that intersection is to study your competitors. I use tools like BuzzSumo to find what type of content has already performed well. Much has been written about this so I won’t repeat it.
The only point I want to hit home is this: If your blog is struggling to get readers, don’t start off writing “creative” posts about topics you think will be interesting.
Improve on the topics in articles written by your competitors, build your audience, then pursue more interesting stuff.
2. Social strategy is not your social profiles
Want to boost your traffic from social media? Don’t focus on your Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, Pinterest, or any other social platform out there.
If you have a small blog and are struggling to gain traction, don’t even worry about having any of these. First, focus on growing your blog’s audience.
I see this mistake made so often, it needs to be clarified: Your social following is the result of your audience, not the cause. Look at every individual or company that has a large social following.
They all have a large audience outside of any one platform. They have a brand. They do interesting things. That’s why people follow them. So focus on your work first, then your social strategy.
How do I know this? Because we tried it in Canva. Here’s our traffic from social:
A 160% jump in traffic in 60 days. And here’s the thing: We didn’t do anything different on our social profiles. What we did change was our content.
And look at this screenshot of a BuzzSumo report of Copyblogger’s social shares:
Copyblogger deleted its Facebook page last year. Yet, it still managed to gain hundreds of social shares from its blog.
If you’re thinking: “Wait a minute. If they can’t follow me on (insert social platform here), how am I going to grow my audience?” Stop now.
What you need to do is focus on one platform that performs well for you. I always recommend email. We all know the importance of email subscriptions so I won’t belabor the point here.
3. It’s not about going viral
We had one post that went viral days after implementing the new strategy. The post accumulated more than 60,000 shares.
It was an awesome feeling. But that’s about it. Since we’re not in the ad business, it didn’t mean anything to us, business-wise. Sure, a few hundred people signed up after reading the post, but that occurred with our other posts that didn’t go viral.
Going viral has a lot to do with luck. And luck is not scalable.
What really kept us going is that our average posts now consistently generate higher traffic and shares than they used to do. That’s not luck.
You know your strategy works when that happens.
When you change your focus from “going viral” to “consistently doing better,” you begin to do different things. For us, it means systematically testing elements instead of trying to recreate past glories.
4. Manage your blog like a product
What do you focus on improving when it comes to your product? It could be:
- Number of sales
- Size of each sale
- Number of repeat buyers or retention rate
If you’re savvy, you would look at:
- Which channel is the most profitable
- How many people refer a friend and how you can increase that number
- What factors cause people to spend more
Few companies take the same approach to evaluate their blog – almost as if the blog is something to have but not something on which they should spend too much time. When you treat your blog like you do a product, the benefits will be greater.
5. Don’t post until you reach a certain standard
Really, there’s no need to update your blog for the sake of keeping it updated.
If you’re going to post anything, make sure it’s up to a certain standard. This doesn’t mean you should be a perfectionist, but your post should satisfy your readers’ needs. If there’s an analogy for this, it’s this:
Your blog is not a working factory where you expose readers to parts until the product is complete. It’s a place where you provide a quality product no matter the size or scope. What standard should you strive for?
What do you want the blog to be when it grows up? That’s your model.
Identify the best-performing post to help the process. Print it and stick it on your wall. Every time, before you hit the publish button, ask yourself: Is what I’m about to publish as good as our best-performing post?
6. Credibility matters
People with a background and history on a topic almost always produce the best content.
Yes, many “experts” have done nothing but watch a couple documentaries and attend Google University before they began blogging about food and health – and have become famous.
But for every one of these you see interviewed on television, there are millions of other “experts” who never made it. It’s not because they didn’t write well. It’s because too many people are just like them – spouting off on subjects without having any real-world experience.
So what grants someone credibility?
- Qualifications: If you’re a neurologist, you’re uniquely qualified to write about neurology. Someone who has earned a degree or has been granted professional credentials is qualified to write on that subject.
- Experience: If you’ve built a business, you’re uniquely qualified to write about the challenges of building a business. Experience comes from doing the thing about which you’re writing – the more work you’ve done on the subject, the more qualified you are.
If your blog doesn’t have a writer with the qualifications or experience on the subject, interview a person who does and learn.
This is why at Canva we don’t hire writers, we hire designers who write.
7. Use more visuals
In the past, our blog posts had one feature image and maybe one to two other images.
One of our biggest aha moments was when we increased the number of images in our posts. All the metrics started rising – time on site increased, more people scrolled to the end, the bounce rate tumbled, the number of shares increased, and as a result, traffic exploded.
For example, here is our traffic from Pinterest (62.5% jump):
We didn’t do anything differently on Pinterest’s platform. What we did was give our readers more things to pin from our blog.
They previously pinned our feature image. Now, they pin five, 10, or even 20 images from a single post. Their followers would see all 20 new pins instead of one, and this increased the likelihood that those followers would click through to our blog and repeat the process.
And you know what? It doesn’t work only with Pinterest. Here’s our Twitter traffic (106% jump):
The spike was due to an event, but aside from that, our traffic has consistently been higher since we added more visuals.
If you’re worried about not having the resources to create more images for your blog, you shouldn’t be.
Using templates is an effective way to produce a high quantity of professional graphics without having to spend much time on the task. Or, source images that already exist on the web. The creators of these images will appreciate being featured in your blog, so make sure you link and reference correctly.
So there you go, seven lessons we learned growing our blog to 800,000 visits in 60 days.
Many of these lessons look obvious to us now, but it was anything but when we started. We also learned a lot since then and are still learning. In fact, we are making mistakes as we implement this new strategy. But isn’t that a comforting thought? You don’t need to do everything right to be successful.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute