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17+ Free Ways to Get More Traffic to Your Content

Maybe your content promotion budget’s been slashed. Maybe you never had one. Maybe you just want to give every content piece – blog, article, e-book, or video – the best chance to perform before deciding which ones to invest any of your paid promotion budget in.

Whatever the reason, use this resource to help your audience find your content without spending much more than time.

Remember, you’ll likely revisit many of these items throughout the content’s life cycle because the publishing process is a cycle of planning, creating, promoting, measuring, and optimizing.

Plan for traffic

If you want eyes (or ears) on your work, before you create it think about how to help people find it. It’s easy to relegate traffic plans to the promoting stage of the cycle, but that delay risks promotion becoming an afterthought.

In the planning stage, decide where and how you’ll get people to the content. At this point, most of the work involves SEO, though your overall plan likely will use some combination of SEO, social promotion, email alerts and newsletters, personal outreach, and channels.

Content successful for search engines (at least in theory) meets the information needs of people conducting the searches. Sure, not every piece is designed to be a search magnet. But figuring out how your content can meet your audience’s information needs will likely help in email and social promotion too.

Consider search intent

One of the most important steps in the planning stage is to put yourself in your reader’s shoes. What questions do they have about the topic you’re planning to cover? How would they phrase the questions? What kind of content are they looking for (informational, transactional, or navigational)?

Ann Smarty sums up the idea neatly in Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Search Intent Optimization:

Search intent optimization is all about giving the best answer exactly the way your target customer needs it. In other words, it’s about meeting your customers’ immediate needs and winning their hearts.

To put this idea into action, spend a few minutes brainstorming on the questions you think people have so the content creator (you or someone on your team) can address them.

You don’t have to rely on guesses and intuition. Ann’s article explains how to find clues by looking at Google search results on the topics you’re likely to use.

One suggestion is to explore the SERP elements for a given word or phrase. Say you’ve developed an editorial plan for a garden supply company that includes a blog post on crabgrass. Pop the term into Google, then study the results page for hints as to what people searching on the term crabgrass might be looking for. Let’s explore how that looks:

Image and video carousels

From the names of the videos in the carousel near the top of the page, you can tell that people searching for crabgrass are trying to figure out what it looks like and how to get rid of it. Google also thinks people are interested in video content around this term.

People also ask, related searches, and autosuggest

Just below the video results are more clues in the “people also ask” box:

  • What kills crabgrass not grass?
  • What’s wrong with crabgrass?
  • Will vinegar kill crabgrass?
  • What causes crabgrass?

Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of the SERP page to check the “searches related to” area for more questions (aka ideas for answers to include in your content).

One of the easiest clues about what people search for is one of the easiest to overlook: autosuggest. As you type a question or search term, Google suggests what you may be looking for.

TIP: Use the SERP clues to plan sections of your content or add them to your idea file for future related pieces. That way, you’re setting up your content to be found before it’s even written.

Keyword research

Studying SERPs for terms relevant to your content should give you plenty of ideas about what your audience is wondering. Keyword research helps you refine the ideas and understand what content already ranks for these topics (in other words, how much competition you’ll have), estimated volume of search, related keywords, click-through rate, and more.

Structure content and build relationships for backlinks and social promotion

Remember the point of all this SEO work is to get traffic to your site. Yes, you need people to click on your content from the SERPs (matching your content to their search intent helps there). But if your content isn’t ranking well, your chances of getting people to click plummet.

Backlinks to your content are an important ranking factor. Of course, you can’t earn backlinks until the piece is live, but you can plan the content to be a backlink magnet.

One of the best ways we’ve found to do this is to conduct and plan content around original research. CMI blogs about our original research are our top link earners. (You can see how I dug into our data to figure this out in this article.)

Another way to create content for backlink success is to feature interviews with experts in your field. This helps make your post authoritative and almost guarantees that the post will be shared (i.e., promoted by the quoted experts). It’s a win-win approach.

This roundup of content marketing predictions earned the second highest number of backlinks of any CMI article in the past year. (The post about the 2020 B2B original research earned the most backlinks.)

Susan Moeller offers more suggestions on how to set up your content for traffic in her post How to Make an Amplification Strategy With Shares AND Backlinks.

Spend some time on the relationship front, too. People who know and think favorably about you are more likely to link to your work. Interact organically with writers, editors, influencers, and industry figures to develop a relationship before you want them to link to your content, advises Domenica D’Ottavio in this post about developing relationships on Twitter. Follow them, share and “like” their content, and reply to them. That way, they’re more likely to pay attention to content you create and share.

During creation

Incorporate the work from the planning stage into your content brief (if you’re assigning) or the content itself (if you’re the creator). Then, make sure to do the following as you create, edit, and prepare the content for publishing.

Optimize your content for search

Apply the research you did during the planning stage to your content. You’ve probably read dozens of articles on how to do this – we’ve certainly run our share. So, I’ll just include this quick overview and offer a few handy resources.

Incorporate the key terms, phrases, and questions into each of these elements:

Remember to optimize titles and descriptions for videos too.

Add links to related and best performing posts

Make sure to spread the traffic love from one post to another on your site through internal linking. Readers will stay on your site to read, listen to, or watch the related content.

The simplest way to do this is to link text phrases within a post to an article (or video) that helps the reader learn more.

Another way is to add a callout box (as we do with the Handpicked Related Content in this article). These more visible headlines and links give readers a clearer picture of what they’ll get if they click through to the article. You can do something similar or if your site is set up for it, engage an automated related-reading feature. 

TIP: Keep the reader’s interest in mind. Include links that help a reader explore a topic more thoroughly. Don’t link to articles just to meet some guideline for the optimal number of internal links within an article. If it’s not related, leave it out.

Add links to your new post from older, high-traffic blog posts

Look for high-traffic articles or pages on your site related to the content you’re creating. Write a reminder to yourself or instructions for your production team to add a link to the new content (once it’s live) from that high-traffic page.

For example, as I wrote this post, I knew a related 2019 article by Jodi Harris gets healthy traffic: How to Create a Better Distribution Plan to Get Your Content Seen. I added a note in my draft asking the blog production team to insert a link to this article from Jodi’s article.

Update high-traffic site pages

Add posts to relevant site pages that get a lot of traffic, too (not just blog posts).

Every time we prepare a new research report or e-book, we send our web team instructions on how to update our research or original CMI e-books pages with the new content. Recently, we created a COVID-19 content marketing resources page, and we update it when we publish new topical blog posts.

Placing the posts on these site pages helps direct people who are exploring the site via the navigation menu (and it makes it easier for those visitors to find the latest resources).

This approach works for video, too. If you want to get people to watch something, embed it on a high-traffic page. Some of our most watched videos are embedded on one of our most visited pages: What is Content Marketing?

Add Click to Tweet

I’m sure you’ve seen Click to Tweet elements in many articles on the web (including this one). CTT makes it easy for your readers to quickly, ahem, tweet about your content – you’ve essentially done the work for them (they can edit or customize the suggested tweet before posting). Ideally, their use will send traffic to the post from people who see it in their Twitter feed.

Here’s a quick overview of the guidelines and process we follow:

  • Add three to five CTTs during the editing stage.
  • Include a CTT for each person quoted in articles with multiple contributors (i.e., crowdsource content). We use Better Click to Tweet, but there are several options available.
  • Limit the text to less than 200 characters. Many plug-ins (and Twitter) allow more, but we find that longer tweets are less readable, at least in our design.
  • Include relevant hashtags and handles of the article’s author or the person quoted.
  • Include the brand handle (@CMIContent) to make it easier for our community manager, Monina Wagner, to quickly see and respond to social interactions.
  • Add only at the end of paragraphs or sections to avoid interrupting a thought within the article.
Use @WordPress plugin #BetterClicktoTweet to make it easy to share your #blog post, says @KMoutsos via @cmicontent. #tools Click To Tweet

Once you hit ‘publish’

The planning and creating stages set up your content for traffic success. But you’re not done once you hit “publish.” Now you shift into outreach mode, activating your email subscribers, social channels, colleagues, and contributors.

Include your content in email alerts and newsletters

If you’ve done the work to build a subscriber list, you have an audience waiting to be invited to view your content. Craft a great headline, image, and excerpt and send it out. (Note: The email headline doesn’t have to be the same as the one used for the original content.)

Send personal notes to writers

CMI Blog and Community Manager Lisa Dougherty sends an email to the authors about a week before their article goes live. Her note serves a couple of purposes:

  • The writer can review the article before publication and make any last-minute corrections.
  • The writer can promote the content on or after the go-live date.

Here’s an example:

But that’s not the only correspondence. Lisa emails the writer the first time someone comments on the post. It helps make sure commenters get a response and it’s a handy reminder to the author that the post is live (and ready to be shared).

Send suggested tweets to other contributors and colleagues

If you quote people in your content, let them know the article is live and include a pre-written tweet or other social post to make it easy for them to share.

Also make it easy for colleagues to share. Post a set of social messages (and appropriately sized images) in your internal collaboration tools, send an email to your team or personal notes to those most likely to share. Here’s an example that was shared by Monina in Microsoft Teams.

You can automate some of this work with social amplification tools or set up email templates to save time. Lisa uses Outlook’s Quick Parts to make templates for emails that are sent repeatedly. Google Mail has a Lab that has a similar functionality called Canned Responses. Both tools can be customized easily.

TIP: If you email the team, include multiple message versions to avoid everyone posting the same thing.

Show appreciation with @ mentions on social

Remember to tag people mentioned in your content for every platform (not just Twitter).

For example, on LinkedIn, mention contributors by name with the @ symbol to increase post visibility. This example had 851 views for 15 minutes of Lisa’s time.

Mention the content in relevant communities

This technique can work as long as you approach it carefully. Some communities (including CMI’s LinkedIn group) frown on mentions just to promote content. Instead, contribute your content only when relevant and in context to the forum and posts. But make sure you understand what’s allowed (and appreciated) before you share any of your content.

Reddit and Quora are especially tricky. Read these two pieces before you jump in:

Link to an article or video in your email signature

Here’s an easy one:  Add a link to a content asset at the end of your email signature. Or add a thumbnail of a video with a link wherever it lives. You’ll be surprised how many people notice it.

Create social posts that encourage a click

A full rundown of social media strategy is beyond the scope of this article. If you’re looking for that kind of comprehensive advice, start with this article: How to Create a Strategic Social Media Plan [Template].

Since this article is specifically about getting traffic to content (rather than “likes,” shares, and comments on social), I’ll focus on suggestions related to getting that click. I’m sure you’ve noticed (as we have) that sharing isn’t the same as caring – I mean clicking.

How do you get people to leave those social walled gardens and head to your site when the platforms themselves try hard to keep you there?

Include a CTA

Basic but true, tell people what you want them to do. Want them to click the link to read more? Ask them to. Include instructions like “Read more,” “See more,” “Learn more.”

This is especially important on Instagram, where link clicking isn’t easy. If you have 10,000 followers, you can use the swipe-up feature on your stories. Here’s an example from a CMI Instagram story:

If you don’t have 10,000 followers, you can still use your Instagram posts to drive traffic to your content. You just have to direct your followers to click the link in your bio. Here’s an example that includes both the request and an explanation of how to do it:

Create a curiosity gap

Mention a few intriguing details in your social post, but don’t give away all the content. Here’s a great example from Dennis Shiao. Notice how he uses an unexpected analogy to pique interest and then points viewers (using words and an emoji) to the article to learn why the advice he’s mentioned makes sense:

Get the image right

Here, too, you want your image to get attention and be intriguing just enough to contribute to someone’s desire to click. Experiment to see what works for you – you don’t have to use the main image from the article or the same image for all platforms.

If your post is about research, maybe a quote or a chart showing an interesting finding would work better than, say, the cover of the report:

On another channel, a funny GIF might work better. Here are two examples from Dennis. Both promote events. Which one would you click on? The Elaine version got me right away.


Dennis, if you’re reading, let us know which worked better.

Show us your no-cost promo style

Do you think about traffic as you plan each content piece? Are you finding success with no-cost promotions? (I realize every step here involves someone’s time and time’s not cheap.) What should we add to this list? Let me know in the comments.

(Hat tip to Michele Linn, who put together an earlier list of no-cost traffic drivers. I drew from many of her examples in creating this version.)

All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute