The importance of search for Second Life blogs
“How do I get more traffic to my Second Life blog?” That’s the number one burning question I heard when I asked people what they wanted to know about Second Life blog marketing. Well, you asked! In this post, I’ll share the key difference I’ve observed between the most popular Second Life blogs, and the multitude of blogs that receive considerably less traffic.
The answer to the traffic question is so complex and lengthy it could fill a book (and has). But we have to start somewhere. This post is a lengthy introduction to the subject – but by the end of it – you will no longer need to ask why your blog isn’t as popular as the ones everyone knows about. You will know why. Knowing how to bridge the gap, however, is another matter. Still, if you’re serious about increasing your blog traffic; read on.
So where does your blog traffic come from? There are mainly five channels from where you’ll receive visitors:
- Search: A view, or visit, is allocated to the search channel when the visitor originated from clicking on a link to your website that appeared on a search engine result page (SERP) – (e.g. Google). If your visit to this blog post originated from finding this post on a search engine result page, then your visit is tagged as search. WordPress calls this ‘Search Engines’ in your Stats. To the best of my knowledge, blogger doesn’t separate them out.
- Referral: A view or visit is a referral if your visitor lands on your post after clicking on a link to it from another website. For example, if you clicked a link from my blog to get here, your visit to this post counts as a referral from ‘canarybeck.com’. Don’t confuse ‘Referral’ with the term ‘Referrers’ or ‘Referring Sites’, which is what WordPress and Blogger use for all of your channels in your Stats.
- Direct: A direct visitor lands on your post after typing your domain name directly into their browser or search engine URL bar. For example, if you typed ‘slbloggersupport.com’ into your browser locator bar, your visit to this site will be attributed to the direct channel. WordPress and Blogger don’t share data for this channel with you unfortunately.
- Social: A visitor or view is tagged as social if they land on your post by following a link to your post from a social media property like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Plurk. For example, if you found this post shared on Twitter, clicked on the link and ended here, your visit is counted as social. WordPress and Blogger will specifically tell you which social site referred visitors in your Stats.
- Email: A visitor lands from clicking on your link inside an email message. Let’s say you subscribe to SLBlogger Support by email and received a message that this post was published. If you clicked the link in that message and arrived here, your visit qualifies as being from the email channel.
However you got here – thanks for coming! Now, let’s get into some numbers.
Let’s try an exercise: Open up your blog statistics. If you use WordPress, you’ll find it in the side panel of your Dashboard labelled as Stats. Once you’ve navigated to the panel, scroll down until you see the boxed labelled ‘Referrers’. If you use Blogger, then the chart you’re looking for will be under Stats > Traffic sources > Referring Sites.
This is what the table looks like in Blogspot (shared with me by an SL blogger who prefers her stats to stay private). Incidentally, you can see that her biggest traffic drivers are Google.com, followed closely by Google.de and Google.fr in the top 10.
As an example with some more detail, let me show you what SL Blogger Support’s ‘Referrers’ table looks like for 2014.
Search is important in growing traffic for your Second Life blog
First, let me declare a bias – albeit an educated one. I write my blog posts for people first, but am mindful of what search engines use to gauge the quality of my posts relative to keyword phrase searches. A large part of my real life work has me digging deep into the analytics of large commercial websites. For these sites, search tends to account for the largest share of traffic (often more than 50%). It’s very common, and studies of the source of millions of website visit acquisitions back me up on this: Search matters.
As you can see, Search Engines account for the largest single share of SL Blogger Support’s views (20%) – most of it from Google. This is what we refer to as the head of Referrers. Much of the remaining 80% of views of SL Blogger Support can be attributed to many smaller sources like social media (Facebook and Plurk being significant, with Twitter and Google+ being notably absent from the top 10). This is what’s referred to as the body of Referrers. This is only a table of the top 10 referrers; open up ‘View All’ and you’ll see a multitude of other sources that make up the rest of the views. This is what we refer to – in the business – as the long tail (more on this later).
Is this common? Do search engines really serve such a big proportion of traffic to personal Second Life blogs? Let me show you my stats as further evidence that search really does matter for Second Life blogs.
If you look at the stats for my blog, you’ll see that I also get my largest share of visits (29%) from Search Engines as well (my head sources). The ‘big three’ social media properties follow in proportion (accounting for less than 5% of my views – which is a tad depressing if I’m honest – but I’m pretty lousy at social media so I guess I get what I deserve). Social is followed by referrals and feeds – for which I’m grateful. Rounding out the edge of the top 10 Referrers is SL Blogger Support – which is one of the reasons I put a effort into guest posts for SL Blogger Support. These sites made up the body of my sources in 2014. If I showed you ‘View All’, you would again see the familiar head, body, and long tail pattern, which is a seminal concept in marketing, and specifically online marketing.
I would expect that my blog would get a reasonable amount of search traffic, seeing as how I write posts while considering search as a source. I have a niche. I post – on average – about 2 posts a week. I write lengthy posts that tend to packed with keywords in the right places. I have a decent number of inbound links from various sources for which I’m grateful (although nowhere near as many as I’d like).
Where established Second Life blogs get their traffic
But does my experience mirror that of other experienced Second Life bloggers? I asked some popular Second Life bloggers about their traffic source proportions with, and this is what they said:
New World Notes is a news publication fuelled mainly by Hamlet Au and Janine Hawkins. About 35% of their views comes from search traffic (at least via desktop/laptop) and probably more via mobile. This site is one of the biggest Second Life blog by numbers of views (about 180,000 per month). There are clear reasons why this site is so popular: when it comes to SL blogs. First, it’s got a really long-standing reputation a very short and memorable name (accounting for 43% direct traffic). it’s also ancient by SL standards – publishing since 2003. Google puts a lot of trust in domains that have stood the test of time and have a massive amount of content behind them. It’s also usually first with breaking news about Second Life, and often is beneficiary to exclusive content. Hamlet and Janine publish so routinely you could set your watch to it. The posts are typically at least 300 words in length, in depth, well-researched, and they cover broader subjects like video games and virtual reality – all of which bring in the search visits. Their social footprint is also huge, bringing 12% of their visits. Most importantly, I’d say, are the number of inbound links. If my counts are to be believed (I get them from the industry standard search intelligence tools from SEOMoz), this site has over 20,000 inbound links from over 300 different domains. Getting cited on New World Notes is a really big deal for any Second Life blogger; one feature on this blog will open your audience a great deal. I’ve been fortunate to get about six separate citations, and they are now my biggest referer this year to date, after search.
Inara Pey, is a Second Life journalist and blogger behind Living in a Modem World. She gets 26% of her visits from search. Again, she has a relatively high profile as a blogger – although her domain name isn’t homonymous – which might suggest why she might not get as much direct traffic as a proportion of visits as Strawberry Singh (this is speculative, because we didn’t discuss it specifically). She also has a good social media footprint, which accounts for about 23% of her visits. Inara is well-known for her frequency of posts (at least daily, if not more than once a day). Not only are they frequent, but they’re well researched, balanced, and well-written posts, rich in keywords and well titled, tagged and documented. Furthermore, what sets Inara’s blog apart from the rest is the sheer number of inbound links she has to her blog with very high search equity (I counted them – and yeah, it’s huge, but only about a third as many as New World Notes).
Strawberry Singh blogs about a variety of subjects (including a fair share of fashion) and gets about 26% of visits from search. Most of us know Berry’s blog – she’s an engaging writer, an excellent photographer, and an influential blogger. She has one of the biggest social media footprints (which accounts for 11% of her traffic – which is very big by the way) in Second Life. She also has a very recognisable – and homonymous – domain name (which would account in part for her receiving a higher proportion of Direct visits – a whopping 47% of her traffic). That is a very good example of the pulling power of a brand name – and I’d say that is what accounts for her head content. She has a lot of inbound links too, but not as many as Inara, and across fewer domains.
Caitlin Tobias, Second Life explorer and blogger of Cait’s World, gets 6.5% of her views from Search Engines (in the thousands), but they are still her biggest single source of traffic – making it her head source. We at SL Blogger Support are very familiar with Caity’s excellent social media posts, and her site is an example of the merging of great photography with a superb ability to find the best Second Life locations. Caity sees the body of her traffic come from social media (2%), and what I imagine would be a thick and long tail of smaller, more incidental referrers; which means: A lot of varied inbound links. I counted, and my suspicions were right, she has a lot (more than Berry). The other reason I think she can get a lot of traffic with relatively less search traffic, is because she has a niche (locations). Again, this is one of the reasons I push niching so much – it makes everything easier. Something I would suggest to her, if I were asked to help her improve her search traffic, is to choose a theme that shows more text on her homepage. Her chosen theme (WordPress premium theme Simfo) only shows images and titles. Homepages are critical, and a theme that displayed at least one post’s worth of text (or even better, excerpts of her posts) on the front page would likely be more easily found by search engines.
Huckleberry Hax, Second Life novelist and blogger at What the Huck? has blogged since 2007 with an average of just under one post a week for the past 4 years. Still, he only gets 5% of his traffic from search (which, to be fair, is still in the thousands). Again, it’s not a massive proportion on its own, but it is still his biggest individual referer. Why the lower proportion? Several reasons: Huck has been doing a lot of publishing offline, and I suspect gets a lot of visits from direct searches and inworld groups. Huck doesn’t publish as often as he might, because he’s often too busy writing magazine articles and books. Still, he’s one of the best writers in Second Life – of both fiction and non-fiction alike.
What about new bloggers? Does search work for them?
All of the above are established Second Life bloggers that have been publishing for years. All of them write an average of at least 300 words per post. All of them write often (ranging from twice a day to once a week). All of them are capable photographers and write quality posts. When I look at new bloggers (those under a year old) I notice a different pattern – with a few exceptions:
Hellisium Resident has written a fantasy fashion blog called Monster Freak Show for the past 4 months. He sees only 2% of his traffic come from Google (about 100), with most instead coming from Facebook and a Second Life Fantasy Feed. Hellisium has been smart in choosing a niche (which appears to be fantasy role play fashion). He’s got some cool images and is very diligent with his credits. If he sticks with it, he could attract many long tail search views from people searching for the specificity he offers. Averaging about 4 posts a week, he’s a prolific, early-stage blogger who clearly has the bug. With that said, if Hellisium wants to generate more traffic from search engines, he’ll need to write more words in his posts, beyond only titles and credits. An about me page would also help. Further, the title of his blog: Ｆｒｅａｋ Ｓｈｏｗ, while in theme, isn’t going to help him with search engines at all. That particular word on its own, especially with all the spaces, is almost invisible to search engines. Better would be to title it “Monster Freakshow: Second Life Fantasy Roleplay Fashion”. Search engines aren’t that smart. They need to read titles of blogs to understand what the blog is about – the more specific and clear the title, the better they can index it.
AnnaDarling Gibby writes a new fashion blog called Second Eyedentity that she launched in March this year. She gets 7% of her blog traffic from search – which is really good for a new blog! It’s not a huge amount of absolute traffic from search (double digits), but it’s not a bad start. She has some really good pictures too, which I assume accounts for why Flickr is her second biggest traffic source. She’s also done a reasonable job in titling her blog what it is: “Second eyedentity | SL Fashion Blog”, which can really help in the early days to get a foothold with the search engines. She’s posting frequently, which is good. However, Anna is in a very competitive sector (fashion), and attractive pictures with credits may not be enough to cut through the clutter of the SL blogsphere. If she wants to improve her traffic, I’d advise her to write more words in her posts, because search engines can only read words, not images (no matter how good the images are). I’d also recommend choosing a niche within fashion, so she can further carve out long tail searches.
Lici Li publishes a blog called Time and Lace. She gets only 4% of her traffic from search engines (double digits again). Again, Lici’s images are good. She has a generous blogroll and shares links to many blogs she follows. Good on her too, for writing an about me page – this can be a good place to pack some keywords, which she does when she writes “Time and Lace is a fantasy style fashion blog.” I’d add part of that phrase to the blog title too, which is more niche than “Time and Lace | Second Life Fashion Blog”. If she wants to increase her traffic, I’d recommend writing more words in her posts (250 to 350 per post is enough to start with). I’d also suggest writing titles that contain more keywords. I know that single word titles are cool and what not, but they don’t do much for traffic.
TinLiz Winterstorm publishes What a Beautiful Mess, which she started in October 2014. Her blog gets 6% of her traffic from search. She’s publishing good quality fashion posts daily. Apart from posting daily, she also writes about 200-300 words per post, and that will surely help drive her traffic up from search engines. Which is great, because even more people will see her lovely images, which she clearly takes great care in composing. She also does a great job in sharing credits – which is of course basic in the fashion world (and place credits too – which isn’t basic at all!) And, she’s got a good little about page. I’d like to see her use keywords in her blog and post titles a bit, but apart from that, I liked reviewing her blog so much, I followed it.
Lilli Halsey publishes A Digital Dreamer – a blog she’s been authoring since March 2015. She only gets 2% of her visitors from search. One reason this might be, I’m afraid to say, is her choice of theme (WordPress’s Cubic). While attractive to look at, image-oriented themes that don’t offer much text on a homepage simply won’t attract search engines. Again, search engines don’t care about images (apart from the metadata they can get from them – filename, alt tags, descriptions, etc.) There are many reasons this is unfortunate, because her posts are really good! Loaded with high quality pictures and about 100 words each – often written as micro-fictional stories – she’s got the fundamentals of what could be a really good fantasy role play fashion blog, if only more people can find it. I suggest she changes her theme to something that has text excerpts from her blog posts and that she write longer posts.
If you want to see a new blog with some amazing photography, Rainbow Mubble’s Rainbow Sunday will surely not disappoint! She’s getting 4.5% of her views from search, and it’s probably because she’s writing at least 200 to 300 words in every post. I’m not a big fantasy-lover (although it is a good niche) – but her posts are little gems of inspiration that I know most bloggers will enjoy. As I was reviewing it, I went to click the follow button and realised that I was already following it! Figures – here’s an up-and-coming blogger to watch.
Krystal Meriadoc writes Krystal Klear Dreams, where she gets 1% of her views from search engines. Krystal produces some pretty images and comprehensive credits. She took a bit of a break from blogging before April and is back it, so her blog is only really only a month’s worth of posts so far, despite being a year since she started it. This is a good example of how the search engines will punish your blog if they don’t see steady content updates. Further, it’s going to be tough for her to make a mark in a crowded field like fashion, when most of her posts are only a couple of sentences long (excluding credits). If she wants to increase her traffic, my unsolicited advice to Krystal is to start writing more words per post, and avoid taking further big breaks. Also, her blog title should be shorter (Google will only read the first 60 characters including spaces), and contain more keywords related to Second Life Fashion. Oh, and don’t forget to pick a niche.
(Note: if you submitted a response to my query about your stats and don’t see your blog reviewed here; I’m sorry, but I needed to publish before I received your notecard. I’ll aim to review your blog in future posts.)
Search isn’t everything, but understanding and exploiting search will build your blog traffic
I’m sure you’re beginning to see a pattern here. Search tends to be the head of traffic for the biggest Second Life blogs, and relatively less significant for smaller Second Life blogs.
For bigger blogs, the body of traffic tends to be social media and some key referrers that share content, write reply posts, or refer as a source.
The long tail of traffic tends to be all those other referrals that you may not know too much about, but still supply a large proportion of traffic.
If your blog is more established with a reasonable amount of visitors per year (at least 1000), then your biggest single source of traffic is likely to be search as well.
If your blog is relatively new, you’ll be mainly getting traffic from friends (which often shows up as Social) and referrals. Search, as a traffic source, is typically under tapped – and this is your opportunity.
If you have blogged for a long time and/or a recognisable name among bloggers (like the examples I shared above), then you might be able to edge out search with direct traffic. Direct traffic, unfortunately, isn’t well reported by the free stats packages that come with your blogs – but they are by more robust packages like Google Analytics.
The problem with relying on direct traffic is that it takes a long time to build a name for yourself – and by long I mean years. Second, it really helps if your name is the same as your URL, and ideally – your own domain name (without the WordPress or Blogspot domain). Of course, this isn’t necessary to have a popular blog (as many examples would show), but it helps to give people only one thing to remember.
By the time you get to where everything you publish is flocked to and shared by a tonne of people just because you wrote it, you can forget about search. By then however, your good habits will likely be so ingrained that search engines will like your stuff anyway, because you’re just a good, trustworthy, and respected blogger.
As most seasoned bloggers know, one’s network of friends and social media reach can only go so far, or grows relatively slowly over time. If you really want more traffic, the search engines have to find you.
Search engine optimisation is a lot of things: Content length. Niche keyword phrases. Keyword density. Tags and formatting. Outbound links. SERP descriptions. Spelling and grammar. Click-through rate. Page load speed. Mobile-friendliness.
The biggest factor in search popularity that I’ve observed, however, is the number of inbound links your blog receives. This factor not only influences your search traffic (because Google considers your site more trustworthy, so it ranks you higher for the same keywords your competitors choose), it increases your referral traffic (because people find links to your blog everywhere), and it stimulates even more link building, because people like to link to trusted sources that are already linked. Getting linked, however, requires really good blogging.
Search is important, but it isn’t everything. If you turn the examples of the bigger blogs I cite on their heads, SL Blogger Support gets 80% of its traffic from sources other than search, I get about 70%, Berry and Inara 74%, and Caity about 94%. So the body and the long tail are also very important.
Also, just because a source generates a lot of traffic, doesn’t mean that the traffic is useful for your blog. I could write about sex for a month straight and I know I’d get my numbers way up, but that’s not how I want to do it.
But just think, what if you could better exploit the opportunity that search gives to improve your traffic so that it would account for thousands of more visits like it does for the bigger blogs out there? If you want your blog to get more traffic, you have to consider generating more traffic from search.
At the beginning of this post, I told you I’d answer what the difference is between the biggest Second Life blogs and the little ones. Now you know. But knowing the difference is one thing, crossing that gap is another matter entirely. Climbing to the top of the mountain isn’t for everyone, but if you’d like to enjoy a better view than you now have, you will want to read my future posts.
In my next post, I’ll share some very simple tips to help you get your posts and blogs to be more search-engine friendly, without needing a plugin, or an expert to help you, or feel like you are writing for machines.
Thanks to all noted above that were kind enough to share their statistics with me.