2017 State of the Blogging Industry

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part 5: the audience

How bloggers grow their audience

Without an audience, you could write 1,000 blog posts a year and it would be a bit like that old saying, “if a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound?”

The answer is that it doesn’t matter. An audience is what allows a blog to become a business rather than a personal journal. In this section, we cover the ins and outs of how bloggers build an audience.

How much traffic does the average blog get each year?

This data shows what we would have assumed when we asked the question: professional bloggers get much more traffic, on average, than not-yet-professional bloggers. It’s important to note here that “users” is the number of unique visitors to a website during the past twelve months, as opposed to overall traffic numbers, which would be significantly higher.

56% of professional bloggers had at least 100,000 users on their sites during the previous twelve months, whereas just 18% of not-yet-professional bloggers had more than 100,000 users. This makes sense: the more individuals who visit your site, the more potential customers who are paying attention to your business. Without sufficient attention, it can be challenging to earn a full time living.

This data tells a simple story:

To grow your business, you also need to grow your traffic.

If you don’t want to grow your traffic, then you’ll need a different model for getting in front of new potential customers. This often means you should focus on direct outreach and sales, which requires you to have a high priced product or service to be able to make a living.

How many users visited your site over the past 12 months?

What is the best source of website traffic for blogs?

The number one way bloggers get that traffic varies between pros and not-yet-pros. Specifically, not-yet-pros are most likely to generate traffic through social media. 39% of not-yet-pros say that their number one source of traffic is social media, compared to 27% of pros.

Meanwhile, organic search is the number one source of blog traffic for professionals, with 52% of pros using organic search as their number one source compared to 28% of not-yet-pros. That means pros are 84% more likely to use have organic search as their top source of traffic.

#1 traffic source in the past 12 months

Search traffic has many factors that contribute to it, and Moz has put together one of the best guides on the internet to getting started with SEO. If you read that guide from end-to-end, you’ll have a great headstart on your competition for improving your search results and generating more traffic from your blogging efforts.

The number two source of traffic for pros (28%) and not-yet-pros (26%) alike is direct traffic. Direct traffic is a catch-all bucket that Google uses to attribute traffic when they don’t know how else to attribute it. If a user copies and pastes a link into their browser, visits your homepage by typing it into their browser directly, or somehow lands on your site without an attributable source, it lands in that direct bucket.

Of all the traffic sources for a blog, direct traffic is the least actionable for a blogger. You can’t do anything to change this because you don’t know where these people are coming from.

#2 traffic source in the past 12 months

Luckily, social traffic is the number two source of traffic for a nearly equal percentage of pros (27%) and not-yet-pros (26%). Social traffic is very much in your control, and you can get started with our guide to setting up a social media workflow and then turn your social media followers into email subscribers.

How much traffic does the average blog get during their most popular months?

The most and least popular months for pros and not-yet-pros were reflective of their overall traffic numbers. Using the mean to calculate the average, pros range from 102,377 users visiting their sites on their least popular months to 189,151 in their most popular months. That drops significantly when we use median instead, to make the range 8,619 (least popular) to 22,110 (most popular). The median is probably a better measure here, as half of all respondents have more traffic than that range and half have more. The mean is significantly affected by the bloggers with very large audiences, which skews the numbers.

On the not-yet-pro end of things, the mean range is 8,952 in the least popular months to 29,476 in the most popular months. When we switch to median, the least popular month is 250 users and the most popular is 1,245 users.

Over the past 12 months, how many users visited your site during your most and least popular month?

If you’re just getting started with your blog, the median average users is a great initial target to set. If you’re landing between 250 and 1,245 users reading your blog per month when you’re just getting started, then you’re doing pretty well. Over time, as you get more advanced and have goals of going pro, you want to see your traffic numbers increasing towards the pro median average users of between 8,619 and 22,110.

These are great milestones to set for yourself and give you a valuable set of baseline metrics to compare your audience growth to the rest of the industry. With that said, remember that traffic only matters if it helps you reach your business goals. At the end of the day, traffic is just a vanity metric.

What strategies do bloggers use to grow their audience?

Here’s the short version on strategies for growing an audience: almost everyone uses social media, many (but not enough) people use email marketing, and other strategies are much less popular.

91% of pros and 90% of not-yet-pros use social media to grow their audience. Compare that to 88% of pros and 64% of not-yet-pros who use social media. Not-yet-pros are 40% more likely to use social media than email marketing to grow their audience, while pros are 4% more likely to use social over email.

Guest posting, paid advertising, and republishing are all in use. 26% of all bloggers use guest posting as a strategy for growing their audience, with pros and not-yet-pros being close to equal. 32% of pros use paid advertising compared to just 16% of not-yet-pros. Finally, 17% of all bloggers use republishing, with pros being slightly more likely to use this as a strategy.

Let’s break down each of these strategies individually to learn more.

What strategies do you use to grow your audience?

How do bloggers use social media to grow their audience?

Social media is the most preferred method for growing an audience across all bloggers, but we all know social media can mean very different things to different people. Here are the networks bloggers are using most.

Which social media networks do you use to promote your blog posts?

We can see that the popularity of networks is the exact same amongst pros and not-yet-pros, with Twitter and Facebook being far and away the most popular. The small difference in order of popularity is that pros prefer LinkedIn over Google+, whereas not-yet-pros are the opposite.

92% of pros and 86% of not-yet-pros use Facebook to promote their blog posts; 83% of pros and 77% of not-yet-pros use Twitter. Pinterest and Instagram are in a clear second tier of popularity. 48% of both pros and not-yet-pros use Pinterest to promote their blog posts; 44% of pros and 47% of not-yet-pros use Instagram.

These stats are unsurprising in that they mirror the relative popularity of these social networks around the world. Facebook and Twitter have the largest user bases, with the other platforms trailing behind in a similar way to the graph to the right.

Once you’re up and running with social media, you’ll have to decide how many times to share a given piece of content across your networks. Here’s what other bloggers are doing.

We see that pros are slightly more aggressive with promoting their own content on social, averaging 8 social media posts for every blog post they publish, while not-yet-pros promote each post 6 times across their social networks.

You can use these numbers as a benchmark, but remember to do what’s right for your audience in the end. You want to find the sweet spot between letting your audience know about a new blog post and also not being so in their face that they stop following you altogether.

On average, how many times do you share a given post across all social networks?

How do bloggers use email marketing to grow their audience?

Like traffic numbers, email subscriber numbers skew much larger for pros than not-yet-pros. 57% of pros have at least 5,000 email subscribers compared to 10% of not-yet-pros. 69% of not-yet-pros have 1,000 email subscribers or less, compared to 11% of pros.

Based on this, we can say that pros are likely to have an email list of 5,000 subscribers or more and not-yet-pros are highly likely to have less than 1,000 email subscribers.

How many email subscribers did you have as of July 31, 2016?

If you’re looking for a good benchmark for how many people should be in your audience before you start trying to make a living, we’d say that 1,000 subscribers is a good initial target for launching your first product or service (even though it never hurts to start today, no matter how big your audience might be).

Finding a product that is a great fit for your audience once you hit 1,000 subscribers means that you can focus on growing your audience to 5,000 email subscribers or more to help you sell that product to more people and reach for that professional blogger benchmark we set at the beginning of this report.

But how fast can you expect to grow?

The average email list growth rate (mean) varies widely between pros, at 154%, and not-yet-pros, at 300%. This might seem backwards, but in fact it makes perfect sense. Not-yet-pros are much more likely to have a small email list to begin with, which means that it takes a smaller number of new email subscribers to have a high growth rate?

For example, if you have 100 email subscribers on January 1 and add 300 email subscribers over the next twelve months, you’d have a 300% growth rate. But if you started with 1,000 subscribers and add 300 email subscribers, you would have just a 30% growth rate.

What were the mean and median email list growth rates for the past 12 months?

When we use median to measure growth rate, we actually end up with a great benchmark for measuring your growth compared to the industry. The all-blogger, pro, and not-yet-pro median growth rate is 67% annually. So if you start with 1,000 subscribers today and add 667 over the next year, you would match the median growth rate for the blogging industry. This seems like a very reasonable baseline goal to aim for, especially as your audience grows.

The earlier you are in your blogging journey, the higher you should set the bar for your target growth rate. After all, we’ve seen that audience size is definitely correlated with the ability to make a living from your blog.

How do bloggers use paid advertising to grow their audience?

When it comes to paid advertising, we specifically focused on which social networks bloggers are using as paid ad platforms to promote their blog posts. This means we didn’t ask about Google Adwords and other paid platforms that are more typically used to promote specific products or services.

Which social media networks do you pay to promote your blog posts?

Most bloggers (58%) do not use any paid ads to promote their content. There is a drastic difference between pros and not-yet-pros, with pros being 50% more likely to use paid ads than not-yet-pros.

Of those who use paid ads, Facebook ads are far and away the most popular. 58% of all pros use Facebook ads, but 99% of pros who use some form of paid advertising use Facebook ads. Similarly, 37% of all not-yet-pros use Facebook ads, but that shoots up to 93% of not-yet-pros who us some form of paid advertising. The next most popular paid ad platform is Instagram, which pales in comparison to Facebook. 18% of pros and 16% of not-yet-pros who use paid ads use Instagram for paid ads.

Overall, paid ads seem to be a case of “it takes money to make money.” Once bloggers get over the hump of making a full time living from their blog, they are much more likely to use paid ads to accelerate their success.

How do bloggers use republishing to grow their audience?

Republishing is the practice of publishing a blog post on your site and then publishing the full content of that post on another platform. It has become a fashionable way to get more attention for blog posts over the past couple of years.

It’s hard to point to an exact moment when this became true, but Medium’s importer certainly increased the number of people using republishing. This trend has been accelerated with Facebook adding blog style functionality to the notes feature on the platform.

Overall, we see that 57% of bloggers are using some form of republishing to promote their blog posts. 39% of pros are using Facebook to republish and 43% of not-yet-pros are doing the same. 21% of pros and 23% of not-yet-pros are republishing on LinkedIn. The biggest variance we see here is that 24% of pros are republishing on Medium compared to 16% of not-yet-pros.

On which sites do you republish your content?

Most bloggers who republish do so on other platforms the same day that they publish the original blog post: 30% of not-yet-pros who use republishing make this a habit compared to 21% of pros. Pros are more likely to wait at least a week, with 73% of pros who use republishing waiting at least a week and 47% of pros who republish waiting at least a month. 57% of not-yet-pros wait at least a week, and 38% wait at least a month.

How long do you wait before republishing one of your blog posts?

If you don’t use republishing or haven’t learned much about the practice, you might wonder what this tactic is and how to use it to your advantage. Neil Patel wrote a great post highlighting the risks of using this strategy incorrectly, and how to adjust to get the maximum benefit.

That wraps up the data on blog audiences and the strategies bloggers use to grow their audiences. Next up we’ll look at bloggers’ work habits.


How much, when, where, and with whom bloggers work

Read next section →

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