Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Reader Asks: Where does your traffic come from?

Recently an Excel_Geek reader (we'll call her Sue) emailed me. Sue is interested in trying to manage a blog similar to Excel_Geek, offering services related to Microsoft Office Suite products. She wondered how I got going, where the traffic comes from, etc. So, for this reader (and anyone else who might be interested), here goes:

First, let it be known that this takes some time and effort. The days of turning on the website and being flooded with traffic are just gone (for most of us). I started doing this just over a year ago, and I used to get 2, 3, maybe 5 visits a day...TOTAL. So what'd I do? Simple. I kept posting. I tried to talk about relevant stuff that I really knew about. I focused fairly narrowly on my core of VBA proramming specifically for Excel, and hoped that others might find it useful and/or interesting. Once in awhile I'd post about something a bit off center, and sometimes I would be surprised by the results. Currently, my post about the Yahtzee scorecards I created in Excel for my wife still consistently lands in my top ten content posts of all time. Seriously.

I also introduced myself to others out there with apparent interests and expertise in Excel and VBA programming (see the list of links to the left). Did I view these other experts as potential competitors? At first, but then I realized that we're all playing for the same team: the team that wants more people to understand what they can really do with standard software and a tiny bit of knowledge (and perhaps some of our help from time to time).

Did it work? Slowly at first, but I began to get $50 Project requests. Some were interesting and good fodder to post about, and some were less so. Heck, I did some girl's Excel homework for her for $50. Now the second main aspect of my "marketing" plan was put to the test. Word of mouth. I needed to do a great job (and still need to) on all of these projects, since these people could need help later, and would likely tell their friends, family, and colleagues how they "...got this custom programming done for 50, and it works great.." So far, I'm doing well in this respect.

The $50 Projects kept coming in (and continue to) at a faster rate. And I started to see my clientele moving from novices to intermediate Excel users to true "power users." For the most part today, I do work for those who already know how to do most of what they need done, but they just have one or two issues they can't figure out yet. My style of commenting the heck out of my code, providing explanations as to what I've done and why seems to be a huge "selling point" for me.

With an "audience" starting to build I thought it was time to add some other services for these people. I added Excel_Geek Blog_Mail as a great way for regular readers to get my new posts emailed to them automatically for free without havng to figure our RSS feeds, etc., and I added the Insiders program (probably the greatest value I offer), allowing subscribers to get copies of all my $50 Project files completed for the year for less than $40. These services have helped build my audience.

A recent phenomenon is that I'm seeing more and more Private Project requests. Word has apparently gotten out that companies trying to better integrate Excel (and other apps) into their workflows can get access to quality programming services for $50 per hour. While that's not India or Thailand cheap, that's cheap for those not yet ready to offshore this sort of work. And speaking of other countries and "offshoring", my recent move to recruit programming contributors has yielded fruit in the form of my first contributor (from Singapore) signing up and completing his first project -- ahead of the promised delivery date and in higher quality than I could have hoped for. It seems as though I could end up learning more about VBA from my contributors than they'll learn from me!

That's it. That's what I've done and what I'm doing.

To give you some idea about exactly from where my traffic comes, here are some charts I generated from my Google Analytics account:

Here's where my visitors live (this is a sample of 500 visitors, as that's the largest number that Analytics will display for you):

Here's how my traffic breaks down in terms of referrals:

You can see that nearly half of my traffic is referred by search engines and/or directories, a third is direct (they type in my address or have it bookmarked), and 1 in 5 visitors are referred to my by what I'd consider "relevant content providers" -- that is, by other websites or blogs that talk about Excel, VBA, etc. These referrals, to me, are perhaps the most valuable, and my conversion statistics play that out.

Here's how the search engines breakdown:

Adding Blogger into the Google slice, and you've got a more "true" representation of company by company results.

And lastly, here's how my "relevent content provider" referrals break down:

I think this is a good place to pass along my sincerest thanks to...

Puremis.net (home of Colo's Excel Junk Room)

...and many others who've helped me, for helping Excel_Geek become what it's becoming. Thank each one of you.

And so, Sue, here's my one line advice to you: If you want it, do it, but do it hard and with passion if you want any chance to succeed.

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