Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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April 1, 2024

The Truth About Website Growth

by Lisa Norman

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Statistics are interesting. Statistics can provide us with valuable information. Like, right now, there are over 8 billion people on the planet and over 1 billion websites (most of which are inactive). One of my favorite teachers said that it only takes 5000 true fans to be famous, although I can’t find any proof for that statement. Thinking of the various authors I’ve worked with, I will say that once your fan base gets up in those numbers, you’re generally happy with the income level.

Build it and they will come.

Aside from being a misquote, that sentiment is particularly misleading when related to author websites. No, there isn’t any guarantee that anyone will find your website or your book. Even if you have the most beautiful website or the most amazing book, there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever find it.

“Wow, Lisa. That sounds really negative. Isn’t this a big part of what you do?”

Yep. Every day. And I’ve seen sites grow from nothing to amazing. Google sends you a special email when you get 1 million visits in a month. I’ve seen websites outgrow their hosting, email lists that explode in popularity, and sites that provide their owners with a very comfortable living.

But I’ve also seen some websites that just sit there. Alone. Abandoned. 82% of websites are abandoned. If you’ve paid for hosting, you know that is a lot of money to spend doing… nothing.

I’ve studied statistics from many author websites: new authors, established authors, NYT bestsellers. I’ve watched how their websites grow over time. It is a lot of fun to go back over the history of a long blog, watching how the author experimented, played, and learned how to turn their digital space into something amazing.

Content is king.

When we talk about physical real estate, we say, “Location, location, location…” because location makes a huge difference in the value of a property.

With digital real estate, content is everything. Okay, so I’ve seen some people arguing this point, so let me say it this way: giving something of value is the key to success. Yep, it’s the same as we say about everything. Site visitors want to know “What’s in it for me?”

If there isn’t anything there for them, they don’t care.

“So, great! All I need to do is put stuff on my blog and it’ll work!”

No. Sorry. It is more complicated than that. Because it isn’t just content. It is useful content that people want.

This principle is so important that Google even has an algorithm named after it.

If your content is useful, you get rewarded by search engines and content aggregators*. Not useful? You get buried.

*Content aggregators, news aggregators, or news readers are apps that collect and display articles, blogs, podcasts, and other information. Content aggregators are a great way for entertainers to be discovered. Examples: Google News, Flipboard, Apple News, Smart News, and Feedly. Using tools like these is a great way to build a curated information source that will create a custom set of articles for you to read each day.

Entertainment has value.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it is important to remember: we’re in the entertainment industry. So “useful” for us means entertaining.

Write fantastic entertaining content on your website, and people will flock to it. Right? Maybe. I’ve seen some amazing growth with this method, but I’ve seen many people post once or twice and then stop. Why?

“It didn’t work for me.”

That’s usually the point at which I start screaming silently. (Because screaming loudly at clients is considered rude.)

Here’s the truth: one or two posts won’t do it.

In my years of teaching and coaching writers, I’ve only seen one person who went nearly viral with their first post. Their second post was fairly normal, and they didn’t post again. (Imagine me crying at the lost opportunity for that incredibly talented writer!)

That’s not how the internet works.

Why? Because it takes a while to really start connecting with your true fans. Most people don’t even know who their true fans ARE when they start their website. (What? You thought you were the only one who felt that way?)

I love looking at website statistics, because I can see when people start connecting and when things start getting shared around. Authors without stats often miss the early signs of growth entirely. My favorite moments are when authors tell me they want to stop, and then I show them the graph of people looking at their content.

Most authors start out with a long flat graph. They post and test content like it was pasta they are throwing at people’s social media walls. Sometimes something sticks. Most often, that sticky thing isn’t new, because it took a bit of time for people to find it. From my experience, I’d say most of the successful posts I’ve seen tend to be several months old. One of my most successful posts was years old before it was discovered.

Once an author realizes what their fans want, they start writing more of that, and you can watch the graph grow.

Some authors catch on really fast. Most take months or years.

Here are the hard numbers.

Neil Patel (a search engine optimization guru) compiled the analytics data of more than 1 million websites across different industries. (Entertainment is one of those industries, and the one we fit into.)

Of websites whose authors were writing consistent content each month:

  • Traffic increased 11.4% within the first 6 months
  • Another 9.58% traffic bump in months 6-12
  • The second year saw a 49.4% boost over Year 1
  • Year 3 was up 30.7% over Year 2
  • Year 4 grew another 13.5%

The takeaway here is that growth isn’t immediate. If you post once, decide nothing happened, and stop blogging, then there’s no point in having a blog. Create a business card website and go on with your life knowing that you have a site, you appear professional, and you can check that box off on your to-do list.

But if you want your website to find fans and bring them to you, plan on it taking years to bring results.

Do these numbers surprise you? Know someone who has stopped blogging after only a couple of months? Do you look at your statistics? What are your expectations and experiences with website growth?

* * * * * *

About Lisa

head shot of smiling Lisa Norman

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, LLC, an indie publishing firm.

Interested in learning more from Lisa? Sign up for her newsletter or check out her classroom where she teaches social media, organization, technical skills, and marketing for authors!

Top image from Depositphotos.

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24 comments on “The Truth About Website Growth”

  1. To me it's obvious that it's not going to be an overnight success. I don't make a habit of looking at my statistics, but I see a steady growth. One or two new subscribers each month, and I'm reasonably happy. Maybe that's not many, but it shows I'm growing.

  2. Why did you put a quote in from a professor who you didn’t really believe in to begin with?
    You need to understand Marketing in order to be successful and it’s not just as an author, but as a business person

    1. Which quote are you referring to? Neil Patel? Because the numbers are valid. "Not really believe in..." that's pretty much my opinion of most leaders in this field.

      And I totally agree that writers need to be business people and understand marketing. But we do need to remember that we're marketing as entertainers and not as corporations selling widgets. That's why I offer a no-cost marketing intro class for writers. Because writers DO need to understand marketing.

  3. I followed your link to Google's FAQ page. Its discussion of what constitutes 'helpful' and 'useful' was not very helpful or useful, although I did bookmark the link in hopes I may find it useful and helpful in the future.

    Your description of entertaining blog content as 'useful' made sense and gave me a nice path to follow when deciding what to blog about. Thank you!

    You beat Google's material by a mile for helpfulness and usefulness. If more folks read your material on website growth, perhaps they would stick with their blogging longer.

    1. Thanks, Vicki!

      There's been some "stop blogging" content going around among writers - and it isn't 100% wrong (spoiler for next month) but I don't want people to take that out of context. Stop boring blogging. LOL

      I try hard to translate geek into a language that we can all understand, because I think we NEED the information, but don't all need to spend a ton of time dealing with interpretation. Since I need to read it anyway... I try to save folks some time!

  4. Lisa-I’ve alway valued your look at the data and the long haul. It’s hard to keep posting in a website’s infancy, but with your encouragement I began to see my numbers grow. Consistency is my next goal! It’s easy to get wrapped up in plotting and marketing and the busyness of life and forget to post regular content. Thanks for your great insight today.

    1. You're welcome, Miffie. And at the same time - consistency can become a chain that isn't something we absolutely must have. Post when you have something to say. Just make sure that's on a fairly regular basis. LOL

  5. Hi Lisa,
    As one of your clients, I have always appreciated your transparency and upfront acknowledgment of what a growth trajectory looks like. It has been a process of trial and error for me to achieve my writing goals, and it is still a work in progress. But I am worlds ahead of where I was a couple years ago.

    The business side of writing is tricky and needs a careful strategy. Your post shows that key elements of growth include posting regularly and giving readers something of true value that they want. This is great advice.

    Thanks for sharing this honest and insightful look into what makes a website grow.

  6. I absolutely love that you included the Neal Patel statistics. It really brings home how much consistency is the key to everything when it comes to our author websites.

    1. Thanks, Jenny. I just feel that we need to see those statistics, because I've seen too many authors give up before they hit the tipping point because they think they aren't doing well... when in fact they're doing fantastic. Without context, we work in a vacuum, and it is hard to know if we're doing well or not.

  7. Hopefully I'm nearing a tipping point. It's definitely been a long, slow haul! Since I've gone to blogging once a week, I can be consistent at that. That seems to be helping a bunch. But waiting for the tipping point is still a serious exercise of patience. LOL

    1. Lynette - it IS! That tipping point is really hard to wait for. You can watch your statistics and see how you are doing, check your open rates on newsletters, etc. etc. But understand: slow growth is normal... until things really start connecting. And you can learn from your stats what connects and what doesn't. So much of that first few years is learning and experimenting!

  8. I do create content for a friend's lifestyle blog, and I always get excited when the SEO is high for the features.

    1. Yay, Denise! It is fun to learn to work with SEO as a writer, using your talent and making the crawlers happy. And are you seeing the results in the stats?

  9. Your technical saavy and witty presentation of what can be a dry and challenging topic for those of us less than saavy is always welcome. I adore your propensity to hit the nail on the head - at least for me. As a new investor in creating a website and social media persona, your sound advice and confidence shine as a beacon I will always follow. Thank you for guiding me!

  10. Back when I had my day job, multitasking was second nature. Issues came fling in from all directions day and night, and I juggled and managed all of them effectively (with exception of having a normal personal life).

    Now I’ve retired, I’ve got only four things to juggle-family, writing, boating, and a website, and find myself tackling each only one at a time, with my blog trailing into non-existence. I tried to reboot my blog once, but dropped out again.

    With my second book being edited and readied for Betas, I’ve promised myself to multitask again—working on more than one book at a time, doing short stories, and moving blogging & marketing up to the forefront of my efforts. However, it is like having to learn all over again.

    1. I hear you Jerold! I want to encourage you to look over my previous WITS articles about sharable newsletters and the one about generating a bunch of blog ideas as once. Then, I'm going to teach you a power trick that ties into your goals.

      What readers most want from you is entertainment, stories. Your blog (and newsletter) are also ways that potential fans decide if they like your writing.

      Short stories, books, blogs, etc: it is all just content, and for writers, that means story. There's bits of backstory that doesn't get into the book, bits of character developing moments that can capture readers attention and make it so the can't wait to read the book to did out what happens next.

      These make great blog/newsletter fodder. Short stories can be put up as blogs, later collected into books.

      The idea is that content/stories are multi use. A writing warmup exercise can become a blog post or a spark for a side character exploring short story that develops into a new novel.

      Have fun! But make your writing do the multitasking. Feed your creativity rather than putting pressure on your muse to perform (multi) tasks it is resisting.

      Just a thought to share and encourage you.

      You can post blogs ahead of time to be released on a schedule that leaves you free for extra boating!

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