From Ideas to Traffic Results: How We Run a Blog with 700,000 Readers Per Month

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manage a blogOne of the thing that people often ask us is how we are running the Buffer blog here. A few of the key questions that people ask us are the ones below:

  • How do we come up with ideas?
  • How do we manage our content pipeline?
  • What do we use to write?
  • What are our goals with the Buffer blog?
  • How do we measure results?

As we work hard on growing and improving the Buffer blog, we thought it would be fun to answer these questions and share what happens behind the scenes to keep fresh content hitting your inbox or RSS feed every day. Hopefully this will give you a bit of insight into how we do things at Buffer, and why we do them this way. And if there are still some questions unanswered, just ask away in the comments!

Content types – why we choose broad topics and how they work for us

At Buffer we have fairly broad content coverage. You’ll find articles about Facebook and Twitter, productivity, life hacking, customer happiness and even writing. We do this for a reason, which Rand Fishkin sums up perfectly in his Content Marketing Manifesto. The whole slide deck is worth looking at, but I really love this section:

Content marketing’s goal is not:

  • to convert customers directly
  • to acquire leads directly
  • to make sales directly

Content marketing exists to:

  • build familiarity
  • build likability
  • build trust

To trigger these results, the content must show some combination of:

  • exceptional
  • inspirational
  • unique
  • credible
  • fun
  • beneficial to share

Don’t get sidetracked by an obsession with relevance.

This image from Rand’s slide deck really sums up what we’re trying to achieve with our content at Buffer:content-relevance-scale manage a blog rand fishkin

Although we have a few different topics to focus on, most of our posts fall into one of two categories (unless it’s Buffer news):

  1. Life hacking and productivity
  2. Social media and blogging

Each of these broad topic areas has a different purpose for us. For posts that fit into life hacking and productivity topics, we find that these are best at helping us increase brand recognition. These posts are more likely to be republished and shared on social media. Here are a couple of examples:

Social media and blogging posts, on the other hand, don’t spread as widely but they do perform better in terms of conversions. More readers of these posts tend to click through to find out about Buffer and sign up for an account. Here’s a screenshot of our metrics dashboard on the day I drafted this post. This shows the blog posts that led to visits to the Buffer home page and subsequent sign-ups:

metrics manage a blog traffic results

As you can see, most of the posts there are either about a Buffer feature or are social media-related posts. A couple of life hacking posts show up there as well, but social media topics are overwhelmingly more successful in this regard.

Writing a post – from idea to published

This is where things can get a little messy. Although we try to have a process for how we build up a post from nothing, you can only structure creative work— like writing—so much. Once we start working on a post, it’s common for it to change directions or even be scrapped completely if we realize it’s not a good fit after all. Having said that, here’s the rough structure we work with.

Ideas

We use a Trello board to keep track of our ideas and the posts we’re working on. Each topic sits in the ideas column until we choose it for a specific week. We use Trello’s colored labels to keep everyone in the loop of a post’s status as it moves through the process.

trello_with_labels manage a blog

Most weeks Leo and I will have a 1:1 chat about our content for the following week and choose five posts to publish—normally one or two of these will be guest posts or Buffer news announcements and the rest are posts that I will work on.

Research

Once we have a topic chosen and Leo and I have had a quick chat about what angle the post might take, I start on the research process. One thing I’ve started to do recently is to research a good overview or two of the topic, to help me get an idea of what points I might want to cover in the post. Once I have a rough idea, I can write an outline and some brief notes about what research I need to do for each section.

Writing each post in sections helps to make the work itself more manageable, as I quickly found that 1–2000 word posts every day were feeling like mammoth tasks instead of achievable ones. Now, I put more time into breaking down a post into sections and writing notes for myself on what to research and what points to cover in each section.

This is what this blog post looks like in my task manager, broken down into small steps:

things tasks for blog post manage a blog

Editing

Every writer knows editing is imperative to good writing, but pretty much all of us hate to do it. I’m lucky that Leo helps out a lot on that front. Once I have a draft I’ll often send it over to Leo for some thoughts and feedback before I go into editing mode. Sometimes we’ll need to discuss a new direction or how to adjust the angle of the piece to fit what I’ve written about so far. Once I’ve cut down the post to get rid of unnecessary bulk and made sure my points are clear, I’ll pop into WordPress and between the two of us, Leo and I will get it ready to publish.

Polishing

The final adjustments to a post will include things like finding images to illustrate our points, or screenshots of examples I’ve talked about. We often spend some time brainstorming possible titles of a post in HipChat, where more of the team can get involved.

Lastly we make a few SEO tweaks to help our post perform better in search engine results. This will usually mean choosing a keyword or phrase that we’ve focused on in the piece and including it in the post title and image alt tags. We like to keep this part fairly simple so the content can speak for itself.

Publishing – the headline says it all

Once a post is ready to go, we switch to more strategic tasks to help it get to the right audience. One of the most important things we do is testing our headlines. Leo’s written about this before, but let’s go over it again, briefly.

Multiple headlines

What we normally do is tweet a blog post two or three times over a couple of hours, with different headlines. We use Buffer to do this so we can easily compare the analytics and see which headline works better than the others. Here’s an example of how that might look:

First tweet:

manage a blog

Second tweet:
manage a blog

Network-specific posts

Something else we do is pay attention to what works best for each different social network. For Facebook and Google+, for instance, image-based posts are more likely to garner engagement. There are a couple of things we try to keep in mind here.

One is what kind of image we’re posting to these networks. Although images do work better in general, we’ve found that unless an image is useful and interesting on its own, it won’t get much engagement. Using an image that’s nonspecific and doesn’t make a point by itself ignores the why behind the fact that image posts work better.

The other thing we do is to repurpose our blog posts for these networks, so if we’ve already posted an image, we’ll share it again later as a link.

Niche networks

Lastly, depending on the piece of content, we might share it on smaller networks like StumbleUpon, Reddit, Quora or Inbound.org or reach out to some people we know who might like it.

The conversation

Once our post is published and shared on social networks, we’re often lucky enough to have conversations about the topic or the post itself with our amazing readers. Here’s how we manage the areas where we have the biggest volume of conversations around a post.

Blog comments

We get all of the comments on the Buffer blog piped into our content room in HipChat. We use HipChat as if it’s our office because we’re a distributed team, so it’s easy to keep on top of these as they roll in since we’re usually hanging out in there anyway. We try to jump onto comments with questions or suggestions for our post as soon as we can, and answer as many others as we have time for. When we get questions about Buffer the product, we usually grab our Chief Happiness Officer, Carolyn, to answer those ones.

Twitter

We’re lucky enough to have a great audience who loves to share our content, especially on Twitter. Usually this means a small influx of @ mentions for the post author, which offers us a great way to engage with our readers. We’ve recently added Twitter follower buttons to our author bios to encourage more of these great conversations.

author_bio manage a blog

For the tweets that mention our official Twitter handle, @buffer, our amazing Happiness Heroes and engineering team cover most of these in the process of responding to product-related tweets. This means that someone can always engage with our readers in a conversation, even if the author of the post isn’t available—one of the many benefits of having a distributed team!

Emails

One thing we experimented with recently was adding a text link at the bottom of each post to encourage readers to email in about the post. This link goes to our support email inbox where, again, our team of amazing support staff and engineers take care of the emails. They do a great job of engaging our readers and passing along any questions or suggestions specifically for the author of each post.

email_cta_on_blog manage a blog

Goals for the blog – where we’re headed?

In the past couple of months we’ve tried some new things on the Buffer blog, delved into the metrics side a bit deeper and set some goals for ourselves. We want to have specific, high goals to work towards so we can do a better job of experimenting and testing for what works.

Here are some screenshots of our recent stats. The first is from May 1st to the end of August:

stats_may_to_aug manage a blog

And this one is just for the month of August:

stats_aug manage a blog

Currently our goals are in two areas:

  • Email subscribers: 25,000 total
  • Traffic growth: 1 million visits/month

Our aim right now is to get to these numbers by the end of October. If you take a look at our recent stats on the Open blog, you can see how we’re tracking—not bad so far, but we’ve got a long way to go.

To reach these goals, we’re trying a few things. We’ve moved our email subscribers over to MailChimp and we’re focusing more on building this list with calls-to-action on the blog to encourage sign-ups.

We’re also trying some different angles for our content, and looking into ways of adding more personality to our blog posts (which will hopefully help us work towards Rand’s goals for content I mentioned earlier: building familiarity, likability and trust).

What’s worked for you in this area, and what hasn’t? We’d love to hear any ideas, suggestions or tales from experience that you have.

Image credit: Phil Gyford

  • nXqd

    Thanks for sharing these awesome experiences :)

    • jaen

      my Aunty Alice just got a year 2013 Audi TT RS Coupe just by some part time working online… useful link

      w­w­w.Y­A­D­7.c­o­m

      • nXqd

        Hi jaen,
        you looks beautiful but it’s a fake photo. But still I like it. But I like it doesn’t mean you are allowed to post some stupid links about stupid stories in this great blog. And please don’t encourage anyone to do the same.

  • http://imeraapp.com/ imera

    Great post Belle. I learned a lot. I’d not thought of using Trello like that.

    • Belle

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it :) Leo came up with our Trello use-case, so he gets all the credit for that one :)

    • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

      I’m thinking about using Asana in this same manner. What do you think?

  • The Black Board

    Fantastic post, Belle. Our behind-the-scenes team at The Black Board is roughly the same size as your team at Buffer, so I find these insights into how your organize, coordinate and communicate to be both fascinating and helpful. I hadn’t come across Trello before and I’m going to look into it for our editorial calendar–thanks!

    Warm wishes, and thanks again,

    Shaula @ The Black Board

    PS Belated congratulations on your beautiful new name, too.

    • Belle

      Thanks so much, Shaula! I definitely feel the same way about other companies with similar goals and team-size to us. Let me know how you go with Trello, or if you find something else that works better!

      Belle.

  • Angela Booth

    Brilliant post. Wonderful use of Trello. Although I use it, I’ve never considered using it as a content calendar (slaps forehead…) Thank you. :-)

    • Belle

      Thanks, Angela! I’ll have to send the credit to Leo for that one, he already had that set up when I joined Buffer this year and I think it’s a great idea!

  • http://www.seoimr.com/ Steve Sharp

    Sorry but I have a question off the subject. Can someone tell me the name of that floating social share button on the left. I’ve been looking for that one and tired of looking. Nice tip on adding the email when asking for comments.

    • carokopp

      Hi Steve! We use Digg Digg, is that what you’re looking for? :)

      • http://www.seoimr.com/ Steve Sharp

        Awesome work great!

  • http://ThatGuyKC.com/ ThatGuyKC

    Another solid gem in the bank. Love the Buffer blog almost as much as the service itself. Thank you for always sharing useful, quantified best practices.

    Y’all should have a stand alone app for the blog like Seth Godin does. Simple & clean. The long form lends itself to a dedicated spot on my iPhone dock. :)

    • Belle

      haha Thanks so much! That’s an awesome compliment :)

  • http://terakristen.com/ Tera Kristen

    “You can only structure creative work— like writing—so much”

    Love this – I am going to repeat this to myself so that I can let go of nailing down a process (motion) and just get to the action!

    • Belle

      Glad you liked it, Tera! Hope you find it helpful :)

  • Mitch Kranner

    love how transparent you guys are! got a couple of questions ;)
    i) how far ahead do you plan your content (just 1 week, more?) and how flexible do you keep the schedule?
    ii) re. Trello: do you just have another column/list for Ideas or a separate board?
    iii) whats the tasking mgmt tool you use here? :)
    Thanks!

    • Belle

      Thanks Mitch!

      We normally plan 1-2 weeks ahead. The schedule is pretty flexible, as we sometimes come across an unexpected hurdle or we start a post and decide it’s just not right for us so we adjust or switch it for something else.

      We have one more column right at the end of our board that gets filled up with idea cards. When it comes to planning our schedule, we just grab some that we like and move them around :)

      I was waiting for that last question! haha. I’m using Things for Mac in that screenshot.

      • Mitch Kranner

        great! thanks for your answer.
        any insights on how you guys come up with new ideas… do you do a power session once a month or is it more of a continuous process? I’d love to know what works for you…
        re the last question… is Things worth its money :)?! looks pretty solid.

  • James McKey

    I’ve seen you mention the buffer testing of titles before but I’m still confused on a point there. Since you actually have a link to the article, does this mean you are changing the title on the fly for the post itself as you push each headline out? Or do you stick with one of the two titles and then change the article title if the other one performs better?

    • Belle

      Hi James,

      So we normally keep the slug the same, so the URL will never change. You’ll notice sometimes the URL of our posts doesn’t match the headline for this reason.

      With that same URL, we share two or three tweets with different headlines. Each time, the post title usually stays the same until we see which tweet worked better, and then we change the post title. Does that make sense?

  • poq studio

    Great post with some good insights. Love the idea of writing in sections to make it more manageable. I find that writing posts in advance then editing them at least a day later works well if you’re the only person creating content – mistakes always jump out at you after a good night’s sleep.

    • Belle

      Excellent point! I definitely find that’s helpful whenever possible!

  • Shlomo

    Hey guys. Great post! Q pls, on your experiment for testing the headlines, where is the link actually leading if the post was not published yet?

  • Ahmed Ismail

    Great post. Now I have to check out all the links! :)

  • Eleftheria Karyoti

    I love the transparency with which you present yourselves through the Buffer Blog. I think it’s key for building trust. Great post as always :) Thanks!

    • Belle

      Thanks Eleftheria! It’s definitely a big focus for us.

  • Chibuzor Obilom

    Wonderful post Belle. What task manager do you use?

    • Belle

      Thanks! It’s Things for Mac in the screenshot.

  • http://www.getbase.com/ Lauren Licata

    Hi Belle – I just happened across the Buffer blog and I wanted to say keep up the great work. I too work for a startup and I’m challenged with growing our blog traffic as well. Thank you for being so open and transparent about your process and your traffic numbers. This was really helpful. I’m trying Buffer for the first time too :)

    • Belle

      Hi Lauren,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I’m really glad you found this helpful – it’s exciting to be part of such a transparent company where we can share our experiences in the hopes they help others :) I’d love to hear more about your progress as you grow your blog traffic – I find it’s much more fun when you can share and compare your progress with other content creators :)

  • http://www.geniusplanetnigeria.com/ ADAMA J. ADAMA

    Hi Belle,
    My comment was deleted maybe because I included my site url (http://sintei.com) but can you kindly help me out with how to make my keywords more consistent?

  • War of Mouth

    Very interesting article Belle, do you think you’ll be able to win the War Of Mouth challenge by using these suggestions? http://bit.ly/18LXW2L

  • lukechesser

    Do you guys have any hints on how you feed in your Disqus comments to Hipchat :)? Did you setup a custom webhook?

    • carokopp

      Hi Luke! That’s a good question, my hunch would be that we use Zapier as that’s how we feed other things into HipChat like Trello changes and such. Does that help? :)

  • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

    Hi Belle…thanks for this post. Very interesting. I had a question regarding how you tweet out 3 or so tweets linking to your blog posts. I see that each of your “bit.ly’s” are different. Are they not the same link? I’ve done this with mine, but when I look at it in my Buffer dashboard, all of the shortened URL’s appear to be the same. Because of this, I am unable to see what particular tweet performed better than the others.

    Any help is appreciated.

    • Belle

      Hi Bruce,

      Yep, so each time we share a URL with Buffer, it automatically creates a new link for us to track. Are you adding the URL fresh each time?

      • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

        I copied and pasted the blog’s URL into each of the 3 tweets. It is the full URL, not the shortened one. Yet, when I look at the buffer analytics, all 3 tweets have the same views because the bit.ly looks the same. Am I making sense?

        • carokopp

          Hi Bruce! Ah, yes, thanks so much for clarifying here. If the link is the same and you have UTM off in your account, we’ll shorten it to the same short URL, so clicks are tracked cumulatively. If you share the link 3 times and it gets 2 clicks each time, all 3 will report 6 clicks. Exactly as you describe.

          If you prefer to have them be different each time, you can enable UTM parameters in your “link shortening” settings. Then they will all be unique. Like so: http://cl.ly/image/1g3X121M0b2c

          Let us know if we can answer any other questions at all! :)

          • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

            Yeah, that makes sense. I cannot remember the reason now, but in the past, you (Carolyn) had told me to turn UTM off. It had something to do with an issue I was having with scheduling posts. Like I said, it was a while back, so I don’t remember the reason now.

            Here is a screenshot of what it is happening on my buffer account:

            Where you see “5 clicks” and those 3 different posts, those were all the same URLs. I’m just glad to know I was attempting a good method of seeing which phrasing garnished more interaction.

          • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

            UPDATE: I went to settings and “enabled UTM parameters”, but the bit.ly links are still showing the same thing. They are in my buffer right now.

          • carokopp

            Ah, yes, unfortunately it can fuss with some links so if it’s causing links to break, we recommend that you turn it off. Let’s see, there is one way to still get that answer. If you add a plus sign (+) at the end of the link, and put it in your URL bar, it will give you the stats of that link. So, for that one, you can see that, most likely, 2 clicks came from the first share, and 3 from the 3rd. (None in the middle of the day.) Like so: https://bitly.com/1fiyC6Y+

            Based on your update, sounds like I’m wrong about the solution here; let me check in with my team and get back to you on this. :) Thanks, Bruce!

          • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

            Thanks for your help! Also, thanks for telling me the middle of the day is probably not my best time to share. ha ha

          • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

            Hi Carolyn,
            I am still having issues with my bitly links not generating three separate links, so that I can see which ones perform better. Here is a recent screenshot of my buffer

  • Miguel Ribeiro

    Hi Belle, this post is awesome. How would you scale this ‘down’ for a two man team? My partner and I are working on an online product/service but just cannot find the time to blog to start building some reputation in the relevant space. What would you suggest?

    • Belle

      Hi Miguel,

      Good question—it’s difficult when you’re a small team. My best guess would be to start with guest blogging, since it’ll be hard enough finding the time to write posts, let alone marketing your blog as well. Ride the coat-tails of others who already have an audience if you can, until you’re big enough to build your own.

      Hope that’s helpful!

  • Vaughan McShane

    Thanks Belle & Buffer Team – This has really helped the way we deliver content for our micro travel blog. We have huge dreams and tools like Trello, HipChat and the processes behind your published posts really make it more achievable even though, at this point in time, it doesn’t bring in enough income to be our full-time job. Thanks again!

  • 3upgolf

    Thanks for sharing your creative process. Inbound marketing at its finest!

  • http://www.publicbeta.co/ Chloe Nicholls

    What a great post Beth! Thanks for sharing :) I love how well researched every post is. I actually have a question about your writing process:

    When you are researching are there specific sources or sites that you go to when finding facts, stats and surveys?

    I’m currently writing some in-depth posts around people, psychology and business but feel like it’s a bit like a minefield out when Googling for statistics and research.

    I also love how you are using Trello! (I have used this in a similar way for some chapters I have been writing recently).

  • Matt Quanstrom

    It seems like not many out there discuss their process. So this was an awesome read to see how your team works! Thanks for the post!

  • Thanga

    Thanks Belle & Buffer Team for the awesome post. This is very helpful for new bloggers as well as the experienced bloggers.

  • Julia Shew

    Great post, Belle, thank you for the breakdown! I’m building an editorial calendar for my company and this post has really inspired me with organizational ideas.

    I wanted to ask about topic quotas/limits. There are several sub-topics on the Buffer blog (lifehacking, social media, company culture, etc.) – do you use Trello (or something else) to keep track of any editorial “quotas” to fill and/or monitor them over time? We’re trying out the color-coded labels to keep track of different content types, but I was wondering if you had another approach.

    Thanks again for another productivity boost in my day!

  • http://www.certifiedfoodies.com/ blankPixels

    Thanks for sharing! Very useful tips. I’m now playing with Trello. :)

  • http://www.alexisrodrigo.com/ Lexi-Web Copywriter

    It’s great to see behind the scenes of a big and successful blog. I have a few of questions for you: (1) How do you capture blog topic ideas? Do you make a card for each one on Trello (I can imagine that could easily become unwieldy). (2) What do you use for task management? (3) How much lead time do you typically have for each post? Thanks!

  • http://www.coachingreallyworks.com/ Abe S.

    Well done. Very helpful post. Incredibly insightful. I like the transparency and not just claiming results. It sure helps to put some skin on what you’re talking about.

  • Guest

    Guy Kawasaki posted this article and raved, “Best explanation of social media/content marketing that I’ve ever read.” Indeed. It’s one thing to offer meaningful content; you’re boosted into the stratosphere when others promote your meaningful content and share it with others. Well done, Buffer!

  • http://www.mattdippl.com/ Matt Dippl

    So great to see that you guys use Trello for content planning and production. I do the same on my biohacking blog…

    Guys I just love your blog. So much value with every post. So inspiring and useful… Please keep producing bombshell articles!

  • http://joeygedgaud.com/ Joey Gedgaud

    It’s all in the details when it comes to traffic and you definitely pointed that out. Thanks!

  • Dynamics Golf

    Great post again thanks Belle. Interesting to read you re post using different headlines two or three times over a couple of hours. It would be good if Buffer could provide a A B split test feature?

  • http://ipankajsharma.com iPankajS

    Hi @disqus_vihqICu1fQ:disqus , I read each post that you send out to the world. Needless to say that @Buffer is the third company after Google and Apple that I follow for inspiration. and you guys rock.
    You talked about the task manager and have given the screenshot in this article. Could you let me know which task manager application do you use? It looks elegant. :-)

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi there! Kevan, jumping in for Belle. :) I believe the manager in the screenshot is called Things. Here’s a link to the app: https://culturedcode.com/things/ Hope this is headed down the right track for ya! :)

      • http://ipankajsharma.com iPankajS

        Thanks @kevanlee:disqus I’ll get it sooner when I get a mac. :-) For Windows PC, I have always zeroed down to Google Spreadsheet for the most powerful task management tool. I tried many, but it appeared to be the simplest and the best.