Can I reach a thousand sustainable visitors a day with no marketing spend on GovWire? Here's a running commentary about the strategies that I will be undertaking.
Following up from my post about launching GovWire, a government-news based website, I wanted you to join me on my journey to attract a thousand visitors a day within 10 weeks - without spending any more than £50 (about $75) in marketing costs.
Although I've never achieved this before within ten weeks, it's a similar goal that I always set myself for any new site, although I usually aim for a thousand visitors a day within A YEAR. It's an ambitious target.
But I wanted to share my journey, and learn from any mistakes or quick-hits that I come across on my way.
Can I do it? Let's see.
Why do I think I can get GovWire to this target in such a short amount of time, with little or no spend? It's the sheer potential. When I look at the amount of websites that republish government news in their original format it's clear that GovWire is the only one. It's already gaining traction within social media circles.
To date (just four days after launch) GovWire is followed by 71 people on Twitter, including some rather influential MPs and journalists. It's also got 38 likes on Facebook within the same period. I'll explain about those two below.
This might set off alarm bells for most people - the fact that i'm taking news from the .gov.uk domain and republishing it is enough to put off most developers. Nevertheless, the news is actually licensed under the Open Government Licence, so I'm free to do with it as I wish - within reason. I don't expect to make much money from GovWire, and it's not a business-critical project for me. It's more of an experiment, so if there are any adverse effects (such as algorithmic penalties), then it'll be a learning curve.
However, I've got a sneaky feeling that this won't happen. Time will tell. OK, here we go. I'll update this page whenever I do something new, so stop by once in a while to see how I'm getting on.
GovWire Digital Strategy - Timeline
Fri 04 Dec 2015 (Launch Date)
Right then. Friday 4th of December was launch day. Bearing in mind that the site took around 20 hours to design and develop, it was a risky strategy to launch it on a Friday, given that I usually spend most of my weekend time with my family. I'm always around to sort out any bugs but as GovWire isn't high-priority I decided to take the chance.
Tip: Don't launch on a Friday unless you're willing to put in extra time over the weekend to sort out any issues.
The first thing on my list was to create a page on Facebook, and a new Twitter account. This is typically the first thing I'll do as it enables me to link from a new site to its social media accounts. At this stage I'm not too worried about the other social networks such as Pinterest, Google+, Instagram etc. It's more important that I establish a few followers on the primary platforms first to gauge success and get some important metrics.
Luckily I was able to get the name facebook.com/GovWire, although I could only get @gov_wire on Twitter. Never mind.
Taking about metrics, I've also ensured that I've got Google Analytics (GA) set up on the site. I always add the GA code prior to launch to enable me to see how the very first users are navigating the site.
Also crucial to the initial launch phase is Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), and Bing's equivalent. At this point I've got an XML sitemap index that I can submit to GWT. This will help the search engines to quickly crawl and index the site, as well as enable them to get an understanding of the navigation and site hierarchy
I've also run a link checker on the live site. In this instance I used Xenu Link Sleugh as it's quick - and more importantly - free. You can find Xenu here - it's really useful. Although I've already run a link checker on the development website prior to uploading it to the server, I always run it again once it gets to the live site, as there will inevitably be a few bugs due to the setup of the server, rather than the site itself. Xenu helps to discover them.
Xenu is also handy in that it will quickly show you where you have missing or duplicate meta titles/descriptions - something that may cause problems with search engine rankings. However, its primary purpose is to check for broken links (to HTML pages, images and files) on the site. This free piece of software is a key part of my toolbox.
Sat/Sun 05-06 Dec 2015
Now the website is live I can spend the weekend just watching (and ironing out any minor bugs) to see how the first few people move around the website. It's quite useful to watch GA in Real Time to see which pages are being seen first.
It's strange, but to visit the same page as a real person forces you to evaluate a page in a different way. I can almost guarantee that you'll want to make some changes to the layout if you're following a visitor around your site and seeing what they see.
Anyway, I'll hold off making any changes just yet - I have twin 4-year-old girls to entertain. We're putting up the Christmas tree on Sunday and that's an experience in itself!
Mon 07 Dec 2015
OK, it's Monday morning and the first task (after catching up on some business essentials) is to do some marketing automation.
As with most of my websites, the key to success is to automate as much as possible in terms of marketing, and this is especially important when it comes to social media. Now, I'm not suggesting to anyone that you can automate-and-forget every website you have. But, if you automate the essentials then you're going a long way to freeing up a lot of time for more profitable tasks.
The first thing I've done today is to create RSS feeds of all the different government departments, and saved them to the server. These RSS feeds automatically update themselves using server code/databases. This way, I have a live feed of every news item and announcement that gets published on GovWire.
Don't forget that I've already automated the fetching of government news, meaning that the site pretty much runs itself anyway.
There's also a RSS feed containing a list of the latest government news ordered by date only. So, what's this RSS feed for? It basically means that I can use it to update both Facebook and Twitter every fifteen minutes with brand new items of news.
How did I achieve this? Well, you can probably create your own piece of code to do this, but I decided against it thanks to the simplicity of a service called 'Engator' - http://engator.com/, which takes the RSS feeds and posts updates to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Engator is really handy in that it enables you to automatically embed images within the posts (both Facebook and Twitter), meaning they look more visually appealing and enticing. As we all know, posts that contain images always attract more clicks.
Once Engator was set up (it costs from just £6 a month) I was seeing all news items delivered to my social media accounts. If you want to see how they're doing so far, here are the links:
The only marketing spend
I wanted to kick-start some dialogue on the Facebook page to give it an initial boost (which should help - albeit temporarily - with Facebook's EdgeRank). To do this, I 'boosted' a post which announced that the public could read every announcement made by Prime Minister David Cameron. I knew that this was a contentious post even before I started - he is a very divisive figure in British politics so I knew that I'd get some comments, shares and likes. Most of the comments are rather scathing. Some completely obscene. As to be expected.
The post resulted in a reach of 3,798 people, with 32 comments and a few dozen clickthroughs to the website, which was useful to see some initial visitor metrics, such as time on page, bounce rates, and pageviews per session.
From data collected so far since launch, the site has attracted 251 visitors. Stats so far are shown above, taken from Google Analytics.
Nevertheless, the post cost just £30 to boost. This is probably the only money that I will ever spend on GovWire, despite the target of 1k visitors a day within 10 weeks.
The next stage of my master plan was to follow some key accounts on Twitter. I decided that the best people to follow were Members of Parliament and political journalists. These accounts would likely be fairly high profile accounts with plenty of followers, and most likely to want to follow me - (@GovWire Twitter account) back. My intuition proved correct. Within a few hours of following them (around 800 or so) I started seeing some MPs and political journalists following me back. Some of them are very high-profile users.
The reason I think they're more likely to follow me back is that I am effectively informing them that my site exists - and that it fits neatly into their professional lives. They would/could/should(!) find it quite useful for their jobs. This is a tactic that I usually follow when launching a new site. Following people in a closely-matched industry will inevitably help you to gain followers as well as increase awareness of your new website.
I'm always careful that I follow active profiles. There's little point in following a user if they haven't tweeted in a year. Having a good number of followers themselves is usually helpful. I don't know about you but whenever I follow someone I typically have a look to see who they follow/who's following them, and usually end up following some of them too! Chances are that I'm not alone there.
Try not to follow too many in such a short time. Researching the best users to follow takes time and patience. Don't just click on every account you come across. You have an initial 2,000 following limit. After that you'll need a decent amount of folks following you too before you can follow anyone else. Be patient - be strategic.
Tue 08 Dec 2015
It was only this morning that I decided to start documenting my journey to 1k visitors in 10 weeks here on the CliqTo blog, so I've spent much of the morning typing everything so far. It's been rather hastily written so far, and some things might seem a little obscure. However, this will get tidied up shortly, and if there are any ambiguities, I'll sort them in due course.
So, what else have I got planned for today? It's time to take the visitor stats that I've gathered so far and see where people are looking/landing/visiting, and use that intelligence to 'tweak' a few pages. If there are any clear exit points that are revealed by GA then I will attempt to address them, making changes to the flow of the page, visual elements and navigation items to try to increase engagement.
Thur 10 Dec 2015
Today I'll be setting up Crazy Egg. Watch this space.
Stay tuned for more...