It's easy to build a blog, but hard to build a successful blog with significant traffic. Over the years, we've grown the Moz blog to nearly a million visits each month and helped lots of other blogs, too. I launched a personal blog late last year and was amazed to see how quickly it gained thousands of visits to each post. There's an art to increasing a blog's traffic, and given that we seem to have stumbled on some of that knowledge, I felt it compulsory to give back by sharing what we've observed.
NOTE: This post replaces a popular one I wrote on the same topic in 2007 (and updated again in 2012). This post is intended to be useful to all forms of bloggers - independent folks, those seeking to monetize, and marketing professionals working an in-house blog from tiny startups to huge companies. Not all of the tactics will work for everyone, but at least some of these should be applicable and useful.
#1 - Target Your Content to an Audience Likely to Share
When strategizing about who you're writing for, consider that audience's ability to help spread the word. Some readers will naturally be more or less active in evangelizing the work you do, but particular communities, topics, writing styles and content types regularly play better than others on the web. For example, great infographics that strike a chord ( like this one), beautiful videos that tell a story (like this one) and remarkable collections of facts that challenge common assumptions (like this one) are all targeted at audiences likely to share (geeks with facial hair, those interested in weight loss and those with political thoughts about macroeconomics respectively).
If you can identify groups that have high concentrations of the blue and orange circles in the diagram above, you dramatically improve the chances of reaching larger audiences and growing your traffic numbers. Targeting blog content at less-share-likely groups may not be a terrible decision (particularly if that's where you passion or your target audience lies), but it will decrease the propensity for your blog's work to spread like wildfire across the web.
#2 - Participate in the Communities Where Your Audience Already Gathers
Advertisers on Madison Avenue have spent billions researching and determining where consumers with various characteristics gather and what they spend their time doing so they can better target their messages. They do it because reaching a group of 65+ year old women with commercials for extreme sports equipment is known to be a waste of money, while reaching an 18-30 year old male demographic that attends rock-climbing gyms is likely to have a much higher ROI.
Thankfully, you don't need to spend a dime to figure out where a large portion of your audience can be found on the web. In fact, you probably already know a few blogs, forums, websites and social media communities where discussions and content are being posted on your topic (and if you don't a Google search will take you much of the way). From that list, you can do some easy expansion using a web-based tool like Google's Display Planner:
Once you've determined the communities where your soon-to-be-readers gather, you can start participating. Create an account, read what others have written and don't jump in the conversation until you've got a good feel for what's appropriate and what's not. I've written a post here about rules for comment marketing, and all of them apply. Be a good web citizen and you'll be rewarded with traffic, trust and fans. Link-drop, spam or troll and you'll get a quick boot, or worse, a reputation as a blogger no one wants to associate with.