1. This post is not about personal finances, it's about blogging.
2. It's going to be looooooooooong.
If either of these turns you off, feel free to skip it and come back in an hour or so when we'll resume our regularly scheduled programming. But if you're interested in blogging and want a great way to drive traffic to your site, I have some thoughts for you that I think will be worthwhile. They are about how you can maximize blog carnivals to drive traffic to your site. Someone may have written a post like this (with research and all), but I haven't seen it, so hopefully, I'm bringing new information to the table for us all.
What is a Blog Carnival?
Let's start with a definition, so we're all on the same page. A blog carnival is a traveling post around a specific theme (for example, the Carnival of the Capitalists has posts about capitalism -- business, politics, money, etc.). The post is made up of article submissions from blogs all over the blogosphere.
Each carnival is posted on a regular basis (usually weekly). The blog that makes the carnival post for a specific week is called the "host". Hosts change from week to week.
If my definition lacks clarity, which it may, here are examples of recent blog carnivals so you can see for yourself what they look like:
How Carnivals Work
Each carnival has its own set of rules and processes, but generally, here's how they all work:
1. The carnival lists its rules at a main blog (the "owner" of the Carnival). See here for an example.
2. The owner also posts a list of hosts (what blog the carnival will be on) for the next several carnivals. See here for an example.
3. Before the deadline, bloggers send posts that fit these rules either directly to the host or by using a submission form like this one.
4. The host compiles all the entries, selects which ones to include, writes a post that ties all of them together and links to them, and publishes the post. At this point, the carnival is now "up".
5. The carnival host emails friends, bloggers, participants in the carnival, family, etc., telling them that the carnival is up.
6. These people tell others and many, many blogs link to the carnival (including the blogs that have a post in the carnival). See here for an example.
7. Thousands of people visit the carnival as they hear about it through various posts. They read the carnival and click through to the blogs to read the full posts that interest them.
8. Everyone is happy: the carnival host gets tons of traffic for all the work he/she has put in, the carnival participants get a good/great level of traffic (more on this later) for relatively little work, and visitors to the carnival get to read some great posts and be introduced to some wonderful blogs. The world rejoices!
Why Participate in Blog Carnivals
Why would you want to participate in a blog carnival? Read numbers 7 and 8 above again. For the host, there's a ton of traffic. And for participants, if you participate correctly, you can get a very good amount traffic. The rest of this post is going to tell how to maximize carnival traffic for both the host and participants.
A couple months ago, I became interested in what the specific, quantifiable benefit was (traffic wise) of carnivals and what could be done to maximize traffic from a carnival. So I started tracking traffic stats from blogs that hosted carnivals and had open stats -- tracking their traffic before, during, and after a carnival. I tracked by day and noted traffic fluctuations and attempted to track down the reasons for spikes in traffic. I also tracked my submissions -- recording which ones did well, which didn't do so well, and why.
One caveat: My data, findings, and recommendations are based on three carnivals specifically (Capitalists, Personal Finance, and Vanities), but I think many, if not all, of the findings will translate to the other carnivals.
1. InstaPundit is the traffic key. The biggest traffic driver for the carnival host (which ultimately impacts participants as well) is when the carnival is recognized by InstaPundit. If you're not familiar with InstaPundit, it's likely that you're new to blogging. The short version is that this blog/person (the title of the blog is "InstaPundit" and often the person who writes it, UT law professor Glenn Reynolds, is referred to as "InstaPundit") is about politics and is very widely linked to and trafficked. (As of this writing, InstaPundit was averaging 113,180 visits per day as tracked by SiteMeter and had 5,883 links to it (the most of any blog) as calculated by The Truth Laid Bear.)
Fortunately for those of us that are just a bit below 113k visits per day and 6k links, InstaPundit likes to link to almost every carnival post. And even better, his thousands of readers like to read the carnivals. Hence, when a carnival is up and InstaPundit posts on it, tons of people flock to the carnival. It's a beautiful thing if you're the host.
2. The time and day InstaPundit links is critical. Carnival hosts can good levels of traffic simply by having InstaPundit link to the carnival. But traffic from an InstaPundit link can be maximized if the link goes up at the right time. For instance, I've seen blogs go up early (Sunday afternoon for a Monday deadline), on time, and late, and this all impacts when (and if) InstaPundit links to the carnival and what traffic ensues. Here are my general findings:
Early link: For those carnivals that get up early and get linked by InstaPundit early, their traffic is about half of what it could be. That's because it's likely that even InstaPundit doesn't have as many readers on Sunday afternoon as Monday morning (or at least as many readers interested in carnivals). And because he posts so frequently, a Sunday post is so far down the list by the time Monday rolls around that many of the large number of visitors to InstaPundit on Monday morning miss it.
Late link: Even worse that an early link, is getting no link, which is what happens if the carnival gets up late and/or it's a busy news day. InstaPundit covers lots of news and posts very frequently, has tons of readers and probably gets a ga-zillion emails each day. It's easy to get lost in such a fray. This is the risk someone runs if they get the carnival up late or don't get InstaPundit's attention. He seems to like to link to a carnival when it just gets up (within a day or so), and I don't think I've ever seen him link to a carnival that's been up a couple days or more (note: as I was writing this post, he did link late this past week to the Carnival of Personal Finance -- and even apologized for linking late! Regardless, it's a risk to be avoided.). Perhaps he doesn't think it's newsworthy after a certain point, so he skips it. This is the worst-case-scenario for the carnival.
On Time link: From my data it seems that the best time to get a link from InstaPundit is from 10 am Eastern (U.S. time) until about 4 pm Eastern on Monday (I say this for the carnivals that post for a Monday deadline). Tuesday would be fine, probably too, but it would run close to missing a link and not be advisable. I'm not sure I've ever seen a Monday night link, but I'd expect it to be better than a Sunday night link, but not as good as a Monday (or Tuesday) morning/afternoon link just based on normal blog traffic patterns (people seem to read more blogs at work than at home).
3. Other high-profile blogs matter too. Fortunately, InstaPundit isn't the only carnival linker with big traffic. Many other big blogs like to let their readers know about carnivals, though their posts on carnivals seem rather sporadic (InstaPundit seems to be the only one that does it regularly). When I hosted the Carnival of Personal Finance, I got links from Scoble, Outside the Beltway, and the Evangelical Outpost as well as several other lesser-known but still highly trafficked blogs.
4. For blog participants, there are two, generally equal tasks to be done to maximize traffic:
A. Get your post as high up (or "as early in" if you prefer) in the carnival as possible. This is simply the law of "a good post seen first is more likely to get clicked than one later down the line". Obviously, if your post is up top, you get exposed to people first and more often (some people quit reading after a few posts) and as such you get better traffic. My results show that having a link up top gets about twice the traffic that a lower link gets (note: I haven't noticed that much of a difference between a link half way down the page and at the bottom, but it's likely that there is some difference, though it's smaller.)
B. Use a catchy title for your submission. All other things being equal, a title that catches the eye of readers will generate twice the traffic to your site as a generic boring title. Which would you click on first "How to Become a Millionaire" or "Money News"?
Obviously, the best of all scenarios is when you get a post with a catchy title at the top of the carnival.
5. There are long-term traffic impacts of a carnival, but they are slight. There are a couple conclusions about how a carnival impacts a blog's traffic after the carnival is over. First, it appears that the carnival does not result in substantial, immediate traffic changes for either the host or the participants. Blogs that had 200 visitors per day do not suddenly go to 500 visitors per day and stay there.
That said, there does appear to be some lasting long-term benefit, at least for the host. If nothing else, the host blog is certainly exposed to thousands of people and it's not hard to imagine that a decent number stick around or at least visit infrequently. My best guess (my data is sparse in this area, but I have been a host so I'm not totally in the dark) is that it may give a 10-15% bump in traffic for the next week or so at least, which, after all, is pretty good. The impact is less for participants and may not be noticeable. (at least this is the case for me).
6. Total carnival incremental traffic levels vary, but are generally in the 2,000 to 5,000 visitor range. It's hard to track incremental visits and I was certainly not aware of all the other marketing that blogs had going on while they hosted the carnival. That said, it seemed very consistent that a blog grew in size by 3,000 extra visitors the week it hosted a carnival, with some doing a bit worse and a few doing much better.
7. The Monday-posting carnivals receive much better traffic. In my experience, the Carnival of the Capitalists and the Carnival of Personal Finance have a distinct advantage over the Carnival of the Vanities simply because of the day they are up (the first two go up on Monday while the latter goes up on Wednesday -- sometimes Wednesday afternoon). This is likely simply a function of the total number of people reading blogs on Monday versus those on Wednesday (once again, these are all U.S. days/times. International bloggers will see the results skewed a bit depending on their location).
With the findings above, my recommendations fall into place and are quite obvious. But for the sake of clarity, I'll spell them out here:
1. If you have limited time, focus on the Monday-posting carnivals. They have the most bang for the buck. I still participate in the Carnival of the Vanities because it's the oldest and has a great "personality", but if you can only be in one, make it a Monday carnival.
2. If you host a carnival, get it up early on Monday morning (4 am Eastern U.S. time) and email InstaPundit (and others in your contact list) around 6 am. (So he has the chance to at least see it sometime in the morning) This is the best chance you have of getting a good post time from him.
One thing to note: It appears that InstaPundit only links to a carnival when the host emails him. I have emailed him about carnivals I am in as a participant on a couple of occasions and he's never posted on it. Conversely, when I was the host and emailed him, he posted on it. This may just be coincidence, but don't take the risk and have someone else email for you. If you can't take the time to email him, why should he post about it? I wouldn't.
3. Watch InstaPundit throughout the day. If he's posting other items but not the carnival, send him a (kind) reminder. I did this around 1 pm the Monday I hosted and he posted on it an hour or so later. (A PERFECT time I might add. Thanks, Glenn.) ;-)
4. Keep emailing people throughout the week. I got posts from top 50 blogs after Tuesday the week I hosted the Carnival of Personal Finance. You have to work to promote the carnival to maximize traffic. At a minimum, all the blogs in the carnival should link to it.
5. As a participant in carnivals, here's what you can do to make your submission the most successful it can be:
A. Get your posts in early. I send my submissions in for the next week as soon as the carnival is up for the current week. This doesn't guarantee success but it helps because 1) some hosts will post in the order that they receive the submissions (so if you're early submitting, you're near the top of the post) and 2) hosts will be more likely to read (and thus like) your post if it's in early (they have more time to review it) versus the gobs of posts they receive an hour before the carnival deadline.
B. Make it easy for the host to include you. List all the key information the host needs to post easily (usually the permalink, trackback URL, name of the post, name of your blog, and a short summary of the post). Some hosts prefer to include different pieces of information, so check their site in advance, see what they want submitted, then submit that. Many bloggers won't do this (they'll just send a link to the post -- believe me, I know from the submissions I received as a host) and they won't get the benefit of the doubt when the host is deciding which post to put up top. And if nothing else, it's simply common courtesy to submit according to the guidelines.
C. Pick a compelling title and topic that will grab attention and make people want to click through. Also consider using a post with links to other articles on your site to get people to check around a bit and view several pages.
6. Suggest how people can subscribe to your blog. If you want to make sure the traffic you get from a carnival comes back, tell them in your post (at the end) how they can subscribe to your blog. And make it easy for them to do so.
I still have a lot more to learn about carnivals (and I have some ideas I want to try out), but I believe these will certainly help you maximize your traffic with them. See you at the next carnival!
Update: Linking to the Beltway Traffic Jam.