How Websites & Blogs Get Traffic
One thing you should understand before you begin is that generating traffic to a website or blog will be the most challenging task you will face.
That doesn't mean it's impossible to do, but you definitely need to have realistic expectations as you begin.
For the average webmaster or blogger, it takes 6 months to a year to generate steady traffic, and that's only assuming you are continually building content and effectively promoting your site to the right people.
People waste so much time on ineffective marketing techniques like spamming forums, sending spam email, link farms, promoting their sites to their MySpace friends (which usually results in a handful of courtesy visits).
Effective marketing is getting your site in front of the audience that needs your information, features, products, etc.
That's why it's very important you take the time to define who that audience is (i.e. single mom's under 30, dog owners, retired golfers, etc.)
So, how long it takes you to build traffic is going to come down to learning about the best ways of driving targeted traffic to your site and implementing them effectively.
Times Have Changed
When I built my first website in 1998, I was able to make it to the top of the popular search engines in about a week's time. That's because the competition was super light compared to now, and the search engine search algorithms (the formulas for ranking pages) weren't nearly as complex.
All you had to do was create a page, saturate it with keywords you wanted to rank high for, add some meta tags (hidden descriptors that tell the engines what your page is about), and usually within a few days you'd have a top 10 ranking in the popular engines.
As you can imagine, this method got abused. People began trying to cheat the system by adding hidden text (matching the text color to their background color) so they could stuff more keywords into their pages.
They added meta tags that weren't related to their content just to try to get ranked for more popular phrases. So if someone's site was about home employment, they might add sex-related keywords to their meta tags so they could try to rank high when people typed in adult topics.
All of these sneaky tactics resulted in very inconsistent, inappropriate rankings so the search engines combated this by employing stricter guidelines for ranking web pages.
How Search Engines Rank Pages Today
While popular search engines like Google, Yahoo, Live, etc. still read your pages to determine what they are about and where to rank it, they also consider off-page criteria -- particularly how many other popular, related sites are linking to your site.
In other words, how popular is your site among other Webmasters with similar or related sites?
If you think about it, this is a much better and fair way for search engines to determine how to rank pages because the public is actually voting for the best sites instead of the Webmaster.
This prevents sites using those sneaky tactics from clogging up the results with spam and irrelevant information.
So if Google sees that a site about fishing tips has 12,000 other fishing-related sites linking to them, then that probably means it's a credible source on the subject.
It would make sense for Google to rank them higher when someone types in "fishing tips" or other fishing related topics that this site focuses on. The more "popular" you are in the eyes of the search engines, the greater chance you'll make it into the top 10 results.
So that's the general rule of how people get to the top of popular search engines. Just understand that no engine reveals their algorithm, but it's no secret that link popularity is one of the most important factors.
How Do I Improve My Link Popularity?
That's the question of the day and where people often get stuck. First of all, being unique and putting your own spin on your topic or idea is an excellent start.
People often fall into the trap of re-writing content or copying a concept that's already out here, with no uniqueness. Some do it because they are lazy and don't want to write their own info. Others just don't realize why it's such a bad business idea.
I know it may be tempting to copy sites that are already successful, but you have to keep in mind that if you are going to copy their ideas, you are now going to be competing with them. And since they already have the traffic, they have the solid advantage.
Competition is not a bad thing, but if you are going to pattern your site after another, hopefully you will provide different information and/or features that these sites do not offer to give yourself a chance to compete.
MySpace and Facebook are great examples. Facebook became successful because they took the MySpace concept, used their popular features, then added their own unique features that MySpace didn't offer.
FaceBook also originally targeted college students and once their membership grew, they branched out to target a larger audience. If you're going to take on a large competitor, it's very smart to start small like FaceBook did and narrow your target.
Now, I'm not suggesting you compete with the social networking sites because these sites require a ton of programming knowledge and I know the average person does not have access to such resources.
My point is that if you are going to take on another site or concept, be prepared to offer something drastically different (yet useful), and have a solid plan for marketing it.
I repeat... announcing your site to your Facebook friend list is not considered a solid marketing plan.
Posting in Related Forums
This is an old technique, but can still work if you work it. One way to get the word out about your site is to find forums (message boards) related to your site, join them, and begin developing credibility by chatting with other members.
Most forums allow you to create a signature and that signature is added to the bottom of every post you make. This is where you can promote your site.
This doesn't mean joining the forum to spam and blatantly self promote. But you build up credibility by participating in the discussions. The more useful your posts are, the more credible you will become, thus increasing the chances that other members will visit your site.
Commenting on Other Related Blogs
Blogs are unique in that they allow readers to make comments on the author's posts. Look for blogs written on topics that relate to your site or blog and make comments. Most blogs are setup so that the name in the Comments section links to your website.
So the more useful and unique your comments are, the greater the chance others will notice your site and pay you a visit or two.
Remember this is a business. So if you just frowned at the word "paid", I have to question your commitment and level of seriousness.
Many people offer ways for others to advertise on their sites. If you happen to find a site that you think targets your audience, it may be worth checking to see if there are any advertising opportunities.
You may also want to consider Google AdWords.
Let Me Count The Ways
There are hundreds of ways to promote your site, but in the beginning, your main focus should be uniqueness, quality and how you are going to attract the right kind of traffic.
1) What audience am I going to go after?
2) What are their problems, concerns, questions, needs etc.?
3) How can I make my site appeal to the questions in #2?
4) Who are my competitors and how can I capitalize on what worked for them while offering even more useful information, features, etc.?
Effectively answer the above questions above and you are ahead of most new Webmasters who fail to plan.
If you want people to link to your site voluntarily to help improve your link popularity so you can rank high in the search engines, you have to produce quality work.
You'll be amazed at how people will gladly link to your site when they admire your work or believe your site offers something useful that their audience may benefit from. The more this happens, your link popularity will improve. And over time, so will your search engine rankings.
It Takes Time
Building traffic takes time, and usually involves doing a lot of little things over a long period of time.
So if you're going into this expecting 1,000 visitors per day in the first couple of weeks, you are going to be in for a rude awakening.
As I said before, there are hundreds of ways to drive traffic to a website or blog and I only mentioned a few here.
The main point I want to drill home is that if you want to get found in the search engines you are going to have to have good link popularity. Quality and uniqueness play an enormous factor in how many sites will recommend you.
So make sure you brainstorm and do plenty of research on your site's concept and potential competitors before you begin.
Make your site stand out!
If you can absorb the preliminary information on this site, you will have a huge advantage because most people rush and don't take the time to plan and educate themselves before they begin.
If your goal is to make money with a website or blog, absorb the content on this site like a sponge.