For this exercise, I wanted to embrace both how little I know about driving web traffic, as well as the two-hour time limit. While I could spend hours researching and learning the best way to drive traffic to my existing content on a blog, realistically I know that most people won’t have time to do that. I also wanted to see this challenge through the eyes of a mobile-only user. We all know that people who have access to smartphones but not PCs is an ever-increasing segment of the population. And while having a smartphone lets many people who wouldn’t otherwise get online, it also comes with some unique limitations that might make this kind of task even more challenging for our users.

So where would I start? I’ve got a blog with plenty of existing content and twenty extra dollars in my pocket. Well, like with everything else in my life, I start with Google. Searching for “increase my website visitors” delivers tons of results.

The first few are ads for services like Taboola, PulsePoint, and Advertise.com. I browse through these results a bit, but grow frustrated pretty quickly: this isn’t meant for me at all. For one thing, I know when a website says “contact us for sales information” that usually means it’s outside of my budget. And second, all of these seem to be things I am going to have to install on a server or connect to my website somehow. I don’t know how to do that! I use the WordPress mobile app to manage my site, and I don’t see any way to add these kinds of services to my site.

So I scroll on down past the advertising results. Now I’m finding some articles with tips on how to achieve just what I want. Great! But wait, the suggestions are leaving me wanting.

Put your words into a different format. Go visual. Try creating an infographic or slideshare presentation.

A what now? I don’t know what an “info-graphic” is, and how on earth am I going to make one on my phone? I switch over to the App Store and search for infographic—the best-looking apps are all paid or require in-app purchases, and they cost $6-12. That’s a lot to spend on an app, and I’ll still have to learn how to make the graphics. This doesn’t seem like it’s going to help. After some more digging I learn about Canva, a free, highly-rated graphic design app that’s available on my Android phone. I’ll set this aside for later since I’ve only got two hours and that’s not long enough to learn how to use this app, but it sounds like other bloggers like me have found it useful.

SEO audit your web site to make sure that it is well optimized for Google

SEO… I’ve heard of this from the WordCamps I’ve attended in the past. I read a bit, click through to another site, then see “the complete SEO course: learn step-by-step how to increase your traffic and find out how to practically build a successful website or blog.” This sounds like exactly what I need! I click the link to discover that it costs $19. There’s no way I can afford to blow my entire budget on this! And so I turn back around in hopes of finding a different tack.

Write irresistible headlines.

On reading this, I immediately remember a great post by my pal Jan called How WordPress Changed My Life. It’s the most-viewed post on our blog already, and the headline is definitely irresistible. Maybe I should start by promoting the post that’s already most popular? There’s a chance it could go viral, and a small investment could result in it getting shared exponentially more for free.

Growing a bit frustrated as so many of the suggestions I’m finding don’t seem to be relevant to my particular case, I take a step back and think about some avenues I already know. What about Facebook, Twitter, or any of the existing social networks I’m already on? I’m already sharing my content there, but maybe I could use my $20 to juice my traffic a bit more for this particular post. I google “create a Facebook ad”. The first three results are all ads for paid services—again, my budget doesn’t make these an option so I scroll on by. Then I see some support articles from Facebook; I tap one of them and see:

To create a Facebook ad, go to “ad creation” on a desktop computer or log in to Facebook through the app or web browser on your phone or tablet. Next tap [hamburger icon] > [blue icon that kind of looks like a stats graph] > Ads Manager.

Well, I don’t have a desktop computer, but I am already logged in to the Facebook app on my phone. I find the hamburger icon, and then look everywhere on the screen, but can’t find the icon shown in the support article, or the phrase “Ads Manager” anywhere. This is frustrating.

I back up and go back to the support article on the web. The phrase “ad creation” there is a link, so I click it and I get a Facebook login screen. I hate logging in! I use apps on my phone more frequently than websites, which means that I never have to re-enter my password, which means that I can never remember it. After a few minutes of fumbling around to remember my credentials, I’m finally logged in. I’m looking at Facebook’s ad generator and selecting some options for the post I want to promote. This is all looking very promising until I see:

Daily Budget: $5. Estimated 4–8 clicks per day.

Whoa, this is going to cost me nearly a dollar for every click? The budget is changeable, but if I double the daily budget to $10, the estimate only improves to 8–15 clicks per day. If I hope to drive a thousand views to this post, its going to take weeks, and lots of money I don’t have. I close my web browser, amazed that Facebook ads are so expensive for a little site like mine; I’d always assumed they would be more affordable.

At this point, I’m getting close to my self-imposed deadline. I’m frustrated, and realizing that my $20 would probably better-spent on dinner and maybe a drink to calm my nerves.

While scrolling through my Twitter feed, over a plate of tacos and halfway into my margarita, I start thinking about all my friends who have large social media presences. I’m lucky to be connected to a lot of people on Facebook, and I’ve got a friend on Twitter with 9,000 followers. Maybe it’s time to call in a few favors? I have strong personal connections with a lot of these people, and I bet some of them would be willing to help promote my blog. If I can get some friends to share this post organically, those links are bound to reach tons more people than I could with an ad alone, and their personal connections to their friends, family, and followers is worth way more than $20.

At the end of a process that left me with more questions than answers, the lesson learned seems to be that even online, those personal connections matter. Whether it’s an ambitious blogger or an entrepreneurial bizzer, we all want to create an audience that’s not just impressive in size, but sustainable. Spending $20 on clicks might give me some short-term traffic, but I’m pretty sure that investing my time into my existing personal relationships will pay far more dividends in the form of a more sustained following, and, I hope, more engaged repeat readers for my site.

Posted by Matt Miklic

Designer, and other useful things.