How to get more traffic to your blog, lessons from The Matrix

a picture of a computer with a picture of Neo from the Matrix and an upwards trending graph with the title of this article, 'How to get more traffic to your blog, lessons from The Matrix'

The Matrix holds a special place in my heart. It was the first rated R movie that I saw. I can remember it like it was yesterday…

The year was 1999. My brother was nice enough to let me go with him to his friend’s house, where a few “older kids” were hanging out for the afternoon. I was 13 at the time and my brother and his friends were 16. They were trying to decide what to do when one of the guys said, “Hey! I rented The Matrix last night, we should watch it!” He proceeded to pull the movie (a VHS rental from Movie Gallery, of course) out of his backpack.

My brother, being the good brother that he is, let the guys know that I’m not allowed to watch rated R movies. There was a collective groan from the guys and I immediately felt like a middle schooler kid in a group of high schoolers (which I was).

In an effort to gain some dignity I said; “Wait! Maybe Mom and Dad will let me watch it. I’ll call and ask them.”

Phone: Ring ring ring…

  • Dad: “Ostrom’s” (that’s how my family would answer the phone).
  • Bjork (nervous voice): “Hey Dad, Erik and his friends are watching The Matrix, would that be okay if I watch it with them?”
  • Dad: What is it rated?
  • Bjork: “R”
  • Dad: Silence
  • Bjork: Silence
  • Dad: “Vick!” (that’s Dad calling out to my mom (Vicki) in the other room).
  • Dad: Mumbling (as they discussed the decision, hand over the phone’s microphone).
  • Dad: “Yeah, that’s okay if you watch it, but this is an exception to the rule.”
  • Bjork (trying not to act too excited while doing a concealed fist pump): “Okay, thanks Dad.”

I don’t remember many details from when I was 13 years old, but I do remember quite a bit about that movie. I’m sure that I was extra attentive, as I realized that this might be the only rated R movie I see for another three years.

For those that haven’t seen it, the (very condensed) premise of the movie is that Neo (the main character) finds himself in an alternate world where the bad guys (Agents) can do everything better than him. He needs to figure out how the alternate world works so he can defeat the Agents.

You can watch the trailer to get a better idea of what the movie is about. You can also get a better idea of why I felt like the coolest 13 year old alive when I was watching it:

Fifteen years after watching the movie I’ve decided it’s time to validate my parent’s decision to let me watch it by using some concepts from the movie and applying them to a common questions that Lindsay and I get about blogging:

How do I get more traffic to my blog?

My goal for this post won’t come in the form of tips or tricks that will help increase your blog’s traffic. Those are important, but that’s not what this post is about. My goal is to give you a new way to view how the internet works and how it connects back to your blog.

Similarities between starting a blog and The Matrix

Here’s a scene from early on in The Matrix when Morpheus (the first dude) is trying to teach Neo (the second dude) how to jump across a building.

That scene is a pretty good analogy for how it feels when you’re first starting a blog. You start by watching someone else do it. You observe, take notes, maybe even consult with family and friends, and eventually come to the conclusion that it’s something you could do as well.

You take a few steps back, get a running start…and fall straight to the concrete.

Ouch.

What’s the deal? How come it looks so easy for other people?

What people tell you

After hitting the concrete you get back up, brush off your shirt, and get back to it. Time to do some research! After reading article after article (after article) you come up with a list of things that people say you should do to build traffic to your blog.

It probably looks something like this:

How to build traffic to your blog

  1. Commit to the long-term
  2. Create high-quality content
  3. Share your content
  4. Take good pictures
  5. Be personable and relatable
  6. Be consistent
  7. Engage on social media
  8. Create an email list
  9. Practice good SEO
  10. Add value
  11. Create unique content
  12. Write guest posts
  13. Leave comments on other blogs

That’s a pretty good list, and all of these things are really good things to do when building a blog. The issue is that we oftentimes do these things blindly, not knowing why we should be doing them or how they really impact our blog’s traffic.

Seeing the internet in a new way

There’s a scene at the end of The Matrix where Neo realizes that The Matrix is actually just a really advanced computer program. He’s able to see the code that creates The Matrix. Weird, I know, but for 13-year-old me it was a jaw-dropped-eyes-wide-open-this-is-sooooo-cool kind of moment.

Take a look. The important scene happens at 41 seconds.

Okay, you have to admit… That’s pretty awesome, right? 🙂

My hope with this post is to give you that same revelation that Neo had about The Matrix except for the internet.

Here’s the thing:

Much like The Matrix, we see the internet not for how it’s created but for what it shows us. We see videos, images, text, GIFs, recipes, ads, etc, etc, etc…

For instance, when looking at pinchofyum.com we see the “regular” version:

The Pinch of Yum homepage in 2020 with three featured recipes at the top

Not the “The Matrix” version:

And when looking at “The Matrix version” (also called the source code) we notice something really interesting.

Links. Lots and lots of links.

They’re everywhere!

As a matter of fact, everything on the internet is in some way created from a link.

The image in your post? It’s actually a link. That YouTube video you just watched? It’s a link. Scrolling through Pinterest? The only thing you’re looking at is links. Did you click a bookmark in your web browser today? That’s a link. How about a Google search result? Yep! It’s a link.

There are lots of technical details we could dive into that help explain this idea, but the important thing here is the frame of mind, which is that in order to grow traffic to your blog you need to first think about links, not traffic.

When we start to understand links we start to understand how to grow traffic to our blog. With this new way of thinking about the internet we’re able to see beyond basic “tips and tricks” and understand why we should be doing certain things and how they really impact our blog’s success.

Note: If you’ve ever read about SEO you know that building links is an important step in increasing your blog’s rank in Google. In this post I’m referring to “link building” on a broader scale, not just in terms of SEO.

Let’s take a look at some of those tips on how to build traffic to your blog and see how they are actually about links.

Commit to the long-term

Everyone knows that it takes a long time for a blog to start getting decent traffic.

Why is that?

It’s because it takes a long time for a blog to build up links. If you have 150 posts after one year then you have 150 different URLs that could be linking to. That’s pretty awesome!

But think about after 10 years of posting at the same frequency. That’s 1,500 posts! If you’re just starting your food blog and you have 10 posts (or 20, or 50, or 100) you probably don’t have enough content (and therefore don’t have enough links) to get decent traffic to your blog, which is why it’s important to commit to the long-term.

Create high-quality content

This is the mantra of many blogging experts. We hear it all the time: Content is King! Create Awesome Content! Write Epic Content!

It’s for a good reason though: It’s true!

But with our new understanding of the significance of links we can start to understand exactly why it’s so important to create high-quality content.

High-quality content multiplies all types of linking. People are more likely to save your blog’s URL in their bookmarks bar (a link!), share your post on social media (a link!), or sign up for your email list (which will send them links back to your blog!). When one of those things happens then your blog (and your traffic) grows a little bit. If you put out crummy content you won’t get any links, and as we’re learning the life blood of the internet (and your blog) is links. No links = no traffic. More links = more traffic.

Share your content

This one is a bit controversial, but I’m a big believer in letting people use the content you’ve created as long as it’s accompanied by a link. I wrote an FBP blog post about how this will help you grow your blog, but the bottom line is…you guessed it: links.

Some of the most successful bloggers I know actually encourage people to do this. Here’s an example:

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits

A highlighted section of an article on Zen Habits about copyrights

And we do it on Pinch of Yum too!

A screenshot of Pinch of Yum's Contact page with the "Can I use your pictures and/or recipes" reason for contact selected

The bottom line: The internet is made up of links.

If you want to understand the internet like Neo understood The Matrix then you need to see everything in terms of links, whether they’re links from Google, email, social media, other websites, or a bookmarks bar in someone’s web browser.

What about you?

Did the ideas in this post change how you think about building traffic to your blog? What are some other examples that you can think of where building traffic is actually building links to your blog? What’s the best way that you’ve found to build links to your blog (and therefore build your blog’s traffic)?

I’ve love to hear your thoughts!

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27 Comments

  1. First of all I am totally going to go a watch the Matrix, I forgot how darn good that movie is!

    Secondly this has really changed how I see building my site. Somehow it seems more manageable to think in terms of links rather than traffic.

    1. I know! I thought the same thing while writing the post. I showed some of the clips to Lindsay but she wasn’t quite as excited. I might be watching it by myself. 🙂

      Happy to hear that it makes things seem a little bit more management when it comes to building your blog.

  2. OMG! I think I have watched The Matrix about a hundred times. Partly because of my teenage crush on KR (“he’s the one”), but mostly because it’s just KICKA**!!! Brilliant analogy.

  3. Thanks so much for this post, you just gave me an “ah-ha” moment. You’re right when you think about it as links (like leaving a comment – muwhwhahaha) it seems so much more achievable. Thanks for the great content (and revisiting a classic movie!).

  4. Whoa. Okay first, this was my favorite blog post of yours, which is saying a lot because I love them all. Second. it’s my favorite blog post about blogging of all time because my mind just exploded. For me, these kind of analogies are great because I learn better this way. I’ve heard of link building so many times that all I hear is blah blah blah. In fact, I recently came across an article about link building and thought “oh, that’s something I’ll have to look into” as if it’s this new dreaded thing I have to learn. But the way you put it here, with your great Matrix clips – I get it!

    1. Sweet! Thanks for the positive feedback Dee. That makes me so happy. I was questioning myself a bit when I was writing it…wondering if it was too abstract. Glad to hear that you connected with it.

  5. First off, that’s one of my favorite all-time movies so I can totally relate to all of the analogies. Second, my eyes were literally opened and I can now see exactly how important links are! It all makes sense. I am beginning to understand how traffic generation works. Now I’m really excited cause I can approach my writing and SEO differently.

    Thank you!

      1. Such a great and informative post. This is the best write up I have read on link building. Done nicely with no pressure 👍.
        PS: Time to see Matrix again.
        Thank you, Bjork!

  6. No Links = No Traffic, More Links = More Traffic. Eye opening, Bjork! Never thought of it like this. Thank you!

  7. Pinch of Yum seems to have mastered SEO. Could you recommend to a beginner what do do besides upload the Yoast SEO plugin for wordpress? I’m a little stuck and uneducated in this department! thanks Bjork!

    1. Both! Just make sure that it makes sense and is helpful for your readers (i.e. don’t just link to stuff willy-nilly!). External and internal linking are both important. 😊

  8. Wow– this is so good! I recently took the Ahrefs course and they’re basically all about links, too. Cool to read you write about it, too! It makes so much sense. Also, the more people like to your site, the more Google sees you as an authoritative site, therefore improving your position and search ranking (and another reason to create quality content that people want to link to ;).

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Now that I understand!! Oh, it’s clear to me NOW!! That’s learning through example, through parallels, no pun intended…. I think I got that right….what I’m coming back to you with…?? I think??