Design School’s 1 Million Traffic Project (A Case Study from Canva)



How did Canva increase Design School’s traffic to 1 million visits? You’ll find the answer in this post.

Here’s the secret: it doesn’t need much. What you really need is nothing more than a tweak here and there to take it to that next level.

A look at the Design School— from launch to now

The screenshot below, taken from Google Analytics:


Now, after a six-month concerted effort from its small content team and a talented team of freelance writers, Design School can scrape their way atop. Here are Google Analytics screenshots showing the session stats for each article, inclusive of their date of publication in July 2015 until the end of February 2016. You can just see how significant the difference is between the sustainability of the traffic from the socially-geared morning rituals article (the first graph) and the traffic from the search-geared social media icons article (the second graph):



The difference? This is the proof that search traffic is self-sustainable. You can publish an article geared for social and it will hopefully implode. However, because it’s not a topic people search for, it delivers a limited traffic life.

On the other side, publish an article on a topic that people search for regularly, and that group will continue to find it months after its published, which gives you an enduring supply of monthly traffic. Extrapolate this theory out to 50 or 100 articles a year, and you’ve got 50 or 100 self-sustaining articles.

Optimising for SEO: The importance of an audit

Another important thing Design School did on the path to the million was an SEO content audit. A content audit is like a spring clean of your blog, where you review every article published and determine which should be kept, which should be trashed and redirected, and which should be improved.

The reason for the audit is to avoid keyword cannibalisation, which can hurt your SEO pulling power. It also just tidies up your blog, which delivers a better user/reader experience.

In a nutshell, the steps in content audit were:

  1. Scraped a list of all the articles we’ve published on the blog and dumped them into a ‘master list’ tab on a spreadsheet
  2. Added four other tabs to the spreadsheet: New— for articles with great content that just need a new URL slug, optimised for SEO. Combine— for multiple articles on the same topic that need to be merged into one super article to centralise the reader value and to avoid keyword cannibalisation. Keep— for articles that meet a good standard of SEO optimisation and content quality, and don’t need any extra love. Improve— for articles that partly or fully need to be re-written, because the content is poorly SEO-optimised for the topic they’re about, and/or because they fall short of the blog’s content quality standards, to the point where they deliver a negative-value experience to the reader.
  3. Went down our master list and added every article to one of our four tabs, per the criteria above.
  4. Executed on the changes/improvements needed for each article.
  5. Actioned any redirects required so there were no dead-end URLs as a result of the changes.

SEO audits might seem difficult, but they’re not. And they represent the concrete slab of session growth— the foundation upon which all your efforts from then on can be built.

Here’s some GA screenshots depicting the immediate effect the audit had on three of our articles:




While these tweaks to how we approached SEO were crucial, they weren’t the only thing we changed. Another important change we made was to our editorial cadence.

Editorial cadence: Going from blog to publication

So in December, 2015 we decided Design School needed to improve our editorial cadence. It is the rhythm a publication needs to publish regularly and reliably. For us, it was another major contributor to our steep growth.

To build our cadence, from December 2015, Design School needed the following:

  • Publishing consistency — Ensuring an article is published every US work day, without fail. Publishing consistency is a staple feature of any publication striving to be the best;
  • Depth to the editorial calendar — always having articles scheduled at least 6 weeks in advance;
  • Editorial consistency — Ensuring each article goes through an editorial process so each is consistent and meets a publishable standard; and,
  • New writer onboarding — The hiring process of new writers is now a structured process with email templates, a review process, and an article trial process.

Publishing consistency — Ensuring an article is published every working day

We’ve always used CoSchedule to plan our editorial calendar, but we’re now dedicated to scheduling at least one article per US work day. The difference in consistency can be clearly seen when you compare what our calendar looked like in late November/early December last year:


With how busy it looks now, in Mid-February to Mid-March:


While this move to be more consistent and to publish more regularly is a long way short of blogging rocket science, it took some time to set in stone.

Adopt an editorial process and use it consistently

Some of the items on the checklist include:

  • Keeping the number of words between the article headline and the first image in the article to 150 words (because images are SUPER important to the success of our articles);
  • Making sure all paragraphs are short and readable;
  • Making sure article subheadings are numbered correctly;
  • Making sure all images are displayed correctly;
  • Making sure all images are cited properly;
  • Increasing the number of internal links in each article to other Design School articles; and,
  • Making sure all links included in the article go to the right destination.

Before we built out this checklist, we were editing articles on a case-by-case basis which left the door open for every article to be edited differently from any other. The checklist takes the guesswork out of achieving editorial consistency, and has become a reliable feature of our growth.

The importance of blog artwork

Facebook has always been the number 1 social traffic contributor to the blog. However, on 1 August 2015, there was a change of the guard to second biggest social contributor for the first time since our blog launched in November 2014: Pinterest overtook Twitter.

You can see the daily rise of our Pinterest graphic in the Google Analytics graph, below.


This evolution from Twitter to Pinterest is indicative of another crucial ingredient in our growth to the million.

Design School and Canva have always been extremely proud of our writers’ abilities to curate the best graphics from around the web to include as examples in their articles. Here’s a couple from an article we published in February:

Food. Love it? You’ve never seen it look like this.




You can imagine how much value these graphics add to an article’s aesthetic. And in 2016, Design School are planning to create a lot of custom graphics ourselves in Canva, like these:






The value of creating custom graphics is that they can retain complete control over those assets, the brand, and the impact they want to have.

Want to create your own?

Each of these graphics took no longer than an hour to design ourselves in Canva. If you’re new, design your first blog graphic now (and perhaps a social media graphic to help promote the article), and if you get stuck here’s an article to get you started.

Blog banners

Besides blog graphics, other artwork you can focus is blog banners. You might think this is expensive and/or time-consuming, but it’s really not. Here are five of our best in 2016, each of which took less than an hour to put together in Canva:

1. Food. Love it? You’ve never seen it look like this. We can promise you that.


2. Instagram for Business


3. 60 Free Outline Icon Sets Perfect for Contemporary Designs


4. 10 Marketing Experiments You Can Run Yourself to Improve Your Reach on Social Media


5. Spring Design: 30 Tips & Examples to Inspire Your Spring-themed Social Media Graphics


To reiterate, each of these only took about an hour to design, but they set the Design School apart from other blogs in our space (and other blogs in general), because they draw readers into our articles.

Good luck on achieving your big blogging goals for 2016 and, as always, happy designing!