Image via Death to the Stock Photo

7 Lessons Canva Learned While Growing Traffic from Social Media by 475%

We’ve all been there: burning the proverbial midnight oil, writing, rewriting, and editing a new blog post. A final proofread, and you hit publish.

Then, you wait for the likes, shares, and retweets: the whole social media frenzy. You compulsively check your social media dashboards, again and again, hoping to become a significant signal on the radar of an industry influencer.

But nothing happens.

Yes, you get a few likes and an inconsequential number of shares, but the response is tepid at best. You start questioning your ideas and your writing skills, trying to figure out what went wrong. And a day later, you forget about it and start the whole cycle of writing and publishing over again.

What are you doing wrong? More often than not the mistake is right there in front of you: You didn’t pause and think.

Busy as you are running the content machine, if you don’t analyze your successes and failures – you won’t improve your strategy. This is what we learned at Canva when we asked ourselves: “how can we do better?”

Last year, we launched our new blog, Design School, a space with articles, tutorials and interactive tools for anyone and everyone to learn how to design

Since the Design School was a redesign of our old blog, we were already popular in the space – recording more than 100,000 sessions in our first month. But then the numbers plateaued. Our traffic wasn’t growing.

On our third month, we changed our strategy. That’s what I’m going to walk you through in this post. In this post, we’ll share the results.

This is a screenshot of our Google Analytics page that shows the improvement in our blog’s overall performance by 220% in the first 60 days after we changed our strategy.

growing social traffic by 475

Of that 220% jump in sessions, the majority came from social. If we look at just our social traffic, the jump is closer to 475%. Here’s a screenshot:

growing social traffic sessions

I’m going to walk you through the lessons we learned while doing it – and show you how you can do it too.

#1. “Social strategy” is not what most people think

Likes, shares, comments. We all crave them.

And for good reason. Social is one of the most powerful channels to promote your business online. But “social strategy” doesn’t just mean the performance of your social media pages. It means having a plan to maximize the contribution your social media efforts make to your overall business objectives.

Here’s what most people do: They create post after post on their blog giving it only a modicum of thought, and plug it on their social pages. Sure, you might yield some user engagement on your page. But then you wouldn’t be maximising your potential.

Now, let’s assume your blog gets 2000 visitors and an average reader has 200 Twitter followers. If he shares your blog on Twitter, your blog’s total potential reach grows to 400,000 visitors. If you create amazing content that readers all over the share, you’re unlocking your access to all of your fans’ social media followers. So getting that share is an essential part of your social strategy.

The lesson? Social strategy is not just the likes and shares you receive on your page. It’s the love you receive all over the web, and how that love translates to the total reach of your marketing efforts.

So how do you build this community? That’s where great content comes in.

#2. Your competitors’ social traffic is the first key to your new content strategy

In a TV interview before he became the US President, Barack Obama was asked which book he would take with him to the White House.  He picked Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 Team of Rivals, that gives an insight into American President Abraham Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War.

Why? To learn from his competitors in building his leadership.

In the same way, we also believe there’s no better way to understand our audience, market, and industry than by studying and observing the content strategies of our competitors.

To do this, we used BuzzSumo, a site that finds related content and tells you not only how many people shared it, but on which social networks, and who even went so far as to link to it. From here, we could analyze which types of posts brought our competitors the most social exposure, and formulate our own pieces along that same kind of framework.

Let’s take a look at Hootsuite’s most popular posts.

BuzzSumo Hootsuite popular posts
As you can see from this image, predictive trends, skills, and templates were top performers, gathering nearly 12,000 shares total. Anything that denotes change, saves time, or can help social media professionals (Hootsuite’s target audience) improve their skill-set performs well.

Try this technique with your competitors. It will give you the insight you need to plan the type of content you’re going to be writing about.

Don’t be afraid to duplicate a topic, but always aim to improve on anything that already exists on the web.

3) You need to know what else your fans are reading

Another way to get a clearer idea of the type of content your audience wants to share is to look at what they’re already doing. Luckily, there’s an easy way to do it.

Below is a piece we wrote on where to find free stock photos – the kind of piece that’s always popular with designers and non-designers alike.

social images

In BuzzSumo, you can not only see where your social content is the most popular, but also see a cross-section of users who shared it on Twitter.  Here’s an example of one of the people who shared our free stock photos post:

Now, there’s the interesting part. You can also see which other content they share.

Why is this exercise valuable? If you examine the reading patterns of a selection of your most influential fans, you’ll start to pick up on topics they want to read and share. In blogging, this is a golden rule I live by. Give your readers what they want—that’s the best incentive to promote shareability.

4) It’s important for your content to be unique

Now you’re probably thinking: “copying competitor’s content isn’t very original” and you’re right. It isn’t.

That’s not what we, or your, should set out to achieve. Once the research is done, that’s when your editor comes in: to find original angles and add your unique brand touch. A great starting point is to head over to and type in a broad keyword about your blog’s topic. For example, when we were researching the topic of quotes, which we knew was popular, this is what we found:

Quora researching topics

Inspired by a thread with almost 300 upvotes, we created this post. It received more than 6k shares.

motivational quotes inspired by Quora

When you’re doing your own research on Quora, the most important things to look at here are the number of people who want answers, as well as the number of upvotes on the most popular answers.

Ask yourself, what is it about those answers that made them so popular? Is there a specific angle or idea you can springboard off of to create your post?  These are insights you simply won’t gain just by studying the sheer number of shares and types of posts that get the most attention on social networks.

When you’re piecing together your findings to create your own posts, here’s the advice our editor suggests. Ask yourself:

  • Is this article out of date? Would readers want a more updated version?
  • Can we improve on this article with specific examples or case studies?
  • Can we improve on this article by adding more visuals?
  • Is the article missing important steps or key pieces of information readers need?
  • Does this article lack actionable steps that readers can implement too?
  • Can we share our own experiences to make this article more personable and relatable?

I suggest creating a spreadsheet with a response to these questions. The more exercises like this that you do, the stronger your content will become.

5) Longer, actionable posts get shared the most

The third and final step we took to ensure our content was highly sharable was to look at the anatomy of our posts. So, what does the optimum post actually look like? When we launched our blog, we focused on writing short, sharp how-to articles. Because no one reads anything on the internet, right?


We changed our strategy, and found that longer posts got shared much more frequently. We’re not the only ones who think this, either. This is Buzzsumo’s findings from an analysis over over 100 million articles.

shares by content length

Now, all of the posts we create are 2,000 words plus. It paid off. One post which was longer than 5,000 words long even received more than 10k shares!

Other than creating longer longer posts, you should also work on making your content more actionable—another editorial change we made that had massive impact. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Give concrete examples and show your tips in action through case studies.
  • Don’t just give readers the tools and techniques to do the job, show them how to use them.
  • Get insights and opinions from experts that back up your ideas and theories
  • Share third party insights and data from studies that support your ideas.

Overall, always aim to make your blog the one source that people can always count on for the best possible information.  Here’s a checklist you can use to ensure you’re among the best.

Your content:

  • Fulfills a need – Do your readers want to know about this, or are you writing it just because you think it’s what they want?
  • Can’t be found anywhere else – If it’s within the first page results of a Google search, it’s not that epic.  Do the extra work required to make it that way. Most other bloggers and site owners are lazy, and will happily link to your finished work as opposed to doing the hard work themselves!
  • Is specific – Don’t just tell people to do something – tell them how to do it.  Don’t just give them the tools, show them how to use them.  Don’t just give advice, show screenshots or videos that demonstrate the process.

Remember, someone who wants to know how to design a logo isn’t going to search for “beginner’s guide to graphic design” – he’s going to search for “how to design a logo”. Think in terms of the words and phrases your audience would use to seek out answers to their needs.

6) Use more images and double your social shares

If length and content is the first part of the perfect post anatomy, then the number of images you use is the second.

While we were studying our competitors, we noticed how that posts that performed well on social often had 20+ images, so we decided to systematically increase the number of images in our posts.

Rather than only using a single banner image—which many bloggers do—we experimented with:

  • Quotes on images
  • Featuring work from other designers as curated lists
  • Infographics
  • Stock photos
  • Custom designs

And sure enough, the more images we used, the more traffic increased. Here, for example, is our traffic from Pinterest in the same period during which we worked on growing our social traffic through the blog:

growing social traffic through the blog

This strategy increased traffic coming from Pinterest 62.5% as our readers started pinning multiple images from a single post. To see this in action, look what happens when you search for the Design School on Pinterest. Not a lot of banner images, but a flood of shares.

design school Canva

Now, obviously this doesn’t mean that you should scatter stock photos everywhere.  Use images that make sense in the overall context of the piece and that would encourage users to share them.

7) Headlines are key to social success

Recently, we published a post originally titled “Why Steve Jobs Took Long Walks And Why You Should Too”. In the first 24 hours, it received a handful of shares, but less that 1k.

As an experiment, we rephrased it to Why Everyone From Beethoven, Goethe, Dickens, Darwin To Steve Jobs Took Long Walks and Why You Should Too and shared it again on our social channel. It received more than 70,000 shares across a variety of social networks.

Maybe it’s because we were boxing ourselves in by making the article seem like it was just about Steve Jobs. Who knows the real reason why the title just didn’t lend itself well to sharing.  The why is inconsequential. The results are what matter.

The bottom line on social media success

As you’ve seen, these lessons aren’t specifically geared toward doing things with your Facebook page, or driving engagement on Twitter, or having a Pinterest contest. All of those are only short-term solutions to a long-term issue.

What we’ve learned through all our experiments and new tactics is that social strategy is really content strategy, and vice versa. The more you focus on blog quality, the more the social sphere will reward you by sharing, liking and commenting on your content. And, when that happens, you’ll have an active community ready to promote your brand on your behalf.

What are some lessons you’ve learned about your blog’s content since you started it?  Has your content changed dramatically?  Have you learned other tips and ideas along the way that made an impact in your social shares?  Share them with us in the comments below!