The first 6 months of serious blogging are crucial. In today’s post I’ll share my experiences with one of the most ignored activities by the beginners, and that would be promotion. This is the second post from a bigger series, so I recommend you to read the introductory post, if you came here directly. If you want to know more about the first post in the series, you can go to The First 6 Months Of Blogging – Writing. And keep in mind that this post is also pretty big, over 2000 words, so you’d better book some free time to read it at ease.
Broadcast Your Message
Promotion accounts for at least 40%-45% of the overall time I spend “blogging”. If this sounds surprising, I must confess that I feel I’m not promoting this blog as I should. I feel I’m not doing enough for it.
I cannot stress enough the importance of promotion in the early months. As always, I learned this the hard way, from experience. In the first 3 months, my traffic was constant, but low. Shamefully low, as opposed to my expectations. The vast majority of traffic came from search engines and since the blog didn’t had a significant number of inbound links, my page rank was low. It still is, by the way, only this doesn’t matter now anymore. 🙂
Here’s my traffic breakdown for the first 3 months:
Search Engines – 58%
Referring sites – 28%
Direct traffic – 14%
During the first 3 months I didn’t do anything to promote this blog. I waited to be picked up by search engines. It happened sooner than I thought, only the traffic I received was extremely low. I was indexed almost instantly but the traffic was not as expected.
So, after 3 months of stagnation I decided it was time to actively involve myself in promoting this blog. I realized something extremely important: the world of blogging is really crowded. There are literally millions of blogs out there. Tens of millions. The vast majority are low quality, it’s true, but even if we accept that 1% of the blogs are really good, 1% of 50.000.000 of blogs is 500.000. You have an enormous competition: 500.000 sites! If you have a little bit of decency you realize that you really cannot wait for the search engines to pick you up and send you in the first place. You can’t afford to do that. You have to actually control the process. At least until you can automate some parts of it and assess some progress. If you do nothing to promote your blog, your chances for a steady, growing traffic are extremely low. You act on a field with enormous numbers.
So, after I started to actively work on my blog promotion, my traffic breakdown changed dramatically in the last 3 months. Here’s how:
Referring Sites 60%
Search Engines 26%
Direct traffic 14%
In absolute numbers, the search engine traffic remained the same, no significant change. So, you realize that the biggest change come from Referring Sites. The traffic I was able to attract form Referring Sites was so big that it actually flipped down all my breakdown.
Basically, in the last 3 months I manage to gain a 225% increase in traffic. And that is only the beginning.
Here’s what I did.
Writing Good SEO
Well, since my search engine traffic accounts only for 26% of my traffic, why would I bother to write good SEO in the first place? I can hear you: why did you started with this step, which everybody knows and didn’t get to the juicy part?
Well, because good SEO is the basics, and you can’t get over the basics. In a not very distant future, good SEO will make your website gain traffic without your personal involvement. It’s very important to get involved in the first months, as I already said, but only to kickstart your traffic. Once you got your blog ignited, you won’t be spending too much time in promotion. Because, if you’ll be successful, you’ll soon get caught in other activities, like public speaking or launching other related projects. And from that moment your blog will rely only on good SEO.
So, write good SEO even if you’re not getting too much traffic from the search engines now. You will be receiving in the future. As your site grows and attract more inbound links, search engines will start to treat you differently: will index you more often, increase your PR and so on. You really don’t want to offer to the search engine bots a clogged and unstructured piece of content.
What Good SEO Means
There’s a huge industry on SEO so don’t expect me to summarize this industry in several lines here. But I can give you at least several directions from my own experience:
- if your blog post is bigger than 5-600 words, break it into several paragraphs with their own titles
- if you use paragraphs with their own titles be sure to add to the titles the requiring CSS attribute (i.e. making them heading 3)
- use keywords in your subtitles
- use keywords in your text
- use comprehensible slugs (i.e. the URL of your post)
- use keywords in your slugs
- make use of metatags, overwrite title, the tags and the description if need will be. (You can use the exceptional thesis framework for this. More details about thesis in the last post of this series, the one about the Tools)
Commenting On Other Blogs
Another way to really promote your blog in the beginning is to comment on other blogs. There are tons of posts on the internet teaching you how to do this, so if you want a quick tutorial you can google this and get you something to go.
From me, commenting on other blogs is useful only when all the following conditions are met:
- I really, really like the blog. I read it because I love the author, I vibrate with the content or I find something useful there.
- I really, really like the community. I know the people who are commenting there, I managed to watch them for a while and I don’t find anything that could upset me like: verbal violence, shallowness, unmotivated aggressiveness, excessive praise for the blog author or lack of added value
- I read the blog at least one month before I started to comment
- I know the author activity on Twitter (yes, that’s right, that’s a reason for me).
Whenever all of the above are included, I usually get a lot of results back from that blog.
Ok, now we’re talking. That’s what really changed my traffic: social networking. The major traffic shift was a direct result of my social networking efforts. Again, this is a tremendous – and somehow shallow – topic nowadays and you can find tons of primers or howto’s if this is what are you looking for.
I am active on twitter, facebook and StumbeUpon. I have accounts on almost any major social networking, including digg and reddit but for various reasons I didn’t have any astonishing results with anything else, except twitter, StumbleUpon, and to some extent Facebook. If you take the hype out of social networking, you’ll come up with only a very useful tool for connections and nothing more. That’s it, is just a tool to make new connections. And as every other tool it can be extremely useful or extremely harmful. You can use a knife to cut your bread or to cut yourself. It’s not the tool itself but the way you’re using it. Social networking is as benign as any other activity, it’s your attitude which shapes it. And of course, you have to take the time to assess the difference between social networking and real life relationships.
A Crash Course In Social Networking
Here’s a quick roundup of how I manage my social networking activities. It’s not a course, of course, it’s just a list of steps I follow every time I am serious about using a social networking website.
Establish a presence
Open an account on that social networking website. It’s obvious, but necessary. Just open an account. It all starts with an account. Can’t avoid this step, so just do it . 🙂
Identify like-minded people
Most of the time I spend on social networking is just searching, or, to be more exact, lurking. I read what other people write, I visit groups, I follow conversations and I identify like-minded people. When I find them I follow for a while to be sure they’re there for good or just incidentally.
After I identified my future friends, I engage. I start to interact. I add them as friends, or I start following them, or start stumble their findings. I become active. I don’t add friends unless I actually start some interaction. If need will be, or if I feel I’ve been mislead into an empty game of numbers, I withdraw, like I recently did when I downshifted my twitter account.
Balance your presence
Keep a healthy 1:1 factor with all of the people you’re engaging, It’s so easy to get caught in the mirage of numbers and start to ignore people you already have in your network, only to increase your coverage. Keep up with what you have already, respond to conversation, return services. If you reach a point where you can’t keep a 1:1 presence I highly advise to make this obvious ASAP. Go back to people who are asking for service and tell them that you can’t respond in kind anymore. The same goes when you’re hunted, when other people are interested in your popularity (yes, you’ll become popular at some point) just be honest and tell people that you can’t relate to crazy pictures about crazy cats if you’re into personal development. Just withdraw politely and say you can’t digg, stumble, reddit or retweet, because it’s not from your movie. Believe me, this honesty magically opens some unexpected communication channels.
Increase your networking throughput
When you’re comfortable with your circle of friends / followers, go for more. Start the process again and increase your broadcast power. Go for more coverage but only if you’re able to cope with it. Otherwise the results will be completely messed up.
That’s something I never found anywhere before, but it happens to be one of the best promotion lessons I learned.
What is pre-promotion? Well, it’s the ability to identify interesting topics. It’s a little bit more than that, but that’s the closest description I can find right now. Being about writing, it can be included in the writing strategy we’ve already treated in the first post of this series, but as I said, is a little more than that.
Whenever I treat a subject in an unexpected way, or whenever I write from my own experience I notice that my posts have a natural tendency to grow in traffic. And this is happening because the readers are starting to recommend them to other potential readers. Yes, it’s called word of mouth, I know. This is the most powerful promotion technique because is not relying in search engines and is not about social networking presence. It’s about the actual value you can provide. It’s about being better than all the other 499.999 sites you’re competing with. If you do this, traffic will naturally be attracted.
So, just find good topics and write about what’s needed. Assess your capabilities on that topic, and if you’re good at it, write. For example, I did a whole series about online business because I had an online business for 10 years. I wrote about astrological howtos because I learned by myself how to get successful astrological readings. I wasn’t shy to bring into the personal development field cartoon characters like Dumbo or movie stars like Indiana Jones. And it worked. 🙂
Each of those posts had a faster growth than any other posts in my blog. Because it was a contribution, something that people really found useful.
Blogging has a really low point of entrance. It’s a very accessible activity: you can start without spending anything if you don’t want to. You can start a blog with nothing, just some spare time to write on it. This accessibility makes blogging a very attractive profession. You don’t need a degree, you don’t need specific skills, you don’t need seed money, you don’t need equipment. You can start instantly. Like right now! The idea that you can broadcast yourself to a potential audience of hundreds of millions of people is very appealing.
Unfortunately, this very accessibility makes blogging an extremely competitive market. I don’t think I know any other field of activity in which you can directly compete with 500.000 players. All with different skills, experience, time and other resources. It’s overwhelming. It’s the most difficult market in the world, in my opinion. So, if you want to succeed, you have to take into account that you need to promote your blog. You really have to control the process, otherwise you won’t be seeing any progress soon.
The best thing that worked for me was social networking, but used in a clear and transparent way. I still keep an eye on my SEO for long term purposes. And I do my best to hit some pre-promotion gems.
Which comes down to a very simple thing: find something other people needs and fill that gap in a personal manner.