#1 - Target Your Content to an Audience Likely to Share
When strategizing about who you’re writing for, consider that audience’s ability to help spread the word. Some readers will naturally be more or less active in evangelizing the work you do, but particular communities, topics, writing styles and content types regularly play better than others on the web. For example, great infographics that strike a chord (like this one), beautiful videos that tell a story (like this one) and remarkable collections of facts that challenge common assumptions (like this one) are all targeted at audiences likely to share (geeks with facial hair, those interested in weight loss and those with political thoughts about macroeconomics respectively).
Targeting blog content at less-share-likely groups may not be a terrible decision (particularly if that’s where you passion or your target audience lies), but it will decrease the propensity for your blog’s work to spread like wildfire across the web.
#2 - Participate in the Communities Where Your Audience Already Gathers
Advertisers on Madison Avenue have spent billions researching and determining where consumers with various characteristics gather and what they spend their time doing so they can better target their messages. They do it because reaching a group of 65+ year old women with commercials for extreme sports equipment is known to be a waste of money, while reaching an 18-30 year old male demographic that attends rock-climbing gyms is likely to have a much higher ROI.
Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a dime to figure out where a large portion of your audience can be found on the web. In fact, you probably already know a few blogs, forums, websites and social media communities where discussions and content are being posted on your topic (and if you don’t a Google search will take you much of the way). From that list, you can do some easy expansion using a web-based tool like DoubleClick’s Ad Planner:
Once you’ve determined the communities where your soon-to-be-readers gather, you can start participating. Create an account, read what others have written and don’t jump in the conversation until you’ve got a good feel for what’s appropriate and what’s not. I’ve written a post here about rules for comment marketing, and all of them apply. Be a good web citizen and you’ll be rewarded with traffic, trust and fans. Link-drop, spam or troll and you’ll get a quick boot, or worse, a reputation as a blogger no one wants to associate with.
#3 - Make Your Blog’s Content SEO-Friendly
Search engines are a massive opportunity for traffic, yet many bloggers ignore this channel for a variety of reasons that usually have more to do with fear and misunderstanding than true problems. As I’ve written before, “SEO, when done right, should never interfere with great writing.” In 2011, Google received over 3 billion daily searches from around the world, and that number is only growing:
Taking advantage of this massive traffic opportunity is of tremendous value to bloggers, who often find that much of the business side of blogging, from inquiries for advertising to guest posting opportunities to press and discovery by major media entities comes via search.
SEO for blogs is both simple and easy to set up, particularly if you’re using an SEO-friendly platform like Wordpress, Drupal or Joomla. For more information on how to execute on great SEO for blogs, check out the following resources:
- Blogger’s Guide to SEO (from SEOBook)
- The Beginner’s Guide to SEO (from Moz)
- Wordpress Blog SEO Tutorial (from Yoast)
- SEO for Travel Bloggers (but applicable to nearly any type of blog - from Moz)
Don’t let bad press or poor experiences with spammers (spam is not SEO) taint the amazing power and valuable contributions SEO can make to your blog’s traffic and overall success. 20% of the effort and tactics to make your content optimized for search engines will yield 80% of the value possible; embrace it and thousands of visitors seeking exactly what you’ve posted will be the reward.
#4 - Use Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to Share Your Posts & Find New Connections
Twitter just topped 465 million registered accounts. Facebook has over 850 million active users. Google+ has nearly 100 million. LinkedIn is over 130 million. Together, these networks are attracting vast amounts of time and interest from Internet users around the world, and those that participate on these services fit into the “content distributors” description above, meaning they’re likely to help spread the word about your blog.
Leveraging these networks to attract traffic requires patience, study, attention to changes by the social sites and consideration in what content to share and how to do it. My advice is to use the following process:
- If you haven’t already, register a personal account and a brand account at each of the following - Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn (those links will take you directly to the registration pages for brand pages). For example, my friend Dharmesh has a personal account for Twitter and a brand account for OnStartups (one of his blog projects). He also maintains brand pages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
- Fill out each of those profiles to the fullest possible extent - use photos, write compelling descriptions and make each one as useful and credible as possible. Research shows that profiles with more information have a significant correlation with more successful accounts (and there’s a lot of common sense here, too, given that spammy profiles frequently feature little to no profile work).
- Connect with users on those sites with whom you already share a personal or professional relationships, and start following industry luminaries, influencers and connectors. Services like FollowerWonk and FindPeopleonPlus can be incredible for this.
- Start sharing content - your own blog posts, those of peers in your industry who’ve impressed you and anything that you feel has a chance to go “viral” and earn sharing from others.
- Interact with the community - use hash tags, searches and those you follow to find interesting conversations and content and jump in! Social networks are amazing environment for building a brand, familiarizing yourself with a topic and the people around it, and earning the trust of others through high quality, authentic participation and sharing
If you consistently employ a strategy of participation, share great stuff and make a positive, memorable impression on those who see your interactions on these sites, your followers and fans will grow and your ability to drive traffic back to your blog by sharing content will be tremendous. For many bloggers, social media is the single largest source of traffic, particularly in the early months after launch, when SEO is a less consistent driver.
#5 - Install Analytics and Pay Attention to the Results
At the very least, I’d recommend most bloggers install Google Analytics (which is free), and watch to see where visits originate, which sources drive quality traffic and what others might be saying about you and your content when they link over. If you want to get more advanced, check out this post on 18 Steps to Successful Metrics and Marketing.
Employing analytics is critical to knowing where you’re succeeding, and where you have more opportunity. Don’t ignore it, or you’ll be doomed to never learn from mistakes or execute on potential.
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