In the digital marketing world, we like to toss about an old chestnut: make good content and they will come. They being your super elusive audience—readers, followers, super fans.
But let’s be real: the vast majority of blogs don’t even have readers, regardless of how good the content is. People need to know that your blog exists. The onus for that falls on you.
Yes, self-promo is a bit naff, but it’s a key player in the game.
Let’s say you make a hilarious video about the pitfalls of being a writer—the funniest video in the history of the world. You upload it to Vimeo. You tell no one about it.
Chances are, the video is just going to sit there. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the trail will catch fire, but most of the time you need to do more than just laying out the trail. You need to be responsible for lighting the trail. You see where I’m going with this unsubtle metaphor, right? Right.
How do I grow my blog?
In a word: promotion. But let’s break it down further into a bunch of steps:
- Self-promo #1: Sharing to communities/aggregate sites.
- Self promo #2: Social media.
- Self-promo #3: Email marketing.
Five phases, each equally important. If you follow all these phases, I can promise you’ll grow your traffic. Well, unless you’re Buzzfeed or some other kind of megalith (who, inversely, is in decline).
Phase 1: Analysis
Starting with competitor analysis.
How do I do competitor analysis?
Pull up a chair. Gather round. Lend me your ears. Not literally. Please not literally. Anyway. Before you start your content marketing, you should really have earmarked your competitors. You need to know what they’re doing so you can compete. Competitor analysis includes:
- Content analysis.
- Studying their social landscape.
- Seeing what they are doing for SEO.
Google isn’t always fair: the big boys are given more importance by default. When starting out, focus on smaller or medium blogs more on your level. As you grow, take aim at the big boys.
How to do content analysis.
Content analysis is straightforward. Look up your competitors and see what they’re doing. What’s working for them? How often do they publish content? How active are they on social media? Does their content have many shares? Subscribe to their newsletters and see what they’re saying. Get traffic estimates with the Page Rank extension. There’s a cool tool called URL Profiler that’ll give you insights into their content stats.
Essentially, keep track of what they’re doing and figure out how you’re going to do it better.
Study their social landscape. What social media marketing do they do?
Some digital marketers will call this ‘channel analysis’ so it sounds a bit fancier. Pinterest. Instagram. Facebook. Snapchat. Vine. SoundCloud. Twitter. SlideShare. LinkedIn. The list goes on and on. You need to figure out what social platform will work for you. Who are your target audience? What demographic do they fit into?
Visual content has a huge lifespan on Instagram on Twitter. Video belongs to Vine. General updates belong to Facebook and Twitter. The main thing about social media marketing is the amount of time it takes. Even if you chose four platforms, you won’t have the time to fully develop all four. Focus on one or two platforms and use the others secondary.
With your competitors, you really just need to see what they’re doing. Who are they following? Who follows them? What platforms work best? Compile the info you have. Learn from it. It’s that simple.
How to do SEO and traffic analysis
If you really don’t understand SEO and you have no time or money to get it done, the very basic thing you can do is to find the top ranking competitor, hover over the top of the tab, and see what their title tags are. Steal them for yourself. This is last-gasp by the way, and we don’t suggest you do it.
Use Keyword Planner to do keyword research. See where the traffic is and consider the competition. The happy medium of traffic and competition is where you’ll find the keywords that’ll become the bones of your SEO and content.
If you’re a bit more up to speed with digital marketing practices, try link analysis. Use your preferred tool (I like Open Site Explorer) and see what your competitor’s link profile is like. Seeing who’s linking to them is also a good way to look for ways to earn incoming links, especially if they’ve guest-posted or featured on other sites online.
As for traffic analysis, this is an add-on more so than a necessity. There’s a tool called SimilarWeb that’s great for checking out referring websites. The figures are estimated, but it’s still nice to know where your competitors are getting their traffic from. Might be some opportunities there for you to pounce on.
Phase 2: SEO
Your onsite SEO means implementing keywords in all the following:
- Your URL
- Page Title
- Title Tags
- Meta descriptions
- Media descriptions
- Anchor text (link text)
There are 200 ranking factors involved in SEO, but for onsite SEO the seven above are the most important. Other important factors for onsite SEO include social signals, user experience, click-through-rates, and time spent on your site.
When you’re writing a blog, make sure you keep your keywords in mind. Populating your content with those keywords (aim for a density around 2-4%. Use WordPress’ SEO Yoast plug-in) will help your content rank. For each blog post, follow the onsite SEO checklist above.
The post then has a better chance to rank. A chunk of our traffic comes direct from Google and from ranking posts. Keep in mind that Google values age and domain authority. If you’re new, it’ll take a while to build up enough authority for your content to start ranking organically. It takes time. Roll with it!
Phase 3: Self-Promo
Phase 3 is the most important. Firing off a quick tweet just won’t suffice, not when there are so many other people shouting into the same void.
And yeah, I know: pot kettle black. We’re in ‘do as I say, not as I do’ land here, folks.
Self-promo #1: Communities and aggregate sites.
In this context, I mean communities as places to create and share content. One of the biggest communities is Buzzfeed. Register as a community member and you can post all the content you want. Pitch it right and Buzzfeed Community is a powerful advertising tool.
Every image in their posts need to be attributed to the creator. If you’ve got great visual content, you can upload it to your site and then build an article around this visual content on Buzzfeed Commuity. A lot of the time, you won’t see too much traffic, but every now and again something will go viral.
For an accidental example, I had a picture of a Harry Potter phone cover for a Nokia 3310 from years ago on my an old personal blog. Someone on Buzzfeed Community made a post about Nokia 3310s and how great they were, including a point on covers. The Harry Potter picture was linked back to and I earned a link from Buzzfeed and hundreds of unexpected views. While that was accidental, you see how Buzzfeed Community has the capacity to be powerful, especially for bookish stuff with a solid eye for design.
Other communities include Reddit, imgur, and StumpleUpon. While it helps to share to the big boys, you need to research into your market. Find forums, social media groups, and aggregation sites to share your content to. An aggregation site is a website devoted to collecting links to content in specific niches. For example, with digital marketing Inbound.org, GrowthHackers, and BizSugar are some of the more popular ones.
Self-promo #2: Social Media
Social media is a huge part of gaining traffic. Use hashtags. Time your tweets. (FollowerWonk is a tool for seeing when your followers are most active.) Take part in groups that exist solely for promotion and community-building. Find the popular hashtags in your industry and use them!
Look, the big thing is you’re gonna have to communicate. You’re gonna need to be funny and interesting and helpful. Hashtags and optimising stuff helps a smidge, but the key to social is social. Surprise!
For an organic social media strategy, you need to put the time in.
The steps to any real (budgeted) social media marketing strategy go as follows:
- Implement a content posting schedule. Kissmetric have worked out a solid schedule that generally works across the board.
- Run competitions. There’s no easier way to gain new followers than with competitions.
- Make sure all your visual content is a good resolution. Make sure your images are all pinnable. Share all visual content to Pinterest and Instagram. Hashtag accordingly.
- Pay for ads and remarketing.
- Use lead generation cards. Collect emails wherever you can.
- Always have a call-to-action.
That’s it. It’s time-consuming more so than it’s difficult.
Self-promo #3: Email marketing
Email marketing is a forgotten behemoth. Believe it or not, email marketing can be far more effective than social media. Email has a track record, but it’s often ignored for its old-school inclination. The thing is, if someone subscribes to your newsletter, chances are strong that they actually want to read your content. With social media, that’s not even close to the truth.
Emma Gannon, for example, has a whopper newsletter list where she sends a mail every Sunday. It really works for her.
Always use a solid call-to-action in your emails. Make sure your copy is clean, easy-to-read, and makes sense. Always double-check for typos. Use interesting visual content. As with general digital marketing, email marketing is more time-consuming than difficult, especially with tools like MailChimp. (Or Mail-kimp if you’d listen to Serial!)
That’s pretty much everything. The thing is, while self-promo seems self-aggrandizing, it’s something you need to do. If you don’t sell yourself, who will? Let’s go back to the fire analogy I used at the start of this post: you wouldn’t just pile in sticks and some coal and expect the fire to magically light. You are the match–the spark.
Fire, after all, is catching. (Yes, I did just quote Mockingjay.)
(I know, I know. Yes my pinned tweet is a Mean Girls/Trump crossover. Again: do as I say…)
On that subject, follow me on Twitter for irreverent nonsense. Sometimes I’m funny, but only sometimes.