NOTE: The following EPIC post comes from the book, “How to Build a Blog (Create Awesome Content and Build Community).”
Enter your best email address in the box below, absorb the free content once a week, then take action on what you learn. You will be a more successful writer.
Blogs are supposed to be the magic bullet for online business. Whether you’re a professional blogger, or your blog is built to buoy your regular business, you’re pressing publish for one primary reason:
To build, engage, and nurture a GINORMOUS audience.
Not just big and GINORMOUS – an audience so massive, you’re virtually guaranteed a flood of customers wide enough that your rivers of online revenue will never stop flowing.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Yet, the vast majority of blogs trudge along with an Alexa ranking soaring north of a million, with their authors seemingly screaming down an empty online hallway as the echo of their voices slowly fades amid the chirping crickets and digital tumbleweeds.
It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. You must be doing something wrong, or maybe missing something obvious. You search for help, but instead of answers you find yourself skidding along a slippery path littered with snake oil and bombastic claims:
Make $500 In JUST ONE HOUR With Our No-Fail System!
How I Make $4,729.19 EVERY WEEK (While Never Changing Out of My Pajamas!)
Tired Of Losing? Beat ANY Competitor to the Front Page of Google (In Less Than a Week!)
The siren call is alluring, yet you can see the jagged rocks in the distance.
If it’s so easy to make $500 in an hour, why are they selling the system for $27, rather than hiring teams of people to do all the work and make them the money?
What if your competitor buys the same course – how fast will she knock you off of that top spot? Why do they always detail the amount down to the last decimal?
You’re skeptical, but hopeful. It seems like everyone is growing a giant site in no time, just not you. What’s their secret?
You open your wallet, carefully sidestepping the “results not typical” disclaimers. You sift through the nonsense, find a few kernels of solid advice, then diligently put them to work.
There are a ton of solid strategies for growing a blog audience. Here are some of the bigger umbrella tactics:
1. Content is King. You’ve heard this before, over and over again. Put simply, it means your strategy starts and ends with creating truly awesome content – what Corbett Barr calls “epic shit”. To implement this sort of strategy, you must understand your readers, and learn how to write really, really well.
2. Community is King. This strategy is about being a part of a community – finding the communities you want to be a part of, then involving yourself in the conversation until you’re a celebrated fixture. To do this you must establish relationships with both larger and smaller bloggers, eventually leading to content exchanges and guest posts.
4. SEO is King. This strategy is all about writing quality content that will get ranked on search engines, so your traffic will ultimately come from searchers looking for precisely what you have to offer. You’ll have to steer clear of sleazy “black hat” tactics in favor of honest, effective strategies, and maybe find some quality SEO software (Danny uses Traffic Travis) to help you along the way.
Of course, each of these strategies comes with a host of tactical options, and they aren’t mutually exclusive (for example, even if you aren’t a “Content is King” purist, you probably agree that great content has to go with whatever strategy you choose).
Now, we do have our own favorite blog growth strategies, which are a combination of some of the above and are described in detail throughout this book, but the most important thing you want to do is avoid the WORST strategy of all, not writing to your one person.
Start by Finding Your ONE Person
If you want to inspire your readers and turn them into raving fans, you must know who you’re writing for.
You probably already know about the need to niche and focus, and that in order to do that, you must define your target audience.
Trouble is, when most people define their target audience, they get it all wrong! It usually ends up looking something like “women, 27-39, single, educated, income of over $40,000 and love eating chocolate,” or “men, 18-28, who sell information products, consulting and/or professional services via a website, have a blog with a small audience and want to increase their organic traffic.”
If you’re a chocolatier or an SEO specialist, and you’ve narrowed your focus down from “everybody” to this subset of the market, you might be pretty pleased with yourself.
But, now you have to write to retain your reader.
Writing to Retain: Make it Useful and Entertaining
Getting attention is great, but it’s just the beginning. Once you’ve attracted readers to your content, you must retain them. There are two ways to do this: Be useful, or be entertaining. Ideally, be both.
You make content useful with language because language is basically the packaging you use to deliver ideas to the reader. Putting your ideas in a simple bulleted list is one way of packaging; imparting the information as a story is another entirely. The first way allows the reader to skim and skip over your content; the second can get them to read, think about, and engage with your information on a deeper level.
You must have useful information in there, too. If you have nothing useful to offer – whether it’s an insight, a strategy, a process, or a tool – then no matter how much you “dress it up,” it still won’t have enough value. Assuming you do have valuable information to share, it’s often the packaging that can make it truly special for the reader.
Rather than speaking in generalities, here is an exact formula you can use to package your information in guest posts:
1. Start with a hook. You MUST start by grabbing reader attention. This is best done with a short sentence to pique curiosity. That sentence is then expanded into an opening that will drive people to continue reading. You can do this by telling a story (the reader keeps reading to see how it ends), by painting a picture of an outcome (they keep reading to learn how you got there), or by being confrontational (they keep reading because they disagree). Keep your paragraphs short, and make sure to hook their attention before the MORE tag.
2. Pivot to the problem. First thing after the MORE tag is to pivot from your hook, which might only be related to your post’s core concept as an illustrative example, to the problem that beats at the heart of the matter. Explain the problem – what are the symptoms and their outcomes?
3. Explain the cause. Explain the underlying logic behind the problem – what is causing it, and why do people do things that way? What are the mistaken assumptions leading that to happen? Don’t skip this step – give your readers credit for being curious and intelligent, and they will reward you with their attention.
4. Share the solution. Having uncovered the mistaken assumptions, and core processes at the root of the problem, you can share the solution. By now, people should be super eager to read it!
5. Call to action. Don’t end the post without pivoting back to the reader and their own situation. Ask a question about their experience as it relates to your post. Try to make it a question that is easy to answer – Danny’s first post on Copyblogger got tons of comments (227 at last count), mostly because he asked people about their favorite business books, and everyone has one to share!
Both Sean and Danny follow this formula most of the time when they write, and it works like a charm. Their guest posts are consistently commented and shared, and they’ve had repeat appearances on many of the larger blogs they’ve posted for because they can create truly awesome content.
Creating Truly Awesome Content When You’re Fresh Out of Ideas
Sometimes you run out of ideas.
It isn’t a matter of talent. You’ve written plenty of awesome stuff in the past. But now, you’ve dipped your bucket in the well for a fresh idea, and it’s coming up dry.
This happens to the best of us – even geniuses who consistently produce epic content have off days.
Yet they continue to write.
They may grumble about how hard it is to get going and create something solid, but they still manage to get it done. Again, and again, and again.
They aren’t super human, and they don’t have magical, content-producing powers. They do it by falling back on a toolbox of strategies for creating awesome content.
We’re going to share that toolbox with you.
You can fall back on these strategies when you’re fresh out of ideas and don’t feel like writing, and with a bit of discipline you’ll be able to create a really solid post.
But that won’t make it easy. The reality is that when you’re feeling uninspired, it isn’t the best time for you to do your writing. That’s why the best strategy is to write when you are inspired. Use that time to write a handful of posts, then stash them in an “emergency posts” folder, where you can always turn when the thought of writing is only slightly more appealing than the prospect of swallowing nails.
While you’re working on filling your “emergency folder,” you’ll also want to concentrate on building your community.
Once you’ve created great anchor content that will impress new visitors to your blog, it’s time to spread the word. This starts with your nearest and dearest.
Reach out to everyone you know: email, Facebook, Twitter, telephone, skywriting, Pony Express, etc. Tell them how impossibly excited you are about your new blog and what your goals are for it.
Then ask them for feedback, and tell them how much it would mean to you if they subscribed and would leave a comment on posts to let you know what they think. You can ask them to help you spread the word, but don’t expect miracles.
This won’t send you tons of traffic, but it’s a start. Once you have that baseline built, and your nearest and dearest (particularly those in your blog’s target market) have given you some feedback, it’s time to widen your circle.
This is where most people try to reach out to the giants of their industry, shouting out to the Brian Clarks and Darren Rowses to please notice me!
This won’t work. You’re one of thousands trying to grab a thin slice of finite attention. Put your hand down. There are far better ways to build your community, starting with nurturing your relationships.
Relationships… connections… community…
Some of the hottest buzz words bandied about social media. But do you ever stop to think about how they really work? How do you build a relationship with someone?
There are four important requirements:
1. Show that you know them. Relationships depend on familiarity and understanding – you have to feel that someone really knows you in order to have a relationship with them. That’s the difficulty in connecting through blog comments – you’re just one in a hundred, and the comments all start blurring together.
2. Show that you think and care about them. When a relationship is genuine, we care enough about someone to occasionally think about them when they’re not around. By the same token, we like to see that someone else has been thinking about you – that’s why we get such a kick out of a simple @mention on Twitter.
3. Show that you’re making an effort. Real relationships take effort because before we emotionally invest, we want to see that someone is in it for the long haul. This means a single blog comment can never be enough to build a genuine connection, and even a dozen might not do the job.
4. Actually being helpful. As well as we know someone, as much as they care about us, and as hard as they may try, we quickly tire of people who waste our time without ever being useful (or fun to be around). We may tolerate it with family (because we have to), but we won’t do so in the blogosphere.
And now for the 64 Million Dollar Question: How can someone do all these things while reading blog posts without it turning into a full-time job?
It’s time for the fun part, where we outline strategies you can use to improve your learning and build lasting relationships concurrent with your regular blog reading.
This takes a little extra time, but it’s totally worth it. Try these tactics for a week and see for yourself!
1. After reading a post, take a moment to think about who might benefit from it, and send it to that person. You’ll remember more because you took the time to think about how the content was relevant to someone else, and you’ll build relationships by showing a friend or colleague that you thought of them. You can get extra credit by sending it to them on Twitter and @mentioning the blogger, too.
2. After reading a post that you like, explain the gist of it to someone else. You can do this via email, over the phone, or in person, and you don’t have to do it right away – you can even do it with your family over dinner. Whoever you discuss it with will appreciate your sharing, and you will remember much, much more of the post.
3. Leave a comment explaining how the post was insightful for you, when you’ve seen an example of whatever is being described, and how it relates to your life. You can even write a whole response post for your own blog. The blogger will appreciate the well-thought-out comment, and you will remember the post in depth after drawing associations.
4. Bookmark the best posts you read. Once every week or two, spend 30-60 minutes rereading the best posts, and really savor them.
5. Keep a journal of the best ideas you come across. Record them, but don’t rush to implement. That way you avoid shiny object syndrome, but still have the repetition that helps you remember. For extra credit, review the journal every few months and pick two to three of the best ideas to implement.
6. Whenever you finish reading a post and take an action based on what you’ve read, take a moment to consider why. What did the blogger do to get you to take action? What worked for them, and how could you apply it in your own work and writing?
These strategies, when taken together, only add a small amount of reading time to your day, but will help you learn dramatically more and build an increased number of deeper relationships.
And deeper relationships means loyal readers.
Turning Readers into Commenters
It’s a tremendous feeling when you first realize your traffic graphic is no longer a flat line. But… why isn’t anybody leaving a comment?
This can be a frustrating challenge for bloggers, and some blogs never surpass it. There are blogs with readerships in the hundreds of thousands with barely a handful of comments per post.
Odds are you don’t want that to be you. You want people to read AND interact!
Here are some ways you can people to comment:
1. Be interesting.
2. Tell people why they should. On the bottom of the Firepole Marketing sidebar (around the bottom of posts), it clearly states why you should leave a comment:
- “We read all of our comments.”
- “We reply, and answer every question.”
- “We often click through to see commenter’s sites.”
- “We might invite you to guest post!”
- 3. Tell your reader to comment.
- Ask a question. Sometimes your readers will want to join the conversation, but won’t know what to say.
- Make it easy. Danny’s most commented-on post is the first guest post he wrote for Copyblogger, about “38 Critical Books Every Blogger Needs to Read”. At the end of the post, he asked people to list any books they love and would add to the list. This worked so well because everybody has a favorite book, and writing it down takes zero effort (as opposed to answering a question that takes more time and thought).
4. Be awesome.
5. Be controversial.
You want your readers to comment, but first you have to make them feel invited.
If you really want people to comment, treat your posts like dinner parties; invite people to show up, and be nice to them when they do.
Writing awesome content is great, but if nobody knows about it (as is the case for anything published on an early-stage blog), then nobody can read it, enjoy it, or share it.
Be proactive, and invite people to the party.
Make a list of the people who would enjoy your post, and then send them an email inviting them to take a look and participate.
And of course, when people do arrive on your blog and leave a comment, be gracious and appreciative. Reply to every comment. Click through on every link, and see who is behind the comment.
You could even go so far as to email your commenters, thanking them for their comment, and inviting them to return in the future. Don’t automate this with an annoying plugin – do it personally, and mean it.
Remember, you want comments because you want engagement – so engage!
Bloggers That Every Digital Writer Should Follow:
Danny Iny – Firepole Marketing
Brian Clark – Copyblogger
Corbett Barr – Think Traffic
Jane Friedman – Being Human at Electric Speed
Darren Rowes – Problogger
Jon Morrow – Boost Blog Traffic
Sean Platt – The Digital Writer
Epic Blogging Posts That No Digital Writer Should Miss:
Announcing The Million Dollar Blog Project: Build a Profitable Blog Along With Us – Corbett Barr
Give Me 31 Days and I’ll Give You A Dramatically Better Blog…Guaranteed – Darren Rowse
The 7 Dumbest Mistakes You Can Make When Launching A New Blog – Jon Morrow
5 Tips To Becoming A Top Blog In Your Industry – Michael Stelzner
21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today To Set Up Your Blog For Massive Success – Corbett Barr
Of course, this EPIC Post would not have been possible without the awesome book, “How to Build a Blog (Create Awesome Content and Build Community).”
Please share this EPIC Post on Twitter, Facebook and any other social media outlets where your audience will benefit.
Enter your best email address in the box below, absorb the free content once a week, then take action on what you learn. You will be a more successful writer.
Until next week!
I did it. So can you.
P.S. If there is a person you feel every digital writer should follow on Twitter, or a post on blogging that should be included in this post, please add it to the comments and I will look into it as soon as I can. If you have a question or comment, please leave it below and I promise to answer within 24 hours.
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