This is part 5 in a 5 part series on How to Start a Blog. This post will deal with promoting your blog, managing your blog, and growing your readership. Also see Part 1 – Choosing a Blog Name, Part 2 – Choosing a Platform and a Blog Host and Part 3 – The Basics of Blog Design and Part 4 – Creating Great Blog Content.
I feel a little bit like a fraud writing this, because obviously I’m not some huge blogger with huge readership, and clearly, The Pioneer Woman should really be writing this post. (I’ve heard her give the speech – it boils down to “Be Yourself!” which apparently works well if you are the redheaded wife of a wealthy Oklahoma rancher but the rest of us might need a little help. Another variation on this is, “Write great content, and people will come.” NO! There are thousand of great blogs out there without a ton of readers. Honestly, a big part of your blog really taking off is timing and luck. Sorry.) But truly beginning bloggers often have NO IDEA how to get anyone besides their mom to read their blog, and I can give you a few tips.
When you’re talking about growing readership, it’s probably best/easiest to think about the various ways people could find your blog, which boils down to three – search for it, follow a link to it, and go to it directly. I’m going to take these in reverse order, because that’s one of the perks of having a blog. You get to do basically whatever you want.
Growing Your Blog: Direct Traffic
This is anybody who visits your blog by typing in your URL (or blog name in Google, looking for you.) This is someone who isn’t looking for your content, they’re looking for you. Your mom, your BFF from Jr. High school, your friendly coworker. This is the relationship step. Leverage the relationships you have and build new ones. Tell your friends about your blog. Share it on your Facebook page (sometimes – don’t be that person who does nothing but shill on their personal Facebook page. It’s one of the most irritating things ever.) If a friend asks you for a tip or a recipe, email them the link to your blog. Self promote, but don’t be a jerk about it. Have the link to your blog in your online profiles – on message boards, on Facebook, on Google plus. And build new relationships – this is what social media can be great for – I participate in a couple of Facebook groups for bloggers that really builds community; I’ve made friends on Twitter, I’ve participated in local blogging groups and fundraisers and press events, and I’ve gone to blogging conferences. Meeting people face to face and having real conversations is the best way to build a relationship, and once someone knows you (especially if they met you in the context of your blog) they are more likely to become a reader. I have met some wonderful and lovely people through blogging whose friendship goes beyond our blogs, which is really kind of wonderful. Build relationships to build your blog – build your blog to build relationships.
Growing Your Blog: Referral Traffic
This is when someone finds your blog by following a link to the blog, whether it’s a link you’ve posted yourself, or a someone else linking to you. Obviously, some of this (like people linking to you) is related to direct traffic (the relationships you have), and some of it is linked to search traffic – someone finds a post and recommends it, but there are a few ways to get your links out there. The first is content aggregators – the biggest one of these is Pinterest. These are sites whose sole purpose is to collect links to places elsewhere on the web. Pinterest is a MAJOR source of traffic for a lot of bloggers, and particularly if you are blogging in a Pinterest-friendly space (food, fashion, design – anything with a strong visual component) it’s essential that your posts are Pin Friendly (good, crisp, pinnable images associated with every post). There are also topic-specific content aggregators, like Fridgg, Foodgawker and Tastespotting for food. It’s worth submitting your content to those. Finally, participate in the online community – find forums and message boards dedicated to your blog topic, and link to your blog to answer questions that are raised (just make sure you are following the terms of service of the forum). Make yourseld, and your blog, a resource for people interested in your topic.
Growing Your Blog: Search Traffic
I’m not going to go into a great deal of depth about search engine traffic, because there are literally entire sites devoted solely to SEO (that’s Search Engine Optimization). Basically, you want your content to be findable if someone searches for it. One of the first things you should do when you start a blog is start an account with Google Webmaster tools. Webmaster tools gives you some information on how much of your site is indexed and where any errors or issues arise when google is crawling your site. Another thing to do is make sure you submit your sitemap to google and the other search engines – there are plugins that will do this for you. Finally, when you are writing, think about the reader and how they might find your post – what kind of search terms would lead someone to this post, and incorporate these search terms in your writing (without being mechanical or overdoing it. Remember, content is king!) You want to avoid some well-known google penalties (link sharing is one of these – don’t accept paid links, or participate in link exchange schemes, where you are linking to someone in a way that isn’t organic.) Finally, there are tools and plugins that can help you with SEO – one of the best of these is the SEO Plugin by Yoast – which will scan the content of any post you’re writing in respect to a chosen key word and tell you how your SEO is checking out.
In order to measure your traffic, Google Analytics is the gold standard for data mining, but don’t let it rule your life. Remember, why you started your blog, and stay true to yourself.
I hope this series was useful and moderately interesting. Next week we’ll be back to the domestic front!