For most bloggers, their authority site is nothing without an audience.
Even those who proclaim to write just for the sheer enjoyment of writing readily admit that getting more eyeballs on their writing would be rewarding.
And yet, it is a challenge. Gone are the days when you could simply upload content and attract visitors by virtue of the fact that there simply wasn't that much content on the web (relatively speaking). These days you need to be savvy about what you write and how you promote it.
Having said that, creating an audience for your blog isn't nearly as complicated as many people make it out to be, especially if you're willing to do the simple things well. That's exactly what we're going to explore in this post.
The Fallacy of Building an Audience
Most bloggers are obsessed with traffic. They get giddy when they have a new record traffic day, when more people visit their site in a 24 hour period than they ever did before.
But to focus on traffic is to miss the point entirely. In reality, you want subscribers. Email subscribers, to be more specific.
Subscribers are far more engaged (and far more likely to buy) than simple browsers...
Focusing on traffic is akin to counting how many people skim your magazine in a store then put it back on the shelf. Focusing on subscribers is akin to counting only those people who buy your magazine. I am sure you can recognize the key difference.
Subscribers are far more engaged (and far more likely to buy) than simple browsers--people who may come and go in the most fickle of fashions. As such, you want email addresses, that should be your primary focus.
As for social media followers, they're all well and good, but nothing beats an email address. There is no more intimate way of reaching out to someone online (barring the likes of Skype) than via their email inbox. It trumps the Facebooks and Twitters of this world every time. Content on social networks is transient by design, whereas an email will sit in someone's inbox until they make an active decision to do something with it.
So take it from me: you should value subscribers more than you value anything else. If you have plenty of subscribers, everything else (traffic, social media followers, sales) will follow suit.
With that out-of-the-way, let's go through the seven step process I prescribe for new bloggers seeking to create an audience for their authority site.
1. Have an Audience
The biggest mistake that most newbie bloggers make is to not have a clear idea of who they are writing for. The simple equation is as follows: in order to create an audience for your blog, you must have an audience in mind.
This approach does not necessarily lead to the exclusion of those who might not be within your target audience (although that will be inevitable), but it does mean that your message will resonate particularly well with certain people. And that, my friends, is how you generate traction.
Far better to engage with a core group of people than provoke an indifferent response from a wider group. You want to be so focused in terms of what your blog is about that when your target reader hits your site, he or she will feel like it was written especially for them. That, before you do anything else, is how you build an audience.
A good example of how to nail down a core audience would be a blog I launched just recently: Healthy Enough. On the face of it you might just consider it yet another health and fitness blog, but more than a cursory glance will reveal that I am targeting a very specific type of person. The following is from the first post I published on the blog:
This blog is for people like me, guys who:
- Want to get or remain in decent shape without changing their entire way of life.
- Like the idea of looking like Brad Pitt from Fight Club, Hugh Jackman from Wolverine or Chris Evans from Captain America but simply don’t have the motivation to commit to a hardcore diet and exercise routine.
- Love their food and don’t think that being in perfect shape is worth giving it all up.
To ram my point home and ensure that visitors are in no doubt as to who I am writing for, I followed that post up with another entitled 10 Ways You Know You Should Be a Healthy Enough Reader.
I spent more than a little time nailing down precisely who I consider my target reader to be. Here's what I ended up with (which is now stored in my Evernote):
When you get this specific about who you're targeting, you open yourself up to real engagement.
The more you target a specific group of people, the better response you'll get. Furthermore, you'll find that your content spreads much more quickly, as those people who you have resonated particularly well with will feel compelled to share it.
2. Create Great Content
I know that I've already written a whole post on creating awesome content for your authority blog, but I want to take this opportunity to put content creation in the context of building an audience specifically.
Anyone can blog. To blog with purpose is the key. And that is why, in order to build an engaged audience, you must publish only the very best content that you are capable of creating.
I don't care if you can only publish once every two weeks by being so picky, that's fine. If you regularly blog generic, cookie cutter content to an uninspired and disinterested audience, you'll get nowhere. Blogging selectively on engaging topics with informative and/or actionable content is where it's at.
Make no mistake, before you make any effort to promote your content, the quality of the content itself will have predetermined the post's success to a huge extent.
Creating content is easy, but to publish something truly worthwhile is far more challenging. Although there is a lot of noise out there, you can rise above it quickly if you publish gripping blog posts with the kind of compelling information that can't easily be found elsewhere.
3. Optimize Your Blog
I've already mentioned in this post that you want to get subscribers, not just traffic. With that in mind, you must make sure that you are set up to capture subscribers efficiently.
The three key areas where you should have sign-up forms for your email list are:
- On your home page (via a feature box).
- In your side bar.
- At the bottom of every post
Furthermore, don't be afraid to include opt-in boxes within relevant posts. To those people who are selectively blind to other placements, these may give them the final push they needed to subscribe.
4. Social Media
Although I had more to say about content and blog optimization in this post, that is not really the case with social media. I covered everything pretty comprehensively in the previous post in this series.
However, I am still mentioning social media here because it is a vital part of building an audience. So vital in fact that it was worthy of its own post.
So, don't forget social media when it comes to building an audience. It is integral to your blog and your brand.
5. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
When it comes to blogging and SEO I have one simple, yet controversial suggestion: don't sweat it.
You see, you're launching a brand new blog on a brand new domain. The chances of you ranking for keywords of any real value in the coming months is extremely small. While search engine referrals to your site will grow over time, I do not think you should do anything more than simply ensuring that your posts will look okay on search engine results pages to help this process.
Why? Because your energy can be best used elsewhere. If most startup bloggers poured as much energy into email outreach as they did SEO, they would have a damn sight more subscribers. And if you get everything else right, with bloggers linking to you and sharing your content on social media networks, you will find that search engine rankings and referrals are not far behind.
This is not to say that you shouldn't write content with keywords in mind. However, you should only do so if it doesn't affect the quality and relevance of the article. That's basically where SEO should stop. Simple, right?
6. Email Outreach
Now we're getting into the real nuts and bolts of creating an audience for your blog. This is where the magic happens, creating and nurturing genuine relationships with other bloggers in your niche.
I follow a simple rule: I contact at least one new blogger in my niche every day. I'll take a few minutes to familiarize myself with their blog and then I'll send them a relatively brief yet thoughtful email that mentions something specific to them and/or their blog.
This is where the magic happens, creating and nurturing genuine relationships with other bloggers in your niche.
I don't even mention my blog, although I will be emailing from @mydomain.com and there will be a link in my signature. My only aim at this stage is to strike up an ongoing conversation with them.
After 30 days you'll have at least 30 bloggers in active conversation with you. It may be that you never ask them for anything directly. If you create great content they may let curiosity get the better of them in time, check out your blog and become an instant fan. Otherwise, the natural relationships you strike up over a period of weeks should be gently nurtured. Don't go asking for something straight away. See if there's anything you can do to help them, and when the time is right, ask them for a quick favor if it feels natural to do so.
The key here is not necessarily to instantly strike up a conversation. You may find that many bloggers reply to your initial message but politely "close the door" to an obvious response. Don't worry about that, just get back in touch with them a few weeks later, when you feel that you have something relevant and/or helpful to say. Just don't forget to pick up your conversation from the previous email thread, so that the blogger can see that you have been in touch before if he or she had forgotten.
One last thing: don't always go for the big fish. Aim for those people at and around you. They'll be far more likely to engage with you and help you out, and those a-listers aren't going anywhere soon.
7. Create Link Bait
In the context of blogging, link bait is a post that is created with the intention of attracting links. It can be a rather shady pastime, or it can offer value and help you to build an audience. We're going to shoot for that second definition.
Creating link bait can be a dangerous process if you are not careful to produce something that offers genuine value. If it is clear that you have created something in an attempt to gain links, people will pick up on it and your reputation will be damaged as a result. Therefore, you must be careful to only create resources that are of true value to your readers.
There are many different forms of link bait, but my favorite three are as follows:
- A list of bloggers in your niche, like my Leaving Work Behind 100.
- A smaller yet more personal "thought leaders" round-up (like this).
- An expert roundup, where bloggers share their thoughts on a topic (like this).
You can try one or all of these approaches, but make sure they're sprinkled amongst other types of content—don't bunch them together.
You should combine such posts with your email outreach efforts to achieve a better outcome. You should (politely) ask each of the bloggers mentioned to share your post with their own audience. If your piece is really good, they'll link to it from their blogs too.
Focus on the Fundamentals
When it comes to building an audience for your blog, the above is all I would choose to reveal to any newbie blogger.
It's pretty simple really; it's all in the execution. In fact, I will be carrying out nothing more than the steps above for my new blog, Healthy Enough. If that doesn't indicate my faith in the process, I don't know what will.
It's all too easy to get distracted by the latest method for attracting traffic, but I find that a clear focus on the fundamentals leads to success. If you choose to ignore the noise and focus on the things that you know will work, you'll do well. Good luck!