The last thing one should do to an old man on a bench is to encourage him to dispense unsolicited advice. No sooner than you do so than out comes more and more words of dubious wisdom.
In the last post, I dispensed some very general advice about the art of blogging. In this post, I get a bit more specific, focusing on what I feel is the best way to build traffic for your blog.
For those of you who believe that they blog for their own satisfaction and do not care if anybody else reads it then please skip the rest of the post. But for those of us who desire an audience but struggle to get one (as I did once upon a time and the frustrations of which I detailed previously), here are some general thoughts on the topic.
The most important thing of course remains the same. Good content. Last time I said “If you build it, they will come”. Sure. But if the water runs out and the toilet stinks, then they won’t stick around. Trust me on that.
Use your friends: Unless you are a celebrity, it is likely that the first visitors to your blog are going to be those who are interested in the blog not so much for the content (because they have not read it yet) but because they know you personally. In other words friends and relatives.
While it is quite easy to get your parents to read your blog (whether you want to is of course completely another matter) getting friends over to your corner of the virtual world is sometimes a little bit more difficult. It is difficult because you know telling your friends to do something “once” usually never works , be it giving the treat they owe you or returning the text book that was borrowed last week.
So you need to press them a bit. But then there is that conundrum: at what point of time do the “Hey I just started a blog. Did you read my latest posts” start becoming an imposition, where is the point at which you cross over from being an enthusiastic writer to an unctuous seller of life insurance?
While it is difficult to provide a definite answer to the above question (since one person’s hard-sell is another’s publicity), my suggestion would be to 1) keep your blog URL in the signature of your personal e-mails 2) if you belong to an e-group of friends then mention the fact that you have started blogging once in an email and then leave it at that (after all you do not want to appear desperate with the operative word being “appear” which is exactly how you will look if you have a “Please read my blog” in every mail) and most importantly 3) do not try to oversell ; when a friend you find is not visiting your blog don’t push him. Unless you want to lose him as a friend in which case by all means do.
Comment on blogs: No rocket science here. Commenting on other blogs allows you to put a link to your blog on their blogspace and enables you to announce yourself to a community (for instance if you are a start-up mommy blogger, commenting on a mommy-blogger’s blog will connect you to other mommys). Not that that should be the only reason you should be commenting but it’s not a wrong reason. However a few things to remember.
1) While your reason to comment may be to publicize your blog, don’t wear it on your sleeve. That is don’t just plonk your blog’s link in the comment-space and say “I also wrote on this topic. Here is the link”. Remember you do get your blog-link in the comment once. No need to put it in again and telegraph your over-eagerness. The better strategy to get traffic is to make well-argued comments consistently. People will definitely click on your blog URL if you do.
2) Don’t try to stand out amidst the comments by being a troll i.e. attacking the blogger or other commenters with the explicit purpose of getting traffic attention. While it does get a temporary spike of attention, it is unlikely to be something you can sustain consistently.
Leverage social media: The best publicity you can hope to get is when people recommend your content to a friend.Most people now prefer to share content through Facebook and Twitter as opposed to forwarding over email. As a matter of fact, as a content-creator you would prefer they do not use e-mail. I can say that from my personal experience since forwards have this notorious trait of “losing” your name and it has happened to me several times that my posts have been forwarded back to me, with my name and URL removed. In order to prevent that from happening, make it easy for people to share your posts. This you can do my adding “Share buttons” for Facebook and Twitter giving people the ability to publicize your links through the click of a button. In addition, posting your blog-URLs as your status messages on Facebook is a far more effective and far less intrusive way for publicity than emailing links yourself.
Twitter is often seen as a “blog killer” providing a lazy alternative to blogging—allowing one to get away with 140 characters and sparing oneself the effort of the exposition and analysis a full-fledged blogpost demands. It does not have to be an alternative but instead can be used as a powerful supplement for your blog. For instance, I use it to post links or put small comments on happenings that are too trivial for the overhead of putting on a blog. Putting your blog URLs as tweets is also an effective way to build traffic because of the organic way re-tweets spread in the Twitterosphere, making it possible for you to reach people who otherwise would not have heard of your blog.
Join community blogs: When I started out, I joined a group blog CSF (now defunct). But the experience was great because it enabled me to learn from and connect with fellow bloggers and tap into the community that had been built around CSF as a source for potential readers. So join up blog networks Blogcritics or Desicritics or start a community blog with your friends. In that way, you are guaranteed an audience that not only includes your relatives and friends but also those of your co-bloggers, a significant part of which you would hopefully be able to siphon off to your own individual blog as time goes by.
Optimize for search engines: While it is easy to get carried away by buzzwords like “Search Engine Optimization” some amount of it is necessary to make your blog search-engine friendly so that people who are looking for a topic that your blog talks about can find out about you.
Promote your blog feed: Make it easy for people to subscribe to your blog feed by keeping a subscribe button in a prominent place. Some people try to make people visit the blog (as opposed to just read the feed offline) by providing partial feeds (say the first ten lines) but I personally do not approve of that. If people want to read your blog from their feed-reader client, allow them to do so. They will be pleased at the convenience.
Attend/organize blogmeets: People who know you are most likely to read your blog when you are starting out. People who have blogs themselves are more likely to read a blog. Putting these two together, it makes perfect sense to befriend other bloggers and blogmeets are the best place to achieve that.
And finally remember one thing. The multiplicative effect of traffic. While it may seem that getting four people to visit your blog after meeting them at a blogmeet is hardly worth the effort, if they like your content and endorse it on their blogs or on their social networks, each can bring in four other people and this effect, provided your content is good, can cascade onwards. For those struggling to get their voice heard, remember all it takes is one good post and a small critical mass of initial readers to make your blog go viral. Which is what makes it worth laboring on.