Unfortunately, writing great content is not enough in order to build a successful blog. Here are 11 channels to use so people will actually read your awesome posts.
What makes content marketing successful?
In my opinion it’s 50% about the content, and 50% about distributing that content effectively so people will discover your posts. There’s a tipping point where enough people follow your blog and new posts will gain a momentum without you doing anything. It’s usually around 10,000 monthly visitors. However, most people who choose content marketing as their main strategy fail to get there. This post’s goal is to help ensure that your great content is discovered by more people.
Before practicing content marketing, I used blogs/ PR as our main marketing channel. I think the thing I have liked best since switching to content marketing is that it’s a democracy. You don’t need to develop a ‘relationship’ with bloggers, try to hunt them down at conferences or pay an expensive PR firm. It’s the people’s choice: if you have good content and know how to distribute it, you’ll get the traffic. There are numerous “democrat” websites which offer users the opportunity to upload posts and let the readers upvote/ downvote this content. On the large sites, if you get to a high rank you’re likely to get thousands of visitors to your blog the same day. The main rule to follow on all sites is simple – make sure to publish content and not write about your product. People go on these sites in order to discover interesting content, not to purchase new products. Users are super sensitive to promotional content and it’s very likely to get downvoted fast.
Let’s cover the main ones:
The largest voting website, it covers a huge variety of subjects. In order to get started you need to choose a subreddit (= a group), create a user profile and submit. There are tens of thousands subreddits covering every topic you can imagine.
How to find the right subreddit:
Make sure there are enough people in the group. If you post to a group of 300 members, you’re not likely to get much traffic. I try to target subreddits with over 10,000 members.
Make sure the content really matches the subreddit. Check out the leading posts and see if your content is aligned with them.
Here’s a cool trick to discover the right subreddit – you can see all the submissions coming from a certain domain. So, if you type in a successful blog that is similar to your area you’ll be able to see in which subreddits they post and where they get good results. Type “www.reddit.com/domain/” and the domain name. Here are the results for my company’s blog for example :http://www.reddit.com/domain/www.takipiblog.com
If you write about entrepreneurship or programming, HackerNews is a must. The downside – it’s very hard to get onto the front page. The up side – if you get there, you can expect 1,000-50,000 visitors. I reached the #1 position once and received over 20,000 visits in one hour(!). No groups or sections like on other voting sites. Tip: submitting your content during the ‘slow time’ – weekends or nighttime in the US – gives you a better chance of getting to the front page as you’ll need fewer votes.
I haven’t had a chance to work with Dig or StumbleUpon since my main focus is B2B, but if your focus is consumer products definitely check them out.
Visually: If you have an infographic, this is the place to post it.
“Cool! I’ll ask some my friends to vote and get to a high place!” This strategy doesn’t really work. We all ask for 2 or 3 votes from friends but it’s almost impossible to “cheat” with more.
All these sites track IP addresses so you can’t vote from the same place (yep, your colleagues are useless).
Most of the sites make sure that the same users don’t upvote the same users over and over. On HackerNews for example, the third time you upvote for the same user, your account dies.
The first time I even thought about this channel was when one of our posts was featured in a newsletter and we received great traffic, over 1500 visits with a good conversation rate. This channel usually brings very high quality leads. What do you have to do to get into these newsletters? Pretty much like with bloggers, I email the person who runs the newsletter (it’s usually a one-man show) once we publish a post which is aligned to the content they usually publish. If you’re included in a newsletter, don’t forget to say thanks later. Many newsletters also suggest a paid channel and offer a sponsored post.
Adding a link to one of your articles on Wikipedia is doable, but has to be done just when there’s a very high alignment between the article and your post. Otherwise one of the moderators will probably remove it in a short while. stats.grok.se is a great tool to evaluate the potintial of each article – it tracks the traffic of each Wikipedia page, like an open Google Analytics. I use it when I need to choose where to place my link, and there are a few articles which are a good match. The thing I like best about traffic from Wikipedia is that it’s “evergreen,” meaning it generates the same amount of traffic all the time. Unlike most of the channels which lead to a high peak and a few days later generate zero traffic, if a link in Wikipedia brings you 20 visitors on the first day it’s likely to bring the same amount every day. That means 7300 visitors a year. If you have a few good links, it’s already a good basis for your blog.
One of the main reasons content marketing became very popular is due to Google’s algorithm changes and the fact that in order to get a high rank, you need to produce high quality content. I see content marketing as the new SEO. When I started working on the Takipi blog I met with other companies which run successful company blogs. When I asked about their main traffic sources, they indicated that most of the traffic came from about 5% of the posts, those that have a very high rank on Google.
SEO-driven content marketing – I’ve started using it myself, and can definitely see other companies moving toward this this channel as well. What does it mean? Instead of writing great content and then optimizing it for SEO, first research which terms have high search volume and try to create content for it. So, what works well?
Focusing on a certain product or tool usually brings better SEO results. For example, “When is the best time to tweet?” will probably work much better (Google-wise) than “When is the best time to post on social media?”
Comparing different products usually ranks very high. For example : Github vs. Bitbucket, Java 8 vs. Scala.
Don’t be afraid to use long titles and subtitles.
One thing which worked very well for us was covering a subject a bit before it became trendy. We started a series of posts about Java 8 about two months before it was released. Once Java 8 was out, we were ranked pretty high on search terms we covered and received quite a lot of referring links.
Quick tip: other than using Google’s keyword planner, here’s a tip that can help you think of ideas for SEO driven content marketing. Google search auto complete offers an immediate insight to top searches. If I’m looking to write about something related to Java 8 for example I can type in “Java 8” on Google and see the most popular searches.
Using vs. gives you a good idea about the competition and what people are comparing the solution to.
Guest posting / republishing
Guest posting or republishing existing content on other blogs is one of the best ways to generate initial traffic for your blog. When I decided to start blogging, my first step was to guest post for TechCrunch, TheNextWeb, LifeHacker and others. It took me another six months to start my own blog.
What is the difference between guest posting and republishing?
The main difference is where the content will be published first. When you guest post, your post appears for the first time on the external blog to which you are guest posting. There aren’t any exact rules, but it’s considered OK to repost it again on your private/ company blog. The main impact of the order is which content Google will consider as the original, and which source will be ranked first on Google search results. So, why not just republish my content? Unless you’re personally well known or your blog is already a hit, most of the popular blogs will not publish your content unless they’re the first source. Guest posting will usually be the first step, followed by republishing once you gain more traction.
How to guest post/ republish?
- The first thing you should check is whether this blog has welcomed guest posts or republished content from other blogs in the past. Even if your content is in perfect alignment to their content, if they haven’t posted content by exterior writers in the past, go on to the next blog.
- The best contact for guest posts is the editor rather than one of the writers. Much like when approaching a blogger with a story, when you email the editor, be accurate and concise but include all the relevant details. I usually write a short email to the editor and attach the post to it. I think sending the full post is a must, since the editor will want to read the post and evaluate both your writing skills and its alignment to the blog. By not attaching it to the first email you decrease your chances of being invited to guest post. No answer or a negative one from the editor? Move on to the next blog, offering them the same post.
- Republishing – don’t wait too long before asking other blogs to republish your content. No one wants to republish a three-month old post. Usually, on the same day I publish a post I email a few blogs and ask them if they’d like to republish it.
- To generate more traffic, add links on the post itself. There’s a simple tradeoff with guest posting or republishing: you give them your great content, and in return receive links to your website/ blog. In most cases the link will appear on the writer’s (your) bio, something like “This is a guest post by Iris Shoor, co-founder at Takipi.” Not many readers are likely to click this link. Today, I try to link to Takipi from the post itself. There’s hardly any subject I cover which is not related to the company. By doing so I manage to increase the referral traffic by up to 10x.
Q&A websites (and how to answer first)
I don’t use them a lot, but sites like Quora and StackOverflow can be a great traffic source. Much like Wikipedia, these traffic sources are sustainable and drive traffic for a long period. You can look up questions which are related to your post and add it as one of the answers. The problem is that if it’s not a new question, your answer is not likely to be voted up and not many people will be exposed to it. Most of these websites (well, except Quora) offer an API which gives you a notification about specific new questions. For example, every time there’s a new question in StackOverflow about debugging in Java, I get an email notifications. IFTTT is a great tool to optimize your marketing – it gives you an options to connect to numerous APIs and define rules. I use it all the time to get notification for new type of content and to be the first one out there.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking – who’s using Google+?
I haven’t mentioned Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn here because I don’t have much to add. However, not many people use Google+ as a channel for content marketing distribution. Here’s a screenshot of the Takipi blog’s traffic sources from last month: you can see over 1000 visits came from Google+.
What I like about about Google+ is that it’s easier to spread content there comparing to other social networks. You can join any community (similar to a Facebook page) and post there. For example I post a lot on the Java community (>80,000 members) and the programming community (>100,000 members). Unlike Twitter, you don’t need lots of followers to get traction, and unlike Facebook, communities with lots of members are not too busy so if you have good content it’ll be noticed.
I’ve covered this topic on a previous post, Reverse engineering: where do other companies get their traffic from? You’re not the first one to try to get people to read his personal/ company blog. My first step is always learning what works for other blogs and what are their main traffic sources.
One of my (not so polite) habits is asking other companies what their most surprising large traffic sources are. 90% of the times, the answer is: blogs in other languages. I understood the power of translated content when I first guest posted for TechCrunch. The next day the post appeared on a Chinese website, bringing 75% of the traffic TechCrunch brought. Ever since, my content has been translated to Spanish, French, Dutch, Japanese and even Persian. Most of these resulted in beautiful traffic and enabled us to reach new users. While most of the time we didn’t initiate the translation, there are a few ways to use this channel.
One simple strategy is just to email blogs in foreign languages with a high alignment to the subject you’re writing on and ask them if they’d like to translate your content. Another option is just to send them a translated post and ask them if they’d like to publish it (similar to republishing). Recently, we started translating some of our blog’s “greatest hits,” especially those with a high SEO potential. We use Elance or oDesk for the translation (about $30 for a technical post) and link from the original post to the translated versions. It leads to some organic traffic and is definitely worth the investment.
How adding a small “Feedly” button added 200 return visitors a month
When I first started my blog I was very skeptic about adding different buttons which would help readers get updates about new posts. My assumption was that if someone is interested in following the content, they’ll just add the blog to their Feedly or a different RSS reader. Following the advice of a friend,though, I added a small Feedly button and in a few days saw how the traffic from Feedly increased. Before adding the button we had about 200 monthly visitors from Feedly; after, we had around 400. It took us five minutes to add this button.
Usually content marketing is an alternative to paid marketing, but when starting a new company blog it makes lots of sense to use different channels, including paid traffic to get some initial traffic going. The main upside about the three paid channels I’ll cover here is that with a $50 budget or even less, you’ll be able to evaluate them pretty well and decide whether you’d like to invest more.
Twitter – offers very good targeting options. You’re able to promote the tweet for followers of a certain account. For example, if you’re writing content marketing about fitness you can promote it to Jillian Michaels’ followers. We had good results using this technique. Using hashtags works well, especially when there’s enough search volume for this term. We promoted a tweet with #java8 on the release day and it brought good results. The minimal budget is $1. This article covers the different advertising options Twitter offers: 5 ways to pay for Twitter exposure.
Facebook – if you’re writing on a professional topic, it’s much harder to target readers on Facebook compared to Twitter. On Facebook you can’t target users according to other pages they like, you can only define their interests. While it’s likely someone will indicate on Facebook he likes dogs, Game of Thrones or cooking, it’s less likely someone will write he’s interested in security or HTML5. However, a super interesting capability Facebook started offering lately is targeting users according to their email addresses. You can enter a list of emails, and if these emails match Facebook users they’ll see your post on their news feed. Can work very well for a company with an existing user base who’d like to promote content marketing for them. The main caveat about this option is that the minimal list should include 5000 emails.
Social Lead Freak is a tool which lets you extract Facebook IDs of people who like a certain page. For example, if you’ll type IBM, you’ll get a list of IDs of all the users who like IBM’s Facebook page. It looks very cheesy and I haven’t tried it yet, but according to what I have heard, it delivers on its promise.
Outbrain – If you haven’t used Outbrain as an advertiser, you probably know it as a user. It’s a small component based on the end of post which offers the reader “related content” from around the web. All of the companies I’ve asked about Outbrain gave gave me two very different answers – it either works great or it hardly brings traffic. No one was in the middle. It seems like it works very well for some topics (general topics, news, lifestyle, medical,social), and doesn’t work for other topic (technical for example). Definitely worth a try. The minimum daily budget is $10.