A few weeks ago, I received the following question from Sybille: How can I direct traffic to my blog?
Thanks for your patience, Sybille, and I’ll do my best to answer your question. Disclaimer: I am not a marketing expert. But I do read several websites and blogs, from which I’ve gleaned some ideas about the business side of writing. So, I can think of two basic phases for marketing your blog…
Phase 1: Create an irresistible site.
This goes for blogs, websites, or any other media. Make sure your site is functional and complete before you advertise it (but you’ll think of ways to improve it later on). Try a few sample posts to see if things work smoothly, and maybe get feedback from friends. Study similar blogs/sites to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. This all depends on what you’re hoping to achieve with your site; but at the very least, give readers an easy way to contact you. If you’re promoting a book or anything else, provide the necessary links or info. Authors usually have book widgets; if clicked on, they take you directly to a venue to buy the book (Amazon page, etc). Make it easy for readers to keep track of you. Most sites include RSS feeds, but I also added FeedBurner to my site, which allows people to receive posts via email if they wish.
What if you’re an aspiring author who doesn’t yet have an audience… or anything to sell? Then you need to build a platform. You have to offer something to attract interest and keep people coming back for more. Sure, you could hook readers with your dazzling wit and insightful metaphors—thus selling entertainment—but keep in mind that you’re competing with thousands of other entertaining bloggers. People only have time to read a limited number of blogs. But if you can offer some type of spin, something no one else has, then you have the tools to create a following.
For example, several literary agents blog, but Nathan Bransford is my favorite. He offers valuable information about the publishing industry… but so do several other agents. Nathan’s bonus (at least in my opinion) is that he’s hilarious. Double-bonus: he hosts contests on a regular basis. Now he has this huge audience that tunes in daily. Moral of the story: figure out what you know or what you’re good at, and then add a bonus, or even a double-bonus.
Phase 2: Spread the word about said irresistibility.
Once you have your fabulous site up and running, now you’re ready to stand on the tallest hill and shout out the news. Right… if only it was that easy. Instead you have to network and market yourself (if you’re shy, I hope this post doesn’t give you nightmares). It’s often easier and cheaper to network online than in person. However, meeting someone in person gives you an undeniable edge. Now the reader can put a face to the name, and you’re more personally connected. If people like you in real life, they’re more likely to follow your fake life (or whatever your Internet persona is).
Before you go out in the real world, get some business cards with your name, website, and other pertinent info (but keep it simple). Conferences are a great way to meet people and exchange cards. Sometimes I meet a person who knows an aspiring author, and he/she agrees to pass on my card to that person. But the amazing thing about networking is that you can meet interested people no matter where you go. A few weeks ago I was at a child’s birthday party, and the child’s aunt asked me what I did for a living. When she found out I was a writer, she wanted my contact info. Seriously, you never know when you’ll need a business card. Another way to meet people is through public speaking. Offer to talk to a local group about your field of expertise. If it’s classroom appropriate, you could even speak to kids. Be creative and meet as many people as you can.
Marketing online—that could be a whole other post (or even a book), but I’ll try to hit the highlights. Most importantly, learn about the networking sites and join them. Current popular sites: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. And of course, you have to decide which blogging program(s) to use, if you haven’t already. I like WordPress for its professional, multipage layouts. I like LiveJournal for its ease in friending people and following comments. I write my blogs in WordPress and copy/paste to LJ; obviously you could do this with any number of blogs.
Once you’re a member of a network, find people to friend. Add them to your friend list, and they may or may not add you to theirs. You can search for people with similar interests to yours, people who will most likely be intrigued by your site. If you’ve done all the friending you can stand, you could also try a spread-the-word contest. This works in various ways, but basically—ask your readers to spread the word about your site. They could post your link or widget, write a review, or rave about you in some way or another. Each time they help you out, they’re entered into your contest. Eventually you draw a winner who will receive a prize (free books or Amazon gift cards are always nice. Just sayin).
Don’t forget about other helpful websites, even if they’re not exactly networking sites. If you’re a writer, there are hundreds or thousands of informative sites and blogs for you. Some even have forums, like Absolute Write. It’s a wonderful way to meet fellow writers and hopefully make some friends in the process. Maybe you could even be a guest blogger on someone’s site—or visit several as a blog tour. Reach out to new people without ever leaving your chair.
Another way to increase traffic to your site is by making your content easy to Google. WordPress has this cool feature which shows my most active posts and what search terms brought people to my site. My post with the most hits is called “The Battle of the Labyrinth,” the book by Rick Riordan. Since the book is so popular, my review of it has been read several times. I’m hoping a few of those visitors stick around to see the rest of the site. So while it’s fun to have cute titles sometimes, relevant titles can often bring in curious folk.
If you have money to burn, consider hiring a publicist or marketing professional. Some can be hired for one-time consultations; you tell them about your project or goal, and they’ll brainstorm marketing ideas for you. I haven’t actually tried this, but it sounds good in theory. If possible, hire someone who specializes in the publishing industry, like AuthorBuzz.
What NOT to do: After meeting people, please don’t stalk them or nag them continuously. If you send your manuscript to an agent, don’t nudge her on Facebook and ask if she’s read it yet. Don’t spam blogs with comments to remind people of your site. Just be professional, courteous, and respectful. Keep in touch over time by reading their blogs/sites, and be ready if someone needs your help. This happens on blogs all the time; the blogger will have a question or want help finding info, etc. If you know the answer, leave a comment! They’ll remember you as being helpful, and they might just visit your site out of curiosity. For any type of correspondence, if your website isn’t automatically included, just list it discreetly under your name. So it’s there if they want it, but you’re not being pushy about it. If you talk to professionals at a conference, send an email to thank them for their time and advice. If you took a picture of someone teaching a class, include that as well. But don’t pursue anything beyond that, unless you can help them. I’m not saying I help people just so I can network; I help people cause I like them and it’s the nice thing to do. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. And I think people can tell the difference between someone who enjoys helping and someone who just wants to further her own career.
Also, please don’t come across as a know-it-all. When I’m writing posts for Tuesday’s Topics, I have this constant fear of sounding pompous. The last thing I want is for someone to think, “She’s not even published! Who is she to tell us what to do?” Believe me, I’m just an aspiring author, struggling to learn the basics. The whole reason I started this website was so I could help other writers like me who were also struggling. Misery loves company, remember? Yet if I can learn one thing and share it with someone else… that just makes my day. I love sharing resources and recommending books; it’s how I get my kicks! So if I start sounding pompous, just slap me, okay?
I think I’ve rambled enough for one post. Consider this a springboard into the deep pool of marketing. If you’re ready for more information, it’s out there waiting for you. Search online, or read whole books about these same topics. If you don’t subscribe to Writer’s Digest magazine, go out and buy the May/June issue. It explains everything I just said and much, much more. Christina Katz, author of GET KNOWN BEFORE THE BOOK DEAL, wrote a great article on building a platform; and novelist M. J. Rose wrote an article about an online marketing plan. Go here and here for two websites about marketing (I just found these links, but they sound promising).
If you have any questions, please ask! And point out anything I messed up or forgot to mention! I’d love to hear more thoughts and ideas beyond these basic guidelines. Have a great week, everyone!