We asked Chris Bennett, a Search Engine Optimization expert, and someone we seek advice from when it comes to the Elance website, to write a few tips on how to help your blog ‘go viral’.
People tend to think of blogs today the way that websites were thought of ten years ago: “All I have to do is get a site up and I’ll instantly get tons of traffic and my business will take off.” That was the case for a brief time with websites, but it’s no longer the case with blogs.
Here are 13 practical ways you can grow the readership of your blog to help it go viral:
1. First determine why you’re blogging. Who is your audience? What are your goals? What are your readers interested in? If you create compelling content for readers, readers will naturally come back to your blog to read more.
2. Do basic research. Go to Technorati and search for keywords related to your target audience and the topics you want to focus on. While there, try to answer these questions: Who are the influential bloggers in your space? Who is successful at getting in front of the readers you want to get in front of?
Technorati is a great resource for this because it ranks recent blog posts based on their "authority," or how many people link to that blog. High-ranking blogs are the ones you'll want to check out. See what they write about, what people comment about… and while you're at it, also note any posts you particularly like, because later you can link posts you write to those posts, which might generate return traffic through track backs.
3. Avoid sub domains. Never set up a blog under a sub-domain. Install your blog on your own domain as a sub-page, or if you don’t have a domain, get one.
If you’re using Blogger as your blog platform, I recommend switching to WordPress. The reason is that while Blogger is free, your blog will be a sub-domain of Blogger (like myblogwentviral.blogspot.com), and people that visit your blog may never find your website.
4. Create a content schedule. Determine a steady schedule for how you’ll post, and plan ahead to create structure around your workload. If you plan to post on Tuesdays and Fridays, for example, put it on your calendar. While you’re at it, take the time to determine what topics you’ll cover on those days.
Whether you start with a schedule of one, two, or a dozen blog posts a week, stay on that schedule. The more scheduled and consistent your blog postings are, the better. You can also start out with occasional posts, but only if those posts are extremely thought-provoking – make sure each of those posts is a home run.
If you plan on blogging frequently, stick to that plan. If you post regularly and then drift away for a few weeks, your readers will also quickly drift away. Your posting schedule in effect creates an expectation on the part of your readers (“Hey, it’s Tuesday, let’s see what she has to say today”) so make sure you meet that expectation. Don’t disappoint your audience.
5. Be personal. Post a photo of yourself and/or your team, and write good bios to enhance your credibility and demonstrate that you’re a real person to your readers. This engages your audience.
At the same time, if you have a business blog, don’t blog about your family or the new restaurant you tried unless somehow you quickly tie that into a business topic.
6. Be first. Being the first one to post breaking news is a relatively easy way to go viral.
To make the process a little simpler for yourself, create news alerts from Yahoo News!, Google News, and RSS feeds. Then just link to the news source, but don’t forget to put your spin on it.
You’ll get your opinion out there before others do and over time readers will come to rely on your blog to find out what’s new – and for what you think about what’s new.
You can also create resources like how-to articles or lists of helpful sites, such as “100 Tools to Help You be More Organized Online,” “Home Staging Tips to Raise Your Home’s Sale Price by $5,000,” or my favorite and yours, “Thirteen Ways to Make Your Blog Go Viral.”
If you find sources that the average visitor doesn’t know about, you can draw in folks who can’t find – or don’t have the time to find – those sources themselves. Visitors love blogs that provide useful information while saving them time.
7. Stay on top of what other bloggers are saying. If an influential blogger posts about a topic and you disagree with their viewpoint, link to their post and state your position. Don’t worry about taking a different position or even being negative, as long as you’re not insulting. Disagreement creates interaction and interaction builds a community. If you say the same thing everyone else does, why should people read your blog?
8. Pay attention to social networking sites. Take the time to study the social sites to see what people like. An article that goes “popular” on Digg can generate tens of thousands of visitors to your site. The same is true for StumbleUpon or del.icio.us.
To get a feel for the kinds of posts that can be popular on social networking sites, do searches on social networking websites for keywords to identify content that works well.
On Digg: do a search and change the search criteria to only show stories that have gone popular and you’ll see articles that reached the first page in your subject area.
On del.icio.us you can search for a keyword and see what articles have been “tagged” – the more people that saved those articles, the more popular they were.
StumbleUpon works the same way.
9. Stay in control of your blog. Real time statistics from your blog are important, so keep up with your live stats so you can see what works and what doesn’t.
The reason real time stats are important is because new blog postings have a “hot” shelf life of about 24 hours, and if you wait until the next day to find out what’s happening, you can’t take steps to add to the popularity of your posting. For example, if your article gets picked up by a social networking site, you can grab a button off Digg and post a vote count for the article on your site, which will entice readers to check you out, hopefully vote for you, be more interactive with your blog, and help your blog grow.
Google Analytics is a free tool that takes about five minutes to sign up for. I use and recommend this tool, but the downside is you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get a report on today’s traffic.
Mint, which is available for $30 per site on haveamint.com, gives you live, real-time statistics. You can post to your blog and almost instantly watch the traffic that goes to your site.
10. Make it easy for your readers: Put your RSS feed in a prominent place. RSS feeds let users display the content from multiple blogs through one program so they can easily see the latest posts from all their favorite blogs. Many visitors prefer to use RSS feeds to subscribe to your content so they don’t have to visit your blog through a browser.
Also, use FeedBurner, a free, analytical tool that lets you see how many people subscribe to your blog. Google Analytics and Mint won’t give you statistics for your RSS readership, so without FeedBurner you’ll miss critical information about your blog’s readership.
For more information about RSS feeds and FeedBurner, check out Patrick Bennett’s article “8 Must Do’s to Start a Successful WordPress Blog”.
11. Rinse and repeat. Watch your blog carefully to see what works. And know that some blogs do better on StumbleUpon, some blogs do really well on Digg, and others seem to perform better on del.icio.us.
To figure our what works for your blog, first determine where your traffic comes from and which resources bring the most visitors or comments. If three articles are failures and one is a home run, don’t rehash the same content used in the home run but use it as a blueprint for other posts.
If news works well for you, spend time finding ways to get news alerts more quickly so you can grow that audience. If how-to articles are popular, make sure your blog contains a healthy dose of how-to information.
The bottom line is that you should experiment and pay attention to the results so you can see who your audience is and what that audience wants. Find out what works – and then stick with it.
12. Don’t try to please everyone. Have opinions and stand by them. Even if everyone doesn’t love what you do, that’s okay. Some of my favorite blogs are ones I frequently disagree with. Even though I have a different opinion their posts make me think … which makes me come back for more.
13. Finally, don’t get discouraged. Many bloggers write a couple of posts, don’t see much traffic, and give up. Building a readership and going viral takes time and experience. It takes effort to find ways to get your particular audience to visit, comment on your posts, and recommend you to others – but it’s worth it.
Chris Bennett is the President and Founder of 97th Floor, a leading edge SEO Firm specializing in Search Engine Optimization, Reputation Management, Social Media Marketing and Blog Optimization. Chris has been involved with the Internet “since the days of Alta Vistas reign, the good ol’ days when you could change your meta tags, submit your site through Inktomi, and see your rankings improve by dinner.”
- Elance Blog