All the Blogging Advice I Have to Give
Here is all the advice I have to pass along about building blog traffic or getting people to write about your product in one not-quite-succinct post.
This post may negate the comment from yesterday where I was told that I have the patience of a saint (thank you, IF Crossroads!), but I can say with absolute certainty that I have found the worst PR firm in the world and I can’t stand them. I would name them, but I honestly don’t want to give them even negative traffic. For the last few months, they have been emailing me several times a week–sometimes several times a day–asking me to hawk pregnancy and baby products.
Perhaps they didn’t catch that part where I said that I’m infertile.
Actually, the part they’re missing is the “relations” part of public relations. They are doing nothing to form a relationship with me and therefore, they are getting no response from me.
The FTC updated their guide this week stating that bloggers will be fined $11,000 per post if they do not disclose payment (monetary or itemwise) from a company. In other words, if Colgin sent me a bottle of their delicious vegan Worcestershire sauce and asked me to write about it, I better make sure that I mention that Colgin sent me a free bottle of sauce*. And these guidelines are going to make it even harder for PR firms to get bloggers to write about their products because…damn it…people are going to be forced to think about what they’re doing and saying.
My policy, as I state on my About Me page, is that I don’t do reviews. This is why: the first time someone sent me a pitch, I was so excited. And then they started coming 10 or so a day. And now it’s hitting 50 or so a day. 50 or so times a day, I receive an email telling me that they have a wonderful beef-jerky-educational-toy-weight-loss-pill-fertility-test that they just know I’d love to write about. They are certain that I’m the right person to write about their product, yet they seem to have missed the part on my straightforward “about me” page where I state that I don’t do reviews.
Public relation firms: this is a problem. Your message is not being heard because you’re not actually building relationships with people, making sure you have their ear (and the proper ear at that), and then asking for the favour. You are not even getting me to open your emails anymore therefore, you’re not only wasting your time, but you’re building bad blood when you flood my inbox in a spam-like nature.
I realized today that there are a lot of similarities between the tactics publicists should take if they want people to write about their product and the tactics bloggers should take if they want people to read their blog. Because in both cases, you have an item that you want people to see. And therefore, since I am asked not only to write about products I would never use, but people often ask me for tips on getting someone to visit their blog, I decided to write this handy, albeit long, guide of all the tips I have to pass along after over three years of blogging. And just to be clear: though I am clearly annoyed when strangers ask me to hawk their product, I’m never annoyed when people ask how to connect with community or build readership or when a friend connects with me and asks for my help with their project. This guide shouldn’t shut down the building readership conversation nor should regular blog readers and friends think this means that they can’t ask me to post about their etsy on LFCA.
And to start, let’s just get this out in the open, when people ask me this question, what they really want to know is what are the shortcuts–so I’m writing this first to say that there are no shortcuts.
I mean, yes, there are, but the shortcuts are uncontrollable. The point of a tipping point is that if there was a single formula, we’d all use it and there would cease to be a tipping point. So, let’s all agree that there are no shortcuts, and if that’s the only answer you’re looking for, I’d click away because the rest of this post is pointless. The idea of this post is that you’re going to have to do a little work and earn your traffic or attention. I know…bummer.
(1) Write good content: good content is subjective. I personally like reading about what someone ate for lunch, even though that is held as an example as the kiss-of-death of blogging topics. Therefore, stop trying to write something you don’t want to write and just go with your gut, with what interests you, with the types of posts you’d want to read. Really, I promise you, there are like-minded people out there who will come to read it AND people are drawn to a genuine voice. In the same vein, if you’re a publicist, represent a good product. If you wouldn’t pay money to buy it yourself, do not ask other people to spend their money on it. See how these two things are related? Don’t write things you wouldn’t want to read yourself and don’t sell things you wouldn’t want to buy yourself. Simple.
(2) Drama does not count as good content: you may see a spike in traffic if you write something to provoke others, but once the brouhaha dies down, you will see those same readers disappear. It’s sort of the Aliza Shvarts effect. Don’t remember her name? I don’t blame you–she had her 15 minutes of enraging people and now no one cares about what she has to say. That’s sort of the problem with self-created drama–people quickly stop listening, even if you have other things to say down the line. And publicists, if you keep spamming a person, that’s the equivalent to building drama. You might provoke a reaction, but I promise you, it’s not the one you want.
(3) Get involved: the more involved you are, the more traffic you’ll likely see. And involved is jumping in and joining the game, not playing another game on the same court. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s use this as an example: some people start reading blogs, leave comments regarding what is written on the post, and hope that people will see that they have left a thoughtful comment and come over to read their blog. That’s joining the game. Then there are those who start reading blogs, leave comments asking people to check out their blog, and wonder why no one stops by. That’s like going on a basketball court where everyone is playing basketball and starting to play football with the hope that people will join you. And publicists, read the “about me” page. Get involved by getting to know the people you’re asking to write about your product.
(4) Get involved, part two: a low-level of involvement would be adding yourself to a blogroll. A higher level of involvement would be joining an activity like IComLeavWe. An even higher level of involvement would be to set up a blog reader with blogs you like and read them regularly and comment from time to time. And to keep adding new blogs and expanding your world. Publicists, do you really need me to hold your dick on this one? Take a page from book agents who build solid relationships with certain publishers and then get that publisher’s ear when they have a book to sell. Don’t spam every blogger–pick and choose the ones who are a good fit for the types of products you represent and build a relationship with those people.
(5) Just for bloggers: wait, you’re still writing good content, right?: it’s a lot of plates to spin at once, but in order to build traffic, you need to write your own blog, and read and comment on others AT THE SAME TIME. Which means that if you stop writing for long periods of time, expect that you’ll see a fall in traffic.
(6) Be okay with having loyal readers over a lot of readers: people get so hung up on keeping up with the blogging Joneses that they sort of miss the part where they have people interested in what they have to say and then get too cranky about the whole experience to write. You may never have one million readers a day, but 10 loyal readers who care about what you have to say is better than one million people who skim your words. Blogging is about making a connection–all art is about making a connection. Not numbers. And the same is true for a product. It’s better to have 10 loyal people buying your peanut butter week after week after week. Those loyal people are going to do more for your product long-term than the fickle ones who pick up your peanut butter one week and never buy it again.
(7) Get people to link to you: this is usually out of your hands–people simply read something on your blog and decide to link to it from their own and that drives traffic your way. You can’t control that. You can use resources like LFCA if you’re in the infertility community, but here’s the fact about links: people only click on them if they’re interested. I had someone who wanted me to list their blog project weekly in the LFCA and while I can do that for them, they’ll see the most clicks the first time they do it because people are curious. And they’ll see considerably fewer clicks each subsequent time unless people feel a connection towards that blogger or project. For instance, people will click over for news coming from someone involved with community. Sometimes they won’t if they don’t know the name. Which is a long way of saying that links are nice, but they rarely bring the permanent traffic you’re craving. And this is true for all products as well. It’s fine and dandy to have someone link to your product, but unless the words leading up to that link can pique interest or build enthusiasm, it’s unlikely that people will click over.
(8) This one is solely for businesses–purchase ad space, do some homework, and try not to piss off people before you’ve asked for your favour: Can I just repeat that I get about 50 PR requests per day. Per day. People wanting me to review their product or spread word about their cause. It doesn’t matter whether or not I want to help because if I spent all of my time fulfilling the wishes of PR people, I would have no traffic because people don’t want to read about beef jerky and financial guides and whatever else people are hawking. Therefore, as I said, I put a blanket statement on my blog: I do not accept any PR requests. And still, they keep coming.
If PR people (or anyone with a business) wants to get a better response, try this: purchase ad space on a few key blogs in the community you wish to reach. Let people become familiar with your name and product so when you ask your favour, they know that you’ve been hanging out around the community for a bit. Consider it like squirrel monkeys peeing against a tree and having all the other squirrel monkeys recognize your scent (this analogy assumes that you are a squirrel monkey).
Then approach a few blogs, making sure you have done your homework and you’re a good match. Then ask them for the favour, admitting that you know that you’re asking for a favour and don’t try to make it sound like you’re giving them something great. And understand that they need to disclose that you approached them and asked them to write the post and paid them with a product. And don’t approach me because you’ve already ruined it with me. But there are plenty of other bloggers out there who are still open-minded and this approach would probably do wonders to get them to support your product or cause.
(9) Back to bloggers–number one piece of advice held until item 9–don’t quit: the number one reason why people don’t build blog traffic is that they don’t realize that the blogosphere ebbs and flows and that building traffic is about sticking around and being a solid presence. Don’t get frustrated if it takes a long time to build traffic. As I stated in the beginning, there are no shortcuts. It will take time and hard work and community participation to find your niche and see your ideas pass to other people. But if you’ve read to the bottom of this post, I’m fairly certain that you’re the type who will make that happen rather than walking away still wondering where the wormhole is that will take you to one million visitors overnight.
What other advice would you add for people wishing to build blog traffic or for business owners looking to have bloggers review their product? What do people have to do in order to get your attention, hold your interest, or return to their blog over and over again?
*Colgin has never sent me a free bottle of sauce, but they bring endless amusement whenever we make Caesar salad and I whisper to Josh, “the world has been waiting for a delicious, hickory-smoked vegan option.” I used them as my example because I truly love the gluten-free, kosher pareve, no animal by-products smokey goodness.