This is the post where I spill the beans a little on what I’m doing to grow the profile of my own blog. The fact is, that I am not much of a blog consultant if my own blog is languishing in the sombre shadows of the blogosphere… so a month ago, in mid-December, I decided it was time to get myself focussed.
Back then my Alexa rank was wallowing around 350,000 (give or take a bit). Today’s Alexa rank is 16,754! Represented as a percentage, that’s a whopping 2089% increase in rank from just a month ago. Pictures speak louder than words, so here are Alex’s rank and reach graphs for today:
Did I calculate this to happen a month ago when I started this aggressive growth drive? No way. I’m not that smart! Am I pleased? What do you think?!
For fear that I will forget the fun I’ve had if I don’t write it down now, and because I want to bring you along with me on this journey of growing my own blog, I want to write down in fairly specific ways what I have done that has worked well in building the profile and traffic of this blog.
OK. Here we go…
Setup (the stuff that has to happen before the good stuff can happen)
The right hosting provider, with scalability, reliability and centrality.
Writing about professinal blogging, search engine marketing and social media optimization, I know that most of my traffic is not from my own backyard (Australia). The Google Analytics map bears that out (most of my readers are in Europe or North America). So, I changed my hosting provider from a very good one in Australia to a very good one in Texas. I have confidence in my host buddies at Mosso that even a front-page Digg story (hmm, very nice!) wouldn’t cause too much grief on their system (it being a funky cluster/grid thing and all). And to help pay for Mosso, I’ve brought a number of my client sites over as well.
The right domain name, thinking ahead.
You have to plan for success! You have to assume your dreams will come true. And you have to think like a brand consultant sometimes. In short, go get your own domain name from the start. Don’t get some modicum of success from yourname.blogspot.com (or whatever else), only to lose all the linklove you’d accumulated when you eventually realize you should really have your own domain! In my case I ditched alister.cameron.name quite a while back and went with the domain I now have.
Here’s a free tip from yours truly (I’m a marketing guy, remember): if you’re a solo blogger like me, your brand is your name. In future you may change jobs, you make change focus, you may move to Bratislava… but when you boil it all down your brand is your name. So my wisdom says: go get a domain based on your own name, with a .com TLD if you possibly can.
There is one key exception: if you plan to sell the domain one day, you will find it harder to sell if it’s your name (unless you license your name back with a “figurehead” role for yourself). I haven’t asked him, but I suspect Darren Rowse thought that one thru when he chose problogger.net instead of darrenrowse.com. Steve Rubel was probably thinking the same thing with micropersuasion.com, as another example.
This is a good issue for a discussion in the comments. What are your thoughts?
The right blogging platform, properly configured.
This is a post of its own, and one I will write sometime. I chose WordPress, with which I have a lot of experience. I configured it with a number of different plugins, the most notable of which is the Feedburner Feed Replacement plugin. There are a few which provide this feature… I think I just picked the one that came up first in a Google search. This plugin solves the problem of bullet-proofing your feeds. Feedburner does RSS better than your blog does. Just accept that!
The right niche, carefully chosen.
One of the key skills I have as a marketing strategist, is discerning when my clients are straying outside of their core competency, and having the guts to tell them to pull their head in. I have just learned that a salesman can only sell a product he doesn’t believe in for so long, and a blogger can only blog on in a niche where he/she doesn’t really belong, for so long. The Bible talks about the wisdom of a builder who counts the constructions costs up carefully before he starts, to be sure he can finish well.
In blogging, you have to accept that it’s going to get hard sometimes and you better really connect with the content you’re writing about, and the niche you’re in. You can stretch the rubber band for a while, but it wants to return to its original shape, doesn’t it?! For me, this means focussing on one thing (blogging and search engine marketing), with a second thing close behind (church and missions).
I love the Lord and his Church, and I just can’t ignore that, but if I wanted to go nuts blogging about that, I’d have another blog. You’ll see a post here and there, but no more. The bottom line is you need one blog per niche. The only way I, personally, could get around this would be to shift my niche to something like “pro-blogging and SEM for churches and Christian bloggers”, a niche which I think is too small and narrow for what I have to say.
The old blog content imported in, coz it looks good.
There is nothing of much value in my old blog posts but it sure looks better having it all there, so I went to some old Blogger accounts, earlier blog content when my blog was on an ASP platform (long defunct), and pulled it all into this blog, making it look like I’ve been here a very long time (not a lie, just not on WordPress, and just not on topic!).
The right blog theme, SEO optimized
After a lot of messing around, and until I create my own (which is important and will happen), I settled on Cutline as my WordPress theme, which I then optimized for search engines quite a bit more than the author had done. This definitely is something for another post, and I won’t be long in posting it. For now, I’ll say that “front page” as the menu link back to your blog’s main page is a huge lost opportunity for some good SEO. My blog/site’s homepage is optimised for “blog consultant” and so the menu link back to the homepage says just that. My main menu “bio” link doesn’t say “bio”, it says my name, since that’s who the bio page is all about, and no-one searches for “bio”, they search for my name!
It’s a little appreciated fact that Google cares a fair bit about the very last text and/or links in your page’s html (assumed to be the footer or copyright line, where who you really are is typically mentioned), so I’ve put “blog consultant australia” there, linking back to my homepage.
And it goes without saying that I have properly structured and matching title and heading tags, etc.
Traffic-generation strategies for a new kid on the block
Coming up to Christmas is a really dumb time to try and aggressively grow your site. People are slowing down, and all the big bloggers will tell you their traffic stats drop off. Yes, they do pick up again sharply in early January, but the fact is, mid-late December is the great slow-down on blogs, typically.
My growth strategy focussed on three areas: yummy content, inbound links, and high-yield partnerships…
Yummy content, that gets seen because it’s so good.
Being good at what you do (which I am) is useless to you when you’re starting to build your profile online. You need to come up with tantalizing content. You don’t have instant “cred” from your offline endeavours (unless you’re a superstar), you earn it from your quality posting.
But what’s quality content? What’s tantalizing? Pondering this I decided to find a subject that was inherently good linkbait, and the easy way to gauge that was to look at Digg’s front page. It doesn’t take a genius to see that — assuming Digg’s visitors are representative of the rest of us — people like top-ten lists, they like controversy, they like sneak peeks, they like superlatives of every kind.
And then I remembered that about a year ago, I’d come across a company in the UK that made the most amazing treehouses, and that I’d been so impressed by what they were doing. So I decided I’d use their largest creation ever (a $7 million dollar monolith, no less), as a lead-in to some discussion about SEM and growth strategy for the company’s own website. Again… the hook was the “superlative”, extraordinary nature of their product (with huge eye-candy value), with my online marketing strategy recommendations following up behind.
So think about it… can you find great buried stories that you can resurrect with a massive headline, impressive pictures and yummy copy, all wrapped up in solid, no-nonsense marketing advice? Sure you can!
Now, that treehouse post got me 33 diggs (not bad for a total newbie), heaps of inbound links (at a time when I didn’t care where they came from, really), and loads of motivation to keep going. And let’s not underestimate the importance of early “wins” for a blogger still finding his feet… we’re all just human.
Inbound links, 100% organic and MSG-free!
I woke up on the morning of December 18th to the news that Time Magazine had announced their Person of the Year for 2006… you (and me). Darren Rowse very quickly posted about how it was a master-stroke of link-bait, and I immediately got a BIG idea. In a burst of adrenalin (I knew I had to be really fast), I fired up ImageReady, pulled down some graphical bits and pieces off the web, and crafted a Person of the Year (un)official seal. I think the whole thing — graphics, post text, everything — took me less than an hour. I just saw the tantalizing opportunity and jumped on it.
I put the post up, messaged Darren to let him know it was there (with a hint that it was something he might like to mention… of course!), and got someone to digg it too. I think I also bookmarked the story on del.icio.us… can’t remember.
And the links started to pour in. There is a wonderful, even strange feeling of delight to watch people you’ve never met sticking your graphic up on their sites. I laughed and laughed.
But don’t miss the smart bit that makes or breaks a link-bait project like this: a) the seal looks really good and has a real Time Magazine feel about it (it looked authentic), and b) I made it really really easy for a completely non-tech person to grab the required HTML for their own page. As an adjunct to this (and getting a little technical), I made sure the HTML was coded to be pretty unbreakable on someone else’s site. If they pasted it in, and it looked crap, they’d have deleted it immediately, see.
High-yield partnerships, that you didn’t even ask for!
Wind the clock back just a week (which can be a long time in blogging!), and Lee Odden over at TopRank published his OPML file full of his favourite Search Engine Marketing blog RSS feeds. Again, I got a sudden rush of blood and knew I have very little time to capitalize on this for myself, while also creating something of real worth for people in my niche (both motivations ideally need to work in together).
I laboriously went through all the feeds in Lee’s list, converting them to site URLs (not realising he’d done that already on his site… d’oh!), piled them into Google Coop, created a simple logo, added TopRank’s logo and link in there too, bolted it all into my site, wrote the introductory post, tested it all, and published it. SEM Search was born. Phew!
Then (don’t miss this), I emailed Lee and explained what I had done. I also dropped a comment on Gord Hotchkiss’ blog. I say “don’t miss this” because bloggers are people. I don’t want to just have a successful blog… I want friends! I want people to know me, the guy behind the copy. If I can get to some conference in the States soon, I want to have a beer with many of you lot, and at least some of you will know me well enough (through emails and other communication) to want that beer too!
Anyway, Lee and Gord both wrote posts about SEM Search, being very generous in their commentary, and the rest of the SEM community continues to catch on, drop in to test it, and post blog entries of their own.
So follow what happened here…
Lee Odden is generous and without asking for it, ends up in a high-yield partnership with me through SEM Search (wherever SEM Search is mentioned, so it TopRank, basically). And now, a very smart Andy Beard has turned that into a partnership I didn’t ask for as well!
In principal terms, what is happening here is that I am finding opportunities to apply my expertise to add value to what someone else has “started”. This gets me and whatever I have done talked about. It invites others to do the same, and we all win!
In all these cases — some more than others — the link love is (potentially) huge. Never forget that!
Three little tricks I’ve been exploiting
Those strange links on my bio page.
That big list of links you see at the bottom of my bio page is there for a reason… the links do two things: a) they pack out Google’s (and other SE’s) search results pages on “alister cameron” with pages that are not on my site but are related to me, and ultimately link people back to my site; b) they add links back to my site from loads of “high-trust” sites… links which are keyworded (with “blog consultant”, in my case). I’m not going to explain further… go figure it out
This started out as a test for me, but it seems to have worked very well (for someone starting with very little, as was my case).
Smart commenting on other blogs.
Whenever I comment on other people’s blogs, I but “Alister Cameron, Blog Consultant” in the “name” field. This gives me a keyworded in-bound link for every blog comment I post (with the exception of sites that use redirection on commenters’ website links – few in all). Down the track, as I start going after more and more keywords, I’ll vary the keywords I use and also the destination page I link to (which right now is always my homepage). I don’t consider this strategy anything as important as organic links from other people, but it’s got value for someone just starting out.
Always tell people where to go!
On my blog I use a few plugins to make sure that someone always has something else to look at, and somewhere else to go, at the end of a given post. Searches include related search results, and posts have these as well as related posts. Now, I have a funny plugin to do this that comes up with some really strange matches sometimes, but it works! The wisdom is simple enough: reward someone for reading to the bottom of a given post with suggestions on what to read next. Pageviews/session IS an important metric so keep working to push it up!
There’s More to Come
Bookmark my blog. Add my blog to your RSS feeds. I will continue to grow this blog with all I’ve got and I will continue to spill the beans on how I do it. I will make it worth the read!
Of course, it is still early days for this blog. My Adsense revenue is disappointing, as are other mechanisms I’m exploring for monetizing this site. My research skills/workflow need some fine-tuning. My income-generating day-job has suffered with the focus I’ve given my blog lately. Digg, frustratingly, is still a bit of a mystery to me. And I could go on. But stick with me for the ride and I’ll teach you all I can, and it will be fun!