Duff: Finding an audience for your blog
So you’ve started a blog. You’ve selected some blog software, staked out your subject matter and written your first few posts.
Now you just have to get a segment on the “Today” show and retire off your advertising revenue.
I could give you my obligatory speech about the purity of amateur blogging and the spiritual poverty of fame, but you won’t hear me. You’ve got that gleam in your eye. You want the brass ring, and you want it now. You want astounding overnight success – thousands of eager participants writing comments and admiring you from afar.
I have to admit it’s possible. The Internet is full of overnight sensations and improbable success stories. But events like that are like lightning strikes: violent, brief and totally unpredictable.
Most successful bloggers start slowly and build a community over time. The real key to success is patience. Produce smart, high-quality posts day in, day out for a year or two, and readers will slowly build a community around you.
The Internet is an infinite medium where anybody can link to anybody else, but building an audience is like a rolling a snowball down a mountain. There is no sure method that can bring you overnight success. And even if you manage to get a link from a high-profile blog, most of those readers will read you once and vanish into the ether. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of getting 10,000 hits in a day, and nothing quite like the letdown when your traffic goes back to normal in a week.
Think of the blogosphere like an ecosystem of marine life, swimming around in the ocean. Your new blog is like a goldfish, swimming in circles in a corner by yourself. The successful blogs are like whales, sucking up vast amounts of audience, carrying gangs of smaller fish in their wake.
If you look around, you can find bloggers at all the stages in between. As a new blogger, your goal is to get individual links from as many high-profile blogs as you can. Each link to your blog is like a vote for you in the search engines. Building a blog audience is a lot like running for office. You need to smile a lot, shake hands, and be seen in all the right places.
First, be a good commenter. Find out who the most successful bloggers are in your marketplace and become a regular fixture in their comment sections. Most comment software allows you to share a link to your blog every time you write a post. Get a reputation for writing good comments and people will use those links to visit you.
Second, start a blogroll. A blogroll is a list of your favorite blogs, permanently linked in the sidebar of your blog. Make a comprehensive list of your favorite places, and don’t just focus on the big boys. Find obscure, lesser-known blogs run by people you like and give them some free advertising. Most of the time, smaller blogs will return the favor and give you a link in return.
It’s hard to get a link from top-tier bloggers. These blogs get so many submissions from so many different sources it’s hard to make a single post stand out. The key is to concentrate your effort on the mid-list bloggers – people who are not terribly famous but who still have a bigger audience than you. These bloggers are hungry and are much more likely to give you a link back.
Here’s the real key to success for new bloggers: The blogosphere is a conversation. Find a smart, provocative post written by a blogger you like. Link to that post in your blog and explain why you like it. Compliment them on what they got right and disagree politely with what they got wrong. Add your own points and be as specific as possible.
Do that over and over again, day in and day out, and your blog will slowly become part of a community.
Most of the time you won’t even need to bother sending e-mails telling people you linked to them. Your average blogger is obsessed with his traffic stats. They check their numbers constantly throughout the day, looking for links in their referrer logs. These are log files that tell you where your incoming traffic is coming from.
The people you link to may be too busy to check their e-mail, but if they see a dozen people coming to visit from your blog, they will rush over to see what you said about them. It’s human nature, and it works every time. I’ve had top-tier bloggers leave comments literally seconds after I’ve posted links to them.
An e-mail notice may take days or weeks to get read, but referrer links are like money in the bank.