Apr 22 2009
I’ve written before that blogging is a really useful marketing tool and is one of the only ways for a first-time author to establish an audience before he gets published. When you pitch your book to publishers, they will be really encouraged if you already have an audience. But how can you attract an audience to your website?
1. Pick a niche. If do a general writing blog, you’re competing against hundreds of thousands of similar sites. Try blogging about something more specific instead, like a blog about how to write a romance or a superhero story or a young adult fantasy, etc. If you’re planning on using this blog to market a book, the niche should be related to the book.
2. Pick a title that identifies your niche. For example, if you Google something like “writing a superhero comic book,” the first result will be a site that calls itself “Superhero Nation: how to write superhero novels and comic books.” Our name makes it really clear why you should click on us. We offer superhero writing advice. In contrast, if our name were something like “B. Mac’s Superhero Site,” that wouldn’t work at all. If readers aren’t sure what kind of information you provide, they will skip past you. Also, please do not use your name in the title unless you are a celebrity.
3. Design your site for search-engine optimization (SEO). When your prospective readers use Google, which terms do they search for? For example, let’s say you’re searching for advice on how to write a superhero story. Your search will probably use some of the following terms: superhero, comic book, novel, how to, write, naming, name, character, superpowers, advice, supervillain, writing, etc. When you know the terms in your genre that tend to come up a lot, use them as often as possible in the titles of your posts. If it is really important, like “comic book” and “how to write” are to us, put it in your site’s title. If it is incredibly important, like “superhero” is to us, put it in your URL as well.
4. What are people in your niche looking for? Provide some articles that are useful resources to strangers. For example, in the superhero writing niche, many writers are interested in superpowers. So a list of superpowers is a very useful resource to them. When we created a list of superpowers, our traffic pretty much doubled within a week. That page had 10,000 hits in its first month.
5. Provide content on a schedule. Ideally you’ll do a post a day or every other day. When a reader comes back every day for a week and finds nothing, he’ll probably get annoyed.
6. Write well. The first thing readers notice is your spelling and punctuation. The second thing they notice is whether the content is relevant to what they’re looking for. The third thing they notice is whether your content helps, entertains or otherwise pleases them. If you’re missing any one of these things, they will probably leave.
7. Give your readers opportunities to contribute. For example, most of our articles end with a question like “what do you think?” I’m genuinely interested to know what you think, not least of which because it provides me more ideas about to write about. For example, this article was inspired when Asaya asked “how can I build an audience for my blog?” We also provide review forums so that readers can get feedback on their stories.
8. Design your site so that it is easy to navigate and attractive. I recommend a two-columned WordPress theme like Paalam. I strongly recommend using a dark font on a light background. If you’re confident in your artistic design (or have $50-100 to pay a freelancer), you can do a lot of neat things with a custom header. In your sidebar, I really recommend using text-widgets to link to your best articles. That will help readers navigate your content.
9. Do not sell ads, particularly before you have 500 viewers per day. Ads usually make a site seem shady and scare away readers. If you absolutely must have ads, please make them as unintrusive as possible.
10. Link to relevant sites. For example, Google Analytics tells me when someone has linked to me. If I check out your site and it seems like it could be useful to my readers, I’ll let them know.
11. Use tools like ShareThis to make it easier for your readers to share your website. Also, if you have any particularly devoted readers, ask them to share your content on a site like StumbleUpon. (Stumbling yourself is sort of frowned upon, and asking your readers as a whole to Stumble you will probably sound like you’re flailing for attention).
12. Keep your articles short. I’d recommend keeping it to at most 750 words per post.
13. Be patient. It took me a year before this website’s readers spent more time combined here than I did.
What do you think? Do you have any advice for new bloggers?