Apr 22 2009

How to build an audience for your blog

Published by at 9:39 am under Blogging

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?

21 responses so far

21 Responses to “How to build an audience for your blog”

  1. ikarus619xon 22 Apr 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Be wary of tangents. It is tempting to post about anything, but make sure not to overload readers with pointless-ness.

    On the flip side, the occasional tangent lets the reader get to know you better. For example, B.Mac’s tangents humanize him. This contrasts the stereotypical how-to author “A comic is… blah blah”

  2. B. Macon 22 Apr 2009 at 6:46 pm

    Ikarus said: “The occasional tangent lets the reader get to know you better… B. Mac’s tangents humanize him.” What do you think distinguishes a good tangent from one that annoys the reader?

  3. ikarus619xon 22 Apr 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Politics, and overly personal stuff. If you have a kid by all means post about it, but if it has to do with lunch leave it out. If you’re posting funny stuff use trial and error to see what works.

  4. B. Macon 22 Apr 2009 at 10:39 pm

    (Unless you’re doing a site mainly about politics) I agree that politics is particularly poisonous to the author-audience relationship. 95% of your readers don’t care what you think, and 50% of your readers will be offended by what you think. (Yes, a large portion of the audience will simultaneously not care and be offended by your political views).

    Hmm. I think another side of personal tangent that could be problematic is something that needlessly limits your appeal to a particular geographic area. I often feel a strong sense of ennui when people write about their hometown, particularly if it’s New York. Especially if the theme is “my hometown is better than your hometown!” (The New York Times does more than a bit of that).

  5. scribblaron 23 Apr 2009 at 6:13 am

    Is there a way to find out how to use google analytics? I know it should tell me more than it does.

  6. B. Macon 23 Apr 2009 at 7:00 am

    “I know it should tell me more than it does.” What is it telling you? Are you getting any data from it?

  7. Tomon 23 Apr 2009 at 9:26 am

    If I make a website for my webcomic, is there anything else I can do with it? I know you found it was a good idea to offer writing advice along with everything else, and that slowly became the main focus of your site, but what can I do to add variety to my website?

  8. B. Macon 23 Apr 2009 at 11:41 am

    Hmm. You may find this comment helpful.

    Here are a few writing models I’ve encountered.

    Dr. McNinja– the only writing on the website is the webcomic. The webcomic can stand on its own if it’s good enough. This is probably the most common model.

    The Taste of Freedom– the website is designed to sell a novel, but the writing does not come straight from the novel. Instead, it’s a series of comic vignettes that are designed to make readers fall in love with the main character. It would probably be written from the perspective of one or two of the main characters. If I were doing this for you, I’d probably take Sam and either Lennie or Esper.

    The International Society of Supervillains– this is a roving comedy site that has a broad scope… what supervillains think about douche superheroes, the media, government, groceries, more douche superheroes, comic books, etc. This is hard to pull off because the scope is so broad.

    8-Bit Theatre– the webcomic makes up most of the writing here, but the author occasionally adds observations after the posts.

    Superhero Nation– this probably isn’t applicable to you, but we use a webcomic as a side-feature. We use it mainly to train ourselves for an eventual comic book run than to entertain readers; only about a thousand people have checked it out so far.

  9. scribblaron 23 Apr 2009 at 3:07 pm

    It tells me how many visits I’ve had. This includes my own visits; it won’t stop that.

    It tells me what country the visits come from (not sure what use this is. Is it surprising that China, Croatia, Greece, the Phillipines, Iceland and Russia have 100% bounce rates? Okay slightly surprising that my top five countries include Italy and Finland, but there you go.)

    It tells me my absolute unique visits, but doesn’t explain what they are or why I’d want to know.

    It tells me what browser people have, and their connection speed – interesting but pointless.

    Almost half my visits are from returning visitors.

    It tells me visits come from places like google/images but not which image, or google/organic, but not what that means.

    I’m not sure what to do with this info, or how to use it.

  10. Dforceon 23 Apr 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Scribblar. Just visited your site. Looks nice, and seems to offer good advice. Keep up the good work.

  11. scribblaron 23 Apr 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks. Always nice to be appreciated, just wish I understood computers more.

  12. B. Macon 23 Apr 2009 at 4:57 pm

    “It tells me visits come from places like google/images but not which image, or google/organic, but not what that means.” I don’t get any sort of data about which images are driving traffic, either. It bugs the hell out of me. On the other hand, I did a few searches and found that SN ranks third for “baby alligator.”

    “It tells me how many visits I’ve had. This includes my own visits; it won’t stop that.” Have you tried setting up a filter to block out your IP? When you sign into Google Analytics and it gives you the overview of all the sites you own, click “Filter Manager” in the bottom-right.

    “It tells me what country the visits come from (not sure what use this is. Is it surprising that China, Croatia, Greece, the Phillipines, Iceland and Russia have 100% bounce rates? Okay slightly surprising that my top five countries include Italy and Finland, but there you go.)” Nation-by-nation data could be useful when you talk to publishers. If you have many hundreds of thousands of Italian readers when you’re pitching, the publisher will probably consider an Italian translation more seriously.

    By the way, it does not surprise me that you would bounce a ton of users from countries where there are few English-speakers. For example, over the past two years, we’ve bounced an average of 75% of hits from China, 78% from Russia, 74% from Iceland, etc.

    “It tells me what browser people have, and their connection speed – interesting but pointless.” If you’re fond of massive stuff like high-quality videos, it’s useful to know whether your readers can handle it. If your site tends to rely more on text with occasional images, I agree that this information is not very useful.

    “I’m not sure what to do with this info, or how to use it.” I think Google Analytics is more useful after you try changing something. That will help you evaluate whether your changes are effective.

  13. scribblaron 24 Apr 2009 at 5:39 am

    Ah, okay, that helps. I thought I could use it to see what was working and so aim to include more of the like or something. But what I’m currently doing is working fine so I’ll just keep at it.

  14. Stefan the Exploding Manon 24 Apr 2009 at 6:45 am

    How do you do a header for a blogger blog if you’re using one of the default templates?

  15. B. Macon 24 Apr 2009 at 8:24 am

    Hello, Scribblar.

    Also, I think that that Google Analytic’s most useful feature is that it tells me which search terms people are using on Google. That helps suggest what people want to read more of. Additionally, it helps me figure out which terms I should use to enhance my search-engine optimization.

  16. B. Macon 24 Apr 2009 at 8:32 am

    Hello, Stefan.

    Having never used Blogger, I’m not really sure. However, Trend Blogging did a pretty useful article about how to do a custom header with Blogger. They even have a how-to video. Please let me know if that works for you.

  17. Stefan the Exploding Manon 26 Apr 2009 at 3:03 am

    Thanks, B.Mac. That helped me a lot. I fiddled with GIMP for a bit and I managed to come up with my own header. There’s another guide on the site which shows you how to remove the pesky Blogger nav bar, which was also useful.

  18. Sean Higginson 03 Dec 2010 at 1:42 pm

    B.Mac – I know you’ve been to my site so I’m curious what you think. You say people won’t want to come back if they don’t see new material at least once per week. I’m providing stories (currently two seperate titles) on four week intervals. I will eventually have four different titles (so one story per week). Is this going to make it difficult to build a fan base? I don’t know that I could write enough (while still making it anything worth reading) to do much more than this. Any thoughts on how to make it work?

  19. Sean Higginson 20 Dec 2010 at 8:46 am

    Riddle me this B.Mac – I don’t normally use Yahoo’s search engine and I know it’s fallen victim to Google’s awesomeness. However, as I’m trying to see where I stand in various search engines, I entered “Raptor City Superhero Stories” – on yahoo there were 2 hits for Superhero Nation on page one, while my site didn’t rank in the first 10 pages. Any advice on pushing my name up in the rankings so I can eventually reach the same awesomeness of your site.

    (And yes, I’m totally aware that this comment is going to provide you with more of my traffic!)

  20. B. Macon 20 Dec 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I think part of the issue is that your Facebook page for Raptor City is less than a year old (7/28/2010). Until it’s a year old, it’ll be penalized somewhat by most search engines. I didn’t beat Time Magazine on a search for “Superhero Nation” (in quotes) until ~10 months in.

    I will add a link to Raptor City on my side-bar. That should help a bit in any search engines. If Yahoo doesn’t come through for you, though, I wouldn’t worry too much. Yahoo only commands about 6% of the global market share.

  21. Sean Higginson 20 Dec 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Well, my facebook page is hitting near the top of the list for searching “Raptor City” (no quotes. The actual blog page is a few points down. I’m not overly concerned about the rankings. I just thought it was funny.

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