This post can also be found on HuffPost.
An unfortunate circumstance: the number of overlooked bloggers delivering impactful stories and hard-hitting advice, every day. If this is you, know that at least some of us are aware of how deep you’re buried in the blogosphere. It’s a shame but I’m not complaining. I’m here to teach you how to dig yourself out.
I left a dream job at Lifehacker in 2014 for a dream life all my own. I’ve never looked back. And right now there are thousands, if not millions, of people somewhere along the same process. Most of us at some point come to the conclusion that we have (and want) to use a blog. It’s a perfect way to tell your story, lend your expertise, and build a platform for yourself to shout from the hilltops and be heard. And most of you at some point struggle with it for months before submitting to the idea that you just can’t figure it out, or don’t have the time to slave away filling a blog with content for minimal traffic in return.
When you go to the experts or support groups they all say the same thing: share your posts on social media and start adding value to your target audiences’ conversations. I couldn’t disagree more. You likely haven’t the time nor patience to talk to 1 million people individually to get 1 million hits. Me either, so I never took that advice, yet I still had competing traffic with Gawker’s veterans when I was a rookie, and my own new blog is outshining others with the same short lifespan.
Here’s my system, step by step, for how to really get traffic to your blog without a social media following. You could actually be living your dreams in just a few months if you just knew to do this instead of what you’ve been doing.
Step 1: Choose a topic people are already reading about
The first and most fundamental mistake most bloggers make is choosing topics they want to write about with no regard for what their audience wants. If you’re an expert in your field you know what’s good for your readers. However, I present to you the very obvious tough luck you’ll encounter selling vegetables to a toddler who’s getting chocolate from your competitors (at a higher price might I add). Give them what they’re looking for, not what you know they need.
How do you do that? After a while you’ll be able to take the feedback you’re getting from your readership, pick out the recurring questions and concerns, and answer them with a blog post. Starting out, however, you’ll need to use a shortcut friend of mine called BuzzSumo. You can get a free membership on this site and see what articles are already trending in your niche. Take the topics of those articles and twist the angles to make them unique.
Present something the readers haven’t heard before. If the trending article is about how appropriation is ruining and offending sacred cultural practices all over the world, I implore you to write about how cultural appropriation might be the key we’re overlooking to create a more inclusive and curious society versus the one we live in that’s riddled with fear of the unknown–and by way of that oppression and discrimination. Same topic, different angle, and people have already proven their interested.
Step 2: Find your influencers and get their buy-in
The reason I refuse to approach 1 million people individually and start a conversation with them about my blog post isn’t just because I don’t have the time or patience. It’s also that I know very well that I can approach 20 people with a 50,000 member Twitter following and get the exact same results in less time, and with the greater benefits of expanding my close networking circle. Stop seeking the endorsement of a 1 pound catfish that feeds your family for one dinner when there are 20 pound catfish in the lake that will yield greater results.
How? Once you outline your post with the topic you’ve chosen, go back out into the world and see who the leading commenters on said topic are. This can generally be done with a clever use of hashtags on the social media platform of your choosing. It can also be done on BuzzSumo by going back to the original article that inspired your post and clicking “sharers”. These influencers are interested in your topic, speaking on it, and have a large following that’s willing to listen.
Get in touch with them. Offer them value, build a connection, craft rapport, and ask them for input. If they invest in your post by answering a simple question for it they’ll be much more inclined to hit the “share” button on it come publishing day.
Step 3: Write content that compels people to share
The mantra “content is king” has gotten no one anywhere fast. It ensures we all know that quality content is important, but doesn’t discern the difference between quality content and effective content. You want your post to make a difference in peoples’ lives, but it’s also very important that you make it effectively shareworthy. Otherwise it’s not going to make a difference in very many lives, including yours.
How do you compel people to share? Noah Kagan presented a huge case study on Huffpost detailing the comparisons of the most shared articles on the web (100 million articles to be exact). Here are my favorite takeaways, but I encourage you to read it in full whenever you find the time:
Evoke awe, amusement, or laughter. If you can make people feel something from your article you’ve succeeded. Consider awe surprise, such as the angle we thought of up there–consider the effect it would have if you were able to execute that argument soundly, with conviction. Amusement–or otherwise entertained–explains the popularity of cat videos. And who doesn’t instantly share content they find to be flat out funny with their friends? I encourage you to audit each of your blog posts and ask yourself if it makes your readers feel any of these things.
Have at least one picture. The word on the street is that imagery creates and nurtures engagement, but Kagan and the team put numbers to it. Average shares for articles on Facebook with images is 64.9 versus 28 for articles without. On Twitter, the articles with thumbnails 20.36 versus 9.67.
Be controversial. As Noah put it, “Have an opinion…being controversial may divide the crowds, but those who agree with you are more likely to share your content.”
Step 4: Write a headline that is irresistible to click
Once your content is written it’s time to write a headline that represents it. Just like your content serves a specific purpose of being effectively shareworthy, your headline needs to be effectivelyclickworthy,for the process an article takes to become viral is several recurring instances of clicks and shares.
How to write a clickworthy headline? By presenting your reader with a curiosity gap and then pushing them to cross the bridge to satisfy it. This is similar to the feeling you get when your friends start laughing near by you and you can’t help but ask what’s funny. Asking what’s funny to find out what the joke is is crossing the bridge just as clicking a headline to learn what the post has to say is crossing the bridge.
Here are some key pointers:
Numbered list articles are easy to read due to format and make it easier for the reader to commit to crossing the bridge, knowing they won’t have to dig and scan the whole post for the main point they’re searching for.
Extreme adjectives help promise the readers the sense of awe, amusement, or laughter that compels them to share, which will in turn promise them it will be worth the click to read–for an article worth sharing must be an article worth reading to begin with.
Negative wording gives the reader a sense of urgency that positive wording neglects.
“A Few Reasons You Should Eat Fewer Avocados”
“10 Stunning Facts About Avocados. Hint: They’re Actually Killing You”
The first example is surprising simply because it states a controversial claim (a false one, mind you). Otherwise it’s ambiguous and mild in nature. Whereas the second one uses a specific list, an extreme adjective–“stunning”–and negative wording–”Avoid” and “They’re killing you”. Which one would you rather click?
A warning: if you’re going to present an extreme claim, make sure the article backs it up. This is why you write headlines that are representing your article and not the other way around. You don’t want to gain a rep for lacking in quality due to empty clickbait.
Step 5: Deliver your post to influencers to share for you
By the time you make it to the step you have a fully formed shareworthy post with an extremely clickworthy headline about a topic that’s already trending. Furthermore you have influencers’ expert opinions imbedded in your article to add quality and value. Now it’s time to present the article to the influencer and let the finished product speak for itself.
Influencers are people, which means they’ll be triggered to click and share for the same reasons as everyone else. They have the additional benefit of sharing to help get their own opinion out there to present more value to their readers–since its in your article. So generally all you have to do is let them know it’s published, encourage them to read it, and thank them for their input.
However, if 24 hours passes and they don’t share the article on their feeds, feel free to ask them for a share outright, or otherwise strike up a conversation with them on Twitter asking them what they thought of the final article. Getting the link to your blog post on their feeds is the end goal, and there are several ways to achieve that. All you’ve got to do is figure out which way works for you.
Now that you know how to actually get a blog post to spread and gain traction–stop slaving away post after post just to feel unfulfilled and unnoticed. Start writing the right posts and connecting with the right people. Be compelling, have an opinion, and create a network in your niche that works to your benefit.
This post is to level the playing field. Incredible stories are being told, and priceless advice is being given that no one is seeing because aspiring and new bloggers don’t know how to be heard. Use this system step by step with each post you create and watch the game change for you. Watch it change for us all.