By Adam Ward
Today I saw a forum thread where a blogger said he learned how to put posts on his blog the first year, monetize his blog the second year, and market it in the third year. At first it seemed flippant, but I realized he was being truthful. The more I thought about it, the more it struck a chord with me. I imagine this is a common path for most bloggers, at least those that are blogging for business reasons.
Starting a blog couldn’t be easier. There are many tools out there people can use to start blogging in minutes. When I started, I recall seeing a “What should I blog about?” question with the advice to just start writing about something. Once you start, you can then catch your stride, as well as take some time to add plugins and other design elements to your blog. I think that’s good advice.
Monetizing a blog is also pretty easy to do once you’ve made a few posts. It costs nothing for a blogger to sign up for an account on one of the many affiliate networks, such as Share a Sale, grab the code for an advertiser’s offer, and put it on the blog. Now, monetizing a site and making money are two completely different things. If nobody reads your blog, nobody will click through your ads, and you won’t make a dime.
That’s where marketing the blog comes in. I realize not every blogger is trying to make money, but those who do it as affiliate marketers do (I saw a forum post once that said, “Why bother blogging if you don’t expect to make any money?”), and business bloggers (myself included) have kind of a dual purpose in wanting to disseminate useful information that others can use, but also do it in the hopes that readers will become familiar with their business or product, have a greater amount of trust in them because of the comfort level built through reading the blog, and possibly become a customer. But even people who blog for fun and don’t ever expect to make a dime want to know that at least someone out there is reading their blogs.
I started this blog about seven months ago. I got busy with our eSilverBullet development for a few months, so didn’t have a chance to blog. But now that I’m back at it I realize I’m at the stage of needing to promote it. I’m not looking to monetize it by putting ads on it, so I can skip that step, but up until now the blog has been mostly hidden, with no readers whatsoever. Since I’ve been cobbling together advice from the far corners of the Internet on how, exactly, I should market this blog, I thought I’d share what I’ve encountered here. If you’re reading this post someday, that means I was at least nominally successful.
Linking to Other Blogs
One way to possibly get noticed, starting from day one of your blog, is to link to someone else’s blog. This doesn’t automatically create a quid pro quo (i.e. they feel obligated to link to your blog), or improve your page rank in the search engines, but it might get that blogger to look at your blog, and possibly leave a comment. If you use WordPress, linking to another WordPress blog in the body of your post will automatically ping the blog you linked out to. That means 1) they’ll be aware you linked to them and 2) a snippet of your blog post right around the link may show up in the comments area of their blog, without you even having to visit their site.
If a blogger allows trackbacks, you can copy the URL of their post (clicking the trackbacks link will show you the correct URL you should copy in your browser’s address field) and paste it in the Trackbacks field just under your content when you are creating a new post. That is similar to linking to another WordPress blog in your post. It essentially alerts the blogger that you’ve written a post and have referenced their post. If the blogger approves it, that snippet will show up along with all the other comments for their post.
Commenting on Other Blogs
Anytime you leave a comment on someone else’s blog post, you have the option of entering the URL to your blog. If your comment gets approved, people reading your comment can choose to see where you’re coming from. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll come to your site, but it is always a possibility. Although you’ll want to put some thought into the comment you leave, you’ll still be able to leave comments faster than writing new blog posts and referencing that blog using a trackback.
Those Pesky No Follow Backlinks
I’m sure you’re aware that the more links pointing to your site (referred to as backlinks), the higher esteem search engines place on you, right? But before you start spreading comments on every blog you see, be aware that just because a reader may see the backlink, a search engine may not. By default, WordPress sticks a piece of code called No Follow on the URL of each comment left. If you look at the page source (Ctrl+U for Firefox on a PC), if you see a rel=”nofollow” code listed, that means search engines won’t count that as a link, ergo they won’t effect a site’s page ranking.
If you think you’ll be checking source codes often to see whether a site does No Follow or not, you may want to download the NoDoFollow add-on for Firefox, which will color code No Follow links and links that aren’t No Follow (called Do Follow).
To test this out, go to Yahoo’s Site Explorer and type in the URL for your blog. You’ll see which backlinks Yahoo attributes to your site. If you’ve made a comment to a blog and its backlink URL was assigned No Follow, that blog’s site will not show up in the Yahoo search. However, if the blog doesn’t use No Follow, you will see the site show up.
To No Follow or Not to No Follow
If you use WordPress, comments to your blog posts will all include the No Follow attribute. That means nobody who adds a comment to your blog will get a backlink to their site, at least as far as search engines are concerned. If you would like to reward readers (and possibly given them an incentive even) for posting comments, you can choose to turn off the No Follow attribute. To do that, you have to install the WordPress plugin called Do Follow, since there is no WordPress setting that allows you to turn off the No Follow code. If you search plugins for “do follow” you’ll see this plugin at the top of the list. That plugin just removes all rel=”nofollow” code from your comments, rather than replacing those references with rel=”dofollow” code, (the plugin is called Do Follow, but there is actually no code called Do Follow).
If you turn off the No Follow attribute, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get more spam, or that comments will automatically be approved. You still have the discretion of approving all pending comments. I have not noticed an increase in spam since activating the Do Follow plugin, so I’m guessing either my Akismet plugin is catching any increases in spam, or I’m just not getting more.
Digg, Social Sites and Directory Listings
Although the best backlinks are created by other people (who essentially give a third-party endorsement to your blog), there are plenty of sites where you can link to your blog. If you have an account on Digg or Delicious, for example, you can mark blog posts you like, including your own. Before you link to your own blog on these sites, however, check to see whether they are No Follow sites. Digg is a No Follow site, so just because you link to all your blog posts from there doesn’t mean you’ll get credit for that from the search engines. So if you’re just looking for real eyeballs from those links, think about the pros and cons of possibly being the only person “digging” your own posts, from a public-perception standpoint.
There are some directories that list only Do Follow blogs. So if you have installed and enabled the Do Follow plugin, you might want to go to a site like dofollow.info and submit a link to your blog. You’ll have to verify that it is a Do Follow site. If you get listed on these directories, other bloggers looking to leave comments on Do Follow sites can find your site on these directories, and come to your site looking to leave comments.
Will This Work?
I know bloggers often act like the experts on everything. I’m not. Promoting this blog is new territory for me. My hope is that I’ve been able to consolidate some pertinent information on this subject here, which you can then try to utilize. I’m going to start using what I’ve learned right now, and we can both find out whether this works.