A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about creating content that earns your audience’s attention. Mark Schaefer swung by and left a comment — and he made a point that is dear to our hearts.
“Outstanding content is not the finish line, it’s the starting line.”
– Mark Schaefer
I told Mark that “I’d have to violently agree with him on that one.” I often repeat a maxim that I call “Sonia’s Law”:
Nothing sells itself.
And that includes free content. It would be fantastic if attention, clicks, shares, and links magically fell on our well-crafted content. But they usually don’t. Useful, well-crafted, fascinating content gets us into the game. But once we’re there, we still need to help our audiences find it.
Does Google always find the best content?
No. Next question. OK, OK, maybe a few more details would be helpful.
There’s no earthly reason to expect the Google algorithms to know how hard you worked on that post, how many hours of original research you did, or how carefully you checked your data to make sure that what you published was relevant and true.
Given the alarming news stories about giant tech companies strip-mining our privacy, I guess we might be justified in thinking they did know that, but they don’t.
Nor do they care. Search engine optimization in 2018 can be a very long game.
That’s one reason I counsel people not to take significant actions to rank in search engines unless those actions have other business benefits.
Making your site fast, secure, easy to navigate, and stocking it with tons of relevant content? Actual human readers benefit from those things.
Those actions also happen to help show search engines that your content might deserve a top spot. But smart web publishers serve humans first.
So, how are we supposed to get our content found?
I don’t remember some wonderful time when audiences magically showed up any time we published something interesting. And I first got online in 1989, so I’m not super new at this.
Until you build an audience that’s interested in what you’re doing, you have to promote your content. (Spoiler alert: Actually, you still have to promote your content even once you’re established. But it does get easier as you build momentum.)
The specific tactics change over time. When Copyblogger started out, Digg and Del.icio.us sent floods of traffic. (More interestingly for Brian at the time, content that rose to the top of those platforms also attracted excellent links.)
Today, sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are the heavy hitters — whether as organic shares, paid advertising, or both.
Let’s look at a few ways you can find the audience for all that content you’ve been working so hard on.
Improve your odds on the social platforms
For a lot of content marketers right now, sites like Facebook, Medium, and LinkedIn are among their best traffic sources.
Waiting for a lot of social sharing to “just happen” is like waiting for the search engines to “just rank you.” You may be waiting for a long, long time.
Until you’re well established, you’ll want to get in there and give your content a good push.
Remember that social platforms are social. They’re excellent places to find other publishers in your topic, and to form positive connections.
I don’t recommend writing original content for platforms like LinkedIn Pulse or Medium — I’d rather see you publish on your own site first, then republish to those venues. But that doesn’t mean you drop and dash, either.
If you republish your work on LinkedIn Pulse, adapt it to make it a perfect fit for LinkedIn. Tweak and massage your work so it feels native to that platform.
If you’re exporting your blog posts to Medium, give them a look and make sure they “feel like Medium” when they’re published.
You don’t have to create 100 percent original content for each platform. In fact, I think that’s usually a waste of your time. But it’s smart to thoughtfully optimize it so that it feels like a natural and beneficial part of each specific ecosystem.
All of this thought and care means that you won’t be able to optimize for every platform, and you shouldn’t try. Pick one or two that you feel good about, and that you know have plenty of folks interested in your topic. Then keep an eye on trends on those platforms.
Right now, Facebook groups are attractive. (We’d be delighted if you wanted to join ours, in fact: Copyblogger’s Killers and Poets Group.) Next year, that might evolve or change. Social platforms are fluid, so keep your eyes open.
Finally, you may have already noticed that the social web will eat all the time you have in your day. Set strong boundaries around your time, so you’re not spending hundreds or thousands of hours screwing around.
Communities take care and attention — but if you’re giving a social media community all of your care and attention, the balance is probably off.
Don’t neglect social media advertising
Trying to build a healthy audience with organic social reach alone can be a massive undertaking.
If it makes sense for your budget, go ahead and experiment with building your audience with paid advertising.
I don’t think it’s a great idea to give Facebook money to grow a community on Facebook. But it can be an excellent idea to give Facebook money to encourage people to read your blog posts, sign up for an interesting opt-in incentive on your site, and enter into a relationship with you.
It’s easy to get intimidated by social media advertising, but the best way to learn is to start placing a few ads — with tiny budgets at first. I’d encourage you to find a good teacher (we’re big fans of Andrea Vahl), but no matter how great the teacher, you’ll learn what works for you by getting in there and doing it.
Advertising on social isn’t an “internet ATM” and it isn’t some kind of “money getting system.” It’s a way to communicate with people and offer value so they check out what you’re doing.
Develop relationships with publishers in your topic
The big social platforms are, again, great places to do this.
You won’t build an audience all by yourself unless you have an unlimited budget to buy ads. The web is social and interconnected, and building an audience is a community effort.
Social platforms are great places to get closer looks at the influential writers in your topic, and they give you an amazingly close look at the worries, gripes, and frustrations of their audiences.
(Without resorting to any creepy privacy violations … all you really need to do is turn on your empathy and listen.)
Be useful. Be interesting. Be curious. Be engaged.
“Borrow” a larger audience
When you have strong relationships with influential publishers, you may be able to start thinking about what you could offer their audience.
Not what you can sell to their audience. (Yet.) But what you can offer in terms of value, insight, and expertise.
You might offer to guest post on their site. Or be a guest on their podcast. Or do a video interview, or a Facebook Live interview, or host a giveaway for their new book.
Realize that influential publishers tend to be fiercely protective of their audience’s time and attention. As they should be. Approach with respect, and put their audience’s needs ahead of your own.
All of this requires thought and effort
When we create content, we’re asking for people’s time. That’s a big ask … arguably a more significant one than asking for their money, since we can always make more money.
There’s not “one weird trick” you can pull off that will grow your audience for you. It’s the result of thought, effort, concern for others, a genuine spirit of service, and plenty of G.A.S.
Something I love about our readers is that you aren’t looking for “one weird trick.” You know that you need to put the work in, and you embrace that.
And that’s why we’ve seen such amazing successes for our readers and students … even if it doesn’t necessarily happen overnight.
If you want more thoughts on how to promote your content, I wrote an ebook about it. You can find out how to snag that here — along with a whole library of content marketing education. All free, all created with the intention of making you wildly successful with your next project.