Some Useful and Useless Advice on Getting an Audience for your Blog

I started a blog because I wanted to showcase my writing. You see, three years ago I wrote this really weird book that was half-way between a novel, a popularization book and a collection of interviews. I then gave it to an agent, who loved it. Then this agent gave it to a professional reader, who loved it. Just in case, they passed it on to a different reader, who also loved it. So we were all really excited.

It turns out my book still hasn’t been published, despite all the positive feedback. One of the reasons is that publishing anything in Spain is pretty much a suicide mission, since people don’t read. Another reason is that editors won’t risk their money on anything they don’t have a reasonable chance of monetizing. I am a John Doe and, as such, my book does not promote itself. The last and most fun of all reasons is that my book does not fit any category and, therefore, there’s no collection to publish it on.

See? You should strive for originality, but not too much.

So I decided to start a blog, thinking: maybe if I build an audience that is large enough, publishing houses won’t have a problem betting on me, since the advertisement will be done for them. I decided to write it in English because I was pretty confident the audience for the kind of stuff I’m interested in is next to inexistent in Spanish.

At the beginning I had no idea about how to build an audience, so I looked up stuff online. I found heaps of advice that bordered on the useless. For example: “get a Facebook page, so that your Facebook fans will visit your blog.” Funnily enough, if you looked for advice on getting Facebook fans, people would say: “get a blog, so that your readers visit your Facebook page.”

The whole thing seemed a little bit circular.

Then I found other brilliant suggestions, such as: “comment on other blogs.” But the thing is, if I go and comment on other blogs (whether I like them or not) so that people will comment on mine, this is a disaster from a time-investment point of view. Let’s say reading a blog post takes me 5 minutes, including commenting (which is a pretty low estimate). If I want 200 people to visit my blog each day, according to this strategy I’d have to spend 1,000 minutes (16 hours) commenting.

So my advice would be: comment on whatever blogs it is you like to read, but don’t do it as an investment. It just doesn’t pay off.

My favorite piece of advice, though, was this one: “write quality content.”

You don’t say.

First, I’d like to point out most bloggers in the planet, including the really crappy ones, believe they write quality content. Even the crazy people who leave 2-page long comments in my blog with their theory of life and death think they are writing quality content.

Secondly, writing quality content will get you nowhere. Writing shareable content, on the other hand, will. Images, quotes, short jokes. This has nothing to do with quality, but with virality. However, if you’re trying to set yourself up as a writer, this is a really poor strategy, since it does not serve to showcase your skill.

After almost a year in this blogging business and still not having a large audience by any measurable standards, I have arrived at several conclusions about what would actually work. Unfortunately, I do not possess the necessary personality traits to pull any of these strategies off. Anyway, here they go.

I’d say that, first, you need to be proactive in your social relationships. Try to befriend successful bloggers and get them to guest-post on your site or vice-versa. Shamelessly self-promote by going on twitter and asking others to retweet you. The basic idea is: act as if you were a door-to-door salesman, but online.

Of course, most people would feel extremely uncomfortable doing something like this. If you, like me, would rather set your arm on fire than attempt this kind of social engineering, your options are greatly reduced.

Another successful strategy is having a blog with a topic that people feel passionate about and thus will very likely share. Communities such as the atheist one are a perfect example, since they are extremely active and even have their own Reddit channel. Some of my most successful posts were about atheism.

Posts that go like “10 reasons you should…” are also really successful. The whole of cracked.com is based on those and boy do they have an audience. I am guilty of browsing that site myself more than I’d like to admit. I could have turned this post into one of those, but I decided it restricted what I wanted to say, so I went for a 2-pages long essay that few people will bother to read instead. That’s my PR brain right there.

What I have found the most useful personally is having posts that will attract people from search engines. My most successful post ever is “The future of porn: a disturbing possibility.” Why? Because lots (lots!) of people google “disturbing porn.” I am not making this up: this post has more visits than all my other ones combined. This, however, is not very good advice, since there is no a priori way of knowing what people will google and, even if there was, I wouldn’t bother to use it.

So what if you are the kind of person that, like me, wouldn’t be caught dead working as a salesman, tends towards shyness even online, is afraid of rejection and has no idea how to create memes that go viral?

Here’s my honest advice: hire a professional.

Seriously. If you don’t, you are going to spend hours of your time promoting your blog, only to get meager results. You will spend time and energy that you could have used for writing in much less productive endeavors that will suck your soul. Professionals and advertisement will get you a much better return for your money/time in a much shorter period. It’s their job: they know how to do this. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Let the pros handle it.

It may seem a little weird that I’m telling people to hire a PR professional but don’t do this myself. However, the only reason I don’t is that I am aware that my content, lately, is not up to standard, be it because I’m tired or because I have no spare time. So it seems pointless to promote when I have nothing worth promoting.

I hope this was useful or, at least, refreshing. If you’re a regular, you’ll have gotten to know a little more about me and my vain aspirations. If you’re starting off, this may serve to shed a bit of light on the whole “15 great ways to get readers” articles that plague the Internet. And heck, I could be wrong. I am probably wrong. Maybe you know a great way to get an audience that involves no virality and self-promotion. But, if that was the case, you probably wouldn’t want to tell me!

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15 thoughts on “Some Useful and Useless Advice on Getting an Audience for your Blog

  1. bloggingisaresponsibility

    First and most importantly, is your book available in English? If so, I want to read it!

    Also, nothing shameful about reading cracked.com. It’s hilarious and often educational.

    As for building an audience by search terms… you could try to figure out what kinds of phrases are popular by checking trending sites. I think the biggest problem is with a backlash if your key terms don’t reflect your content…

    Reply
    1. David Yerle Post author

      I translated the book to English, but I’m still not confident enough. I will give it to a friend of mine (a native speaker) to proof-read shortly so I don’t embarrass myself.. I don’t think you’d get much from it anyway, since most of the stuff I talk about is in my blog.
      About the audience by search terms, there is actually a google tool that allows you to see which terms are in demand or niche. But heck, I don’t want to write about what’s in demand or niche, I want to write about what I’m interested in!
      I don’t know why but I never pegged you as a reader of cracked, though I agree, it is fun and weirdly you learn stuff on it. I even remember crying once from laughter! I think it was with an article of jokes that went too far. There was this school that simulated a shooting for a science activity and managed to get kids throwing up in shock.

      Reply
  2. SilverSeason

    I probably have fewer readers than you do, but I stopped worrying about it after the first year or so. I used to comment on other people’s blogs to stir up some traffic and it sort of worked, but many of these people did not interest me very much. Now I only comment when I feel the urge (interest, controversy, showing off what I know) and that probably does as well because I make contact with people I am happy to be in contact with.

    Search terms are dangerous. My all-time most read post is about Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House. I early on realized that the searchers were really interested in doll houses for play, not a play about a doll’s house, so to warn them off I changed the title of the post to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. This has had no effect that I can see. The house constructors and miniature collectors still come by regularly to see what I have to say about Nora and why she slammed the door on the way out.

    Reply
    1. David Yerle Post author

      That seems to be my experience too: now I just comment on a few blogs from people I consider “friends” that I’ve made while blogging. More than driving up traffic, it’s like saying hi. I like the feeling of familiarity with interesting people online.
      The search terms… you tell me. People who google “disturbing porn” are not looking for a 2-page essay on technology and the future.

      Reply
  3. MrJohnson

    Change your gravatar photo to an attractive female and take on the writing alias of Katie. Also, post photos of yourself as Katie having fun. Once you are set up, start liking and following a bunch of blogs.

    Reply
  4. elkement

    Anecdotal evidence: Matthew Rave’s blog (manyworldstheory.com, he also features his book on his blog) has recently gone viral – probably you have seen his post “9 kinds of physics seminar”. I better not add a link this time – my last comments on your blog have been discarded as spam, I guess.

    It was a great post and this was probably “sharable” content – but I feel it is very hard to predict what sort of post will go viral. I think in this case it was probably the science writers’ community who got it started as I have seen this link tweeted over and over by science writers I follow. I don’t follow them closely so it seems anybody interested in popular science and/or science writing has shared it.
    I have shared it, too 🙂 … before I knew it was famous.

    Reply
    1. David Yerle Post author

      Sorry Elke, I just checked my spam folder and there you were! It’s pretty weird, I’d think the filter would only apply to people who haven’t been approved to comment on this site before… Anyway, I approved all your comments. There may be a bit of redundancy, but…
      I saw manyworldtheory’s article mentioning that one of his posts went viral, but I don’t know which one it is! What was it about?

      Reply
      1. elkement

        I will post Matthew’s link in a separate reply below – if it does not appear in a few minutes it is again in the spam filter. It was a very funny satirical analysis of physics lectures – plotting audience’s level of understanding over time elapsed.

        The strange thing with the previous comment was that it didn’t get published even after I removed the link. If the spam filter works the same way as last time it will not let me publish anything without a link after I tried to submit a link once – so I will not able to post something like ‘Help – my comment got spammed.’.

        Could you delete all replies on your previous post except the last one – these were really just retries of the same comment… I figured it might be another glitch because I still see the Like button as grayed out 😉

        Reply
  5. Steve Armstrong

    My blog got the most visits when I posted Cat Philosophy. I’m such a dope, I was surprised. I only follow people I like and they really feel like friends. The conversations are wonderful. Elke’s latest is a case in point.

    Reply
    1. David Yerle Post author

      That’s pretty much what I do too. It’s just like a social community and has very little to do with self-promotion. It also helps that I’m just lazy for all this kind of stuff.

      Reply

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