It’s been a long time since I’ve covered blogging strategies, and my recent panel with one of the world’s foremost authorities got me thinking that given our success, both with the SEOmoz blog and with blogs for clients, it’s time to share a bit more. Today, I’d like to cover how to make that single post you’re composing more likely to earn the attention it deserves. Let’s dive into the list:
#1 – Target Content at Those Who Can Help Spread It
Whether you call them “Sneezers” (Seth Godin), “Connectors” (Malcolm Gladwell) or “Linkerati” (yours truly), there is clearly a subset of individuals on the web who are responsible for helping to push content into the collective consciousness. Making your Mom happy is nice, but it won’t bring the results you desire – if you want links and tweets, you need to go to the source.
Making this crowd appreciate your work requires research. You need to know what they like, what they talk about and what they spread. Having your finger on the pulse of sites like Reddit, Techmeme, Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and Tweetmeme can provide that insight, but it’s not enough by itself. You’ll want a good few weeks or months of paying careful attention before you can “get the feel” of what the Linkerati have on the brain.
#2 – Reward Those Who Share
People are, by nature, selfish, and the mindset of most bloggers, tweeters and social media junkies is to build up their own network – they want more followers, more attention, a higher ranking – give it to them. Content that makes those who tweet it and link to it seem smarter, funnier, more interesting and more plugged-in than their comrades will bring great success. As you create, think “Would I retweet/blog this if I saw it?” When the answer is an unequivocal “absolutely!”, you’re on the right track.
You can go one step further and directly reward your sharers with trackbacks, tweets to them or even a personal email followup. This can help set the stage for next time, so long as it’s well intentioned & discreet. Twitter is especially good for this, as you might bring that re-tweeter a few extra followers if you tweet @ them.
#3 – Choose a Subject That Readers Can Relate To
If your subject matter is something that readers have experienced or felt, even if (and perhaps especially if) they’ve never put it into words, you’ve got a great opportunity to induce virality. As anyone who’s ever tried linkbaiting before knows, It’s far easier to reach out with content that discusses dating, sex, news, politics, or popular culture than it is to espouse the virtues of frequently replacing your hydraulic pumps for maximum performance.
This doesn’t mean there’s no hope for those in the “boring” fields of finance, real estate, human resources, even dentistry. You just need to find ways of making your blog post relatable and interesting. Finance and real estate are constantly in the news, and nearly everyone has some experience with them – check out the creativity of folks like Mint.com’s Visual Guide to the Financial Crisis Bailout or HR World’s 20 Jobs That Are Better/Worse Than You Thought.
The key is to find an angle that looks at the interesting parts of what might otherwise be considered boring – no small task, but certainly not insurmountable. Remember too that the smaller your niche, the less you need to do to stand out. A few dozen links and retweets can be huge if you’re in a space that typically attracts nada.
#4 – Write Exceptionally Well
It’s hard. I know. Even Ernest Hemingway once famously told F. Scott Fitzgerald:
I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.
Great writing, though elusive, boosts readership, compels thorough examination of your work and greatly increases virality. Just see what this survey from Vizu had to say on the subject:
When it comes to writing better blog posts, there are far more talented instructors than I – check out Brian Clark’s Ultimate Blogger Writing Guide.
#5 – Author an Attention-Grabbing Title
The title of your post can make or break its success in the viral process. While a short, compelling title that raises eyebrows and sparks interest will bring troves of visitors to investigate, a boring, flaccid headline can sink a piece faster than Digg’s bury brigade. Darren has four key elements every title must achieve:
- Employ Keywords
- Grab Attention
That’s the perfect combination not just for everyday blogging, but for crafting your “pitch” to the social web, and make no mistake, your title will appear in tweets and feeds and bloated social news lists without context or character, so the headline needs to stand on its own. Another good resource to embrace is Brian Clark’s “How to Write Headlines that Work.”
#6 – Use Illustrations/Graphics Above the Fold
Graphics are fantastic opportunities to keep those busy, attention-deprived, glance-and-go visitors on your site just a few seconds longer, and that’s often all it takes to hook them. A common mistake, however, is to place your eye-catching comic or cleverly laid out diagram a scroll or two away. Don’t do it – get that first graphic top of page and top of mind. Just don’t think that a stock photo or bland image is going to be enough – you want something that enhances the content, tells a story and entices visitors to read the rest of your piece.
#7 – Don’t Just Present Information; Spark a Discussion
Active social web users browse a lot of content on a daily basis, and sometimes, even if your blog post is phenomenally interesting or useful, it will be passed up as a potential link target because you haven’t created an incentive for other bloggers and tweeters. Interesting is great, but controversial content – that which demands a response and interaction – can often achieve even greater success.
This does not mean you need to make outlandish claims or be antagonistic, disparaging or even sensationalistic. It just means you need to tap into the basic human need to communicate and respond – from any number of emotional levels. See this post about the Emotions that Make Us Link for more.
#8 – Use Bullet Points & Short Paragraphs
This is a simple one – use formats that get parsed easily and quickly on the web. Leave the long paragraphs to your creative writing classes. Bullet points, numbered lists and short, punchy sentences are excellent for both usability & shareability. You’re reading this, aren’t you?
#9 – Don’t Make the Post Too Long (Unless…)
Easy to read typically means short and digestible. However, it can sometimes pay to be exhaustive. Just look at the success of posts like Danny Sullivan’s recent deep analysis of URL Shortening Services or Aaron Wall’s 101 Link Building Tips. The rule here is be as short as you can be without omitting critical information that adds value for your readers.
#10 – Get Your Social Media Comrades to Seed the Story
Generally, it’s unwise to submit your own posts to Digg, Reddit, Newsvine, etc. but there’s nothing that says you shouldn’t have a trusted friend do it for you. This is a wise practice because, particularly if you expect to have a blog post go “viral,” you want to control how the submission is crafted. The right title and description can make or break your success. This is also true with Twitter – blow your own horn and you’re a selfish bastard, but retweet someone else’s kind mention and you’re just spreading the word.
#11 – Publish at an Ideal Time
This corresponds quite nicely with when to go popular on social media networks for maximum traffic as well. Just be aware that sometimes, it can easier to get on Digg/Reddit/Delicious during off hours and off days. We like Thursday morning, Pacific time, as well as late on Sunday, Monday & Tuesday night. Later in the week is typically better odds, but earlier in the week gives you a longer stretch of relevance and opportunity to “pop.”
#12 – Do Your Keyword Research
There’s no reason not to use a simple keyword research tool like Google’s to check if the title/description and keywords you’re including could use a bit of tweaking. Not only is this good for future traffic from search engine referrals (and with the fresh content boost, it can bring instant visibility and even help spawn a viral campaign), it’s also useful to find out how web users think about your subject matter.
#13 – Reference Blogs & Sites You Want to Link to You
If you’re getting lots of traffic, you’re almost certainly inspiring lots of clicks from your content out to the pages you’ve listed in your post. Employ strategically and recognize that if a fellow blogger or site owner starts seeing referral traffic spike, they’re likely to at least read your reference about them, and oftentimes provide a link (or at least a tweet). The obsession with social recognition and reputation monitoring is real – use it to your advantage.
#14 – Keep Your URL Short
Short URLs are easier to:
- copy & paste
- link to
- share via email
If you have to go long, do what smart bloggers targeting Twitter have started doing and provide a shortened version of the URL right in the post.
#15 – Be Non-Commercial
Social media addicts despise ads, overlays and obtrusive commercial messages. They also hate being manipulated into linking to a site/brand they don’t support. You can fight this by removing your more obstructive advertising, refraining from using affiliate links and completely rejecting commercial messaging in the body of your post. Yes, you’re building a business on your blog and you need the income, but now isn’t the time – attract first, market to later.
#16 – Provide Easy, Embedded Ways to Share
If you’re going to have an embedded sharing system, customize it, as Mashable does:
My personal preference is to refrain from having these on every page, and instead only add the embed links for Digg/Reddit/etc. when you know you’ve got some viral material on your hands. In this fashion, you’ll also call out the attention of your regular readers, who aren’t accustomed to seeing it and are more likely to take notice.
I do, however, like having an “email this to a friend” link on every post – it’s just good form, and my experience has shown it’s remarkably effective.
#17 – Leverage Your Personal Social Networks
Once you’ve published something great, there’s no reason to sit on your hands. Facebook has a status update, StumbleUpon lets you share, via email or the toolbar, with your connections, and you probably even have a few emails in your address book. Your personal and professional network is a perfect tool to leverage for assistance in launching your blog post into the stratosphere. Just be sure not to abuse it, employ careful, respectful messaging and be quick to forgive those who don’t assist. Also – if you’re going to ask for help, reciprocate and help when your friends need it, too.
#18 – Display Credibility with Your Blog/Bio
Your blog’s design, layout, title and navigation will all play a supporting role in your content’s success. If you’ve got a polished, professional design that engenders trust OR an offbeat, quirky, personal but still high quality layout that connects with your visitors, you’re set. If not, get to work – it will influence the success of everything you produce.
Equally important is your bio – this can be in the sidebar, in the about section, wherever, but it needs to be representative and authentic. This will not only bring your personal brand/blog brand greater respect, it will cement the authority of your writing based on your experience and expertise. You don’t want to write a great post on “how to XYZ” then have your readers find out you’re a first-timer yourself (unless that’s your angle).
#19 – Embrace Tried-and-True Formats
There’s a reason supermarket headlines are all the same. They work. Formats like:
- Numbered lists
- How-To Posts
- X Reasons Why…
are incredibly effective. Just browse through the social media sites and you’ll see it time and again. For more references and examples, check out 10 Surefire Headline Formulas that Work.
#20 – Don’t Appropriate Cliches
In the blog world, there are certain things that have been done a million times – lists of top WordPress template designs, quizzes about zombie apocalypses, posts enumerating the suckiness of PCs compared to Macs. Before you go and spend hours writing your masterpiece, perform some educated searches and make sure your topic has some freshness to it. I could probably write the best post in the world about rounded corners with CSS, and it would fall on deaf ears. Originality counts – invent something new or make a new twist on something old. Just don’t re-hash what’s been done to death.
#21 – Be Prepared to Fail
No matter how hard you try and how much effort you put in, not every post is destined to be a viral smash hit. I generally recommend only trying hard every 5-10 posts maximum (unless you’re a very infrequent blogger or well known for linkbait-style writing). The hard truth is, even the experts find that only 1 out of every 4 “engineered-to-go-viral” posts will succeed on a large scale. Prepare for it, and don’t get disheartened by a bit of failure – it happens to the best of us (and that great post can still earn residual traffic and respect in the months and years to come).