Advice For New Bloggers: How to Grow Your Blog
I had a great conversation with a new blogger yesterday. The question was basic but the answer is much more complex than I think she (or I) initially expected. The question was simply, "What advice do you have for a smaller blogger who wants to get big?" Superficially, this could have just been one or two bullets but in reality everything is connected and things get complex very quickly. Superficially, blogging and attracting audience to your content might look easy but the moment you scratch beneath the shiny veneer of red carpets, luxury hotels, and amazing destinations it quickly becomes confusing and that some are simply just "lucky". The true answer is that it's a lot of hard work that goes unappreciated and most bloggers don't share that publicly since nobody cares that you I just spent three hours editing photos, or responding back to 20 different PR people who all have the "next big thing". The life of a blogger would be an entire different article, but here are seven things you need to do if you want to grow your blog and attract attention to your content.
While her question was specifically regarding travel blogging, this same blog strategy will work regardless of what genre you are targeting. So if you are a dad blogger, auto blogger, food blogger, fashion blogger - simply adjust some of the specific details and hold fast to the spirit of this guide. Like always, if you have questions about your specific niche, please feel free to post your question in the comments and I'll try to help out!
Know What You Want To Do With Your Blog and Set Goals
This is probably more of an issue with travel blogging since new bloggers often think it's just about getting free trips and flying all over the world to see amazing places. However, it is critical for any blog that depends on "stuff" from other people. While you can get to the level where people compete for your attention, most of those people doing that have either cut their teeth grinding out local posts for years or pay for their own travel. Because of this, it is essential that you know what your objective is, determine who you are, and understand why someone should care. If you are "just another mom or dad who travels" - join the club, there are thousands of you out there. However, if you are a high-level executive at a corporation and you focus on quick escapes at cities you visit for travel that is a unique perspective. Now there's an interesting angle that people may care about.
Most importantly though, you need to know what you want to get out of being a blogger. This is essential for success because everything else that comes afterwards should be directly tied to this. As a result, you must be honest with yourself and understand that no objective is bad. For instance, while some people might say they want to simply get "free trips" or "make money", for others it might be that they just want to share their ideas or curate content from others. Beyond anything else, for you to grow and being successful, you need to be able to define what success is and have something that will sustain you through tough times. Based on your goals here there are different strategies that you will need to employ and compromises that you will need to make.
For me personally, I've had sites that made large amounts of income but I HATED writing for it. Eventually, those sites just died. On the other hand, when I started ManTripping.com I was broke, saw an opportunity in the market for men's travel, and just simply wanted to write about places that I couldn't afford to visit on my own. It was pure voyeurism - but people liked what I had to say and eventually, people began inviting me places, paying for me to write about them, and giving me products to use on my trips.
Produce Great Content!
Now that you know who you are, what will make you stand out, and what you want to do - it's time to create great blog content. Unless your goal is to simply blog for your own personal benefit then this is required to be successful and grow your blog. Good blog content needs to be professionally produced, have some level of ability to connect with people personally and be produced on a regular basis. What you create - videos, photos, long-form original content, or even just content curation is almost irrelevant. You simply just need to produce content people care about consuming and crave more of.
Network With Other Bloggers
The blogging community can be cutthroat and there are a lot of people who will pretend to be your friend one moment and then back-stab you the next while trying to fight for a spot in a campaign. At best, we're all going after the same opportunities and sometimes you'll get it - other times, I will. Most successful bloggers are by nature VERY type-A personalities who have big egos and strong drives to make stuff happen. Despite this, I've found no other community quite like the blogger groups in terms of peer support, sharing, and in many instances acting as a surrogate family.
These will be your friends in tough times, ad-hoc team members for campaigns, and collaborators willing to share your posts with their audience. There are groups all over the net for different types of bloggers including the following examples:
Groups for Male Bloggers:
#MenWhoBlog - this is our community of male bloggers, you can register here and then join our Facebook Group. We're focused on guys who run blogs ranging from dad bloggers to travel bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, food bloggers and more.
Groups for Travel Bloggers:
Travel Writers Exchange - this is a great community for travel bloggers to learn, grow, exchange ideas.
Break Into Travel Writing - this is a great travel blogging / travel writing podcast for people that are looking to get started, take their craft to the next level, or simply discuss industry trends.
Groups for Food Bloggers:
Promote Content to Reach Your Prospective Audence
While you will be able to get some traffic from search engines, it's important to promote your blog content to as wide of an audience as possible. While this would be an entire article on it's own, the basics are simple.
There are lots of ways to spend money to promote your blog content. This includes Adsense, Facebook ads, content networks like Outbrain, Taboola, and Paid Discovery on Stumbleupon. There are others as well of course. When you use paid methods to promote your blog, remember to focus on targeting and have a specific goal in mind since the money can add up quickly.
These are typically best once you start to attract traffic since it's based on an exchange of traffic between similar sites, but most do offer similar services to Outbrain and Taboola where you can pay for exposure too.
While some brands and bloggers frown upon sharing groups, it can be a very valuable way of getting exposure, becoming familiar with other bloggers in your category as well as their content, and ultimately getting some traffic back to your site.
Social Media Shares (owned media)
While you are growing your blog, it's important to also focus on growing your social channels in parallel. Unfortunately this can be a HUGE time (and money) expense since networks tend to come and go or change their rules. For instance, at one point in time you could reach 20-40% of your Facebook followers organically ... today we are on the cusp of having organic reach on Facebook completely wiped out for most post. Likewise, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Flipboad and others are dramatically less valuable now compared to how they once were. That doesn't mean you should ignore them as a way to share your content though!
Email List Building
This falls more under the retention of your audience, but it's important to have a solid email list to promote your content. Not only will this bring people back to your site, keep your name at top of mind, and keep them engaged in whatever you are doing, but people do share emails with their friends. This will help grow your site too.
Promote Your Blog to Prospective Business Partners
OK! So now you've got a great audience it's time to let business partners know about it. For product-focused blogs, this means sending links of your content to brands you want to work with (or brands you've produced content on). Travel Bloggers should do the same and instead of pitching brands like Craftsman or Rotel, you are presenting yourself to corporate brands such as hotels, car companies, and tour operators. However, the biggest opportunity here for "getting free trips" is to introduce yourself to CVBs and DMOs representing different travel destinations. Convention and Visitor Bureaus (CVB) and Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO) all have budget and structure to offer press trips at least a few times per year. More importantly, though they also operate strong social media channels of people who love their state, town, or destination. This means that if you produce great content that promotes their area that there's a chance you will be shared with their audience too.
As you grow your notoriety and pique their interest, you'll find that invites to events will start to be offered as well as potentially paid opportunities to write about them.
Don't take that for granted though as it takes a LOT of work on the steps above to get to that level.
How To Promote Your Travel Blog to CVB, DMO, and PR Representatives
Honestly, a lot of this is just common sense and it's easy to do, but it's always good for a reminder since as we grow it's easy to forget the fundimentals.
Reach Out When You Travel Somewhere
When you travel somewhere, email the press contact for the CVB/DMO and let them know you are coming. Don't beg for "free stuff", but simply tell them who you are and what you are looking for there. If they respond, GREAT! If not, follow-up with them afterwards with links to your content and tell them how much fun you had there.
Start Local and Build Relationships in Your Home Town
Start local and let destinations near you know that you are a blogger in their area and include some of your links to local coverage. If there are places locally that you've been wanting to visit then start there and work your way up. For instance, present them with your idea for an article and see if they'd be able to help with museum and attraction passes or experts to talk with. Once your content is published and promoted then send them the links to your content and say thank you.
These local links can also be shown to non-local destinations you are looking to visit. This is especially valuable if you want to visit a location that is looking to draw visitors from your home town since you can show a local expertise as well as the fact that you can execute high-qualitty unique content.
For product-based partnerships, contact businesses that are local to you and reach out to them as well. See if you can do a feature on them for the site or a tour of their facility. Local brands love local media and it can be the start of a great relationship.
Collect Recommendations and Add Those to Your Media Kit
Once you've worked with a couple different partners, ask for a recommendation or quote that you can share with other partners. This way, it isn't just "you" saying how great you are - but someone who your target already knows, trusts and respects! Along with your blog stats, content examples and these recommendations, you'll be able to present yourself in a professional way as you reach out to people you want to work with.
Don't Get Discouraged, Be Confident In What You Are Doing!
Every few days I get asked, "How do you get all those [Trips, Alcohol Reviews, Sponsored Posts, etc]?" The simple answer is that I did everything I just outlined above. However, the most important is never to get discouraged and to always present yourself with confidence. People love to work with winners. It's as simple as that. If you write positive stuff that shows your expertise then they are more likely to follow you. If you present how great you are (and back it up with evidence) then brands are more likely to want to work with you. Even if you are just starting out and don't have awesome stats, people are more willing to take a chance on a rising star than someone who's just bouncing along in the middle.
Augment Your Own Content With Guest Posts for Other Sites
No matter how hard you work, sometimes your own site simply isn't enough to move the needle with brands. Don't worry though, you can prime the pump by writing for others. Unfortuantely the paid market for writers today completely sucks with freelance writers often making, if anything, $25 (or less). Sure, there are some higher-paid opportunities out there but the reality is that there is SO MUCH CONTENT already being produced that much of it is simply a commodity now. The only way to succeed is to build your reputation and stand out so that people want to read / watch YOUR perspective on something. That takes a lot of time and hard work to establish but it can be done.
Despite these challenges, if you are able to show to brands that you write for other people as well as your own site then that will make you more attractive. Plus, with guest posts you might be able to build links back to your own site, feature your own social media channels etc. and that will grow your brand.
While growing your blog can be a huge challenge that few are able to achieve, don't let that discourage you. My overall advice is not to seek out blogging as a way to "get stuff". Instead, it must be more sustainable than that. For me, while I absolutely depend on this site and ManTripping.com to pay my bills - I would still write even if I had another job. This is because I love doing what I do and money, fame, opportunities to do cool things and get stuff is just a by product of my success - not the reason for it.