Why Bloggers Need To Think About Marketing Strategy

Oct 9th

I started a blog on search engines in 2002.

In those days, the idea of blogging about anything other than politics, or blogging, or what your cat had for breakfast, was new. In fact, the idea of blogs was new. Most people's reaction to the word blog was "huh"?

I quickly built up an audience, and links, mostly because I had first mover advantage, and I threw in a few social media basics. It certainly wasn't rocket science. But, at the time, I was doing something unique and "remarkable", in the Seth Godin sense of the word.

Fast forward to today, and the landscape is very different.

There are thousands - perhaps tens of thousands - of blogs on search, and most of those go unread. A blog on search is no longer remarkable.

Unless you have first-class insider information, and can produce it on a regular basis, I wouldn't advise anyone start a generalist search engine blog these days. The low hanging fruit is gone, but there are still easy pickings in other areas, it's simply a matter of finding them, identifying your strengths, and exploiting them.

How Many Blogs Are Out There?

This years "State Of The Blogsphere" report indicates there are around 133 million blogs, and they are only the blogs indexed by Technorati since 2002.

Even if we assume that half of those are spam blogs, or cobweb blogs, that's still a lot of "personal journals". Are there 133 million readers?

ComScore MediaMetrix (August 2008)
Blogs: 77.7 million unique visitors in the US
Facebook: 41.0 million | MySpace 75.1 million
Total internet audience 188.9 million
eMarketer (May 2008)
94.1 million US blog readers in 2007 (50% of Internet users)
22.6 million US bloggers in 2007 (12%)
Universal McCann (March 2008)
184 million WW have started a blog | 26.4 US
346 million WW read blogs | 60.3 US
77% of active Internet users read blogs

Would a generalist blog do well in such a market? It could, but it's highly unlikely. Such deep markets tend to favor a niche approach.

So, instead of a blog on search, one strategy might be simply to go deep on one aspect of that market. How about a blog on the mathematics of search engine algorithms? Or search marketing for a specific region? Or search marketing in one industry vertical, such as travel?

How To Find And Test A Niche

First up, read these posts:

Once you've decided on a niche, you can further test the validity of your idea, and your approach, by asking questions.

One formalized way of doing this is called a SWOT analysis. It's a high-brow marketing term, but the idea is simple in practice. Swot stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Make a list:

  • Strengths - why do I do well?
  • Weaknesses - What do I do poorly?
  • Opportunities - What upcoming trends fit with my strengths? What am I doing now that could be leveraged?
  • Threats - What internal problems do I face? What external problems do I face?

You then detail how you can use each strength, how you can improve each weakness, how you exploit each opportunity, and how you mitigate each risk.

Simply going through such exercises can open a world of possibilities. It is important to write it down. I find the simple act of writing something down seems to make an idea less abstract and more concrete.

One of the big threats in the blog world is the low barrier to entry. Anyone can start a blog within minutes.

Ask yourself how will you stay ahead of the person who starts in the next hour? The ten people who have started by tomorrow? The hundreds of people who have started by next week, not to mention the big, established names who already have a dedicated share of an audience that isn't really growing.

Tough call. There are no easy answers to such a question, as it really depends on your individual strengths and weaknesses, which is why asking questions like these can provide valuable insight.

Philip Kotler, a renowned marketing guru, suggests asking the following questions of any new business plan or idea:

  • Does this strategy contain exciting new opportunities?
  • Is the plan clear at defining a target market?
  • Will the customer in each target market see our offering as superior?
  • Do the strategies see, coherent? Are the right tools being used?
  • What is the probability that the plan will achieve its stated objectives?
  • What would you eliminate from the plan if you only had 80% of your budget?
  • What would you add to the plan if you only had 120% of your budget?

Those last two might seem a little odd in this context, but they certainly are applicable. What would you do if you had more of a budget to promote your blog? Would you spend it on advertising? If so, where, specifically, would you spend it?

Asking these questions can suggest all manner of options. By pretending you have more of a budget, you might identify great advertising partners, but because, in reality, you might not have this budget, you could instead suggest you write guest articles for them, and thus achieve much the same result.

SEO For Blogs

The latest shift in SEO, as Aaron details in Social Interaction & Advertising Are The Modern Day Search Engine Submission & Link Building, is towards relationship marketing, which is why SEOs are increasingly adopting marketing and PR strategies in order to operate more effectively.

Let's face it - SEO for blogs is a cakewalk. Blog software, such as Wordpress, is already search friendly, right out of the box. If you want to tweak it further, there are a wealth of available tools and instruction. Anyone can do it, and that's a problem.

But it's not really about the tools. It's how you use them. The key part to success in doing SEO on blogs is the way you interact.

Specific Strategies To Consider

Quote And Link To Popular Bloggers

Apart from the obvious potential that a blogger will follow inbound links back to their source (you!), meme aggregators, such as Techmeme and Google Blog News, are becoming more prevalent.

These sites aggregate similar conversations together. Simply by talking about what others are talking about, and adding to the conversation, you might get a link and/or attention.

Leave Valuable Useful Comments On Popular Related Blogs

Go where the crowd already is.

For example, I follow most comments in these blog posts back to the authors, and if they have left a site name, I check it out.

Most are then added to my RSS feed reader.

Write Articles For Other Popular Blogs

Think of this as advertising. Advertising costs, and in this case, that cost is your time. The benefits of contributing editorial can be fantastic, however, as you can reach a large, established market quickly.

Create Community Based Ideas, Ask For Feedback Before Launching

This is cheap and cheerful market research. You also give your audience an opportunity for buy-in on the outcome. If the audience feels they are part of the process, they are more likely to accept it, and even promote it.

Add Value To Ideas So People Reference You When Talking About Them

Besides the obvious link benefit involved, it is also great for your brand. Your name becomes your brand, and the more people mention your name, the further your brand spreads. Seth Godin is a master at this, and if you aren't reading his blog already, you should be.

See! It just happened. Twice, in this post, in fact.

Actively Solicit Comments And Reply To Them

One over-looked value of comments is that people are providing crawlable, unique content. Usually I find the more contentious the post, the more comments you receive. So don't be afraid to stir the hornets nest every one in a while ;)

Encouraging Contribution From Others And Highlighting Their Contribution Builds Community

The best situation is win-win. Are you giving your readers and community members a chance to do so?

This is one of the reasons I think black hole SEO is short-sighted, especially for community sites and blogs. It doesn't allow others to win, too.

Network Offline At Industry Trade Shows

I once worked with a guy who had been a very successful investment banker on Wall Street. He says he ignores the University qualifications and information in the public domain, as the real business world works on inside information and who you know. There's no doubt that the best place to get insider search information, and great contacts, is in the bars between conferences.

Every community has an epicenter - a group of people who most others take a lead from - and that epicenter might be as small as three or four highly influential people. Those are the people you need to talk to.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Controversy

If you gain mindshare and authority, some people will hate you for it.

This is related to my "stir-the-hornets-nest" point above. Once you start getting attention, you also become a target. You have little choice but to go with the flow, and keep in mind you cannot please all the people, all the time. Sometimes, it even pays not to please them. People are more likely to engage if they feel passionate, and especially if they passionately believe you are wrong!

Reminds me of a great quote by Oscar Wilde: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about!"

Further Reading

Published: October 9, 2008

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Comments

October 9, 2008 - 5:19pm

Starting a new blog without having previously built up social media mindshare for your name / brand would be an exercise in futility even if your information is good.

October 9, 2008 - 8:47pm

I am currently transitioning from a recreational, posting-for-friends-and-family type blogger to a more serious niche blogger. Luckily, I've done all the business school stuff and have been in social media for awhile, but I won't be blogging in order to create income. . . more as a mental exercise. One of the things I find most interesting about people trying to blog for money is that it is so easy to set up a blog, yet infinitely more difficult to market it, and as Jacob Morgan just said on his own blog, blogging is often an exercise in patience that many people do not have.

October 9, 2008 - 9:00pm

I totally agree with Eric - the thought now seems to be that someone can do something quick and easy (like setting up a blog) and make it pay off. Web work isn't easy. It isn't necessarily difficult, but it requires time, understanding and effort. But the "something for nothing" attitude is never far from the web...think of keyword stuffing an image's ALT attribute or filling a keyword tag full of crap. Someone is always trying to make it easy instead of finding the patience and developing the skills to make good content work over time. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of sideshows promising them it IS easy, so can you blame them for having the wrong idea?

October 11, 2008 - 2:14pm

Good advice for people marketing blogs (and everything else). For me, blogging is about communicating my business' personality and providing useful content in the process. The end is to promote the business. The blog is the means. But a blog that doesn't get read doesn't do me any good. That's what makes these ideas so valuable.

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