You’ve seen the stories. Some newbie launches an ebook and makes enough money on the first day to quit their job. Then you try it and - crickets. What’s the difference? One reason could be that they built an audience first and you didn’t. How did they build that audience? Valuable content.
How I built an audience without trying
I’m a software developer. When the iPhone development kit first came out, I started blogging about it. I had nothing to sell. I just wanted to document my findings for myself and anyone else that happened to stumble across my blog.
The next thing I knew I was getting a lot of traffic. I put links to my posts on LinkedIn and a recruiter at Apple saw them. So I was invited to interview with the iPhone SDK team (once live, by phone a year later and by phone again a year after that). I didn’t get the job (either time!). But the point is that the blog brought me to their attention. I was seen as not particularly an authority, but someone who knew more than the average person on the subject.
Another way that I knew I was a success? Hackers were siphoning off my RSS feed! They built a site filled with ads where they would just fill it with content by pulling in my feed. Every time I would add a new post it would instantly appear on their site too! You may have noticed this site has no RSS feed …
Blog about what interests you
Before I had a career in software I had a career in hardware. My first job out of college was in a robotics factory. I’ve been hacking together robots since I was a kid. I was happy to see an explosion of interest in a little $5 computer called the Raspberry Pi. So I bought a few and started experimenting. Just like with the iPhone, I started documenting my findings. I wrote several posts but then got distracted by real work. I didn’t update the blog for six months. Then I checked the stats.
Checking the stats for the past seven days I see that the site has been visited from 36 countries. In the US the site has been visited by 26 states - in just the past seven days. Now I did finally add a new post about a week ago. But before that the traffic was about the same.
The only way I promote the site is through Instagram and Twitter. Because the site was dormant those accounts were dormant too. But according to the stats most traffic doesn’t come from social media. It comes from organic search.
Accidental Search Engine Optimization
My original hardware blog was in WordPress. When you build a WP site everyone tells you to install the Yoast SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plugin. I did that and really didn’t think about it. It has settings you can adjust for each post. But I didn’t bother doing that. Yet somehow my posts would still reach the top of Google search results for certain keyword combos:
Out of 299,000 results, my post was number one - and I wasn’t even trying!
Now no one knows exactly how Google’s search engine decides what posts should come first. They try to keep some of that a secret because people are always trying to game the system. There is also quite an uproar when people think they’ve gamed the system, and Google changes the rules.
But I wasn’t gaming the system. What was my secret weapon for getting to the top of the list? Simple - I wrote valuable content! I left it up to Google’s mysterious algorithm to decide whether or not my post was worthy.
Start blogging now
One thing that people do seem to agree on is that for a new site, Google isn’t sure if it can trust you yet. It needs to make sure that you aren’t just some spam site filled with ads.
It may take six months for Google to start surfacing your posts in search results. How can you get around this problem? Start building your blog and filling out your content now. If you just write one post a week, you will have 26 posts filled with useful content. This should also put Google at ease that you aren’t just a spam site.
Other ways that Google checks the value of your content? Back links. If you write good content people will link to it. I don’t think you can fool it by just having your own sites link to each other. Just put your stuff out there and hope people find it useful enough to link to. Trying to game the system is a waste of time.
When you create a new blog you should go to Google Analytics and create an entry for it:
The entry will come with a tracking code. If you’re using WordPress, look for plugins that let you enter that code. Google will use the code to generate stats for your site. This will give you an idea of how many people are visiting your site and what posts are popular.
The biggest problem I have writing tech books and articles is that the information goes out of date quickly. I’m often faced with a choice of either updating a post or just deleting it. Try to write evergreen posts - posts that won’t require updating for a year or two.
When I search for answers I look at URL’s to figure how old a post is. Many blogs organize content by date (myblog.com/2017/08/11/side-hustle/). To make your posts evergreen I would suggest changing the permalinks in your blog to exclude dates. You may notice that this sites URL’s contain no dates.
If you are using WordPress I would recommend setting the permalinks to Post name:
If you are using the Yoast plugin, learn how to set the “slug” for each post.
Write something of value
Don’t just write for the sake of writing. Write solutions to problems. Show people how to do things. That’s what will drive traffic. If you are stuck for ideas on your subject, search the Web for “top ten questions about (your subject)”.
What I find useful is writing up instructions for what I am currently working on. It helps me in a year or two when I’m trying to do something and can’t remember how I did it. It also helps others who are encountering the problem for the first time.
Nothing is cast in stone
I’m constantly going back and updating my blog entries. Sometimes the changes are so subtle that I don’t even bother putting an update summary at the top of the post. In the software industry we have a saying: “Just ship it!” Worry about patching it later.
What about an email list?
Email lists are important and I will cover that subject. But before you can get people to signup, you need to get them to your site. Once you have consistent traffic then you can start thinking about an email list.
What about sales?
Once you have an audience they will be your primary market. You can look at what posts they like, so you can figure out what products to sell. You can also ask them what are their “pain points.” Then see if you can provide a solution. But first you need to get them to your site by offering free solutions in the form of valuable content.