We’ve all been there -- you hit publish on a blog post and expect the social shares, page views, and agreeable comments to start rolling in. But sometimes you get pure silence -- crickets, even -- in response.
Using social media and content to market your business isn't a new concept, so just doing the bare minimum won't cut it. I mean, think about how often content is shared across the web -- there are one billion Facebook users, and according to Twitter itself, there are about one billion tweets sent every two and a half days. That means there's a lot of content ... and also, a ton of noise.
So it takes more effort than simply publishing content and doing your typical marketing to reach your audience and generate leads. There needs to be some stuff built into your content itself that helps it stand out from the crowd and get found. To help set you up for success from the get-go, here are six ways to cut through all that noise and make sure your content comes out on top every time ... no additional marketing effort required.
Seriously. There's no reason why you'd need to start from scratch with a completely new approach every time you blog. You already have content that's getting discovered on its own over and over again. Learn from those trends so you can work smart, not hard.
Go into your analytics and take a look at the posts that are generating the most views, shares, and leads, and figure out how you can replicate that success. Here at Shareaholic, for instance, we use our Top Content report to identify our blog's sweet spots; HubSpot does something similar with their Blog Analytics. From there, we create a blog editorial calendar with topics that will help us replicate past successes -- whether it's due to that post's format, subject matter, title, author, or something else entirely.
2) Surprise people.
… Or make them happy, sad, afraid, angry, even disgusted! A recent study of 7,500 New York Times articles completed by the Wharton Business School tried to identify factors that made content viral. Guess what they discovered? A strong relationship between virality and emotion. The study's most-shared content garnered a strong connection in the reader, igniting one of six key emotions: surprise, fear, joy, sadness, anger, or disgust.
While I'm sure disgust or anger aren't really the kinds of reactions you want associated with your brand, that's not exactly the point here. The lesson is that content will be able to market itself if it provokes a strong emotional reaction in the reader. After they consume your content, they just have to share it with others so they have the opportuntity to feel that same emotion -- or if that emotion is evoked in the title, they just have to click it!
Consider what content you've read or created that provoked an action, and use this idea to create some seriously emotion-provoking content.
3) Nail your headline.
Shareaholic studied 200,000 publisher websites in October, 2012 and learned that 27.27% of those websites' traffic came from social media referrals. That means when content is shared on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms, there is a huge opportunity for it to get discovered by others, as well.
So how can you increase the likelihood someone will click a link to your content when a shared link flows down a person's social stream? Well, what makes you click on a particular link you see shared on social media? Chances are, it's a great headline that catches your attention and earns your click. That means no matter what the subject, a great headline will help that piece of content spread further.
So ... what makes a great headline? It's similar to writing a great subject line for email marketing. Think about the four "U's" that Copyblogger teaches us about great subject lines and headlines:
Useful: Why is the blog post valuable?
Ultra-specific: What can I expect to learn from the blog post?
Unique: Why is this blog post compelling and unique?
Urgent: Why should I read this NOW?
Be sure to incorporate all four of these qualities in every headline that you write, and people will be more prone to continue sharing your content across social media.
4) Don't tell me; show me.
Our latest content data shows that in October 2012, Pinterest was the fourth leading source of traffic to publisher websites, even exceeding Yahoo! organic traffic and Google referrals. Not to be outpaced, Facebook sent 5.50% of traffic to publisher sites, which was more than double Pinterest's 2.38%. Plus, recent data from HubSpot shows that photos on Facebook generate 53% more likes than the average post.
What's the marketing takeaway? Today's social media platforms reward visual content. It should be a major piece of your content strategy.
The best Shareaholic publishers pay close attention to visuals in their content, especially the little details like branding their visuals. For example, PBfingers, a fitness blogger, does this with her posts, always including her blog's brand name somewhere on the visual. This way when visuals are pinned on Pinterest or shared on Facebook, her awareness continues to grow.
There's other was you can incorporate visuals into your marketing to increase shares and engagement. For example, having attractive featured images on your content polishes the overall look of your shares to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, increasing conversions by offering a more descriptive and therefore appealing presentation of the content.
So who can master this? Don't worry, it's okay if you're not a design junky. It turns out you don't need Photoshop or ninja design skills to create great visuals for your content. There are plenty of free visual toolsthat are simple to use to create great visuals for your content -- check out this blog post for 13 of them!
5) Enable your blog to market your content.
More social media referral traffic coming to your site means an increasing number of new visitors arriving via that content for the very first time. However, that also means these new visitors don't know much about you yet, and you need to capture their interest and gain their respect before they are ready to become evangelists of your content, too.
Consider how you can use your blog's real estate to improve the presentation of your content and offer further content recommendations that will earn new visitors' attention. A personalized content recommendations tool like Shareaholic Recommendations will suggest additional articles at the bottom of every post, contextually tailoring the recommendations to increase page views, time on site, and engagement. There are a handful of different recommendation widgets you can grab for your blog, but here's an example of what the Shareaholic Recommendations looks like on one of our publisher sites, Civilized Caveman Cooking:
In addition to recommendation widgets, there are, of course, the social follow and sharing modules that every single blog should have. It's critical that you make it easy for readers to share your content on social media, and get access to more of your great content from following you on social media. I mean, have you every tried to tweet an article that didn't have a tweet button? It's a total pain. Who wants to 1) copy a URL, 2) open another tab, 3) go to a link shortener, 4) paste that link in, 5) click the shorten button, 6) copy that link, 7) go to their Twitter account, 8) paste that link in there, 9) look up the Twitter handle of the publisher, 10) and then add custom copy for the tweet.
I'm exhausted just typing it out. Make life easier on your readers, and they'll do a lot of the marketing of your content for you.
Finally, make sure you're making blog subscription easy. Your blog should have a subscribe module so people can receive email alerts when you publish new content -- or, if they prefer, set themselves up with an RSS subscription. What better way to drive email traffic to your content without lifting a finger (except for the finger you use to press 'Publish,' of course) than growing a giant base of blog subscribers?
6) Don't forget about SEO.
Every time you publish a blog post, you're creating a new page on your site that's being indexed in the SERPs. I mean, at that point, Google is marketing your content for you. For free. Forever. (Well, at least until the end of search engines.)
The act of blogging alone is inherently helping you market your content -- but if you pay attention to SEO, you can make self-marketing content even stronger that it already is. That means you should be including keyword research in your content strategy and optimizing your blog content to be found more in the SERPs. And you know what? It totally works, too -- the blog content that speaks to people's needs (particularly needs that express themselves in long-tail keyword phrases that you write blog posts around) will continue to drive traffic month after month -- new traffic that can convert into leads, all just because you wrote and optimized one blog post months, or even years, ago!