According to Megan Garber, New York Times revenue is up…and not because of the strong SEO, but rather the strong brand they built.
This makes it a stronger business for the long haul. It makes us wonder about our own SEO strategies…especially in the face of recent updates like Panda and Penguin.
For example, companies like About.com have good SEO going for them, but not such great brand building. By no means am I trying to throw SEO out of the window. It’s just a reminder that a strong online strategy includes both strong brand building and superior SEO techniques.
So, how do you build that killer brand that will raise revenues? Let me show you.
Do you even know what your brand is?
If you are like a lot of people and companies, you don’t quite get branding…and you don’t quite know where to start. So, let’s set a foundation real quick with this short guide:
- Start with “Why?” – Why do you exist? What are you trying to accomplish? Your answer shouldn’t be “To make the best product.” Nobody really wants to do that. Instead, define your brand by virtues that you care about. Think about what you love…what problems you can fix. This is why you exist. Your products are just a means to that end.
- Create your own market – If you find that the market place is crowded…then redefine it. Find a place in the market that is not getting served. Then serve it and dominate it.
- Create an awesome customer experience – Your business lives or dies with how your customers experience your product. If it sucks, then they’ll leave. Always start with your customers in mind and give them what they want.
- Stay edgy – You may be a company who has gotten some success and even built up a pretty reputable brand, but don’t be satisfied with that! Shake things up to make sure that people are still paying attention to you and that you are not getting outdated.
Now that you have the foundation for your brand laid out, let’s focus on some specific strategies.
Develop your guest writing strategy
In general, content marketing is a great way to build your brand, and guest posting is the content marketing tactic you want to use. Ask any online celebrity how they got the success that they have, and they will likely tell you that they built up their brand by guest posting.
Brian Clark did it. Chris Brogan did it. I do it.
Guest posting is a direct line to getting noticed. So, how do you go about writing that guest blog? Whether it’s your first or your hundredth, you need to start out with your strategy:
- Slow and methodical – This means you will post two or three guest posts a month…if even that. This will help you ease into the role of guest posting. This method will also let you focus on blogs that are a little harder to get writing gigs for. Imagine, one post on a big blog like Lifehacker and you could get some serious traffic and subscribers.
- Fast and furious – The other method is to write as many blog posts as you can. Danny Iny has made a science out of this approach, churning out 11 guest posts in a 6-day period. Sometimes more. If you decide to use this method, then you’ll need to pretty much just accept any guest posting gig anywhere, kind of like what the World’s Strongest Librarian did when he wrote 42 blog posts in a 7-week period. The best way to promote this approach is to announce it on your blog or simply to email as many blogs as you can.
Of course, the approach you choose will determine the quality and quantity of your posts.
Find the perfect blog to write for
Once you’ve decided on your strategy, your next step is to find guest blogging opportunities. Keep in mind that while you are doing these searches, you are looking for blogs that fit into your industry. So, use keywords as you try the following techniques:
- Google – The easiest thing to do is to jump on Google and start searching. Type in phrases like the ones below. With each phrase, make sure you include your keyword. For example, “web designer guest posts” or “gamification guest posting submissions.”
- “Guest post”
- “Guest post by”
- “Submit a guest post”
- “Guest posting submission”
- Ask prolific guest bloggers – If you see a blogger who always seems to be guest blogging, follow up with him or her and ask the blogger if he or she can give you some suggestions.
- Competitor backlinks – Run a backlink analysis of a competitor to see which links are pointing back to their site and which one of those sites has a guest post they wrote.
- Social search – Use a social search tool like Twitter search and enter the keyword “guest post” to see which people on social channels are sharing links back to their guest posts. When you find the links, follow them back.
- MyBlogGuest – Post your request that you want to write guest posts on MyBlogGuest, an online community of bloggers who share information about guest blogging.
Once you’ve got a list of blogs where you want to guest post, your next step is to contact them.
Building a professional relationship with your target blogger
Of course, you could email the blogger and tell him that you want to blog for him. But that’s sort of like cold calling…which doesn’t work very well.
There are better ways to do it.
Social media makes it easy to start a relationship with A-list bloggers. You can follow them on Twitter or Facebook and even comment on their blog. Those are great places to start!
If you are using Twitter and share their content, make sure to share their Twitter handle so they see what you are doing…
Then take some time to leave high-quality comments on posts.
Another way to get a hold of these guys is to connect with the blogger who has written for this blog in the past. I like this approach because if you can get a recommendation from that blogger, you are more likely to get accepted.
I think meeting bloggers at conferences is also a major way to expand your connections. There is nothing like meeting them in person! Buy them a drink or dinner and make a good impression on them. Ask them questions and then trade emails before you leave.
Once you have that connection with the blogger, take care of it. Email her and tell her you’d love to help her in any way you can. Suggest a small commitment to help her answer comments (as yourself, of course) in an effort to ease that blogger’s work load.
Or you could offer to write a free report for them. You can also find some gap in the content on their website and offer to write a post that fills it.
Why is it important to connect with an A-list blogger? This is all part of building your online brand. A top-notch blogger can really help you get into the big leagues in half the time you’d spend trying to do it on your own. Besides, this person is capable of greasing the slide of success.
And you really need to take care of these people…as they will take care of you!
Write for the target audience
Once you made the connection with some blogs you want to write for and got your request to write for them accepted, now you have to figure what to write.
Fortunately, there is a fool-proof plan you can use to create content people can’t resist.
- Read a ton of popular posts on the blog – If you are looking to write a guest post for a big blog like Copyblogger, then read all of its popular articles. Some blogs have a widget that shows popular posts based on weeks or even months of usage.
- Read guest posts – Next, hunt down all of the guest posts. You can scan them…but what I really want you to do is follow up with that guest blogger. Tell him that he did a great job and then ask him if he can give you any tips about writing for that blog.
- Read the comments – Read them especially on the popular posts. What are people saying? Are they offering ways that the blog post could’ve been improved? What is the host blogger saying? What do the readers like and dislike? This is great stuff to learn from.
- Create a spreadsheet for this blog – After you’ve collected all this information, put it in a spreadsheet. Create a column for popular post headlines, guest post headlines and for special comments.
This may seem like a lot of work to write a blog post, but don’t worry…it will truly pay off in the long run. I promise!
If after all that research, you still don’t have a good idea on what you should write, then here are two more tips to help you research:
- Competitor blogs – Hunt down and visit a few blogs that are considered competition with the blogger you want to write a guest post for. Repeat the above process…read all of the popular posts, guest posts and as many comments as you can. And while you’re at it…why not see if you can write for that blog too?
- Use trending topic tools – You can also find great ideas by searching for your keywords, using tools like Google Trends, Tweetmeme and Google News.
Generate cool blog post ideas with this tool
Because there is so much competition out there when it comes to writing a guest post, I highly recommend that you use this Google Doc tool by Daniel Butler called the Content Strategy Generator Tool to give you a really incredible edge over the other writers.
The tool is pretty simple…just drop in a keyword into cell B3:
And let it load. When it finally loads, it will pop up with some pretty sweet data.
You’ll get ideas for posts from places like Bing News, Digg, Reddit, YouTube, Topsy, Tiwttorati, Yahoo! Answers, etc.
You can find even more ideas if your click over to the “Source and Place” worksheet:
It will then drive you to something pretty cool:
You’ll get a bunch of ideas where you can guest post! In fact, you’ll get a list 50 bloggers and 50 pub editors:
This tool is really easy to use, and it provides a ton of ideas…so give it a shot and let me know what you think of it.
Master the components of a high-quality guest post
Now that you have a ton of potential ideas, your next step is to actually write the article. Do you want to know the secret to creating a rock-solid guest blog post? Here are some tips:
- Simple – Write to the audience as if it were a class of fifth graders. No, this doesn’t mean you talk down to them…it just means you avoid jargon that they might not understand. You also want to use short sentences and short paragraphs. White space is your friend when it comes to creating content online. People shouldn’t feel like your content is complex, but they should feel like it’s easy to read…no matter the topic.
- Conversation – Don’t forget that blogging is social media. And what is social media all about? It’s about the community (who you are writing for), and it’s about the conversation (how you are writing). In order to make your article conversational, you need to ask questions and use “you” way more than you use “we” or “us” or “them.” Fragments are also okay when it comes to conversation. Like this one. 🙂 A great way to learn how to do this is to record a conversation between you and a friend…and then listen to it.
- Instruct – One of the best ways to write a killer guest post is to write a step-by-step article on a topic that is of interest to the audience. How-to articles are easy to write because all you have to do is to write down all of the steps. Then go back and add screen shots. Edit…and you’re done.
- Links – Before you go emailing this guest post to the blogger, make sure you’ve done your research and backed that research up with plenty of links…especially internal links. If you want to really impress the blogger, create a post like Ali Luke did with her Copywriting Essentials from A – Z.
If you want more help on writing killer guest posts, then check out The Marketer’s Guide to Guest Blogging and the Neil Patel’s Guide to Blogging (in other words, my guide to blogging).
Guest post because you have something to say…not just for links
One of the temptations behind writing guest posts is to get the links and traffic back to your site. If that’s you, then you need to start over and make sure you are doing this because you actually have something to contribute to the web.
Don’t get me wrong…you want links. But you should also have something very valuable to say.
This is why I had you do a bunch of research in the previous step. It’s impossible to do all that research and not have something valuable to share with the blog-reading audience.
Keep in mind that Google encourages you to write valuable content for the web, and this includes what you write for a guest blog.
Promote your guest post
Just because you’ve emailed the post and seen it go live doesn’t mean that you can now sit back and wait for the flood of traffic to arrive.
You need to promote your guest post.
Building a brand, and I’ll get into this more in a minute, means working the social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Build a brand across your social media profiles
I love it when I come across a person or a company that understands what consistency in branding is all about. You’ll see the same image whether you are on their Twitter, LinkedIn, website, Facebook or Pinterest.
Here are three brands that are consistent across social media channels:
- Red Bull – They’ve got the same logo, colors and focus across these media. And the lifestyle that they promote – extreme sports – is the message that you will find across each social media channel.
- Vans – What I really like about Vans is that they look like a Fortune 500 company but act like a mom-and-pop shop. Their brand is consistent across their social media. Whether it is their Tumblr or Twitter account, the language and images are suited to people who love to skate. When you shift from their website to their Twitter or to their Tumblr account, you get the same brand.
- Comcast – Comcast was one of the first companies to use their Twitter account to handle customer service issues with @ComcastCares. This was lead by a man named Bill Gerth. The Twitter account was such a success, they rolled out even more Twitter accounts and did the same across Facebook.
So, how do you know if your brand is consistent across your different social media channels? Perform this little test:
- Wake up in the morning and jump onto your Twitter account. Check out the profile and what you are sharing in the stream.
- Next, pop on over to your Facebook fan page. Do you get the same feeling? Is the picture even the same? What about the bio? These should all match.
- Now, check out your blog. What do you see?
Run through all of the social media channels you have a profile on. This little exercise should give you a quick picture of how consistent your branding is across your platforms.
Improve your social media engagement quality
Most people know that social media is not a one-way advertising tool. Unfortunately, not every brand behaves that way.
Even the big brands are getting it wrong by not engaging the right way with their customers.
For example, a recent study looked at thousands of Twitter mentions for big brands:
It found that these big brands were not very good at even responding to complaints that were shared on Twitter. In fact, only about 13% of these complaints got a big brand to respond.
13%. That’s tiny.
But that’s not all. Those who did respond sometimes took over 50 hours to do it!
Moreover, some brands stopped responding to tweets during the weekend, which is a huge missed opportunity because only 9% of these tweets are complaints. The bulk of these tweets are from customers who are asking questions. They want the brand to be engaged, but the brand is dropping the ball.
Don’t do that. Waiting ten hours to respond to a tweet is a poor social media strategy…and that will cause you to miss some seriously good opportunities.
So, how do you improve your social media engagement quality?
- Understand that social media is not a billboard – You don’t build your brand by plastering advertising messages on Facebook every hour…instead, look to meet the needs of your followers. Ask them what they want…and then give it to them.
- Understand customer wants – When it comes to social media, all your customer really wants from you is a response. That one little response can go a long way in building a positive brand. So, reach out when someone shares your content, asks you a question or messages you.
- Reply to questions instantly – If someone asks you a question, it’s imperative that you don’t waste time and let the interest of that person grow cold. Answer her question as fast as possible, and that will build your brand in a positive way!
- Monitor brand mentions – Depending how big or popular you are, you should run a search on your brand in Twitter at least twice a day. Or you can use a tool like HootSuite: build a column for brand mentions and then respond to them right away! This might mean you’ll have to hire someone to do this for you. It’s worth it.
- Monitor keyword conversations – Follow hashtags to see what people in your industry are talking about…then jump in whenever you get a chance. This is a great way to meet new people and get your brand out there.
- Share great content – Finally, when you share relevant and useful content from lots of different sources, you will easily begin to gain followers or subscribers, and your brand will grow.
Branding is a huge part of online marketing. In fact, it really should get more emphasis than SEO does when it comes to your strategy. You can have great SEO, but if you have a poor brand, all you’ll do is squander those leads you get from search.
Instead, focus on building a solid brand that people love and care about. Then any effort you pour into SEO will get maximized since people finding you by search will be super impressed.
What are other ways that can help you build a brand online?