5 Lies You Tell Yourself About Building an Audience (and Links)

First off, hat tip to Joe Hall for writing 10 reasons why your content doesn’t attract links several weeks ago here on the CopyPress blog. When CopyPress asked me to guest blog for them, I searched the site to see what type of content the CopyPress readers were interested in.

I came across Joe’s piece – which was awesome – and as I started to read the comments, I noticed people voicing reasons why they thought the concepts wouldn’t work. It got me to thinking about the various lies people tell themselves about the hurdles to building an audience.

Below, I’ll list some of the ones I hear most often.

Building an Audience Myth #1

Writing good content before you have an audience is a waste of good content.

I disagree. Bottom line is that when people check out your website, you have ONE CHANCE to make a first impression. If you’re wandering around the Internet promoting your website – and your brand – to try and gain an audience before posting the “great” content, in my opinion, you’re doing it wrong. People will visit the site, see a lack of any substantial content and move on. But they’re likely already associated your site or brand as being “lacking” in the value arena. That’s a hard impression to later break. When I wrote my post about earning an income through blogging I did an entire section on how, in the beginning, you have to blog like everyone is listening.

Does it suck having to write awesome content you know very few people are reading? Yep. But I believe blogging great content when nobody is listening is one of the key ingredients to ATTRACTING an audience. Besides, once you build links and your brand and your search engine rankings, that great content will likely later be found – by brand new visitors searching for information which you have already awesomely provided.

In case this is too broad, I’ll give you a specific example. Back in late 2007 when we launched our blackberry site, we didn’t have a huge following and we definitely didn’t have a brand. About two months after the site launched – when we had about 100 RSS subscribers – we wrote a post titled “110+ free games for your BlackBerry” (refer to what Joe said about using good titles) and then pounded the pavement to make all the other BlackBerry sites aware of it (this was before social was any type of real marketing tool). That post took us over a week to compile for our 100 regular readers back then.

AND IT EXPLODED.

To this day that post is the single most linked and trafficked page on our site. It didn’t take it long to rank #1 in Google for “blackberry games” and “free blackberry games” – and it still does today (we later expanded the list to be even MORE comprehensive). Those two search terms combined have brought us over TWO MILLION new visitors over the last 4 1/2 years since it was written. It helped catapult us to become one of the largest BlackBerry themed sites on the Internet.

Building an Audience Myth #2

If I build great content, they will come.

Take note of one part of the section above: “and then pounded the pavement” – relying solely on having awesome content without an actual plan to promote it can actually COST you links (see a specific example).

In one of the former companies I owned, we focused a lot on word of mouth branding via our blog content. Rarely did a piece of content go “big” without a specific plan being executed behind the scenes to make it happen.

“Ok, ok Rae, I’ve got it. But HOW do I do it?”

The following is my standard plan of action – doing only what applies to the specific piece I’m promoting. Keep in mind though that this should ONLY be done with your AWESOME content – people are happy to help with awesome content. People also don’t want to be bugged too often, so make the times you DO bug them for help count. For the sake of the below, I’ll pretend the article I’m pushing is one on Sugarrae.com.

  • Publish the content
  • Tweet the content first (this is because my Twitter presences are usually my largest social seeding presence)
  • Tweet the article specifically to anyone I’ve disagreed with in it
  • Tweet the article specifically to anyone I’ve linked to or mentioned in it (give #linklove)
  • Ask friends with followings privately to retweet it, because it is awesome, and they will be glad to because of that
  • Submit the post to any applicable niche bookmarking or “Digg like” sites so I control the titles and tagging (if applicable) for folks who later bookmark or vote for it
  • Send emails to applicable blogs I think may cover the piece (i.e. if I write a great Thesis tutorial, I’ll let the guys at DIYThemes.com know – when I did the Twitter Bowl in 2010 and the (ugh) Jets won, I let all the Jets fan blogs know)
  • Send emails to applicable journalists I think might cover the piece (search Google News for your topic, find contact pages)
  • Post the content to both my personal Facebook profile and my Sugarrae fan page
  • Privately ask a few friends to like it and comment on it so it takes higher precedence in people’s news feeds
  • Specifically tweet the post to bloggers (that I didn’t email) I think it might interest
  • Specifically tweet the post to journalists (that I didn’t email) I think it might interest
  • Publish the post on my personal Google+ page and on the Sugarrae Google+ page (note, I’m staggering the posts to Twitter, FB and G+ so they don’t all come at once
  • “Pin it” – IF APPLICABLE
  • Retweet myself every 2 hours or so in the first six hours – being sure to put non retweet posts in my stream in between
  • Retweet at least twice the next day for anyone who was under a rock on the first day
  • Write a few guest posts that link back to the content in question over the next few weeks (see Myth #1 above? #justsayin)

I follow the same applicable parts of this standard procedure whether I’m promoting something on Sugarrae, PushFire or any of my numerous affiliate sites.

Building an Audience Myth #3

Having a unique voice or point of difference (POD) is not always possible or necessary.

I’m going to be blunt here. If you can’t find YOUR unique voice or a POD for your site, then you shouldn’t be running one. At least not in the hopes of building an income or a substantial audience base.

The chick from SkinnyTaste (who I don’t know at all – I’m simply a reader) found her POD in being an amateur photographer who not only made great tasting low fat recipes (like tons of other recipe blogs on the net) but she was able to stand out because the pictures of her food were insanely gorgeous and high quality compared to most of the blogs she started out competing against.

When we launched our prepaid phone review site back in 2005, no one (at the time) was allowing users to leave reviews for prepaid service providers. We made more in depth and “plain speak” service overviews than the very few other competitors that were out there, did it on five times the providers (instead of doing it on only the “big six” at the time) and allowed consumers to leave reviews on the providers. Finding that POD led us to become one of the premier sites on the topic with over 30,000 consumer reviews across the various providers (to my knowledge, we have more reviews than all of our competitors combined).

Derek Halpern built a huge audience – gaining a five figure RSS subscriber list, mailing list and averaging 100+ comments per post – in less than a year. His POD as yet another marketing blog was to tackle a segment no one else was (successfully) targeting – marketing psychology. His voice is that of a semi-obnoxious (said with love Derek) New Yorker who will “gotcha!” (as in make you DO exactly what he is showing you how to make YOUR audience DO) every time he sets out to prove a point.

On Sugarrae, I blog a lot about affiliate marketing and write a lot of product reviews. I’m known for telling it like it is – bluntly – and usually semi-profanely (I tried to be good here, this ain’t MY blog LOL) – in run on sentences (as you can see). I’m also known for never bullshitting my audience. I’m a little bit redneck (or hillbilly as Greg Boser would say) and a little bit tomboy (GO #BUCS!!). That’s MY voice.

Building an Audience Myth #4

I’m not a great writer, so I’ll never be a great blogger.

Success with building an audience has nothing to do with being an awesome writer grammatically – especially if you’ve found your unique voice or POD. If you take a look at some popular bloggers, you’ll notice many are not great writers in the traditional grammar sense. Their voice allows them to get away with it.

Michael Gray is one example. His writing might get a C grade from an English teacher, but his voice – his over-zealousness and his constant need to call out Google – are a big part of what separated him from most other people blogging about SEO. Shoemoney will be the first person to tell you that he’s not a “great writer” – but he is a great promoter, with a habit for calling bullshit when he sees it and building an empire – and sharing his experiences in doing it. Perez Hilton? Dude made his name by (originally) having great gossip and drawing rude doodles with Paint on celebrity pictures. Not exactly Pulitzer Prize winning material.

Building an Audience Myth #5

Once I’ve got an audience, I won’t have to work so hard and I can simply profit.

Speaking of Perez Hilton, he’s a great example of someone who rode to popularity on his voice and POD. But, after he built the audience, his focus became more on why he was awesome. He inundated the site with paid ads and paid mentions. He moved from focusing on giving people the gossip that originally drew them there and instead started promoting his dog’s blog (seriously). He can hide his Quantcast data all he wants, but his Alexa graph and Google Trends results clearly shows what happens when you lose sight of the voice that originally built you your audience and see them as nothing but a profit vehicle.

You’ll always be working as hard at building an audience as you are now – if not harder once you start to gain an audience, in order to keep them – and you’ll always need to stay true to what brought them to you in the first place. Always, ALWAYS, remember to profit smartly.