I’m writing this up to help bloggers and other people who create stuff online (videos, etc.) get their “stuff” more visibility, by getting more sites to link to it and talk about it. Specifically, I’m trying to help people in my group at work, Intel Software Network, by sharing some of my experience and ideas, since I’ve been blogging for over 5 years. I’m by no means an expert, just sharing what I know. I hope you’ll post a comment or otherwise jump into the conversation if you have ideas of your own on how to get more “outside” links and conversation around the things that you write.
This post is NOT going to be a list of “tricks” or quick fixes. I’m not talking about linkbait, or SEO black magic, or anything like that. Hopefully, the things I lay out will seem like common sense. It takes sustained effort over a period of time to build up your reputation and influence – you don’t just instantly “get famous”. So be prepared.
Update: Google has posted some great tips for bloggers. It’s mostly on how to optimize your site for Google, make your stuff more findable, etc. In case you didn’t want to just take my word for it…
Step 0: Build Your Network
This is “step 0″ because it needs to be worked on for a while before you get real results. I’m talking about connecting with people, in real life and online. Get to know them, what they like, what they write about, and what they’re interested. Help them get to know you, what you’re passionate about, and what you know. You can do this by exchanging comments on each other’s blogs, following each other on Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, or whatever. The medium itself isn’t specifically important, but this is why I’m always talking about how important it is to connect with other people on places like Twitter.
Don’t be a snob about who you connect with. I have people in my network who are senior editors at large, popular tech publications, and also people who write small, narrowly-focused niche blogs or don’t blog at all. I’m friends with them because we have interests in common, and have shared inteactions – NOT just because of where they write! Don’t be blinded into thinking you need to connect with the “big fish” more than other people. First of all, it doesn’t matter. Second, you’re going to be asking people to link to or say something about your material, and you’ll sound like a jerk if it seems like you only care about attention from the “popular” crowd. Everyone has their own audience and sphere of influence. Be grateful for any and all links and attention that you receive.
Step 1: Create Interesting, Easy To Find Content
This is hopefully a no-brainer, but it bears mention. If you want people to link to something you’ve created, it should be interesting enough to merit the attention. No matter how good you think you are, not every single thing you write or create is going to get picked up on all the news sites and linked to all over the web. Some of your stuff is going to be higher quality than the rest. Consider exercising some restraint in what you try to promote, so you don’t become “the boy who cried wolf” by trying to get EVERYONE to link to EVERYTHING that you create. Attention and goodwill from other people is a precious commodity. Don’t squander it.
Also, make your stuff easy to find. For most sites, the majority of traffic comes from search results, not referring links. Think about what you’d search for if you were looking for the topic you’re writing about. Be clear and specific and relevant in your post title. Try putting your post title into Google, and see if Google has any suggestions for making it better (“Did You Mean…”).
Step 2: Link to Other People. A Lot.
Get in the habit of linking to other sites and people in your network. Do it a lot. It makes what you write that much more interesting and useful, and it’s a great way to connect with and show respect for the people you link to, and make them a lot more willing to link to you in the future. If you want people to link to you, don’t be stingy with the links you give out.
Don’t worry AT ALL about trying to keep people on your own site. Think of what’s probably the most visited and most useful site on the internet – Google. Is Google popular because they try to keep people on their site, or try to be “sticky”? No! Google is popular and useful because they send you away as quickly and efficiently as possible. Be like Google.
Step 3. Submit to the News Centers
There are lots of news sites and aggregators out there whose sole purpose is to link to interesting stuff that readers have submitted to them. Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, YCombinator Hacker News, etc. Discover which ones that are most influential for your area of expertise. Learn the process for submitting something, and what the criteria are for it getting published. Become a member of the community – read what gets posted, and post comments on stories.
When you have created something that you think would be a good fit for one of these news sites, submit it! On rare occasions, someone else might pick up your post and submit it, but for the most part, if you don’t do it, no one else will. Don’t be shy.
Don’t get discouraged if what you submit doesn’t “make it” to the front page of the site, especially on really big and popular sites, like Digg and Slashdot. Don’t give up, and keep at it.
Step 3.1: Use StumbleUpon
This one deserves its own subsection. StumbleUpon is a collaborative “hey, this is cool!” service that lots of people use. Basically, there are two sides to StumbleUpon. First, in the course of your web browsing, you “stumble” pages you think are interesting or cool. Second, you can see what pages other people have “stumbled” as interesting. That’s a super basic explanation.
The reason I put StumbleUpon apart from the other “news” sites is the quality of the visits that getting on StumbleUpon brings compared to the other sites. Getting linked on the front page of Slashdot or Digg will bring a BIG spike in traffic, but it doesn’t tend to last. People who read those sites are voraciously looking for “what’s hot”. Traffic from StumbleUpon is different. Because there’s not a “front page”, once your stuff gets into the database, it generates a pretty steady, constant flow of visits. Which is really nice.
Step 4: Ask Your Network, Nicely
Once you’ve built your network (see Step 0), get in the habit of letting them know when you’ve posted something that you think they may find interesting. Send out a link on Twitter, or in your Facebook status, etc. Try to make it “hey, I just posted this, let me know what you think” and not “hey look! I posted something awesome again!”. Ask (nicely) for people to link to your post, or to vote for it on Digg and the like. Again, don’t become “that person” who only ever tries to promote their own stuff. But when you’ve done something that you think deserves some attention, it’s OK to let people know about it. Again, if you don’t do it, it’s unlikely that anyone else will.
Step 5: Listen and Respond
Once you’ve put the word out, monitor for links and mentions of your stuff. This is where having “ego” search feeds, or a personalized listening dashboard like the one I created for Intel comes in handy. Set up search feeds (I use Google Blogsearch, Google News, Ask.com blog search, and Twitter search) for your name, and the URL and name of your site. This topic probably deserves a whole post of its own. I’ll write something up soon.
When a news site or a blog does link to or mention you, post comments on their site, thanking them, answering questions, and basically being involved in the conversation. The reason for doing this is to show that you’re smart, savvy, listening, and engaged in the conversation. Engaging in the conversation, wherever it happens, builds connections between the participants, and makes them that much more likely to want to link to you again in the future. Which feeds right back into “Step 0: Build Your Network”.
Step 6: Make This a Habit
Like I said at the beginning, this isn’t a trick that can be learned. This stuff takes time and effort. That’s why you need to think of it as skills to be learned and habits to be formed. Keep practicing. Accept that you might not get stellar results at the beginning. But if you keep it up, you’ll find that you’ve grown your own reputation, influence, and network of people who listen to you. That’s what makes all the effort worth it.
Step 7: ???
What have I missed here? If you have ideas, suggestions, or things that you do that you think would be helpful for people trying to get noticed and get linked to, please let me know. Post a comment, or post something on your own blog and link here. Like I said, I’m not proclaiming myself the expert on this subject. I learn lots every day, and I love it. So tell me what YOU do to get people to link to you and talk about you without being a jerk.