10 free ways to get blog exposure, new users and success
Self promotion becomes easier when you have the disposable income to support it because you can happily buy a Nintendo Wii to give away in a competition. With the higher profile comes the ability to "acquire" desirable items from companies - another bonus. You can buy placements or press releases on prestigious sites to raise your profile and maintain a high level of exposure - but all of these things cost a lot of money and the chances are that you can't bankroll that.
It's not that you can't afford to do it
Maybe my statement above was wrong - a lot of bloggers could easily afford to buy a Nintendo Wii, but not frivolously. I could easily afford a desirable console, laptop, LCD TV but I couldn't justify the expense on something that isn't guaranteed to see a return - and THAT'S the problem. So how can you get yourself out there for free?
#1 - Levarage social bookmarking sites
Sites such as Digg, Reddit and more are excellent ways to gain exposure, traffic and feedback for free. These sites rely on regular content to run so submitting your material there is a way of feeding the beast. While it's a horrifically lucrative hobby it can be very rewarding. John Chow launched his blog in style by writing quality pieces of content that got major coverage on Digg; after a few articles have been up there you've got a web presence. I wrote in October some guidelines on how to get success with social bookmarking sites where the general message was: write linkbait and tailor your content towards the right people. Even if it feels like selling out it's a necessary evil of promoting yourself this way. You can always read more about promoting your site through social sites.
#2 - Run competitions offering a service you have as the price
Just because you can't justify purchasing a Playstation 3 (and no companies will give you one for free) doesn't mean you have nothing to offer. If you're an SEO guru, offer your services as the prize (quoting your rates as the value). E.g. if you normally consult for $950 a day, the prize is a $950 SEO tune-up of the winner's site. That could be quite an attractive prospect for a lot of users. Got nothing to offer? What about your hosting? I could happily give a reader free hosting by bolting them on to my own (within sensible usage limits). So maybe the prize could be $120 worth of hosting... You get the picture. If you can do something (programming, design, marketing, SEO, whatever) then that can be the prize.
#3 - Write for an e-zine
If you're particularly proud of your writing then writing for an e-zine can be a great way of gaining exposure. Places like e-zine articles allow you to register and submit articles for consideration; provided you meet their requirements they should publish your content. The logic behind this is that people will be able to see the quality of your writing and theoretically follow links back to your site. It may sound slightly tenuous but it's a tried and tested method of exposing the world to your writing.
#4 - Write insightful comments on popular blogs
Another way to gain exposure is to become a regular commentor on popular blogs within your niche; writing insightful comments in the right places will nudge users in your direction and that's good targetted traffic. Even better, build a good relationship with the blogger this way and you might well find them referring to you in their posts.
#5 - Write for other bloggers
Guest posts are an excellent way to expose someone elses readers (within the right niche) and you can see these in use on JohnChow.com. John likes to have guest writers every now and then and I was introduced to a lot of excellent sites like Zac Johnson's blog because of it. Befriend a blogger (preferably using method #4) and ask them if you could write a guest post. Obviously you'll need to give them a draft of the post but this is a great method for increasing the visibility of your blog.
#6 - Sponsor someone elses competition
If you really don't have any readers, launching your own competition (as per #2) isn't a great step forwards because your blogging network will be too small for it to go viral. Word of mouth only works when there are mouths to pass word on... Therefore taking the premise from #2 and sponsoring a competition that someone else is running can make all the difference. Look at this competition and see how many prizes are just services being provided by someone else. As far as I'm aware Unique Blog Designs became popular by sponsoring high profile competitions; all the owner is giving up is their time - it just so happens their time is rather valuable.
#7 - Offer things for free
Write an ebook and offer it for free. It's that simple. Brand it up like your website, state clearly that it's from your website and if users like it they'll know where to come for more. Offering quality resources for free is an excellent way of attracting attention and becoming an authority on something - both of these things will help bring readers.
#8 - Be controversial!!
Controversy breeds conversation and that's what you need to get your blog kick started. I'm not saying be rude; more witty and articulate but make your opinion heard. People will come to express their mind back in your direction and that means comments. Comments = community, community = website. This is where an understanding of the media will come in helpful because you'll need to write sensationalist material for this to work properly - but it does work.
#9 - Go the extra mile and do an experiment
I'm going to use my good friend Oli from ThePCSpy as my example for this. In September 2006 he set about an epic experiment benchmarking what applications slow Windows down the most and because he went the extra mile doing something no one else had, his website went crazy for a while. If you can think of a metric that the world is missing then go ahead and do it. Let me tell you a little story about how well this can work:
Oli created a new captcha called Kittenauth which he dreamed up on a lazy Summer's afternoon lying on his bed. The world loved it, with massive press like Digg, The Register, Ars Technica, the Wall Street Journal and more...
When I started work at my current company in July 2006 I was chatting about to one of my collegues and he saw ThePCSpy on my screen. I said I knew the author and he replied "you know the Kittenauth guy?"
It goes to show that if you do something big and do it right, your name is down and you've established yourself within the blogosphere and that's a big thing.
#10 - Blogging communities
If you become a member of a blogging community then you have a great opportunity to reach out to a lot of users who browse that community looking for quality content and diversity. That's exactly why I applied to become a member of 9rules; a community who focus heavily on good content and interaction. You've instantly got an audience and that's a powerful weapon to have. Interacting with a community on a personal level can do more for the natural growth and exposure of your blog than anything else (if done properly). In a blog community everyone else has blogs - so do something right and you could have lots of people writing about you, linking to you, sending you readers... It's a great way to grow.
So there you have it, 10 ways to explode the popularity of your blog without spending a penny. Like I said earlier: it's really easy to promote yourself when you've got the money to do it properly, but when you're just a normal person trying to make a go of blogging you can't be spending hundreds of dollars on ideas that have no promise of an ROI. Each of these 10 ideas can bring you a bundle of traffic, increase your visibility and exposure - give them a try.
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