Bloggers need to stop being so dependent on Google!
Chances are you’ve made big changes to your blog in the past year. That’s because Google, the world’s biggest traffic referrer, issued two updates that affected its search results. By now everyone knows of the Panda update that Google issued last year. This year they went straight for links, issuing the Penguin update. Both updates hit bloggers hard, and forced them to change the way they operate. But one thing has been made clear with these updates:
It’s not easy, since many bloggers latched onto Google and have stayed there out of comfort. But it will benefit every blogger if they can find other referral sources. That doesn’t mean ignoring Google as a referrer. It just means having more variety, in case Google makes further updates that baffle bloggers.
1. Dig into your niche
In one way, digging deeper into a niche can hurt your traffic numbers. After all, chances are more people are interested in a top-level subject than a niche. But there are certain advantages to finding a narrow niche.
Referrals from top-level sites. When you write about a general subject, you have more competitors. Those competitors are unlikely to link to you, since that means sending readers and link juice your way. But if you blog about a niche topic, blogs that cover more general subjects are more apt to link to you. For instance, if you run a folk music blog, you have a chance of getting links from general music blogs. But if you run a general music blog, those blogs probably won’t send links your way. You are the competition.
More engaged fans. There might be fewer people overall interested in niche topics, but the fans who are interested tend to be more enthusiastic. You can then engage them in ways that you simply cannot with a top-level subject blog. Kevin Kelly explains this in his seminal article 1,000 True Fans. Win and engage those niche fans and you can realize the kind of success that often eludes top-level subject blogs.
More focused work. Top-level subject blogs often require great effort to stay afloat. For many that means posting dozens of times per day. That can lead to quick burnout for any blogger. Worse, it can leave the blogger grasping for ideas. Niche blogs tend to post less often, normally just once a day, which gives the blogger room to breathe. Since niche bloggers don’t have to chase every page view, they can afford to take a more balanced approach to their blogs.
Niche blogs have to overcome many obstacles to become true businesses. They can’t, for instance, rely on AdSense or other ad networks for revenue, since they don’t have the pure page views to make them worth the effort. But they can make up for that by offering exclusive products and services. They can also cut direct ad deals, removing the middle man by finding advertisers interested in their active and engaged fans.
2. Go social
When you work in the internet marketing field, you come across a wide variety of blogs daily. In just the past year I’d say I’ve visited more than 5,000 blogs, which comes to about 14 per day — assuming no weekends off and no vacation time. One thing that amazes me is that so many of these blogs either don’t have Twitter accounts, or else have fewer than 100 followers. They’re missing out on potential referrals.
Yes, gaining a Twitter following takes time. But taking the time to build a Twitter following will pay off. It’s just like link building efforts. You take the time to do that, right? You do, because you know that the only way to rank higher in the search results is to build a solid foundation of backlinks. But, as we’ve seen, Google has changed in the past year or so. It’s becoming harder to rank and get referrals from them.
Once Google issued the penguin update, my partners and I decided to change strategy. Instead of building links, we started to build our Twitter following. We didn’t go around following everyone in our niche. Instead we started using the account more actively. That meant a few things.
- Adding insight. We post a few times a day, but we can’t cover everything in those posts. Sometimes we have points we want to make, but they just don’t fit. And so we drop these little tidbits on Twitter.
- Responding to mentions. If people take the time to send you an @ reply, you should take the time to respond to them in kind. It actively engages them, and makes them want to come back for more.
- Retweeting others. If someone else has something interesting to say and you think your followers would gain from it, don’t hesitate to retweet. Also remember: the people you retweet see that you retweeted them, so you are passively engaging them as well.
- Tweet your posts. This goes without saying. If you can, you should tweet your posts manually. This especially goes for blogs that post once a day. If you use automated posting plugins, make sure to manually tweet links to those articles later in the day, framing the tweets for people who might have missed your original.
For about three months we’ve worked Twitter more actively than ever, and it has paid off. Not only have we gone from just under 8,000 to just under 10,000 followers (while following 177), but we’ve turned Twitter into our second-largest referrer. We estimate that if we keep this up Twitter will become our No. 1 referrer by October.
3. Mobile apps
For some readers, a mobile website is enough. They can just browse to your website and either see a mobile-specific layout, or else see a resized-for-mobile site, as you see with TechAtLast new design. But for many, many readers that is not enough to keep them around. They might visit from time to time, but they’re not really invested. The solution is a mobile site.
The realization came to me hard in the last few months. For starters, we’d been getting daily complaints about our mobile site. It would crash browsers and freeze phones. It did for mine, but I was using an old Android. Then, late last month I got the Galaxy S 4G phone, which is, as most tech geeks know, is one of the most powerful phones on the market. And guess what? It crashed that browser too.
Not only did we have that problem, but I realized something else when using the Galaxy S 4G: I wanted apps. Apps are great! I could spend hours and hours just browsing around Google Play for apps to fill all my home screens. I’m sure that iPhone users have the same experience in the App Store. Apps are fun. Apps are addictive. But most importantly, apps are engaging. You can really win over fans with a high quality mobile app.
Yes, creating a high quality mobile app will cost you money. But it will pay dividends as well. Instead of being a commodity — a blue link in the google results that looks like every other blue link — you can now be a unique, differentiated product. People will download your app and spend time with your app. They might spend time with others, but when they open your app they are focused on you. That’s quite a bit better than wading through a sea of google results.
Even better: people will pay a buck for your app. They might even pay two. As long as you deliver them a compelling experience, it’s proven that mobile users will shell out the money. Think your readers need convincing? Just point out all the things they spend $2 on every day without even thinking about it. What’s going to provide them more value: your app or a cheeseburger and fries off the dollar menu?
For years, blogs rode the Google train. They found ways to exploit the system and did so for monetary gain. But Google has taken steps to crack down on such behavior. We also don’t know what Google will do in the future to make life harder for bloggers. As such, we need to take action. Only a handful of blogs can survive while being dependent on Google. It’s time to detach yourself as much as possible. Work on going more niche, gaining a social following, and creating a mobile experience, and you’ll win over fans in different and more compelling ways.