Everyone tells you, you need to build your list.
Bloggers have echoed this suggestion ad nauseam.
How do you build a list? (hint: content promotion)
Blog, buy traffic, guest post, find product affiliates or sell a tripwire offer through Warrior Forums.
Most bloggers, freelancers, small businesses and start-ups start out blogging like this:
- They sign up for a shared hosting service, such as Bluehost or GoDaddy.
- They install WordPress.
- They find and activate a standard WordPress theme. (Maybe they even feel it’s their lucky day/week/year to start a blog and so splurge on a premium theme.)
- They write and publish their first blog post (250 to 500 words).
- They set up their social media profiles and start promoting their post.
- They wait for new email subscriber notifications to flood their inbox.
- Maybe they even promote the post a few more times on social media.
- They give up and go back to the drawing board.
- They write a new, longer post and hit “publish.” This time, they buy a stock photography subscription and add a feature image.
- They repeat the same post promotion process and fail.
When it’s laid out like this, you can see the flaws with this process. And yet, this is how many people start blogging.
They follow the “build it and they will come” line of thinking. But I don’t want you to fall into that trap. Let’s forget this process all together, since, in most cases, it doesn’t work.
Instead, I’m going to show you the content promotion process I used to attract engaged email subscribers and lots of shares.
How I Generated 167 Email Subscribers and 1,300 Shares From One Blog Post
Step 1: Find a Share-worthy Topic to Promote
Go to BuzzSumo and enter the domain names of a few popular blogs in your niche.
For each domain name you enter, sort the search results by “Total Shares” and deselect (uncheck) the following content types listed on the left-hand side of BuzzSumo:
For each blog, look for the top five or ten posts that performed well on social media in the past based on total share count. Either export the list of posts for each blog or make a list of post titles and total share counts in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel.
Filter out any posts that have a lot of shares from one social network but few shares from the other networks.
In BuzzSumo, enter a keyword phrase you’re interested in writing about, such as “guest blogging,” based on the results you received from BuzzSumo in the previous step. Then look for the posts with the highest share counts. Export the results from BuzzSumo to Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel or write them down.
Another option is to search Google for “guest blogging guide,” which can help you discover other popular posts that are difficult to find or unlisted for the relevant keyword in BuzzSumo.
Copy and paste the blog post’s URL into BuzzSumo to get the share counts and view sharers.
Once you’ve decided what topic to feature on your blog based on your initial review, proceed to step 2 to hire a good freelance writer if you don’t have time to write it.
No one expects you to write a 4,000-word blog post every day.
Brian Dean, for example, only publishes one blog post per month on average. You should feel free to pursue a communication frequency you feel comfortable with.
As Laura Roeder and Marie Forleo often stress, communication consistency is key — as is quality over quantity. As long as you’re publishing content that people can count on once a day, every week, every two weeks or once a month, you can establish presence and trust with your audience.
As with most exchange transactions, you get what you pay for. If you pay $20 for a 1,000-word post, then you shouldn’t expect to receive creative or well-written content.
I think entrepreneurs often forget that writers need to eat and earn a living too. Together, let’s set a precedent to pay them well for writing high-quality content.
A few months ago, Carol Tice, the writer’s writer, emailed me a story about a writer who lost her home because she wasn’t able to make enough money on her own as a freelance writer. If you haven’t heard of Carol, you should check out her great blog and community for freelance writers looking to make more money called Make A Living Writing.
For our recent guest blogging guide — our most successful post to-date — I hired freelance writer Maham Chappal from Carol’s Freelance Writers Den. I paid her $100 per 1,000 words written, for a total of $400. Maham wound up writing more than 4,800 words.
Why 4,000 words?
What’s the relationship between content length and social shares?
Good question! I’m sure you’ve read all about the value of epic content from BuzzSumo’s guest post on OkDork.
Well, I decided to run my own analysis with BuzzSumo a year later. It’s still clear that content length and average shares are nearly perfectly positively correlated.
What this doesn’t reveal is if blogs spend more time or money on content promotion for longer posts.
Of the five marketing blogs I selected at random, four of them reveal that content with greater than 3,000 words generates the most social shares. These data jive with Moz’s analysis of the impact of content length on shares.
As confirmed by Moz’s insights from analyzing 1 million articles,
long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content
Moz suggests that the correlation between links and content length isn’t statistically significant beyond 2,000 words.
All told, share count and content length are nearly perfectly positively correlated. I haven’t yet read any studies about the relationship between content promotion expenses and content length.
It seems plausible that publishers spend more time and money promoting longer content because it requires more money and time to produce.
To get people to sign up for your email list, give away something of value for free.
Copyblogger gives away eBooks for free, and in return, you register with your email address to gain access to their free membership content library.
Bloggers Bryan Harris, Brian Dean and Neil Patel give away free bonuses with every blog post they publish.
They spend extra time creating free content upgrades so that their site visitors opt in to their email list.
For more on content upgrades, read Brian Dean’s post about how to increase conversions using content upgrades on his blog Backlinko.
For the guest blogging guide content upgrade, I hired a freelancer from Upwork at $10/hour to perform over 51 hours of research and data entry to create a guest blogging database.
The database contains contact details and data for 290 guest blogging opportunities.
In total, I spent $918.34 to outsource the blog-post writing and create a non-generic content upgrade.
For 167 email subscribers, that works out to $5.50 per subscriber.
I spent $200 on the post we published before our guest blogging guide and got zero email subscribers from it, so my recommendation is to create a good content upgrade and highlight it a few times throughout your post.
You can implement Hotjar to record visitor sessions to figure out how far your readers scroll before they opt-in from your content upgrades or leave the page.
You could also add a post-specific custom sticky widget to attach to the right-hand side of your post as people scroll down to read it.
There are many other ways to increase your email opt-in rates. Check out Derek Halpern’s post for seven high-converting places to add email opt-in forms to your blog.
If you’re interested in setting up content upgrade email opt-ins, Bryan Harris has a good tutorial that explains how to set up a content upgrade using MailChimp.
Email outreach was critical for successful content promotion.
You can use BuzzSumo to find potential sharers for your next post.
One company I worked with hired an agency to manage social media marketing for them. Part of this engagement included Twitter influencer outreach. Their results from reaching out to influencers via Twitter messages was unsuccessful for the most part.
Of the 200 to 250 individual direct messages they sent via Twitter (otherwise known as spam), only two people replied.
Of the people that responded, one tried to use the company for its own audience building; the individual did not end up helping the company either with a link to a past blog post or by referring their audience to the company. The other person didn’t have a large or engaged enough audience to promote the company.
My gut feeling is that most people don’t have time to check every message they receive on Twitter and often ignore any messages they read.
Instead, start with the names and Twitter handles of influencers you find in BuzzSumo; then work backwards to get their email addresses and reach out to them via email using BuzzStream (or Ninja Outreach).
Here is the step-by-step process I used to promote the guest blogging guide:
- Take the blog post URL for each post you found in step 1 and enter it into BuzzSumo.
- If the post has more than 100 Twitter shares, click “View Sharers” to retrieve the list of people and companies who shared that post via Twitter. BuzzSumo only reveals Twitter sharers, so if you see a post got high social shares for another network (such as Facebook or LinkedIn) but few shares via Twitter, you should skip it since you won’t be able to retrieve data about who shared the post. With BuzzSumo you don’t have to worry about the disabled Twitter count issue, because they’ve figured out a way around it.
- Export the list of sharers to Excel or CSV.
- Copy and paste the exported results into a single Google Sheets or Excel workbook.
- Then add columns for the post’s author name, post title, blog name and blog post URL.
- Repeat steps 1 through 4 until you have a list of at least 1,500 sharers total from all relevant blog posts you found in BuzzSumo. After you narrow them down, you’ll be left with fewer than 500.
- Highlight all rows and columns containing data. (In Excel, you can use the following keyboard shortcuts: shift + CMD + right arrow or shift + CTRL + > and shift + CMD + down arrow or shift + CTRL + down arrow.)
- Set up a data filter in Excel or Google Sheets. (In Excel, go to the “Data” tab, then under Sort & Filter, click “Filter.”)
- Then click the drop-down arrow at the top of domain_authority column and set it to greater than 10 or 15 to filter out people whose websites don’t have an established domain authority. (This isn’t necessary if you’re only looking for social shares, but I prefer to target people who have a trusted website and some social media influence.)
- Repeat this process for num_followers to filter for people who have greater than 5,000 Twitter followers.
- Repeat this process for url_share_ratio to filter for people who have a share ratio greater than 1.0.
- Repeat this process for retweet_ratio to filter for people who have a retweet ratio greater than 2.0.
To reverse lookup email addresses based on the first name, last name and website address you receive from BuzzSumo, follow this process:
- Go to Amazon Mechanical Turk at requester.mturk.com.
- Login with your Amazon.com account credentials or set up a new account.
- Click “Create New Project.”
- Set up a Mechanical Turk HIT assignment to outsource the email lookup process.
- Download the results from Amazon Mechanical Turk.
- Copy and paste the data into your spreadsheet alongside your existing data rows.
- Then save the Excel spreadsheet as a CSV file.
Another option is to add fields in Amazon Mechanical Turk for the post title, author name and blog name.
Here’s an example:
With this approach, you can save time from having to copy and paste into a spreadsheet the results you get from Amazon Mechanical Turk. Instead, you can directly import the .csv from Amazon Mechanical Turk into BuzzStream to start email outreach.
The only downside is that you won’t be able to import into BuzzStream all of the original BuzzSumo data. Although there will be some crossover between the data provided by BuzzSumo and BuzzStream, BuzzSumo’s data is more in-depth.
For the guest blogging guide, I used BuzzStream to import and manage contacts for outreach.
In BuzzStream, click “More,” then click “Configure Columns.”
- Post Favorited
- Post Favorited Author Name
- Post Favorited Blog Name
Step #1: Click “Import” and follow the prompt to find the CSV file on your computer and import the data into BuzzStream.
Step #2: Match your import file headers and data with the respective column-header BuzzStream fields.
Step #3: Unhide the custom column headers in BuzzStream in the “People” tab.
To make things efficient, add an outreach email template to BuzzStream.
Try using a variation of these emails I reappropriated from Brian Dean of Backlinko.
You can use this email template for content promotion:
Subject: New [subject name] [guide/case study/post/article]
I noticed that you tweeted one of my favorite [subject name] posts, “[Post Favorited],” (from [Post Favorited Blog Name]).
I have a new [subject name] [guide/case study/post/article] coming out this week.
Want a heads up when it’s live?
[User First Name] [User Last Name]
You can use BuzzStream to automatically fill in the person’s First Name, Post Favorited, Post Favorited Blog Name and your User First Name and Last Name.
If you receive a “yes” reply to your initial outreach email, you can use this follow-up email:
Hey, [First Name],
Thanks in advance for checking it out. See you next week!
On the day you publish the post, you can use this email:
Check it out, [First Name]!
[Blog Post URL]
Set up an alternate personal Gmail account to integrate with BuzzStream so you don’t hit your primary email account’s send limits. For example: [email protected]
In the alternate Gmail account, file “yes” and “no” email replies under Gmail labels so you can follow up. If you’d rather automate the email follow-up process, either hire a part-time virtual assistant to mark contacts for follow up in BuzzStream, pray that BuzzStream recognizes the replies received through your personal Gmail account, or use the default BuzzStream email issued with each account and BCC the BuzzStream email from Gmail.
For our guest blogging guide post, I averaged an email to positive reply conversion rate of 16.6% from cold email.
For every 271 emails sent, I get 45 emails back from people interested in reading my upcoming post. On the publish date, I send them a follow up email informing them about the post.If done right, this can be a cost efficient way to grow your email list. Although people have mixed opinions about cold email outreach.
Tim Soulo’s recent post expands on this issue. Tim recommends segmenting your audience into 3 different buckets: big fish, small fish and newbies. I’m now using this approach for promotion of upcoming blog posts.
Set up Gmail labs for canned responses. For instructions on how to do this, read this tutorial.
To use your default BuzzStream email for easier outreach and follow up, go to the “Settings” tab in BuzzStream.
Then click the “Connect to Email” tab and below the personal email account(s), select “Use your BuzzStream address.”
Step 10: Reach Out to VIP Influencers Mentioned in the Blog Post
Although I haven’t used this method much for recent posts, I have used it successfully in the past for other posts.
If you don’t mention the influencer in your post but give them a heads up in advance of the publish date, chances are slim they will take an interest in your post.
Not to sound crude, but it’s like skipping foreplay and expecting to hit climax. It just doesn’t work.
I wish I had read Tim Soulo’s post sooner. It would have prevented me from cold emailing our guest blogging guide to Ian Cleary and Ian Brodie. They don’t need unsolicited how-to advice about how to pitch or write a successful guest blog post.
I don’t recommend reaching out to top bloggers without a prior connection, unless you write about how much you’ve learned or gained from their posts.
That said, below is the email template I’ve used with a 100 percent success rate for influencer outreach in the past. I’ve used it to email top influencers and CEOs when I mentioned their company in my post:
Subject: quick question
Hey, [First Name],
I’m just reaching out to give you a heads up that I’m publishing a new post later this week about [Describe What Your Post Is About].
Because I mention [Person’s Name or Company Name], I just thought you’d like to be one of the first to know.
Would love to share it with you if you’re interested. Do you mind if I send you a link?
[Your First Name]
You should mention them or their company, highlighting something you admire about them or their product; or talk about what you learned from them that you think could be valuable to your audience.
Here’s an example of how you can mention a VIP influencer in your next blog post:
I’ve learned a ton of valuable information about marketing from Neil Patel over the past seven years.
I want to share with you my short list of go-to resources for learning effective growth hacking, content marketing, SEO and blogging strategies:
Neil Patel has taught me many valuable lessons about search engine optimization, sales funnels, influencer marketing and growth hacking.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from Neil is that you need to create content that teaches your audience valuable lessons, and pogosticking doesn’t work to build search traffic.
Pogosticking involves creating content to rank on the first page of search engines like Google without being contextually relevant to the end user or searcher. You can read more about it on Neil’s blog.
Two months ago, I made the decision to stop publishing low-quality “filler” content on this blog and to start providing real value to my audience. Since then, my site’s organic and referral traffic has grown a lot, and the blog’s email list has grown from zero to more than 1,100 subscribers in less than two months.
I also feel much better providing real value to you by setting a higher standard for our blog and community.
When all is said and done, if you’re confident your post is epic, proceed to steps 12 and 13.
Side note: It’s important to know whether people will share your post before you go through the hassle of additional manual post promotion after you hit “publish.”
Time is your most valuable commodity.
You wouldn’t want to waste it on promoting content people won’t actively share.
Jay Baer suggests that “For maximum reach, you must spread your content around like a digital dandelion.
By publishing a post with over 4,000 words and spreading it around like a dandelion with strong content promotion, we saw a huge increase in social shares, visitor traffic and email subscribers.
- Make a list of the syndication networks where your audience hangs out. In my case, I knew Inbound.org, GrowthHackers.com, Hacker News and Reddit could work because that’s where marketers hang out.
- Go to each network and make a list of the people who get the most likes or upvotes on the posts they share.
- Look for one of the network’s top “influencers” — someone who gets content repeatedly upvoted or liked more often than other contributors.
- Email the influencers you identify as viable candidates, the people who are most likely to share your stuff. If they’re unwilling to help you for free, offer to compensate them.
Look for a freelancer or blogger who may be interested in helping you.
If you reach out to Rand Fishkin, Larry Kim or a community manager, you’re won’t get traction, unless you’re friends with them.
If you see that the post is taking off through initial earned media promotion, consider increasing your distribution with paid media.
Here are some promotion methods you can use to boost email subscribers, social shares and backlinks (without link outreach or link buying) for the post:
- Outbrain content promotion campaign
- Perfect Audience retargeting campaign (see Noah Kagan’s post)
- Facebook Dark Posts
- Google Display Network Remarketing
- Fiverr Gig for Real Social Signals
For additional content promotion ideas, read this blog post. The post has been shared more than 1,300 times on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest and trended on the first page of Inbound.org with 126 upvotes.
Even popular bloggers like Brian Dean and Ann Smarty shared our guide.
Ann responded through my initial cold email outreach, while Brian found our post through an email he received from a friend.
Thanks, Brian! 🙂
Inbound.org Referral Traffic
More valuable than the upvotes we received from Inbound.org, they sent us tons of free referral traffic as the post started trending on the first page.
Their community administrators upvoted our post, and their content manager, Keri, even commented on the post. Maham and I were both flying high that day.
The post continued trending for another four days and kept sending us referral traffic and email subscribers. My guess is that we saw at least 100 email subscribers from Inbound.org.
The referral traffic from Inbound.org alone sent 308 new users to my website in the 11 days after the post went live.
It really drives home this point from Jay Baer:
Atomize your content and give it life wherever your audience aggregates
In other words, blow all the seeds off the dandelion wherever your fans hang out.
Social Media Traffic
What I found interesting was the substantial referral traffic we got from social networks, including 144 unique pageviews from Twitter and 31 from Reddit.
Much of this traffic came from my pre-publication email outreach. The key is to identify social media sharers of other blogs’ posts with a similar topic to yours.
We saw an insignificant amount of traffic from email.
Somehow a newsletter called Follow Weekly picked up our post and shared it with their email list, which gave us a small lift in traffic but only 1 email subscriber.
Worse, an email announcing the post to our list only drove 13 people back to our site. That pales in comparison to the 318 new visitors and 955 pageviews we got from Inbound.org referrals for that same period.
The Untold Cost of Content Promotion
Often people don’t talk about the real cost of blogging.
For our most recent guest blogging guide, I spent $2,253.
That translates to $12.66 per email subscriber!
Derek Halpern spends $1,000 for each video he creates for his blog. That doesn’t include the tens of $1,000s he spends on Facebook Ads each month to grow his list and promote his posts.
Let’s put this into perspective, for many people, our recent post equaled one month’s rent living in a 1 bedroom apartment in NYC or you could rent a new Maserati for about 3 months.
90.9% of the expenses went towards content promotion expenses and the remaining 9.1% were writing expenses.
Here’s a breakdown of the allocation of expenses:
What would I do differently?
I could have bid less per email address through Amazon Mechanical Turk. I started bidding at $0.50 for each Human Intelligence Task (HIT) assignment with 30 minutes to complete one task.
Once I saw the workers completing tasks in 30 seconds on average, I reduced the bid to $0.15 per HIT. If you’re willing to wait longer than a day to get back the email addresses, you may be able to further reduce the bid per HIT.
In retrospect, I could have avoided spending money on Facebook Ads, Fiverr jobs, extra backlinks or the freelancer from Upwork.
Some bloggers rely on a personal assistant or use a service like Will Blunt’s Blogger Sidekick, while blogs like Hubspot and Content Marketing Institute have teams of people devoted to editing and promotion.
It’s apparent that effective content promotion is expensive. It also requires strong social skills, as Neil Patel discussed on Quick Sprout.
Effective blog-post promotion isn’t rocket science, but it is an art.
Nowadays, you can’t just follow the generic process of promoting your post with your organic social media reach.
Out of the 267 people I emailed in advance of publishing our guest blogging post, at least 50 people replied with an enthusiastic “yes.” That’s an 18.7 percent conversion rate from cold email to new potential fan.
If I were to do things over, I would first make sure I’m tracking each email subscriber based on their sign-up date. By doing this, when I launch my course (yes, this is a hint), I can determine the value of each email subscriber based on their sign-up date and the opt-in they signed up for.
LeadPages created an excellent tutorial that shows how to calculate the value of an email subscriber using Google Analytics.
Another thing I would do differently is A/B test my outreach emails. I’m sure you can A/B test your emails and achieve a higher response rate.
As a testament that email promotion works, our guest blogging guide is now the most shared “guest blogging guide” out there with more than 1,300 social shares.
In 2016, it’s unlikely you’ll see significant visitor traffic or email subscribers join your list from a post on your home blog unless you are aggressive and creative about content promotion.
A good way to start is by reading Sujan Patel’s Content Marketing Playbook. After that, read about The Skyscraper Technique® by Brian Dean. Yes, he trademarked the name in the U.S. (read the summarized USPTO application here).
It wasn’t until I received an email from Brian Dean promoting one of his upcoming blog posts that things hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized I needed to buckle down and get serious about Derek Halpern’s 80/20 content promotion rule.
Long story short, if you’re willing to put in the time for content promotion, you’re apt to generate many more email subscribers, social shares and pageviews for your blog.