After writing 600 odd blog posts, I’m more clued up about promoting my content than I used to be.

(Hint: hitting publish and then crossing your fingers for a few retweets is not the best strategy.)

It’s still pretty hard to gauge which articles are going to be popular and which are going to sink like a stone, but knowing that a lucky few will reach an audience of tens of thousands is a pretty strong incentive to keep plugging away at my keyboard.

So…

If I was going to give you one tip for getting your content in front of more eyeballs, I’d say this…

 The one trick that will get your content read by tens of thousands of people is to consider where you will share it BEFORE you start writing.

That might sound mercenary, but remember that over two million blog posts are published a day. So to ensure your writing reaches a large audience, not only do you have to create great content, you have to be smart about how and where you promote it.

Let’s look at an example from my own blogging back catalogue:Why I Cycled 100 Miles to Meet My First Customer, which I wrote specifically for Hacker News.

Don’t get my wrong, the ride itself was something I wanted to do regardless of how much press it got. But right from the off, I had a rough idea of where I wanted to promote the subsequent blog post. Even the article’s title was carefully constructed to appeal to the startup audience — hence the “My first customer”.

This worked a treat: my article received 117 up votes and 34 comments, briefly hit the top of Hacker News, and had almost 10,000 views that day. I also sold a fair number of t-shirts to people at startups in San Francisco and made the front cover of Hacker Monthly, which was a nice side effect 🙂

What else can I tell you about writing blog posts that people want to read…

The world doesn’t need any more mediocre blog posts

My 100 Mile Bike Courier story sits firmly in the “Do epic shit and then write about it” tradition of content-creation. 

Let’s pause for a moment to consider what ‘epic’ means. I like this take on epic from the Fizzle blog:

Epic doesn’t necessarily mean long… the point is to create content that matters and that changes your readers’ or customers’ lives. Be inspirational, be entertaining, be useful, be a leader. Blow people’s minds.

Here’s an example from my archives that demonstrates this nicely.

I Never Finish Anyth— is only 600 words long, but also hit the top of Hacker News, accumulating 26,000 page views in 24 hours. It also benefitted from a catch title, and careful timing (I wrote it in late January, just as the euphoric high of New Year’s resolutions starts to wear off…)

WARNING: in the pursuit of a bigger audience, don’t get caught up in vanity metrics, like registered users, downloads, and raw pageviews. It’s engagement that matters most…

Write for humans, not computers

Apparently the top ranking articles in Google’s search result average 2,416 words. However, making your content longer just for the sake of SEO isn’t going to help you reach more readers.

Instead of wasting time on SEO, think about your audience, and the problems they face.

(If your audience = people like you, this will be a lot easier).

Now go write something to help those specific people.

Use a story from your own life, or from someone else’s. Be vulnerable. Talk about your emotions, not just your actions. Write something that you’re a little bit scared to hit ‘Publish’ on.

Give your story a shape

If you’re ever stuck on how to format a blog post, there’s a centuries-old formula you can use to structure your content. In fact some might say it’s the only way to shape a story.. and it looks like this: (AKA The Hero’s Journey, and the classic example being Luke Skywalker)

Remember that using a ready-made structure like this isn’t ‘cheating’. Far from it in fact — many successful writers swear by this kind of approach:

Perhaps because polish is so visible, many people erroneously believe it to be the most important part of writing. But polish is merely the plaster on the walls of structure.
—Jon Franklin

Structure is more crucial than style when you think about it.

You have an idea for story. You have an audience. You have a structure. Now what?

Before you start actually writing the thing, think about the kinds of places that your audience hangs out online.

  • Startup people => Hacker News
  • Designers => Designer News or Reddit Graphic Design
  • Marketing => Inbound
  • Frog lovers => Frog Forum (yes that really exists).

Share your content at one of these watering holes is the first step to reaching a larger audience. 

Don’t just barge in and spam watering holes with your content though.

Hang out there. Get to know people. Post useful comments. Lots of them.

Then and only then, share your own content.

(Be careful to read the community rules before you do, as some watering holes specifically ban self-promotion of content. In which case you can always ask someone else you know to share your content for you).

There’s a neat circular effect here: whilst you’re hanging out in these watering holes, you can also be researching topics that people are stuck with for your next blog post.

Learn something new.
Teach people about it by creating content.
Share that content with your audience.
Learn something new.
Teach people about it by creating content.
Share that content with your audience.
Learn something new.
Teach people about it…

Posted to Writing