Mike Cassidy has been writing for the San Jose Mercury News for years. He’s a general columnist. I remember reading him back when I read paper. Today he called me and asked for help. Blog help. Specifically he was asking for help in building an audience and also getting his blog’s audience to engage — seems very few people leave comments.
Since journalists everywhere are trying to move online, I thought it might be interesting to see if I could quickly give him some advice on how to do it better. So, here’s what I told him.
- Know how traffic will find you. There’s two ways: word of mouth (probably how you heard about Ze Frank or Rocketboom’s video show was from my blog, or from someone who emailed it to you) and search engines. Toni Schneider, CEO of Automattic, the folks who make WordPress, told me that about half of the traffic that comes to WordPress.com gets there from Google. Why is that important? Because if you don’t know how Google/Yahoo/Live/Ask work, you’ll be at a disadvantage over bloggers who understand that. More about how you can appease Google in future points.
- Pick a niche and own it. This will definitely help you on search engines. Why? Because people visit Google looking for specific things. Google is like a billion niches. If you try to appear on all billion niches, you’ll probably appear on none of them. But, owning a niche, like “funny Silicon Valley stories” is a lot easier than owning a more generic “funny stories” search. Pick your niche carefully, though. You’ll want to do something you’re passionate and authoritative on.
- Get specific with your title tag. Mike makes a common mistake here by calling his blog “Mike Cassidy’s Loose Ends.” No one searches for “Loose Ends.” And only his mom and relatives will search for “Mike Cassidy.” Well, that’s not really true, a lot of my audience searches for “Scoble” but that’s cause I made my URL so long and hard to spell that it’s easier to go to Google and search for Scoble. I’d put the niche you’re trying to own into the title tag. So, I’d call it “Mike Cassidy’s Funny Silicon Valley Stories.” Or something like that.
- Demonstrate authority. Let’s say you’re a kid in India searching Google for information on Silicon Valley for a school paper. Are you likely to click on a link that says “Mike Cassidy’s Loose Ends” or are you more likely to click on a link that says “Funny Silicon Valley Stories from Mercury News Journalist?” Also, why isn’t the Mercury News’ logo on his blog anywhere? If I worked at the Mercury News I’d make sure people knew that, and I’d give lots of stories of “behind the scenes at the Merc.”
- Use more media. I look at TechCrunch and how it beat other blogs, including mine. One thing Mike Arrington did? He used a graphic on every post. That made his posts stand out in my aggregator. Today, how do you stand out? How about an occassional video? Or a podcast? Or, a Flickr feed? Look at my link blog. What makes posts catch your eye? Remember, every post there caught my eye.
- Link to other bloggers you like (or hate). Disclaimer: I’m an egotistical A-hole. OK, now that we got that out of the way, here’s why linking works. The tool I use to blog, WordPress.com, shows me when I sign in who has linked to me. I click on those links, and I get to read what other bloggers have said about me. I’m very likely to subscribe to those blogs, or link back and say “you’re a jerkface too.” Or, at minimum, leave a comment “nice post.” Either way, that’s one more reader you have today than you had yesterday.
Use bullets and numbers.Copy Guy Kawasaki.
- Hold a contest. Seagate is helping me hold a couple over the next few weeks. More details soon.
- Beg for help from other bloggers. Hey!
- Write better headlines. Mike’s are weak. “Sometimes you have to hold your nose” might sound like a fun headline, and for a newspaper column it probably was. But, imagine that your readers find your post on Technorati, are they going to be very likely to click on a headline like that? No. I’d say just be straightforward. “Cookie smell pisses off bus riders in San Francisco.” I’m sure you can make that a little better, but at least you’ll get more Google hits and readers know exactly what to expect after they click on the headline.
- Cause some heck. Become part of the conversation. A writer has a few tools in his toolbag to get people to engage. One of the biggest is conflict. Why do we read Valleywag? To see who Nick Denton is picking on (hint, it’s Mike Arrington).
- Maryam and I put 15 other ways up over on the Blog Business Summit’s site.
- Get Shelley Powers to link to you. She has more traffic than a dog has fleas.
Anyway, do you have any advice for Mike?
UPDATE: Mike posts: “That Robert Scoble is a Rascal.”