In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss what they’ve learned from research and personal experience about getting traffic to our blogs, and ask: how can we be God-honouring in the process?
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- What techniques do others suggest for getting traffic to our blogs?
- Our own personal experiences
- How do we honour God as we do it?
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, How to Make Our Blogs Discoverable. I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books, blogs, and courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator and I have four adult kids and I’m a romance writer under the pen name Alison Joy. So you can find all my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi everyone, I’m Donita Bundy. For the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my teaching and preaching and more recently, my writing and my blogging. You can find out all about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Our topic today, it’s the next in our author platform series, How to Make Our Blogs Discoverable. Because it’s one thing to have a blog and it’s another thing to have people reading it – as many of us have discovered! We often end up feeling like one hand clapping in the wilderness. So, we’re going to pull some ideas together for you today for how to address that situation, some research into what kinds of techniques people are suggesting for how to get traffic to our blogs, some of our experiences in what has worked and what hasn’t, and how to be God-honouring in the techniques that we use to do this thing.
Alison, you’ve been doing some research for us. What have you found? What types of suggestions are people giving out there?
Alison Joy: Okay. First of all, as we know from previous podcasts, I am very newbie at blogging so this is all directed just for me so take on aboard what you will. I guess the aim is to make it as easy as possible for people to read and so they’re interested in finding it. So, the first thing you’ve got to do is write good content – which seems pretty obvious, but then how do you write good content? It’s just a matter of trial and error. I guess you’d have to look at other people blogs especially popular ones to see what they’re writing about and see their style and maybe figure out or work something out that you can apply to your own blogging.
So, it has to be good content and it has to be easy to read. It has to be visual so maybe put some photos or charts or graphs or something in it that will help. It has to have a catchy headline. So that’s one important thing that if the headline comes up in RSS feeds or in searches, that people can actually go, “Ah, that looks interesting,” and then use that.
So, the content, whatever content you put in, has to be something that’s not going to date so it has to be what we call “evergreen” content. So people could come back to it time and time again. You have to set up somewhere automatically sharing your blogs with the different platforms, I’m assuming that means. So you can do it manually.
Belinda Pollard: You use plugins and things that can help you do that. Little pieces of software you can add to a website to help automate that process.
Alison Joy: Yes, so, if you’re doing it manually you’ll go nuts probably, I guess… and you have to figure out how to optimise it so if people are looking on their phones it loads quickly, so maybe you might need another plugin for that. I don’t know.
Belinda Pollard: And also need to be mobile responsive so that when someone looks at it on a mobile phone or something, it’s not tiny little text. So that’s another aspect of that you’ve just mentioned. Yes.
Alison Joy: And I think the big thing is probably picking up your search engine optimisation and putting in your keywords and I think, Donita, I know you use a plugin on your blog that helps you with SEO.
Donita Bundy: Yoast SEO. It’s a free option as well as paid option but the free option is very helpful. So that’s Yoast SEO – search engine optimisation.
Belinda Pollard: And one of the things that I had to learn over the years, too, particularly in regard to that was that I would write these funny headlines that I thought were cute or quirky, but the fact is a search engine couldn’t make head nor tail of them. So, you’ve got to write your headlines, headings of your blogs, your names of the particular blog post, so that it means something. So that it indicates what it’s about. That’s it’s not just some cute and funny title, and that’s tricky.
Donita Bundy: At the moment, actually, on WordPress they’ve got a new thing that actually gives your title a mark out of 100 and they tell you what you need to have in your title. You need unusual words and emotional words and it needs to be long and it needs to be this. So even that changes. There is help once you get into it, once you get started.
Alison Joy: And I think it’s just being able to find the help that’s the issue. Knowing where to look for it and being able to type the right words into the search bar so the right answer comes up, that’s always what I find.
Belinda Pollard: That’s true too, isn’t it? Because until you’re familiar with the situation you don’t know what the words are that you want to search for. But probably if you search for something like, “How to write a blog post title,” you would get something there. You would get some tips and ideas for what sort of words to use.
Alison Joy: I think the other thing is you can always ask people to share your blog or retweet it or whatever. You can always comment on other people’s blogs so hopefully it’s a two-way street, or join some online communities so you can be seen in other areas. To be seen to be heard and you need to have links in your blogs, as well, to other blog posts and outside and inside.
Belinda Pollard: And also links to your own blog. One of the things that I learnt is once you have a blog post that’s useful and that’s starting to get shared, it will be scraped by certain content scraping – scammers basically. They just take your content and put it in their blog. But if you have links in that blog post back to other articles on your own blog, then if someone reads that scammed version of your post, they could end up back at your blog anyway. They call them deep links.
So, let’s say I write a blog post on, How to Use Beta Readers, or some particular aspect of beta readers. Beta readers are the people who give us feedback on our manuscripts. So, I will refer back to various other posts that I have made in the past about similar topics and those are deep links into my own website which strengthen it, as well.
Alison Joy: So those things seem to be the main points that have come up in my research.
Belinda Pollard: Those are really good ones and that’s like a whole list of things that we need to just stop the recording and write them all down! That’s a really quality set of things you’ve put together there. Thank you.
I started blogging in 2010 and it was really the “stumble around in the dark” version of how to start blogging. And I’ve learnt just by trial and error over the years. I’m still learning and I’ll be learning until the day I stop blogging, I think, and still casting around for ways to make the blogs useful. Help people to find them. All of those issues.
The first social network I joined was Twitter and that was the social network that initially gave me some traction for my blog. When I would post a blog post, I would share it then to Twitter and initially I just did that laboriously, manually, and only once for each new blog post. Gradually you’d get little, tiny upticks in the readership. The meter would move slightly on the fact that people were actually visiting the blog. But then I got a plugin. Revive Old Posts automates the process of ensuring that my old posts get tweeted, and I have that set up on all of my blogs, that plugin.
I don’t bombard Twitter with those things. It might be twice in a 24-hour period that a tweet goes out with one of my blog posts on to one of my Twitter profiles – because I’ve got one for me and one for Gracewriters. So, that’s been quite useful.
Then over time I met other writers on Twitter. We connected. We had conversations. I went to their blogs. I commented on their blogs. They came back to my blog and commented on my blog. We shared each other’s blogs on to Twitter and shared them with other people because they were saying interesting things. And so, it was gradual growth in this way, and it was also people at about the same level.
So, I wasn’t stalking the superstars on Twitter with massive followings and the blogs that had half a million people visiting a month. I was getting to know people in a similar situation to me and we gradually helped to build each other up and that’s a really good way to do it.
I also guest posted on some other people’s blogs. Usually by invitation and these were some of these people I got to know. But sometimes you can approach someone and say, “May I guest post on your blog?” Guest posting is really useful because at the end of your guest post there will be a little summary of who you are and where you blog which allows people to follow that backlink to your own blog.
So, it’s good to be looking around for blogs that are relevant to what you are doing and finding out if they do accept guest posts. Don’t just bombard people and assumed they’ll be thrilled with your guest post. For instance, I don’t really accept guest posts on my Small Blue Dog blog.
But also, there’s various other social media. On Instagram, you can’t share live links, live clickable links, in your posts but you can have a link to your blog in your profile and you can make that link to a page that is, say, a landing page for people coming from Instagram. So, you set up a special page on your blog for people coming from Instagram to say this is where you can find this and this and the other so that it’s giving you a little bit more bang for your buck in that regard.
When you write emails in your author or writer capacity, do you have an email signature? And if you haven’t, set one up and include links to your blog in that email signature.
I got some more traction, as well, by submitting to a thing called a blog carnival which was someone who had set up a thing where once a month they collect a bunch of blogs on a particular topic and then they send it out to a mailing list. And so, I submitted to that and it was competitive, so I got chosen as the featured blog post for one month and that was the first time that I really saw a spike in my traffic on my site. And that spike, even though it was a spike, and it went back down again, the upward momentum continued.
I have offered to present webinars as part of online conferences. Again, there’s your bio – link back to your blog. I have applied to speak at conferences and Writers Centres. I’ve been invited to have my blog articles repurposed in magazines in the US and I’ve said yes, because they were quality articles even though they didn’t pay me anything – it’s more visibility for your blog.
It’s important to have social sharing buttons readily available on all your blog posts. So, by this I mean, not the ones that link to your personal social network profiles, but the ones that people can click, and it allows them to share automatically to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn. So there’s different ones for that.
I also set up my Twitter handle so that it automatically is attached to the blog post because that then means that when it gets shared on Twitter, I know it’s been shared because the title of the blog post that’s automatically shared includes my name on Twitter. So, it comes up in my mentions and then I can acknowledge that share, thank them for it and possibly follow them back if they’re someone who I want to be connected with on Twitter.
So, it’s important to interact and react and answer people when they bother to share your stuff and see how you can pay it back or pay it forward.
I also try and make my blog posts findable and searchable from my homepage so that it’s easy for people to find information on different things.
I try to group my articles by topic. When I started to get a lot of them, I started grouping them by topic and setting up menus. I’m constantly rethinking my menu structure to try and make it easier for people to find things.
And mostly I needed a lot of patience because it probably took about two years for anything much to happen. If you’ve been hanging in there for two years and nothing’s happening, it’s not necessarily that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s not that you’re a failure. It’s just the way it is. It takes a while. Perseverance and determination are important, creativity and lateral thinking. I’m always investigating, always looking for new ideas, new opportunities, new options. I’m always listening and thinking, “That’s interesting. How did they do that?” and then I go and investigate.
And also trying to keep updating my About page of my different websites. Don’t neglect it. Don’t make it just, “Hi, I’m Bill Smith and nice to meet you.” Fill it out. Make it warm and personal and supply some deep links to different posts in your blog because often the second page that people end up on when they go to a new website is the About page because they want to know who the heck you are. So, use that. Make something of it.
So, there’s a bunch of ideas. Take them and see what you can do with them.
Alison Joy: Oh, my goodness! There’s a lot there to go through. A lot to think about.
Donita Bundy: Yes, absolutely. It’s good though. I think having such a broad spectrum doesn’t mean we have to do everything.
Belinda Pollard: No, and not all at once.
Donita Bundy: There will be things that interest us and we take bits and try them. I think that’s the secret, isn’t it? Don’t feel like, “Right! My to-do list now is full and I just need to attack it.” Part of what you shared interests me, or what’s something I think I can manage? And then take it on board.
Belinda Pollard: And even maybe just try one or two things every month. Make a note to yourself. Let’s try another thing this month. Let’s add another little aspect and another possibility because we’ve all got whole lives going on and responsibilities so we’d love to sit down and work on our blog for the next three months but we can’t. So, yes.
Donita, how can we be God-honouring in the sorts of techniques that we use? What are the possible pitfalls, underlying ethics. How should we be evaluating all the different techniques and suggestions and possibilities and ideas?
Donita Bundy: Thanks, Belinda. Rather than being specific on how we draw people to our blog, I’m stepping back a little bit in order to take a wider perspective. We are all different and we are going to do different things that interest us and work with different ways that suit us as individuals and our brand. But how do we make those decisions and that’s what I wanted to look at today.
As Christians, we almost kind of live in two realms. In the human sense we navigate the writing life alone. Yes, we have communities we belong to. We may have family and friends who support us but when it comes down to decision-making and the consequences of those choices, the buck stops with us.
But we also belong to the heavenly and we are blessed with the counsel of God. So, in all things we pray. My experience has been the more time I commit to spending with God before and during my writing, the less time I wrestle with the weight of what and how to write. And obviously, the reverse of that is also true.
When it comes to regularity, like how often, I was told as I said last time, that I needed to blog two to three times a week for people to find me and to be successful. I think it’s really important that we consider what is sustainable to us. None of us live in a vacuum like you’ve just said, Belinda. Not many of us can take ourselves away from the world to write and only write. There are seasons that we go through where we look down and work hard but that is not sustainable and like I said it is a season.
We all have responsibilities and commitments and I believe for us as Christians our goal is to seek balance in all things. Time with God, time with others and time out for ourselves. And within the midst of this balance, we find the space and the time and inspiration for what to write, which leads to content. Alison said it’s really important for us to write quality content so people can find us. But as we mentioned last time that content has to fit within the bigger picture of our brand and who we are in our business.
I think it’s imperative that we acknowledge that we are not going to please all people all the time. And as Gracewriters we should actually expect to upset and possibly anger people because how can we not? We are God’s people, sharing God’s word into a world that needs it but doesn’t necessarily want to hear it.
But, alternatively, if we don’t want to come under attack, I think we have to address the fact we’re in the wrong business and the wrong relationship. It’s a consequence of who we are and who we represent. So rather than trying to prioritise pleasing people, I personally think it’s important to follow Paul’s advice to work to please our Father first, as He sees it fit, to feed the audience He has given us.
A helpful scripture, I believe, is Matthew, chapter 6:31-33:
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”
Or can I say, “What shall we write?”
Belinda Pollard: What shall we blog?
Donita Bundy: What shall we blog?!
Well, the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
God has called us to write, and He will not leave us without his help and without His Word. Seek first His kingdom and these things will be given to us. Purpose, perspective and priority. Now, there’s a three-topic sermon right there. But anyway, moving on!
In all things, it’s God whom we represent. It’s God whom we want to please and with our work and our words it is God whom we honour. We are part of His body and each of us have a role to play and our unique voice to follow. It is always helpful to seek out what other people are doing and try things but ultimately it will be our voice, our brand and our way of representing our God.
I’m currently reading Esther and I was really struck this morning on this topic. I’m reading chapter 5 and I just wanted to share this with you:
On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold sceptre that was in his hand. So, Esther approached and touched the tip of the sceptre.
If you know the book of Esther, you know that she approached the king in fear and trembling. It was his right to grant life or death. He granted her life. Verse 3:
The king asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.”
Esther was a nobody. Her people came to Babylon dragged as exiles. They were slaves. Yet, like her we have been elevated and not only invited to the banquet but to the throne room of the supreme ruler and as we also approach our King, with fear and trembling, He is pleased to see us. He welcomes us and He says, John 14:12-14:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
As Gracewriters we approach the throne and ask that we may glorify the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit with the words he has given us for the audience He has prepared for us. Let us consider this and how we choose to do this – as we conduct ourselves and our business let this reflect this incredible honour and joy. We are welcomed into the Kingdom, we are welcomed before the throne and we are given the promise: you have whatever you want, just ask.
So, as we approach all of these topics and these issues as writers, I think this is the overarching promise that we have and that we should be making the most of. Yes, I just wanted to share that today. I just thought that was really on topic and again a great blessing for us to celebrate.
Belinda Pollard: Wow! Yes. Thank you, Donita. There’s so much to think about in that. I’m just going to let that sit for a while and think it through. Thank you very much. We’re nearly out of time. Did either of you have anything quick to add?
Alison Joy: It’s just you’ve got to start somewhere and, as we said before, try one or two things and understand it’s going to take a long time to get any traction and you just have to accept that that’s how it is. And even if we are the sound of one hand clapping in the wilderness for a long time, you’ve just got to get in there. At least it’ll give you time to find your voice and get established before you’re found too much.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you, both. That’s wonderful. How about I just pray for the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for everything. We thank you that you are God. That you are all powerful, almighty, all loving. We thank you that, weak and feeble as we are, you involve us in your Kingdom. You have a job for us and that You will always, always, be leading and guiding and encouraging us, strengthening us, and resourcing us and equipping us for that task. We forget and we forget and we forget, but every time we turn back to You we are reminded, yes, this is Your job. Do as you will, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen
Donita Bundy: Amen
Belinda Pollard: Thank you both so much. We’ve got to go now, and I want to just sit here. But thank you, Alison Joy and Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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