Thomas Smallwood is a successful businessman and an advocate of the benefits of the outdoors. In 2016 he quit the rat race to live a more adventurous and satisfying life, in both his personal and professional capacity. The Armchair Mountaineer is his website and blog.
A blog or website is not like a shop on the high street. It can be the shiniest, newest, brightest one but absolutely nobody is going to walk past without you making the effort to divert them in your direction.
With this in mind here are my top 10 tips on building and keeping an audience.
1. Decide What Your Story Is
When I decided to launch The Armchair Mountaineer… no wait! When I started The Armchair Mountaineer... no, that’s not right either. When my blog evolved into The Armchair Mountaineer I had a vague idea that it would help me (and I hoped others) become more connected with the outdoors and the kind of activities that I realize truly enrich my existence. I was re-designing my life but I didn’t think about what this meant, or even articulated this, at the beginning.
Consequently I didn’t plan a route for the website or the blog, so it took a long time for it to become my voice. Now, whilst there is nothing wrong with this in principle – for me it has been a voyage of discovery – if you want to build and keep an audience you need a voice or a message. And it probably shouldn’t be one that changes every two weeks otherwise the whole process is likely to be slower than it might otherwise be.
It took a while for my blog to become one that follows me on a journey in my new entrepreneurial and adventurous life outside the regular 9-to-5.
I should have identified this “story” or “purpose” much earlier. Whilst you don’t have to publish this, it should at the very least influence what you write about and share.
What to do:
- Decide what your story or purpose is. Why are you writing this blog?
- Enshrine this story in a mission statement for your blog or web site, cast it in metal and rivet it to your laptop! No matter how silly this might sound, when you start out it is a great exercise and an important ongoing reference.
- Decide who you think your audience is and write down what sort of things they would like to hear. Ideally it should match what you want to write about?
2. Be Honest
In a world where the extreme elements of the adventure lifestyle are often used to sell us consumer products it is possible to be gripped by a degree of jealousy, hell - I’m going to say it - even a feeling of inadequacy, when faced with Instagram accounts portraying any number of spectacular death-defying adventures in remote corners of our planet.
It is therefore also tempting to stray from your own true story and pepper your online presence with tales that are somewhat embellished.
What to do:
- Don’t pretend you have climbed the north face of the Eiger if you haven’t. You are not going to fool anyone in the end.
- Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes so be true to your story. Authenticity means you will find your audience and it will be one for which your story resonates and is relevant.
3. Have A Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Strategy
SEO is what ensures your web site or blog is higher up the search engine rankings. Put simply, it means people can find you when searching for relevant keywords and phrases in Google (other search engines are available, apparently). SEO is a good way to bring you the specific audience you want through these keywords.
What to do:
- Competitor Keyword Research. Assess what are the main keywords that bring your competitors traffic?
- Recommended Landing Pages. Which keywords should you focus on by creating engaging and informative content.
- Perform a Technical Audit. Google does care about the quality of your site; whether there is duplicate content, whether you have proper titles, how many broken URLs there are and other errors that you may not pick up.
- Backlinking (backlinks are websites that link back to you and they affect the authority your website has, at least in the almighty eyes of Google, so it is worth researching who links to your competitors and trying to find a way to gain similar backlinks, by reaching out to those sites when you have relevant an informative content.)
- Be patient. SEO will not bring overnight success.
Depending on who you are, all of this can be daunting, downright terrifying or at the very least, time consuming. So, it might pay to outsource this kind of work, which can be done relatively cheaply and quickly by an expert. It is a good investment as, in the long run, it will make a big difference.
However if you are averse to shelling out, and you have the time, it is doable with these tools:
- Semrush and KeywordTool.io are by far the best tools for keyword research.
- ScreamingFrog is hands down the best tool to use for a technical audit.
- Ahrefs or Majestic are the best tools for analysing backlinks.
It is possible to use most of them on a one off basis. For example one month with Semrush and then one month of Ahrefs would suffice to get all the information needed for one site.
Now you are probably even more daunted, so here are 24 tips on finding the right SEO expert and avoiding the scammers.
4. Research What Others Do Well
The internet is a busy place. The likelihood is you are not the only one doing what you are doing so it makes absolute sense to assess what others have done (see SEO) and to mimic what they have done well. This doesn’t mean you have to copy but you can always learn and tailor something to your own story.
For example, if you’ve ever used the internet, you will have noticed the profusion of "Top 10", "Ultimate Guide” or “Do This One Thing…” type articles (you are after all reading one now) and there is a reason for this. It seems to work in getting people’s attention. If it works in getting you higher up search engine results and it resonates with people’s desires then it’s worth doing. These kind of articles of course can also be irritating - not every article I read is actually going to change my life, so steer clear of too much hyperbole which smacks of clickbait and leaves the reader feeling cheated and disappointed.
If you put your own spin on this style of article and believe it will be informative then do it. Furthermore, if you are going to write yet another “Ultimate Guide to Walking Poles”, then it is also worth trying to do it better, longer, with more detail and providing more value to the reader than your competitors.
Websites like Semrush allow you to see what the best performing pages are (in terms of traffic) on your competitors’ sites. Again this allows you to find good subject matter to put your own spin on.
5. Try To Get Noticed
Why wait 6 to 9 months for your SEO strategy to kick in when you can also be pro-active in bringing your story to the attention of the world?
Journalists are looking for help and perhaps some element of your own story can be of use to them. It is well documented online how to go about this but in short you can try signing up to HARO (Help a Reporter Out) or following Twitter hashtags like #journorequest, #PRrequest or #BloggerRequest. Although it can be a little time consuming trying to find that which is relevant to you, I have had some success with HARO because, to a certain extent, you can configure what sort of requests you receive, by selecting the subjects that might best cover your blog (e.g. Travel).
Check out Janet Murray’s blog for some super lessons in how to go about getting your PR “out there”.
6. Cultivate A Network
As in any form of business - and this is a business even if you are not making any money yet - creating a network serves two purposes. Firstly it is useful for contacts, for getting your name out there and for helping you to find (and give) help.
Secondly it gives you an extraordinary opportunity to learn from others who are doing something similar to you, others who perhaps are at a different stage in the same process.
Social Media, particularly Twitter is excellent for this, as is LinkedIn. LinkedIn occasionally gets a bad rap from some quarters but I have always found it to be an excellent way of reaching out to people. Provided you display a genuine interest in them they are likely to respond.
For example: A great way to build your brand and get backlinks is through guest posting, and LinkedIn is a great way of contacting people to ask if they might be interested. But people can be a little reticent to connect if they don’t know you so, don’t just send a blank connection request. Personalise it!
What to do:
- Send a polite connection request mentioning something about the person with whom you wish to connect. Perhaps reference a blog post they have written or something they are known for. Polite flattery is great – everybody loves it.
- Ask them if they would be interested in guest posting on your blog.
- Briefly explain the benefits for them of doing so. Don’t wait for a second email or message to explain this part because you may never get that far.
7. Reach Out to People
If you have some news (not every time you publish a blog post) reach out to a potential audience. If you are stuck for ideas on how to find an audience consider the following:
- Make a list of contacts for Clubs / Societies / Organisations that are relevant (for example: emails for mountaineering clubs are simple to get hold of online)
- Make a list of Facebook pages / groups that are relevant.
- Make a list of contacts for Publications / Blogs / Sites that are relevant.
- Make a list of contacts for Journalists in the sector (LinkedIn and Twitter are good for this).
When you contact each group you should tailor your message somewhat, explaining why you are doing so and how it is relevant or may benefit them.
All this stuff is pretty easy to do, it is only time consuming and requires some maintenance. A lot of the processes in building a network and reaching out can be partially automated. Tools like LinkedHelper and Skrapp.io can work for you but go easy on them because LinkedIn may block your account if you overuse automated software.
8. Force Yourself To Be Creative
I know this sounds like a contradiction but it is important to sit down and write something on a regular basis, even when you don’t feel like it. Writing is like a muscle that needs to be regularly used to maintain the required level of fitness.
I keep a daily journal which ensures the first thing I do in the morning is write and use my creativity. This does not result in content for my web site every day but you will be surprised by how many new ideas actually evolve from a passing thought.
For example this blog post came from me doing a simple journaling exercise in which I record my mood, whilst this article came from a note on my to do list reminding me to do some research before a holiday to Mallorca.
9. Use Social Media
I am adding a slight caveat to this tip because when compared to other elements in the quest to find and maintain an audience my experience of social media is more limited, so the following tips are a few I have picked up in a still very fluid experience.
What to do:
- Be honest. Don’t post a picture of Kílian Jornet running up Everest and claim it’s you. Unless of course you are Kílian.
- Post regularly, especially on Facebook, so your audience gets used to seeing a post at a certain time. It is worth experimenting with this to find the best time to post for your audience but there are also plenty of articles online on this subject.
- Do not just post links to your own articles. Share content that you and your audience will find interesting. Mea Culpa! I am still absolutely terrible at this, but working to improve it.
- Talk to people, answer people, thank people who engage. What percentage of social media threads that you look at do you comment on? It’s not high, so consider that if one person has commented, replied or likes something you have posted they have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Engaging with these beautiful folks will go a huge way to maintaining a loyal audience.
- Ask people to visit your social media. If you get a positive response from someone, perhaps via email, why not follow up and ask them in a subtle way to like your Facebook page. It works!
- Don’t feel like you have to cover all networks. Perhaps choose your favourite social network and do it properly. The last thing people want to see is content reposted automatically across all your social media.
10. Use Your Time Wisely and Enjoy It!
With so much to do in order to build and keep an audience it may sometimes be difficult to find time to be outside or prioritise the things you are best at.
I find outsourcing repetitive tasks a great benefit (otherwise I wouldn’t have written a book about it) but I understand this is a tricky one, because inevitably it has a cost, and this can be a major turn-off for anyone embarking on a career that is generating limited financial returns. However, time is money and getting help is pretty cheap these days so I will share this tip.
As any Adventurer, entrepreneur or indeed most people in most jobs will tell you, most of their time is devoted to the mundane; the admin, the planning, the maintaining. If you don’t believe me (I am after all not really an Adventurer) here is Al Humphreys describing a typical week.
From time to time I do my own simple test, listing all the tasks I do on a regular basis, estimating the time each takes and then thinking which of these only I am able to do and which could be easily outlined in a simple process, and delegated.
For example here are just a few tasks I have outsourced to increase my productivity:
- Some Social Media posting
- Some Content Writing
- Compiling email / contacts lists
- Reaching out to Journalists
The Pareto Principle states that; "80% of outcomes come from 20% of inputs”. This is also true in time management, whether professional or personal in scope.
If you can find a way to focus more time on the 20% rather than the 80% you are likely to improve your results, build that following and improve your chances of making more from your site or blog and quite possibly spend more of your valuable time in the great outdoors!
Thomas's Top 10 Tips for Find and Keep an Audience for your Blog
- Decide What Your Story Is
- Be Honest
- Have A Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Strategy
- Research What Others Do Well
- Try To Get Noticed
- Cultivate A Network
- Reach Out to People
- Force Yourself To Be Creative
- Use Social Media
- Use Your Time Wisely and Enjoy It!