This is part 2 of 3 in my series of posts on how to build a profitable blog in competitive niches.
If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, then go ahead and read it first here before continuing.
Make sure to read and understand the disclaimer at the top of Part 1. The same principles apply for our traffic strategy.
This week we’re going to break down our traffic strategy for the initial stages of our new blog’s life.
Mainly we’re going to be covering: How do you build targeted traffic quickly to a brand new blog?
As mentioned in the first post, because we’re targeting competitive niches here, we’re going to approach it kind of differently.
Long-term, our goal is to dominate with SEO.
We want to build the site to a point where we have a strong link profile, and driving significant search traffic.
The good thing is that our content strategy is already helping us with this long-term goal. If you remember in Part 1, we’re building extremely high quality content – in-depth 2000 word articles hitting a wide range of keywords/topics in our niche.
Doing this consistently starting from day 1 allows us to build a strong base of solid content which, later with link building, will build up a lot of organic traffic to our site.
But this guide isn’t about our long-term strategy with SEO.
SEO is our main long-term traffic channel, but it’s NOT going to be the one we focus on in the beginning.
This guide is more about getting traffic quickly to a new blog BEFORE SEO kicks in.
Getting steady search traffic to a new site will take longer in competitive niches. Usually, it will take upwards of a year before we can fully see the results of SEO.
And we don’t want to just sit around and wait for that.
We want traffic right away. We want to get the word out about our site. We want to start building our audience right away. And we want to monetize somewhat quickly and get some income coming in.
Therefore, in the beginning, we’re not going to pay any attention to search traffic.
Instead of trying to rank for keywords, or worrying about whether Google is indexing our content or not, we’re going to rely on other traffic generation strategies where we can see more immediate results.
The nice thing is that everything we’re going to be doing is going to help us with our long-term goal with SEO.
The two strategies we’ll be using
In the beginning, we only need to focus our time and effort on just 2 strategies: Influencer networking and guest posting.
These two go hand in hand. They shouldn’t be seen as separate strategies.
Influencer networking is essential in landing guest post opportunities, and guest posting helps you build those relationships even further – and we’re going to leverage them to amplify our outreach efforts.
In the beginning, nobody knows you. Nobody knows you exist. You don’t have a readership. You don’t have an audience.
Influencers in your industry have the audience that you want to build. They have the traffic and the readers that you want to target. They’re who you need to get in front of.
And guest posting is a great, reliable (and repeatable) method of driving targeted traffic to a new blog that nobody knows about yet.
But guest posting isn’t the only thing we’re looking for with our networking efforts
Guest posting through influencer networking is what we’re going to learn today, but there are also numerous other indirect/non-immediate benefits and opportunities that come with doing good outreach.
Building relationships with influencers can lead to opportunities that come up over time that may not be apparent to you right away. I’m talking about opportunities that would never have been open to you if it wasn’t for your networking.
For example, relationships built the right way can lead them to:
- link to you
- mention you in conversations with their readers or in the comments sections of their articles
- share your content on social media
- recommend/talk about you to other influencers
- invite you to their mastermind groups
- invite you to speak at conferences
- invite you to offline retreats
- invite you to partner on new projects
- introduce you to other influencers
I’ve experienced all these things after starting RankXL
And each time, it wasn’t by a random influencer I’ve never talked to before. It was somebody I had already built up a relationship with.
When I first launched the RankXL blog, nobody knew who I was. 6 months later, when I released my first paid product, I had about a dozen big influencers help promote it for me.
And that was with minimal networking. I didn’t take RankXL very seriously for the first few months, and I certainly could have done a better job at building relationships. But even so, within the first year, I had a lot of influencers share and link to my content, invite me to guest post on their blogs, and promote my products.
I wasn’t just a nobody suddenly reaching out to them out of the blue and asking them to promote my new content. I reached out to them first to make a connection.
We became internet friends 🙂
They knew who I was already, I had built up a solid reputation with them, and that made them happy to get behind the products and blog posts I released.
Of course, I was producing high quality content on my website, which helped build that credibility, but as you learned in Part 1, you will be too!
Further reading: A full summary of my first year running RankXL.
Networking worked for Greatist
Here’s another great example from a more well known blog.
When Derek Flanzraich first launched Greatist.com he focused on one thing.
He emailed the top 100 influencers in his industry (health), and asked them for advice.
But he wasn’t just asking for advice, he was networking. He was introducing himself and getting the word out about his new blog, all the while building relationships that would later help with outreach efforts.
When it came time to promoting new blog posts, they were happy to share it with their audience. They linked to Greatist in their articles, and some even became investors in their company.
How to break the ice
What you don’t want to do is just cold email a bunch of influencers asking them if you can post a guest post on their blog.
You want them to know who you are when you email them.
Here are a few effective ways to start that first communication and break the ice.
1. Email and say hello
The most basic way is to send them an email and say hello. Just introduce yourself and your new blog, and ask for advice on how to get started.
If you’ve been following their blog, let them know.
If you like their work, tell them what you like about it and how it helped you.
Add in some light, but tasteful praise.
Remember that they receive a ton of automated emails every day. So make an effort to stand out and not seem like a robot.
Make it as personal as possible – leave a good first impression.
Further reading: Here’s how to cold email like a boss
2. Comment on their blog
Some bigger influencers may not respond to your emails. They may even have an assistant that responds to these “hello” types of emails for them. That’s not what you want.
Fortunately, there are other ways you can make a connection with them, and one of them is commenting.
Commenting on an influencer’s blog is a great way to build up that first connection. It’s a great way to get busy bloggers to notice you before you send them an email.
For example, when I first started RankXL, I spent quite a bit of time commenting on other blogs in my space. Over time, this has led to backlinks, social shares, and even partnerships.
Some even led to a nice chunk of traffic.
It all started with me commenting on their blog posts.
How? I would leave insightful comments on their most recent blog posts, which led them to check out my blog and find out who I am. Or, it would help put me on their radar and they wouldn’t see me as a stranger when I did finally reach out to them via email.
TIP: Leave comments on their most recent blog posts. They’re more likely to be active replying on freshly published content.
3. Link to them and let them know
This is one of the most effective ways of making that first connection with influencers, since you’re actually doing them a favor.
Link out to influencers within your blog post and, after it’s published, email every single one of them to let them know you linked out to them.
I love receiving emails that let me know I’ve been linked to. And I always take the time to check out the article to see where I was mentioned. Usually, I’ll take time to check out some of their other pages as well.
If the post is solid, I’ll go ahead and share it. But even if I don’t, I’ll often remember to link to it if I’m ever writing about a similar topic and need a good reference.
Here’s the email format that’s been working well for me:
This template is assuming that it’s the first time you’re reaching out to them.
Keep it short, and only include 5 points.
1. Tell them about the post.
2. Let them know you mentioned them.
3. Let them know how they helped you.
4. Hint at a share.
5. BONUS: Something personal that shows you actually know them.
I just published a giant article on X here: URL
Gave you a shoutout 🙂
Your articles on X really helped me to gain perspective.
Obviously, if you shared this article, it would mean the world to me. But, really, I’m just a new blogger in your industry, and just wanted to say HELLO 🙂
P.S. Your recent Reddit AMA was amazing. I learned a ton! Thanks for doing that, and keep up the great work!
It’s short, to the point, and very friendly.
Notice the way the email is structured. Although I mention they should share it, I let them know that it isn’t why I reached out to them. The primary reason was to say hello.
Keeping it light and not being pushy/slimy about it leaves a good impression and allows for further communication down the road.
4. Do a roundup post
Unless you’re using a unique angle that will provide some real value to your readers, expert roundups are not something I recommend in the digital marketing niche. It’s been way overdone, and now it just seems like the same basic questions are asked over and over again.
But they’re not so common in other niches, and it can get some really great results. Like this one from Shae Baxter, who targeted “party tips for introverts.”
The content standard goal of your roundup post should be to provide expert tips on a topic with the help from… REAL EXPERTS!
If done correctly, it can really be a unique, high-quality piece of content.
- Would you rather read about how to cook an egg from a random writer, or would you rather read 20 REAL LIFE professional chefs sharing their personal favorite ways to cook an egg?
- Would you rather read about what a police officer career is like from a random writer, or would you rather read 20 active duty police officers give you their first-hand advice.
- Would you rather read about 20 tips on how to be a leader from a random writer, or would you rather read 20 CEO’s give their #1 tip on running a large team?
You get the point.
If done right, link roundups can produce amazing, unique content that’s never been seen before in your industry.
And best of all, most influencers who participate are going to be happy to share the post after it’s published!
How to put influencer outreach into action (step-by-step)
The above methods were all ways you can break the ice.
But you’re probably looking for a more systemized method you can follow step by step.
So here it is.
Step 1: Put together a list of 100 influencers in your industry
No need for fancy outreach software here. A simple spreadsheet in Excel or Numbers will be just fine.
Name and URL of the site in one column.
Name of the influencer in the second column.
Email in the third column.
Replied YES/NO in the fourth column.
I normally hate using spreadsheets for outreach, but it’s pretty essential for this stage. It helps keep everything organized, and saves you time.
Don’t just go after the giants in your industry. By influencer I mean all levels of influence. If they have an established site, consider them an influencer.
Step 2: Reach out and say hello
The next part is to reach out to each one of them.
Further reading: Step by Step Process to Find Anyone’s Email Address
DO NOT use outreach software to send a mass email to all of them. Make each one as personal as you can.
If you haven’t been doing so already, read their blog and learn about them.
Here’s an example email:
Hope you’re doing well.
My name’s Chris and I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. Your recent article on productivity hacks was especially helpful for me, and couldn’t have come at a better time.
In fact, it’s really helped me focus the last few weeks getting ready for the launch of (URL). I’m a new blogger in your industry, and just wanted to say HELLO 🙂
As you have been in my shoes some time ago, I was hoping I could ask if you have any advice on getting started as a new blog in (industry). I know it’s tough and very competitive, but I have some big plans for putting out excellent content, like yours!
Any words of wisdom, what to avoid, etc… anything that could help would mean the world to me.
Thanks, Tim. I really appreciate your time. And I know you must be super busy so if I don’t hear from you, no worries!
P.S. I’m really digging the custom graphics on your site!
Note I don’t finish off the email with things like “I look forward to your favourable reply” or “Awaiting your response.” Things like that leave a bad taste.
You shouldn’t look forward to anything.
Instead, let them know you understand how busy they are, and you’re fine if they can’t find time to reply to you.
Why this works
1. Bloggers love to help other bloggers in their industry. They’ve been through the beginning stages where it’s tough to build traction. They’ve had feelings of doubt and considered giving up. And they’re happy to help eager people who want to climb the same mountain. As a result, you’ll see quite a high response rate (usually around 70-80%).
2. Despite it being you asking for advice, receiving these kinds of emails are refreshing. You’re a new blogger, but you’re not asking them to share or link to your site to help you. You’ve considered them a mentor to ask advice, and especially they’re in the same niche, they can offer a lot of great advice. After email after email of requests and automated email blasts asking them to share content, this kind of email is pleasant to receive.
3. This is a great initial point of contact because, if you’re genuine and develop a good relationship with them, they’ll likely help you out in some way in the future. If your content is good, they’ll share it. Or they may remember to link to it if they ever need a good reference in their own articles.
4. It becomes A LOT easier (and more natural) for you to ask them to share or link to a post later on. You can ask for advice/opinions about specific articles you publish and mention that sharing would help you out a lot. Since they’ve given you advice about your site, they’ll be more likely to check out what you’ve been working on and give it a read.
If they DON’T reply:
You can continue with the other methods of breaking the ice.
Some influencers don’t reply to emails from readers. Not because they’re mean, but because they get thousands of them per day and just can’t find the time.
If so, try doing things like commenting on their blog, linking to them, or inviting them to participate a roundup post. They may not reply right away, but each of these actions will put you on their radar.
AND, because you’re providing them with value first, they’ll be more inclined to respond to your emails in the future.
Step 3: Ask for a guest post
The quick win we’re after with influencer networking is to land a guest post. Remember, the people who read and follow your influencers’ sites are your target readers as well. And one of the most effective ways of reaching that audience is through guest posting.
For a new blog in a competitive niche, it can be a significant (and reliable) source of building targeted traffic.
You don’t need to develop a very deep relationship with the influencer in order to get them to say yes to your pitch. And you don’t need to have a large blog or audience.
You just need enough communication with them to know who you are when you contact them with your pitch.
I only had a few blog posts published on RankXL, and I wasn’t an established blogger.
And I didn’t build deep relationships with them either. In fact, I had never reached out to them before that. The pitch was my first point of contact with them.
And they were still accepted!
So how did I land guest posts on two very big marketing blogs in such a short time?
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years:
1. Make sure you have a few blog posts on your own blog first. Big blogs are especially concerned about the quality of articles they publish. Having high quality content on your own blog is like your writing portfolio. It shows them your work and your expertise. Don’t just pitch a guest post with no samples to show them.
2. If it’s your first guest post ever, write the post first. If you don’t have any past guest posts you can point to, and are not an established blog yet, then writing the guest post first is a great way to make them say YES. Of course, your post needs to be excellent.
Writing it first turns the decision for the influencer into:
Should I take a look at it?
Should I let this stranger publish on my blog?
The first one is a much easier ask to say YES to.
For example, this is the guest post pitch email I sent to Hayden of NoHatDigital just 2 months after launching RankXL.
I wrote out the guest post first, then sent him an email. I knew the topic was perfect for his blog.
And he replied:
And I landed my first guest post! You can read it here if you like. It was back when viral sites were all the rage so it was the perfect time to write about it.
You don’t always need to write out the guest post first. Just for your first few.
Afterwards, you can use your past guest posts as your references in your pitch. Like I did here pitching Matthew Woodward just shortly after the NoHatDigital post went live.
And that was accepted as well! Here’s the link if you want to read it.
The more you’ve done in the past, the easier it will be to pitch and be accepted in the future (since they can see your work published on larger blogs).
Always try and build the relationship first, using the steps outlined in this guide. Don’t pitch it through a cold email like I did.
It’ll make guest posting a lot more effective, and you’ll see better results.
One of my favorite examples of a guest post pitch is from Alex Turnbull, found and CEO of Groove.
Here’s his guest post pitch email to Buffer.
Alex and the team at Groove are known for their success with guest posting, having used it to help grow their software business to their initial goal of $100K/month and now working towards their new goal of $10m/year.
And in his blog post outlining Groove’s guest posting strategy, the most important takeaway is:
Step 4: Don’t disappear after the guest post – you just grew your relationship with the influencer!
If you land a guest post, don’t just pat yourself on the back and walk away.
Far too many people make the mistake of disappearing once it’s published.
Show your appreciation by saying thank you, and asking if you could help out in any way.
Ask if they would like to post a guest post on your site. Link out to them in future blog posts and let them know. Invite them to participate in expert roundups. Mention them wherever you can. Share their content on social media. Repay the favor.
Getting a guest post published will take your relationship with the influencer to the next stage. They trusted you enough to let you post on their blog, and you’ve provided them with free high-quality content.
Step 5: Ask for an introduction
What’s the best way to make new connections in real life? Through the friends you already have.
It makes it a lot easier (and less awkward) to connect with someone through a mutual friend. They’re also less likely to ignore you because of it.
The same goes for online communication. Every person that’s added into your network is linked with dozens of other potential connections you can make.
Once you develop a relationship, ask for a warm introduction with another influencer that they know.
And that’s it. These two strategies alone are enough to start building your blog up the right way with the right traffic.
The game plan is quite simple: Make friends with influencers – leverage your connection into a guest post.
Can we really kick off a legitimate content business with just guest posting?
While guest posting won’t drive you millions of visitors per month, it’s a reliable, repeatable method of driving traffic regardless of the competitiveness of the industry you’re in. We’re trying to build traffic BEFORE SEO kicks in – and guest posting is one of the most reliable ways to do so.
And at scale, it can produce some massive results.
That’s 100,000 customers! NOT 100,000 visitors.
Remember our short-term goal:
And our goal is similar to Buffer’s. We’re not focusing on traffic numbers.
If you remember in the beginning of the article, I mentioned that our goal isn’t 1000 visitors per month. It’s to get our first 1000 email subscribers.
When you have a subscriber goal, instead of a traffic goal, it makes it simpler to measure growth in your early stages.
- We’re not going to fuss about Google indexing our content right away.
- We’re not going to worry about backlinks being indexed.
- We’re not going to get stressed out that we’re not ranking on Google.
All of those things can be left alone, and we can leave it for the long-term – when our SEO efforts really matter.
For now, we want to build the right relationships with influencers, and build targeted referral traffic to our site. You’ll learn what we do with those visitors in Part 3. Stay tuned 🙂
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with whoever you think it would help.
And if you have any questions or insights, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
Next week, I’ll be releasing Part 3: Monetization – the last part in this series on how to grow a profitable blog in competitive niches.
UPDATE: Part 3 is live 🙂 Check it out here.