It’s not easy establishing a website when your name counts for nothing. You can have the best content, the swankiest WordPress theme and even the biggest marketing budget. But without gatecrashing your niche’s network of influential people, it’s all going to feel like shoving crap up a hill. A constant struggle for little reward.
This meandering post is going to give you a few pointers for how to attract influential people to your site.
One Follower = One Backlink?
In many ways, I consider people to be the new backlinks. It’s very easy to buy a thousand Facebook “Likes”, just as it’s easy to blast a thousand forum profiles with xrumer. Most people are agreed that where link marketing is concerned, quality beats quantity. And that is also the case with acquiring fans or followers.
Look no further than the self-proclaimed social media experts on Twitter to discover just how irrelevant numbers can be. So you’ve got 15,000 followers, a shiny custom background and a name that rings out to your mother and close friends. It doesn’t mean shit if you’re a nobody in the eyes of the people that matter.
Every niche market has a select group of influential people that exert power over the rest of the marketplace. I would suggest that instead of spending your days preaching to the dumbfounded choir (Hello, WSOs on Warrior Forum), you go after these trend-setters and attempt to get in bed with them.
In the same way that one authoritative backlink is much more valuable than a thousand directory submissions, one influential fan holds considerably more power than a small battalion of “Who The Fuck Are You Again?” Followers.
So how can you gatecrash the party of influential trendsetters in your niche? How can you get behind those closed doors where opportunity awaits? Much has to do with building a brand, as I spoke about in my last post. But you also need to be relentless in your pursuit of the people that matter.
Understanding Who Controls Your Niche
Ask yourself a simple question: Where are my customers or readers likely to be found on the web?
When you know where your audience is hiding, you can begin to draw rings around the people you need to be reaching if you want to crack that network of influence. Let’s say your market is heavily populated by messageboards and forum communities.
Stop Whoring Yourself On Messageboards
The first step, as recommended in every shitty How To guide under the Digital Point sun, would be to register a profile and start posting in the hope that people click your lame signature link. This sucks. It’s not going to do much for your readership. Especially if all you have to your name is seven posts and an introductory thread.
A much more effective method is to hang back and look for the forum’s most popular posters. Find out who has the adoring affections of the community, and approach them with a private message asking how much they’d charge to endorse your site in their signature. Not many posters will turn down the chance to be paid for what they already do.
If you’re going to compromise the value of your time by posting on messageboards, at least make sure you have something valuable to add to the argument. Playing Devil’s Advocate is often a good ploy.
Breaking The Blogger’s Ego
What if the most influential people in your niche consist mainly of other bloggers? It can be very difficult for a blogger to gain status with other bloggers. Especially if his shit is actually good, and deemed threatening by the others.
The best way to breach a circle of influential bloggers is to deceive them with flattery. Comment on their posts, retweet their statuses and do your best to engage them in conversation. If you can squeeze in a guest post or two, all the better. The sooner they begin to associate you as a fan of their work, rather than a direct competitor, the easier you’re going to find it to get them engaging in your site.
Flattery will get you on the good side of your blogging peers, but to really leverage their power, you have to maintain excellent content. It has to be better than theirs, period. This is the only way you’ll earn their respect. Bloggers are much more willing to help others who have already stroked their egos.
An easy way to get an influential blogger to share your work is to namedrop them in a post, lace it with a sweet compliment, and then make sure they find it close to a retweet button. Or you could hand out your own blogger awards – voted by the people, of course – giving the target every incentive to repost it on his own blog in a bid for votes.
There are many ways to skin the cat, but you can’t go too linkbait crazy. Your site has to earn their respect before they’ll see you as anything other than a permanent oral fixture on their balls. Which, at this stage, let’s face it, you probably are.
If You Can’t Assert Authority, Be Happy With Mediocrity
Once upon a time, I ran a pro wrestling news site. If you’ve ever delved in to professional wrestling “news” journalism, you’ll be aware that about a hundred different journalists rely on the same one source for their news. One single whisper in the wind controls what all the websites are able to publish.
Readers would gravitate towards the sites where news broke first. If you couldn’t get the news before your competition, the best case scenario was hiring an overly keen sixteen year old to copy and paste like a whippet on coke. In this niche, the network of influence was restricted to a bunch of undisclosed sources (eg. Hulk Hogan’s makeup girl selling a hearsay backstage rumour for fifty bucks) and established journalists who’d been reporting from the same behind-the-scenes pedestal since the 80s.
As soon as I understood this, I moved on. I wasn’t passionate enough to immerse myself in breaching these sources and getting to the news first. Where would I even start? The Yellow Pages and a wiretap on Vince McMahon’s cellphone? Give me a break, I’m no real journalist. Without the exclusives, I’d always be a step behind the other news sites. If you can’t beat them, join them. If you can’t join them, why are you wasting your time?
Some projects are just too ambitious for one man in his basement. But I learnt something very important that I try to remember before I embark on any new project. You have to understand what your readers want, and be capable of delivering it.
How To Become Mr. Authority
Not every person of influence in your industry is going to have a website or blog. You shouldn’t be drawn in to thinking that you have to befriend every blogger or every high profile Twitter user. Sometimes, it pays to look further afield than rival sites for gaining authority.
I know one successful music blogger who has never given the time of day to linkbuilding or competing with rival sites. She doesn’t bother with SEO, commenting on other blogs or leaving crappy forum replies. She simply sends email after email to new and upcoming artists, introducing herself and letting them know what her blog is all about.
Inevitably, she gets sent a ton of free shit. Passes to a bunch of shows, free festival tickets, signed albums…just about anything she wants. But most importantly, it’s allowed her to establish a reputation as a trend-setter on the music blogging scene.
By understanding where she can add the most value to her blog. The value is in the relationships.
When was the last time you took the effort to introduce yourself to the companies you spend so long writing about? The best bloggers aren’t merely respected by their readers and rival webmasters, but by the very companies they’re writing about too.
The easiest way for you to gain influence isn’t to jostle for supremacy with the guy ranking above you on Google, but to instead chase down the owner of the product you’re trying to rank for. It never ceases to amaze me how much easier it is to build influence in a market, when you have an ear pinned to the ground of the companies that matter.
This could be as simple as building a list of the top five companies, then contacting their PR departments, introducing yourself and stating what you can offer with your website. Nothing has to materialize straight away. But good things come to those who put themselves in the right places.
And I can guarantee, most bloggers are too busy worrying about yesterday’s stats to be actively engaging with the companies they write about. The only relationships they bother chasing come hand in hand with affiliate commission, which is perfectly fine, but selling yourself very short if you want to be a true authority in your niche.
There isn’t a business in the world that doesn’t like a slice of friendly publicity. Get the exclusives that your rivals were too busy waiting to read about in their Google Alerts, and you will quickly discover it’s actually quite easy to gain influence.
Most of us who own websites or blogs are simply middlemen, wrestling with other middlemen for backlinks, search engine rankings and god knows what else. The quicker you turn your attention to understanding your readers, and the companies you write about, the sooner you’ll be able to forget about the other middlemen formerly known as your competition.
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