A famous classical composer once asserted, “I’ve never taken any music lessons, I’m totally self-taught. Therefore, I don’t trust any knowledge that I didn’t gain through my own direct experience.”
That’s sort of what happened to me. I’ve never “studied” Internet marketing in college or any other formal environment. But my experience as a travel blogger taught me many of the fundamentals of content strategy, social media management, and building a loyal following online. Even in this Information Age, “life” is the best education of all.
Several years ago I was an American expat living in Rome, struggling to navigate my way through a strange culture and a foreign language that I didn’t understand. On a whim, I started a humble blog about my trials and tribulations as I slowly began to figure things out. My hope was that my experience might by helpful to others who were in the same situation.
As my website gained traction, I started traveling all around Italy and Europe, writing travel articles for my blog, as well as for other websites and print publications—and getting paid for it! My reputation quickly grew and my social media presence took off, as well.
It all happened organically, “by accident,” and I learned from my (many) mistakes along the way. Eventually other people began to ask me, “How’d you do it? How did you create an entire online brand in less than two years starting from absolute zero?”
I couldn’t easily define it at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, here are a few things that I learned. These lessons can be applied to anyone—whether a blogger, business owner, or online entrepreneur—to help make the job of promoting yourself or your business on the Internet as effective as possible.
What Blogging Can Teach You about Internet Marketing
OK, so here are some key points to keep in mind:
Focus on a well-defined niche. Once you’ve established a name for yourself, it’s fine—even a good idea—to expand the scope of your website/blog. But at first, you should try to OWN your little niche. Don’t be afraid that it’s too specific in the beginning.
Don’t ramble; get to the point quickly when you write. Attention spans are short these days, so less is almost always more. When you write a draft of a blog post, let your creative juices flow and don’t hold back. Spill it all out onto the page. But before you click on “Publish,” go back over the entire thing and cut out as much as possible. Only keep what’s absolutely necessary to tell your story.
Speaking of which, yes, tell a story. Don’t bore people with a lot of facts and information. Engage them by bringing them along on your journey. In travel blogging, this is a very literal suggestion. But the same idea can be applied to your “Entrepreneur’s journey,” or your journey of recovery, fitness, motherhood…or whatever else you choose to blog about.
“Visual” writing. I often repeat the mantra that writing isn’t just about the meaning of the words. Your posts should have some element of visual appeal, as well. This means structuring your articles to be easily scannable to the reader’s eye, and breaking up the text with relevant images.
Targeting your audience. This kind of goes along with defining your niche, but in this case I’m referring to promoting your content after it’s published. Go to the places online where your target audience already hangs out, whether it’s Facebook groups, LinkedIn forums, Twitter chats, or other social blogging platforms like Quora or Medium.
On social media, it’s important to be social. This might seem obvious but it’s surprising how many people forget that the main reason most people are on social media is to socialize, and NOT to see/hear a pitch about the product or service that you’re promoting. Therefore, promotional efforts should be “soft” and infrequent. Make sure that at least 3/4 of your posts are social and/or valuable to your followers. Then when you do promote something, they won’t mind. They might even be interested!
Use the tools judiciously. Check them all out, but only stick with the ones that give you results. It’s too easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole chasing every Shiny New Object on the Internet. Nowhere does the old “80/20 Rule” apply more than on the Internet. It might even be that 90% of your results come from just 10% of your efforts. Focus on the activities and platforms that show consistent results.
And I already mentioned, the most important thing is to give value to your readers. Some people question the wisdom of giving away all of your knowledge for free when you might be able to charge money for it. But the “currency” that you gain with your reputation is more valuable than any short-term monetary gains.
Some of the best self-promoters on the Internet are travel bloggers. It’s a very competitive niche, and these writers and photographers are often on the cutting edge of online marketing. Find a few of your favorites and watch what they do to grab and keep your attention.
Remember that it takes time to build a following, especially when you do it the right way and build a targeted following. However, the reward comes at last when you are in front of an audience that pays attention to your message, even when that message occasionally shifts to promoting your personal or business agenda.