In my previous post about Outbrain, I talked about why I chose to use it, how the service I used worked and what the results were. I also mentioned that in my first meeting with Natalie Chan, the Self-Serve marketing manager, I got a bit of a tutorial on being a better blogger. I needed Outbrain because I needed more traffic to my website during the Kickstarter campaign to fund The Kairos Mechanism. But it turns out that nobody goes to your website if you aren’t putting compelling stuff up there on a regular basis. So before she let me sign up for the service, Natalie told me what I was going to need to do to get the best results from the program, and we made a plan I could stick to.
1) I needed to be adding new content two to three times per week. For contrast, up until that point I considered that I was doing pretty well if I managed to add a post a week, but a post every other week was much more likely.
Natalie suggested that I write ten blog posts in advance of launching (I planned to start my Outbrain campaign at the same time as I started the Kickstarter campaign). Writing that content would be easy; I would be learning lots during the Kickstarter campaign, but I had already written The Kairos Mechanism and done the research on things like the Espresso Book Machine and McNally’s pub services, and (as you know if you’ve read other Novellablog posts) I was already experiencing mild panic attacks about editing and formatting and so forth. I had plenty to draw on to start writing posts.
Natalie offered to look over the posts once I had them ready and offer suggestions on how I could improve them, which leads me to:
2) I needed to make sure my posts were more self-contained than I was accustomed to making them. For the past few years of blogging, about the only traffic I got was from people who already knew of me and of my writing, so I didn’t have to worry about making sure each post stood on its own. Plus, since I was writing a series on a specific project, I had the tendency to just assume that folks were going to have read previous posts. This may seem like an obvious fallacy–and if you had asked me if I thought this was a safe assumption, I would have said obviously not–and yet I had done just that in nearly every blog post I had written in advance.
3) I needed to cut just about every post in half and turn it into two posts. This is something my husband, who is a good blogger, has been yelling at me about for years. The good news is, once I faced the reality that I seem to write things more like articles than blog posts, cutting them in half meant I actually had more posts pre-written than I thought.
4) I needed to really give some thought to the titles of my posts. The more exciting and compelling the title, the better. Once again, this sounds obvious, and it was obvious to me even then, but I still had trouble with titles to start with. For one thing, the kinds of titles that generated a lot of traffic for me via Twitter and Facebook did not translate to traffic when the same titles were offered up to readers who didn’t know of me in advance. My campaign underperformed for the first week or so, and my titles were pretty much directly to blame.
Natalie explained that, taken on their own, the kinds of titles that work best and get high numbers of clicks tend to sound almost sensational, and that that would probably be the biggest thing I’d have to get used to. This turned out to be absolutely true. Titles were my biggest stumbling block.
Now, Outbrain’s customer service folks can re-title posts and articles at their end, so I had the option of using one title on my blog and have the same post offered under a different title through the Amplify service, but that turned out to be more trouble than I wanted to deal with–not because it was any trouble for anyone, but because it did require me to send an email asking for the title change, and as it happens I’m too lazy to be bothered to do that. So I started really trying to keep Natalie’s advice in mind as I chose my titles, and once I did, I started getting vastly improved results.
For instance, there was the post about how I completed the first draft of Kairos in under a month, which I titled “How to Write a Book in 30 Days.” Now, obviously there are many ways to do this, many ways do fail at doing this, many reasons to try anyway and learn to be disciplined about getting words on the page, and many reasons to spare yourself the stress and write at your own pace. But giving the post the simple, decisive how-to title (ignoring all the reasons why what I was about to say was completely subjective, might or might not work for you, etc. etc.) was the key to getting clicks from strangers. There was also the massively popular “Yes, You Can Edit Your Own Work, But You Will Probably Frack It Up.” Same idea. I don’t think I’m any kind of expert; I was just writing about my experiences. Still, titling the posts with authority got better results than ones I titled more humbly.
So those were the things I was tasked with keeping in mind as I wrote my posts. I still have a lot of learning to do, but I do think I was vastly more prepared than I would otherwise have been, and I certainly got better results in terms of clicks and also in terms of engagement with my new readers. Not only did people find my blog, they actually spent time reading it, and even clicked through to read more of what I’d written.
Now I just have to find some way to keep the momentum up now that the campaign’s finished. Which just might turn out to be the hardest thing of all.