Jun 24, 2011

Promoting a Blog

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The press release promoting yesterday's blog post appeared on hundreds of web sites.

Most bloggers are obsessed (at least to a degree) with tracking their blog’s performance in terms of readers, subscriptions, whether or not search engines are indexing the blog content and how many times it was shared on social networks.   I am no exception.

Since we launched Beyond PR in October 2010, I’ve carefully cared for and fed our little blog, worrying over the variety of subject matter, fiddling with tags, and, frankly, writing my brains out.

Generally speaking, things have been going pretty well.   Blog traffic climbed steadily in each successive month.  Subscriptions increased, the mix of referring sites grew, and search engines indexed our content.

Recently, however, a colleague of mine embarrassed me by asking an obvious question that I’d never considered.

“Do you use the wire to promote the blog?”

*facepalm*   (Or was it <headdesk> ?  I can’t remember, but you get the idea.)

Err. No. I hadn’t even thought of doing so.

This was more than a little embarrassing for me because I’ve worked for PR Newswire for 16 years.   Sixteen.   And during that time, I’ve sold the wire, marketed the wire, and at one point I even managed the core wire product.  Needless to say, I think the wire is pretty fantastic and I’m proud of the service we provide, the network we reach, the audience we’ve cultivated, and the reporting provide.  But I hadn’t thought of using it to promote the blog.

Sheepishly, I worked with our PR team to build a little template to use to promote blog posts on the wire.  I decided to borrow the approach many companies have used for years to promote white papers and professional research on the wire, employing a simple abstract with a link to the post and some boilerplate and contact info.

The next day, I sent my first release to our editorial team, selecting the WebMax Plus online circuit.  In short order, I witnessed first hand their acuity in finding and fixing errors – I had the wrong date in the dateline, had misspelled a word and, to top it off, had neglected to attach the photo I said was attached.

Thank goodness for our editors – they are really good at catching mistakes in press releases.

In short order, my thoroughly-proofread and correct-in-every-way little blog post abstract went out over the wire. Soon after, I received my ReleaseWatch report, which showed me links to my release on more than 200 web sites.  I can’t tell you how many ReleaseWatch reports I’ve looked at in my lifetime – the number has to be well into the thousands – but I don’t mind admitting that I spent some time admiring this particular edition.  Happily, I followed the links and admired my blog post abstract on Yahoo, SFGate, the Neiman Journalism Lab site, WebSite Magazine, and scores of other sites. Click.  Grin.  Click.  Grin. Click.  Again, you get the idea.

When I could wait no longer, I stole a look at my blog’s analytics.  It wasn’t even mid-day, and that day’s post had garnered more reads than most of our posts did over the course of a whole day.   The numbers didn’t stop climbing until that post had more than three times the average number of reads.

Well, to say I was sold was an understatement.

A snapshot of the analytics for this blog. On which days do you think I issued a press release to promote the blog?

I’ve used the wire several dozen times over the last few months to promote blog posts, and it’s had a significant effect.

  • Average blog traffic has almost doubled.
  • The average number of comments has more than doubled.
  • In the two weeks following my first use of the wire to promote the blog, our blog subscriptions (measured since the blog’s inception) had doubled, as had the frequency of social sharing.
  • The rate at which readers clicked through on links in posts didn’t diminish, suggesting that the new readers were 1) well qualified and 2) engaged with our content.
  • The mix of sites referring traffic to the blog grew significantly, and other blogs are now one of the top referrers of traffic to Beyond PR.  (How cool is that!?!?)
  • Between the fact that we syndicate the abstracts (and everything else that goes out over the wire) and the increased awareness, we’re seeing a lot of third-party pick up and display of our blog content.

Along the way, I’ve figured out what works well – here’s one example of a blog post press release.   Practices I keep in mind when drafting the abstract include:

  • Write a very succinct headline, and employ important keywords at the beginning.
  • Use a subhead to offer more detail.
  • In the lead, give the context for the blog post, and then in the next sentence, discuss the point of view readers will find on the blog.
  • Don’t simply cut and paste your first paragraph from your blog.  Write your headline, subhead and lead paragraph deliberately to attract audience.
  •  Include an anchor text link from a keyword in the first paragraph
  • Be selective about the posts you promote.  I use the wire to promote posts that include some sort of news value, such as stats or data, or tips and tactical advice.  I don’t promote posts that are really editorial in nature.  Needless to say, I won’t be promoting this post via the wire. (A press release about a blog post about using press releases to promote blog posts? No, I don’t think so.)

It feels kind of silly to say this – because I know the wire works well at generating readership for messages – but our blog posts are pretty niche, and we’re a B2B service provider.  Getting visibility for our kind of messaging is supposed to be hard.  But using the wire to acquire more readers, increase visibility and create more engagement with our content on the Beyond PR blog has proven to be a sound and very effective practice.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

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