The same goes for us. If I type ‘Jim Murdoch’ into a search engine you will find me but maybe not on the first page (I just tried searching for me using DuckDuckGo and the only thing that appeared on the first page was my Twitter link of all things). But what if you’ve never heard of me? And there are hundreds of authors out there you’ll never have heard of all of whom will write exactly the kind of stuff that someone is desperate to read. But those someones don’t realise that the authors they have been waiting their whole lives to read are out there despite the fact those authors have websites and blogs on which they post interesting content on a regular-but-not-so-regular-as-to-become-a-burden-to-their-readers basis, are on various social networking sites and tweet religiously on the hour every hour.
In the film Field of Dreams Kevin Costner’s character is told, “If you build it he will come.” A lot of people think much the same when it comes to promoting themselves online. Of course it takes a bit of time to get known, so they give it a bit of time, and then a bit more time and then a bit more and then they realise that no one’s coming. Okay, so one or two stumble upon you, but not the droves of readers desperate to hang on their every word. They’re not coming. Assuming they exist—every writer needs to hang onto that belief—one has to ask why they’re not coming. The reason is as obvious as the nose on my face (which does not have a bump on it): they’re either not looking or they’re looking in the wrong place.
I discovered Richard Brautigan in a charity shop in Saltcoats. That’s where I happened to be and that’s where someone had handed in four of his books, three of which I bought purely because I liked the covers. I wasn’t looking for him. I knew nothing about him. To be honest I don’t hear much about Richard Brautigan these days on- or off-line and it is perfectly feasible that I would never have stumbled across him to this day had I not been in that shop on that day. A fluke. A fortunate happenstance.
I’ve written two novels about a man who gets to spend three days in the company of the personification of truth. One reviewer said of the first book: “Murdoch's writing style reminds me of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett's humour but at the same time it has its own sense of quirkiness.” You can read the full review here. Think about it: a book with a character called Truth written by a guy people (okay, one person) has compared to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett has got to have a potential audience of thousands if that book can be got into their line of vision. The question is: How?
Writing articles is a great way to get to address a new audience. It’s time consuming though. Even making meaningful comments on other people’s blogs for the backlinks takes time. So I do other things none of which bring me thousands of extra visitors every day but they all bring me some and, as you will see, over time the numbers mount up. You see I can promote my latest book or blog post on Facebook and Twitter but most of the people I know there already read my blog and I read theirs. What we are looking for is fresh blood—it’s not like we can stand on the corner and hand out flyers—so, after every article I write I do the following:
Ping your blog: I use a variety of ping tools to let search portals and other services know when my site has been updated. Doing this encourages these services to crawl your site more often. (Being crawled more often doesn't necessarily improve your search ranking, but it will help ensure your whole site has been "seen", and that your search listings are up to date.) I use several of these: Ping-o-Matic!, Feed Shark, Pingler, BulkPing.com and BlogBuzzer. There are more and I have no particular loyalty although BlogBuzzer will also send tweets on your behalf.
Use social news sites: I focus on four at the moment but I’m always on the look for new ones. These are BlogEngage, Dropjack, Reddit and Digg. It takes a matter of seconds to log in and enter the details of your latest post. I tend to write what I know I’m going to use in Word and then simply cut and paste.
Use bookmark-sharing sites: I focus on two here, Delicious and StumbleUpon (which, of all the above, gets me the most hits). I’ve just started using BlinkList but I’ve not been bowled over by the response.
Use blog carnivals: These come and go. It depends on your site’s subject matter which will be of any use but there are a few that focus on writing.
Use online magazines: At the moment I only do this with Zimbio. It’s another form of pinging in that all I do with it is replicate my post there, but it’s quick and easy.
Use free advertising networks: For a while I was on Entrecard and it did increase my hits but not the time spent on the site—people were visiting for a couple of seconds (long enough to find the icon) and then vanishing—so I quit. That said I did make some good contacts through the scheme and found two people I now regard as good friends. These sites need you to put a discreet ad on your site. I have mixed feelings about their effectiveness in the long-term but they are worth looking into if you don’t overdo it. There aren’t any I’d recommend at the moment.
For a while I stopped doing this to see what the effect was and there was a noticeable effect.
All the above may sound like a lot but I get it done in about thirty minutes. The point is I’m going where other people might be looking and hoping I can pique their interest. This is where you need to understand how people use the Internet. Think about how you use it because that’s probably how other people are doing it too. All they may be seeing is a title and a few lines of text. This is where tags are so important because it’s things like that—don’t get me started on how to use SEO (search engine optimisation) to your advantage—that get used to filter the content that people look at. What else does Google do? It is a giant sieve. You type in poetry, poetry-shaped holes appear and poetry-related blogs drip through.
My total hits in the last six years amount to 325,000 visits. That sounds like a lot, like I must be doing something right. Hits in themselves are only a measure of a certain kind of success—what in the real world we would talk of as ‘footfall’, the number of people visiting a shop or a chain of shops over a period of time. Just because people visit your store doesn’t mean they’ll buy anything but let’s face it, your shop will have a much greater chance of snagging a sale once the customer has crossed the threshold. They may not buy anything this time but if they see this is a fun place to shop and the shop assistants aren’t breathing down their necks then they may well come back another day. This is where content and the look of your blog or website come into play but that’s really a topic for another day.