Almost every company in the world is hungry for blog content because they know it can increase their search engine rankings and bring customers to their website. However, authors are not all so enthusiastic about content marketing. Is all of this work even worthwhile for an author? What role does content marketing play for writers? Here’s a little history, and an attempt at some insight.
A Little History
When self-publishing first became more mainstream, it was rare for an author to have a website. At the time, we were told it was essential to marketing. On top of that you needed a social media presence wherever you could get one.
Pretty soon every writer with any savvy had a website and a presence on social media, so we were told we needed to have a blog. Tons of writers flooded the net with blogs and blog posts about, what else? Writing.
It turned out that readers wanted to read books, but few of them wanted to read about the writing process. They wanted to get to know the author, but many authors talked little about personal issues or who they really were. “Write what you know” turned into a flood of information on craft, which was of interest to other writers. Trying to sell books to those writers was like trying to sell ice to an Eskimo. Frustration, and abandonment of blogs ensued.
Then came the email list. All writers started to gather reader emails and offer them a newsletter, because the success of Book Bub, Kindle Nation Daily, and other lists was clear: get your book in front of readers, not other authors, and you would gain sales and have success.
Rather than Google and Search Engine rankings, Amazon rankings became the indicator of success, because they were based on sales.
Pretty soon, though, every writer had an email list, and readers grew weary of them. Book Bub and others still resulted in some good sales, but paid ads on social media, Book Bub, and Amazon help produce consistent results if used properly.
The Rebirth Cycle
The reason we were all told to have a website was because only a few writers had them, and even fewer were any good.
Blogs were abandoned as well, more because they became so commonplace. The content on them was dry and repetitive: “Write Every Day”, “My Author Journey”, and others were followed by countless names. It wasn’t that they were bad, they just were not what readers were looking for.
The same became true of social media. The posts were all the same, including daily word counts, writing goals, and more.
But things have shifted again. Because good blogs and websites are so rare, and because social media interaction has become so mundane, a few savvy writers are looking again at websites, blogs, and social media as ways not to reach other writers, but readers.
Content Marketing Basics
A quick review: content marketing is using your website and blog to attract readers through providing them with informative and engaging content This usually involves an understanding of the sales funnel, a marketing term that describes where a website visitor is in their buying journey. There are countless articles about this, but the basics are:
- Top of the Funnel: Awareness. This is when a customer becomes aware that you exist. In an author’s case, the reader is looking for what to read next.
- Middle of the Funnel: Consideration. The reader has moved from what book to read next to which book of yours to read next. They are not choosing just any book, but one of yours.
- Bottom of the Funnel: This is where you close the deal. The reader either buys the book on your site, or is directed to Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, or another book purchasing platform.
The content on your site must address readers at all of these levels, and where they arrive on your site will be determined by how they got there: social media, word of mouth, or internet search.
There are also four types of internet users, and while as an author, you don’t have to appeal to all of them, it is good to be aware of who they are:
- Streakers: These users are just passing through quickly, and want a short answer to a simple question. (Where can I buy your books?)
- Strollers: These users are more likely to read a blog post, but not one that is too long, and usually something about your latest work. (Blurb, plus a buy link)
- Studiers: If you write thrillers that include serial killers, this user wants to know the psychology behind their behavior, how police catch them, and more detailed post. They want to look behind the story.
- Researchers: You probably will not attract this kind of user to your site unless you publish white papers or long academic articles about your characters and what they do. These users are looking for in depth answers to detailed queries.
Sounds complicated, right? This is why authors run from content marketing, but let’s dive to a little more basic approach, and something every writer can do to improve their website and blog.
Content Marketing and the Writer
The section above describes how a business looks at content marketing, and you as a writer are a business owner. You have customers, known as readers, and you want to reach them too. So how do you do this with blog content? Here are some practical tips.
Your Domain Name
At first, most authors used their name as their domain name too, sometimes followed by the word “author” or “writer”. However, most writers were not well known enough to rank well on just the merits of their name, except for authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
More writers now are leaning toward adding a genre or another keyword to their domain name itself. We’ll talk about keywords in a second. Already have a domain name? You can search for a new one, and redirect whatever traffic you are getting at your old site to the new one.
When selecting a domain name, you need to keep it REAL:
- Relevant: What is your genre or what to you write? Does your website reflect that?
- Easy: Your website name should be easy to say and spell. Have a last name that is tough to pronounce or spell: don’t use it. Use your first name combined with what you do.
- Abbreviated Carefully: Be careful if you use your initials. Make sure they don’t spell out something undesirable or inappropriate.
- Literally Interpreted: When running words together, make sure they also don’t spell something inappropriate or undesirable. American Scrap Metal run together is americanscrapmetal.com, not a good interpretation of what the company does.
Once you have a domain, you can populate it with content.
Notice that I am not going to tell you to blog daily, or even declare a frequency you should write with. The science behind search engines is that they have an index of websites that are ranked on any given topic.
One of the ranking factors is how often changes are made to a site: the search engine will learn this, and only “crawl” the site that often. Stop posting on your site regularly, and you can drop from search results, even if the user is searching for your name.
Ideally, once a week is excellent. However, if you can only post every two weeks, or once a month, just be sure to follow a schedule.
More often than not, the first thing I hear from writers is that they have no idea what to blog about. Even though they can write books and talk on those subjects for hours, when you tell them craft posts are a dime a dozen, they freeze. Here are some ideas:
- Write about Who You Are: Are you a cyclist? A musician? A runner? Do you travel? Write about what you are doing right now, especially if it relates to your writing.
- Share your Research: You do research for your books, right? Police procedurals, historical fiction, and research about locations? Share this research with your readers for more engagement.
- Share Personal Struggles: Do you struggle with depression? Your weight? Wellness in general? Share those struggles with your readers. You will be surprised at the response, and it may help you (and them) feel less lonely as well.
Notice what is not on the list: writing craft and things about writing. You can share these on a limited basis, but unless you are writing a book on writing, these posts will mostly attract other writers. While that is great for audience numbers, you will probably not sell many books using that content.
Share Your Work
Lastly, no one will find your blog unless you share your work with others. That presence on social media is not just to share book links, but to also share your blog posts and just your thoughts on what is happening in your life and the world around you.
A feed filled with links to book buy pages and only blog posts with no photos, no personal posts, will be quickly ignored by users, no matter what the platform you are sharing on.
Still, you do need to share your work, so you need to do so in a way readers will like. Use photos, not just the link. Make personal statements about the post on Facebook, include a short message (now with twice the characters) on Twitter.
Also, share posts in your newsletter. These lists are still important, in fact arguably they are more important than ever. Don’t just share buy links in those though. Share your posts about what you are doing, and intrigue your subscribers with your research.
Content marketing is hard, even for big business. As an author, a solopreneur if you will, it can be even tougher. However, you do have something to say, and what you have to say matters. It can gain you followers, readers, and profits. After all, why do we write if it is not to be read? Content marketing is for writers, and you can use it to your advantage.
Sarah Saker is a business coach and freelance writer that specializes in helping SMBs setup processes for customer support and predictable growth. When not writing or coaching, Sarah can be found on her (small but growing!) family farm. Connect with Sarah on about.me for coaching or writing help.