Seed Audiences: The Most Practical Way to Make Blogging Work for your Local Business
For most business owners and for others who try it, blogging is both a time-waster and a frustration factory outputting a weekly grind and disappointment until they finally give up out of frustration. What are their results? Something like 63 blog posts up on their site, 0 new backlinks, 0 visitors, and 0 customers.
So, What Went Wrong?
As an Internet Hitman who obviously blogs, I have found blogging to be effective if blogging is done as a vital organ of my business and of some of my clients’ businesses. However, certain pieces need to be in place first for the recipe for success to happen, and we aim to make the right actions happen to get ourselves and our clients to where we want to be.
The trouble is blogging (as it’s commonly done) is at best a tough way to earn links, build an audience, and pick up local rankings for semi-competitive terms. Why does this happen? Well, let’s go through some of the common reasons why this happens.
- Your post probably won’t get links because (paradoxically) your site probably doesn’t have much of a backlinks profile at the moment. A site without a strong backlink profile will not help you outrank posts on more-established sites. Google recognizes that it is unlikely that you have an attentive following in your email newsletter or on social media, and consequently, pushes your blog posts past Page 1 on relevant searches to where they are unlikely to be found. Consequently, people will not find your post, and nobody will link to it.
- Even the people who stumble across your post probably will not find your other posts relevant, if they even find them in the first place. Even if they notice that you have other posts, they may not have an urge to read those posts now, and (usually) won’t have a compelling reason to return to your site. So you’re left with one visit per reader.
- Even if a blog post ranks on Google for a certain term that you care about, it will likely be crowded out. Your blog post will need to compete with competitors’ posts, webpages, general product listings, and industry and local directory results. Those competing sites and pages tend to rank for a wide variety of search terms, while you will be lucky if your post ranks for a couple of terms you care about. You will find it hard or impossible to replicate a success, and you will find that you need to work too hard for too little benefit.
Getting Started With Professional Blogging
If blogging proves to be much tougher sledding than you expected, you will not stick around with it long enough to reap real benefits, which is where we come in.
Perhaps you might have tried or considered using an “everything” approach to blogging, in which you write giant posts that detail a lot of research, design, outreach, and more. Unfortunately, while that kind of approach has worked for some local business owners and may work for you, the odds are stacked against you. Such an approach is not likely to work out in the way that you hoped, and may prove to just be a big waste of time.
So you’re in a bind. You ought to be blogging, but you don’t want to skip trying to make it work just because it’s tough. Also, you also don’t want to go on a fool’s errand. What in tarnation should you do?
In my experience, there are only two practical strategies to give your blogging mission a high likelihood of success. And by success, I am thinking of a blog that helps your business get more visible to the target audience that you are trying to reach:
Strategy 1: Create a long stream of quick blog posts on niche, specialized, and borderline obscure topics. In essence, you blog on exactly the kinds of questions that only a few of your customers/clients/patients will ever ask you, and you crank out as many of those posts as you can, month after month. Here’s the key idea here: on any given day, maybe only 10 people in the world search for an answer to the geeky little question you are blogging about, but since your post is the only post around that talks about exactly that question, your post will capture every single one of those 10 searchers.
Strategy 2: Start with a “seed audience.” In other words, you will need a small group of committed readers consisting of people that you already know to one degree or another and who will be interested in the content that you write. Those people form a core or nucleus as your “seed” who consistently read your content, and that seed will gradually grow into a bigger audience over time.
Creating and Growing Your Seed Audience
If you want your blog posts or other content to help you directly or indirectly get more local customers, sooner or later your seed audience won’t be the most likely piece of the puzzle to work out for you.
Your very earliest readers will probably be a motley group of people you know, all with different relationships to you. To some extent that’s out of necessity, because you don’t have too many other would-be readers yet. However, the variety of people also happens to be useful, because you’ll get a better sense of whom your audience can be or should be, and whom and what you should focus on. After all, you want feedback from a wide variety of people. Because of this, your seed audience should be some combination of these types of people:
- Past customers
- Current customers
- People who refer customers to you, or vice versa
- Employees / staff
- Recipients of pro bono work
- Yes, friends and family — especially if anyone is involved in other businesses or professions
- Other people you think may be interested
Either you keep a list of specific people to send your posts to individually, or you whip up an email newsletter system and invite people to join it. Or, you can do both. Preferably, you can and should seek to develop a way to do both.
In either case, your action item is the same: look for opportunities to send those people your blog posts , regardless of whether they are posts you’ve already written or posts you haven’t written yet. And do so at a time when they would find your information helpful.
If you don’t read any more of this post and don’t need more of my color commentary, just do that one thing and your blogging will be much more likely to bring you visibility, backlinks, and customers.
How Does Your Seed Audience Help You?
First of all, you need to do something for your seed audience: send them a blog post that answers a question they asked you, or that helps solve a problem that you know that they have. You can send them posts that you did years ago, or you can create new posts that you know to be dead-on relevant to their problems or goals. Keep in mind that the seed audience consists of people who already know you, so you won’t have to introduce yourself to them. Essentially, you are doing the digital equivalent of mailing newspaper or magazine clippings to someone, with the only difference being that you are the author of those clippings.
As long as your content that you share with your seed audience is relevant and meaningful for them, the people in your seed audience will gradually help you grow your audience in several specific ways:
- They will be your source of ideas. Between the questions they ask you, the concerns they raise, and what you know about their situations, you will come up with ideas for new posts that will be engaging. If the only source of topics that you write about comes from whatever pops into your head, you will gradually run out of topics to write about. However, if you can see what’s in other people’s heads, you will get a lot more blogging topics.
- They will provide your first shares on social media when nobody else will. Nobody else knows about your posts yet, but they do!
- They are likely to send your posts to people they know and work with, or to friends or family, and help you start getting clients from your posts.
- They will give you feedback on your work, especially if you ask, and sometimes even when you don’t ask.
- You will get great keyword ideas just by paying attention to how they describe what you do and how they describe their challenges and wants.
- They may be likely to have buying intent, depending on exactly who is in your seed audience. So not only is there a chance they might hire you for something if you send them a helpful post at the right time, but it’s also possible that there are other people they know exactly like your target audience. In that case, consider focusing more of your posts on that little part of your seed audience.
- They may give you an early clue as to whether you should continue blogging at all. After all, if you cannot figure out how to engineer your posts to be useful to people you already know, you will struggle to figure out how to write posts to help strangers if your audience gets bigger. You need to know at least roughly what kind of person your posts are supposed to help, in order to write helpful posts.
How Do You Develop a Seed Audience?
For starters, getting started is as simple as it sounds: you email your posts to anyone you can with the topics that you wrote about. You can also point people to your post if the topic comes up while you’re on the phone or on Zoom with them. That assumes, of course, that it is a post that you’ve already published, and that it you can either quickly find it and copy/paste a link or that it is named in such a way that you can tell someone the name of the post, and he or she can find it without too much strain.
Consider creating posts for an audience of one. If, for example, a past customer or employee asks you a stumper question, do some research to figure out the answer and write a blog post on it. Consider giving the person who asked you the question a shout-out of some sort in the post, if they want recognition as well. In any event, send it to him or her and ask for feedback, and then send it to future people who have the same question or a similar one. If nothing else, it’ll save you from having to answer the same question again and again. More likely, that post will also start to bring in some decent traffic and maybe even a couple of links, since it is on a topic that someone actually has.
Get some practice at building an audience one person at a time. Most people appreciate timely and customized posts, many will stay tuned for more, and some people will even bring others into your seed audience.
Last but not least, keep a quick running list of posts handy, in a sitemap or Google spreadsheet or something. For example, here on my blog, I use my sitemap on my website as my quick-reference list of my posts. By having a quick reference tool, it is quick and easy for me to send someone the link to a relevant post that I did on a topic.
What Are My Alternatives To Growing A Seed Audience?
With the exception of the one good, realistic alternative that I mentioned at the beginning of this post (writing lots of quick posts on super-niche topics), the alternatives to the “seed audience” strategy have serious drawbacks. Here are some common strategies that business owners and marketers try:
Strategy 1: Swing Big. In this strategy, marketers try to write monster, “ultimate guide” posts. Unfortunately, these types of posts are hard to ease into, even harder to sustain, and ridiculously easy to burn yourself out on. Plus, they run contrary to most people’s naturally short attention spans.
Strategy 2: The Hamster Wheel: In this strategy, marketers or business owners write numerous unplanned, slapdash posts on random topics every month. Typically, people will stick with it for 3 months, and then give up since their time is better spent elsewhere.
Strategy 3: The “Build It and People Will Come” Notion: In this strategy, your posts are solid, useful, and well thought-out, but if you did not write them with a specific person or group of people in mind, you don’t have content to send to anybody. You cannot assume that just because you wrote something that Google will find readers for it.
Strategy 4: Mass Production: Don’t hire someone on Fiverr to spin other people’s content or belch out posts that are so bad that even you don’t want to read them. Google does not like fresh content enough that you can get away without basic quality control on your blog.
Can other approaches work? Yes, it is possible. But are they likely to work in your case? Probably not.
With enough effort, you can probably get any blogging strategy to advance your goals at least a little, but at what cost to the other things you need to accomplish in a day? Remember, you can always tweak your strategy later. For every one business owner or marketer who gets any of these 4 strategies to work, there will be 20 who tried and failed and couldn’t make it work. So, why gamble on a bad betting option?
People who say that you definitely should or definitely should not be blogging are missing the point. Sure, you should have content that informs and helps anyone on your site, but who says that needs to be in the form of a blog post? In most cases, having a very detailed homepage, service pages, and other pages is your best way to do that.
That’s why I’m working off the assumption you’ve already got your pages pretty much down pat, and that you want blogging to help you get even more visibility. I’ve been there, and I know what it is like. I am also assuming that you don’t want your blogging to become your new full-time job. That is why you will want to create a seed audience to go about that.
Again, the idea of the seed audience is simple: Make use of every opportunity to send your posts to people you already come into contact with. Send a post whenever it’s helpful to the other person. Pay attention to the questions and concerns of the people in your seed audience, and write more posts that help those people with those challenges. I guarantee you there are more people like them, and in time those people will become your larger target audience.
Preferably your seed audience includes past or current customers, but it doesn’t need to.
Keep a list of your posts handy. Even if your blogging doesn’t work out, you can always have your graphic designer turn your content into informational brochures and such.
At first you will grow your audience one person at a time, but eventually your audience will start to grow itself. That is when you’ll be able to draw a thick line from blogging to more traffic, links, customers, and other good stuff. The big thing to realize is that those are benefits that you will start to see after your blogging efforts start to work, not before you’ve gotten your blogging to work.
A seed audience isn’t mutually exclusive with other ways you might grow your audience. It’s complementary. It will make your other plans more likely to work out. Give it a try.
Let us know what you think, or if you have any other ideas or are interested in starting a blog!