We get very few guarantees in digital marketing. Whenever I see a blog post that promises to teach me the “secrets” to online success, I typically move on without even blinking. Yet, here I am, promising a “surefire” growth strategy.
Have I lost my mind? No.
I’m talking about an age old practice that multinational corporations employ every day. I’m talking about acquisitions.
There is a way to guarantee a long term boost in traffic with a single, and relatively simple, action – buy a blog that already has traffic, and redirect it your site. Major bonus points if you hire the blogger too. And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today.
Blog Acquisition: A Surefire Growth Strategy
Step 1: Find a Blogger
Big time advertisers understand the value of a celebrity endorsement, and the psychology of trust doesn’t change just because you’re operating in the digital world.
It’s not uncommon for content marketers and SEO professionals to hire “ghost writers” to work for them. There’s nothing wrong with that practice. But for some strange reason, many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking we need to own every aspect of thought leadership ourselves.
The reality is that Huffington Post will feature articles by Bill Maher and the New York Times will hire economist Paul Krugman. They do this because working with trusted people is a great way to build trust. It’s a practice that adds credibility to the brand.
The great thing about online marketing is that you can scale down concepts like “celebrity endorsements” and “acquisitions” until you reach something that fits your budget.
Maybe your brand can’t afford Paul Krugman, but you can probably afford to hire a blogger with a few thousand visitors each month. All you need to do is pay them better than they can pay themselves. The truth is, most bloggers aren’t that great at monetizing their blog. It’s simply not their specialty and ads don’t pay all that well.
Step outside the marketing bubble. You don’t want to hire a blogger who is a “marketer.” You want to hire a blogger who is passionate about subjects that your target audience cares about. So don’t turn to Textbroker or Elance to find your match; turn to Google or Twitter:
- Do an Internet search for your topics with “site:wordpress.com,” “site:tumblr.com,” or “site:blogger.com” to find popular, amateur bloggers.
- Try digging through some of the deeper pages in the search results for hidden gems.
- From the Google search bar, click “More,” and “Blogs” to limit your results to blogs.
- Search Twitter for popular tweets on your subject.
- Check out FollowerWonk to find influential tweeters in your key subjects.
Look for blogs with a decent domain authority in OpenSiteExplorer. Look for a fair number of comments and social media activity. In other words, qualify your prospects the same way you would if you were looking for a guest post – only with even more rigor.
Obviously, you will also want to ask whether the blogger is a good fit for your brand culture. This is more important than any other metric. The better the fit, the less difficulty you’ll have with integration and management later on.
Step 2: Buy the Blog and Hire the Blogger
This is where things can get a bit hairy. Don’t assume that just because you can pay the blogger better than they can pay themselves that they’ll just hand everything over without any questions. You’re end goal is to hire the blogger as well as import their blog to your domain. If you’re hiring the right kind of blogger, this can be scary for them.
Remember, they’ve poured years of work into their blog and care about it deeply. The thought of doing it for a living, or even for a little extra cash each month, is probably very exciting to them, but they will have reservations. They don’t want you to suck all the fun out of it, and they don’t want to see their baby become some corporate tool.
For things to go smoothly, you’ll want to make sure to accommodate their needs. Let them keep most of the control over the content of their blog, let them keep their personal brand and try to keep the same feel of the original blog. If you feel the need to micromanage everything the blogger does, you probably chose the wrong blogger to work with.
It’s a good idea to get something signed in writing that will assure both you and the blogger that their needs are going to be met and their concerns won’t be an issue.
Ideally, the blog will exist on a folder of the main site, not on a subdomain. This can cause some uneasiness for some bloggers, so it’s up for debate and you’ll need to use discretion. Generally speaking, however, if the blogger is unwilling to accept moving their blog directly to your site, the cultural differences might be too much of an issue. Search engines, and most people, will treat a subdomain as a separate entity. Since the goal is to grow your website and your online audience, it’s usually better to avoid subdomains.
There are countless stories of redesigns that ruined websites (goodbye Digg), so tread carefully when it comes to making changes. It’s probably best to leave everything almost identical immediately after the import, and save the changes and integration for later, after the audience has gotten used to the idea of the acquisition.
You want to redirect the entire blog, not send every visitor to a new homepage or subdomain on your site. Redirects can be finicky but here are some guides you should check out:
- Google’s walkthrough for Blogger.com redirects
- WordPress.com redirects
- Tumblr redirects
- About.com’s guide for site wide redirects
If a user sees a title in the Google search results and clicks on it, you want them to land on a copy of the original page. Redirects to the home page will just confuse and annoy users. Don’t mess with what made the blog work in the first place.
Step 3: Streamline
After the blog is imported and the redirects are set up, the job is far from over. Some of the things you’ll need to plan for include:
- How to balance the needs of the blogger, the blogger’s audience, and your brand.
- How to leverage the blog to grow trust with your brand.
- How to straighten out any residual cultural differences (there will almost always be some).
A big part of this is going to come down to project management. Since you’ll most likely be working with a blogger who doesn’t live within driving distance of your office, it’s a good idea to work with online project management software like WorkZone, or something similar. Email is a cumbersome interface for projects of this magnitude, especially if you need to track time spent on projects.
Some of the sources of friction can include:
- The desire to write engaging content versus the desire to get conversions.
- The need to keep the feel of the old blog and the need to connect it with your brand.
- The allure of promising keywords versus the need for creative ideas.
Incentives can do a lot to alleviate these problems. If you reward the blogger based on the number of conversions their blog posts create, rather than simply order them to include conversion copy, you can expect to get better results.
But don’t just throw money at your blogger’s concerns to make them go away. Listen as well. There is a good chance that your blogger’s concerns are similar to the concerns of their audience. Carelessly incentivising those concerns away could actually alienate your blogger from their core audience, a situation that could backfire.
Even though your blogger doesn’t work in the office, it’s a good idea to pull them into the inner workings of the company to some degree. The more involved your blogger is with the rest of your team, the more they will understand your company culture and send the right message. This is another reason to use collaborative software, but you can’t rely on technology to handle everything. Ask your team members to work on collaborative projects with your blogger. This will help strengthen their relationship with the company, as well as provide material for the blog itself.
While buying blogs, along with their bloggers, is a surefire way to boost traffic in the short term, it’s not necessarily a surefire way to boost profit or long term results. It will start you off on the right foot, and continued acquisitions are a great way to continue scaling your business.
That said, it takes keen project management and sound strategy to keep the ball rolling effectively.