How to Make Your Blog Stand Out in a Crowded Niche without Guest Posting

  • December 29, 2011 by Guest Writer
  • 46 Comments

This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti of Sparring Mind.

I’ve been a long time blogger, and believe me, I both know and appreciate the amazing power of a good guest post for bringing in intelligent and interested readers.

The thing is, since I often blog outside of the blogging/marketing/writing topics, I know (as you might) how hard it is to utilize guest posting for certain topics.

I had this exact problem with my electronic music blog Sophistefunk, which I entered into the Million Dollar Blog Contest ran here on ThinkTraffic.

My guest posting problem was really evident with this niche: music blogs almost never accept guest posts, because their “articles” are really just posts with media (audio & video), so there really is no need to have another author write for you.

Despite this, I wanted to accomplish what every blogger sets out to do: run a successful site based on my interests.

I’ve done it before, but in each case I’ve always harnessed the power of guest blogging and writing epic shit.

Now that this wasn’t an option, I needed to find another way…

The Power Of Networking

Outside of the direct benefits (the backlinks & traffic), one of the biggest reasons that I participate in guest blogging is due to it’s ability to create connections, and serve as a brilliant networking “tool” to get in touch (and stay in touch) with successful bloggers.

In reality, my guest posting for other blogs has brought so much more long term benefit than just the initial guest post; because I would always stay in touch with the authors, they would often tweet out my articles, comment on them, and in general, support my new content.

I realized that I needed to create these kind of relationships again for Sophistefunk, but this time, without guest blogging.

Due to this limitation, I eventually managed to accomplish exactly that using these three techniques:

  1. Utilizing the greatest “social network” of all…
  2. Creating connections by showing love to the little guy
  3. Using small chats on social media to create bigger collaborations

All 3 of these techniques played a vital role in creating the consistent traffic that I see today, and below I’m going to show you exactly how I went about it.

1.) Email: The Greatest Social Network

Think Traffic features a lot of smart advice, so it didn’t surprise me to see that Corbett & Caleb had already touched on how to utilize influential people in order to generate interest for your own blog.

They even launched an excellent new blog using the same strategy (and did so for ThinkTraffic back when it launched).

Point is, connecting with influencers works, no matter the niche.

So in my case, I obviously was going to have a hard time connecting with bloggers, due to our topic (believe me, I tried).

That was okay though, because it lead to me establishing much better connections by getting in touch with people who REALLY have influence in my genre: the artists themselves.

By far, the most popular posts on my site have pretty much always fit into one of these two categories:

  1. They featured an interview with an electronic musician
  2. The post premiered a new track from a popular artist

I’m going to be honest with you: pursuing that first one made me really, really nervous.

However, like every blogging project I pursue, it ended up being the kickstart my blog needed to turn into a successful site.

The reason that I was worried this time around, however, was that since I wasn’t doing any guest blogging, I didn’t know what I could offer these musicians in return for their time.

I learned a lot about networking through this experiment, but I would have learned nothing had I let these doubts stop me from taking action.

Here are the biggest things learned boiled down into 3 key points:

a.) You don’t always have to have something to offer to reach out

People like when you take interest in their work.

I greatly underestimated this fact when I starting reaching out to artists to build my blog, I’d thought that they would want nothing to do with me since I couldn’t offer them much.

So instead of pitching my interview requests as part of a “collaboration”, I sent emails that highlighted my sincere fanhood, and my desire to learn more about them outside of the new music that they were producing.

This generated amazing responses: I’ve only been turned down once in my interview requests, even during my blog’s earliest stages!

Despite the popularity often tied with successful people, I think you’d be surprised at how infrequently people reach out to them with sincere “thank you’s” in the form of personal emails.

My email structure therefore always followed this pattern:

  • Concise but sincere thank you (cite a personal example of how the person’s work as brought some sort of enjoyment in your life)
  • Quickly ASK for an interview opportunity (never send the questions in the first email)
  • Wrap up by thanking them for taking their time to read, and that you look forward to their future work (and supporting them through it)

I got a 100% response rate with these concise emails, and as stated, I’ve only been turned down once (I’ve had about 3 say yes and then never got back to me, but I’m not counting them out yet, since I once received a response 3 months later!)

My point: if you respect an influential person’s time, make your email to the point, and offer them some sincere gratitude. They are more than likely going to help you out.

b.) Leveraging past experience works like magic

Another thing is, once you get past those first few successful interviews or collaborations, continuing to do them gets much easier.

After my first successful interview, I started sending the link along to future requests so people could see how it would turn out, the styling/format, and how they would be promoted (the first interview got around 60 total shares, so not too bad).

This lead to a quicker response rate (people like examples) and more interest in spending time to do the interview with me: people could see first hand how it would work out.

This lead to me connecting with bigger and bigger artists in my electronic music niche.

One of my most recent interviews with Michal Menert got over 180 Twitter & Facebook shares, not bad for a new blog!

The thing with personal interviews like this is that the person you connected with is likely to promote it more heavily than a round-up post. I’ve found that personal interviews with only one influencer will often have that person sharing it multiple times.

For example, Michal Menert was nice enough to share it on all of his social networks (thousands of followers and fans), and then share it again two other times, bringing in tons of targeted traffic.

c.) Respecting people’s time goes a long way

In emails, I always keep things concise, and mention at the end how I appreciate them taking the time to read through.

I also never send any “work” in the first email: your first message is about selling you and your idea, not about begging for handouts.

If the person you’ve contacted expresses interest at your “yes or no” request, send them your project (in my case, almost always text interview via email, which are easy to do).

If they don’t reply at first, send a follow-up asking if what you’ve sent is too much.

Many a times I’ve sent an email stating: “Hey there SoAndSo, I know you’re a busy guy/gal, just wanted to follow up on our interview. If you find the questions are a bit too long (or if there are too many), I can make it a bit more concise for you. Thanks again for your time!”

I typically get follow ups like “Nope, no problem at all, thanks for the reminder, here they are below!”

Or, I’ll get, “Ha, it is pretty in depth! Would you mind if I pick three and write a couple of paragraphs for each?”

Either way, I’m politely following up and letting them know that I’m willing to work around their busy scheduling, demanding nothing but very set on working with them.

Respect people’s time, and they will respect your requests.

2.) Showing A Little Love Gives Big Traffic Gains

Above I mentioned how I used “showing love to the little guy” to result in more traffic.

This strategy, while it might seem to only be applicable in my niche, actually works quite well for all blogs.

Being a popular music blog, I get a ton of submissions from artists looking to get featured.

My problem became this: I didn’t have enough time to feature these independents artists on a daily basis because there were so many big artists that my readers expect me to post about.

Also, featuring a single new “indie” artist usually wouldn’t work out as well for them, since people generally look for artists they already know (sad but true).

So, I decided to group submissions together, in a post type I called “Follow Friday” (taken from Twitter) where I would feature 7 indie artists in a single post.

This worked even better than I expected because now not only was I showing some love to the little guy, every time I would do a post like this every artist that was featured would share it with their following.

Although these were independent artists, they still would have hefty follower numbers and fans (think 1k-2k).

And now I had 7 artists all sharing these posts at once, since they were all featured on a single post.

This has caused my “Follow Friday” posts to be one of the most anticipated on the site outside of artists interviews, and it all started with giving a little promotion to some independent talent.

How to apply this to your blog: Besides doing Corbett’s strategy (a round-up of opinions), the best way I’ve found to do this for “traditional” bloggers is to mention somebody whenever you talk about a specific topic, strategy, or focus.

For instance, in an interview I did with Brian Gardner of StudioPress, I also did a case study on a theme designer named Orman Clark.

Orman tweeted out the post to his large amount of followers, even though he wasn’t apart of the interview: I let him know about the post via email and he tweeted it out instantly.

Another strategy is to cover an “up-and-coming” list of people in your niche, or people in a certain group.

A great example of this is Corbett’s 44 Creative and Adventurous Bloggers, or Tom Ewer’s coverage on 5 bloggers to follow if you’re tired of the A-listers.

People love getting mentioned, especially those who aren’t A-listers in the field, and they will almost always promote your content in return for showing them a little love.

3.) Really Connecting on Social Networks

Above I’ve covered the power of email and how I would use it to follow up with people when I wanted to collaborate or let them know I featured them in a post.

That’s what I liked to call pursuing traffic, rather than waiting for it to come to you.

Social networks, however, are quite good for other smaller opportunities to reach out to others, and they’ve played a major role in helping me grow my blog.

I have a major following on Facebook (over 7,000 fans now), and although I have a very small group of followers on Twitter, both networks have been great in helping me connect with people who will share content on my blog.

Again, since I’m in the music niche and often feature the work of others, these are mostly musicians.

Sometimes it can be as simple as me tagging the artist in a new post where I feature them.

R/D is an artist I post about a lot, and he almost always retweets my posts when I mention him on Twitter.

I also tag people via the Facebook page to notify them that I’m posting about them, and independent artists typically reciprocate by sharing the status or post on their own page (and when I mean reciprocate, I mean about 90% of the time).

I also promote the artists on my pages with no strings attached, I’ll share their social media profiles and website posts with no links to my own site.

Tagging them when I share this sort of content builds a better relationship with people than just always posting links to your own site where they might be mentioned: people know you’re out to get more visitors, so when you share something with no gain to yourself, they appreciate it.

The last way I use social networks is for one very obvious strategy, and one very unique strategy for my niche.

The first is that I almost always “break the ice” for a potential interview by mentioning them on a social network, such as:

“Man, sure would love to do an interview with @Musician, been reading their blog and it’s awesome!”

This gets a really high response rate, and when the follow up email is sent, increases the likelihood that they’ll commit to my (often) gruesomely long interviews. ;)

The second thing I do is very unique to my niche, but an excellent traffic source.

I use social networks to start chats with artists about premiering content (songs, or even albums) which we then take to email (again, the best networking tool of all).

These conversations I start on social media almost always flourish into in-depth email discussions of how I might be able to get my hands on a new release to promote on my blog before anyone else.

Obviously this is a “music only” niche strategy, but getting a hold of fresh content and releasing it first is big, because for the first few days, most of the traffic will go there while the other blogs wait for the official release.

I did that with an artist named Kraddy, posting about his album a day before it was “officially” released, and he even tweeted and shared the post on Facebook!

The main takeaway: Using social media as an icebreaker for the “behind the scenes” email talks can not only lead to bigger collaborations (and bigger traffic), but it can also be used to let people know you’re enjoying their content.

If you’re running a more “traditional” blog, mentioning people on Twitter, sharing content you enjoy, and just being a friendly person on social networks will lead to better things and team-ups, which get flushed out into real plans via email.

Don’t be anti-social, you don’t always have to submit a guest post to get someone’s attention!

Gregory Ciotti is a young entrepreneur and blogger who discusses psychology + content marketing over on his newest blog Sparring Mind. He prefers a little evidence (just the facts, ma’m) with his blog posts and none of the fluff. Learn more about him or feel free to subscribe to his feed.


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Michael Alexis December 29, 2011 at 6:14 am

Hey Gregory,

I’m glad you did decide to make a guest post – because this one was helpful for me. I’ve been interviewing top bloggers – some of theme share the link with their followers which brings traffic to the site. I like the idea of Follow Friday’s and compounding the smaller followings of a number of bloggers onto one post.

Thanks!


Michael

Gregory Ciotti December 29, 2011 at 11:27 am

Glad you enjoyed the post Michael!

It my was pleasure to do this guest post, I actually do a lot of guest posts for my more “typical” blog projects, but I knew a lot of people on ThinkTraffic were probably stuck in the rut I found myself in with this specific niche.

Just wanted to get the word out that it is definitely possible to create some “buzz” for your site without guest posting, and I hoped my new electronic music blog could serve as the example for that.

Thanks again!

Mr. Tunes December 29, 2011 at 6:46 am

Good post… In electronic music blogging, I’ve only had success in getting shares mostly by interviewing people.

My observation is that this industry is highly ego-driven. But I’m sure it lines up with other finicky niches like fashion and film which grew out of the old “mass” industries, and just aren’t used to social media.

Gregory Ciotti December 29, 2011 at 11:31 am

Your right, but I have to say that musicians, although they may be “ego-driven” at times, are also very grateful and often reciprocate when you post about their music.

I’ve definitely developed some “super fans” from people who’s music I featured, takes some giving to get back I suppose.

Dev December 29, 2011 at 6:54 am

Hey Greg,

Those are fantastic ways to get quality and targeted traffic. I love your point about using social media networks as an icebreaker.

Keep up the fantastic work, dude !!

Gregory Ciotti December 29, 2011 at 11:32 am

Thanks Dev, glad you enjoyed the post!

matteo December 29, 2011 at 7:10 am

Great post….really great post!
It’s exactly what I need to generate some traffic for the promotion of my iPhone app!
Many thanks, I will follow you for sure, Gregory.

Gregory Ciotti December 29, 2011 at 11:32 am

Thanks Matteo, glad you got some value out of the post!

Mandy Kilinskis December 29, 2011 at 7:21 am

Wonderful post on networking, Greg!

Out of the few interviews I’ve conducted, I’ve always been surprised with how quickly my interviewees agreed. I write for a marketing blog, and I’ve interviewed a handful of Chicago musicians – generally this is not where musicians are looking to be featured. But I suppose they saw it as another way to feature their music for free (at the very least, a lot of my fellow colleagues got into their music), and I was pleased with how much they promoted the post on their own networks and prompted a lot of new traffic to our site. So I guess what I’m saying is, even if you don’t run a music blog, musicians are fantastic networkers. :)

The tips you’ve outlined here are really, really great. And even though your article isn’t about guest posting, you can still use a lot of these email etiquette tips for securing a guest post, too. I followed a similar email format when pitching a guest post recently, and I got it!

Gregory Ciotti December 29, 2011 at 11:36 am

Always glad to hear from you Mandy :)

I have to agree with musicians being great at showing support for those who support them, I’m not sure what it is but I’ve had some truly awesome thank you emails and support come from a single post of their track.

Overall I think that networking is the bread and butter of any project that relies on traffic and loyal visitors like a blog, so it was great to see this experiment play out successfully without guest posting involved.

Really glad you enjoyed the post!

Mitchell Allen December 29, 2011 at 7:43 am

Hi Gregory! I love seeing ideas that don’t try to be “slick” with the existing technologies. You had a specific challenge and rose up to meet it. Superbly.

One of the problems I try to avoid is accepting the conventional ideas for using media. I consider them to be limitations; and my acceptance of them is tantamount to laziness.

Your lesson here has been “Evernoted” for future reference.

Cheers,

Mitch

Gregory Ciotti December 29, 2011 at 11:42 am

Thanks for the kind words Mitchell, glad you enjoyed it.

Eugene December 29, 2011 at 9:03 am

I have to disagree on one point. I think you SHOULD include the interview questions in the first email.

Not including the questions, and respect someone’s time, are contradictory to one another.

If you are requesting an interview from someone who has a large following, and is clearly someone that is busy, you want to keep the back-and-forth to a minimum.

Including the questions right in the first email allows the conversation to be one request, and one response.

It also allows them to see the quality of questions you ask right off the bat. If they are good, they will probably be more likely to take you seriously and participate.

This would also decrease the likelihood of taking 3 months to get back to you with a response because they can respond to your questions within that first email. Your questions are less likely to get lost in the pile of emails they probably receive daily.

Gregory Ciotti December 29, 2011 at 11:58 am

Hey Eugene, to clarify, the people that took a while to get back to me were the biggest artists I’ve pursued yet, and my questions were up to 800 words in length (total), so it was a big project.

I still prefer contacting people with an initial icebreaker email, it has worked for me and I’ve heard others state the same.

Have you had any experience with sending questions directly to people and compared your success rate with sending an intro email?

Mars Dorian December 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Grrreat post. It’s good to see someone building a site not about making money online.
Really luv the site – cool graphics, and definitely pretty sweet for a music blog (I neve read them – but yours looks ASS_kicking !)

Gregory Ciotti December 30, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Thanks Mars!

I feel the same way about always reading the stories of marketing blogs, glad you enjoyed the change up, that’s what I was aiming for!

Cheryl Pickett December 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Gregory, what I really like about this is that it not only unapologetically says a particular strategy may not work for every niche/industry, and then gives a fantastic case study of what to do instead.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post called Do You Need a Hammer? My premise was that to those selling hammers, everybody’s problem is a nail & board, whether it really is or not. As you prove here very well, answers are not always one size fits all. Not everyone needs a hammer now, and maybe not ever. I believe many industries/topics can benefit from this information, truly appreciate your willingness to share it.

Gregory Ciotti December 30, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Thank you for the comment Cheryl, I really do think you “nailed” what I was getting on about with this post.

I think the trouble people run into, despite all of the great information that is out there, is due to the reasons you stated: sites write about “one size fits all” types of content to appeal to as many people as they can.

I figured, it was time to write something for a bit smaller audience, but who I knew could relate (since I had just been there).

Glad this style of post has been so appreciated, and thanks again for taking your time to leave feedback, it is much appreciated.

Gabriel December 29, 2011 at 4:05 pm

As I am trying to figure out my 2012 blogging plan – this post just came to the rescue!

One of the things I am trying to figure out is how to make the whole posting/interviewing/networking more efficient and “natural”. I know bloggers need to schedule almost everything, but I feel sometimes that makes you a bit…robotic.

Thanks for the cool post! looking fwd to all of the 2012 content. Cheers!

Gregory Ciotti December 30, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Thanks Gabriel, good luck to you in 2012!

Jane | Problogging Success December 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Great post!

Beyond guest posting, there are multiple options to connect your blog with other sites. There are multiple ways to promote your blog. Emails are useful to collaborate and get personalized feedback and suggestions.

Barry | Blogging The Journey December 29, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Really interesting and inspirational article. When we take help from others, those who are helping us also will be benefited. Good to learn about your success through a different source (musician) and a tremendous success.

Dean Saliba December 30, 2011 at 5:23 am

I haven’t had this problem yet, I’m guessing I’ve just been lucky and have picked niches that slots in well with guest posts. :)

Gregory Ciotti December 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm

This was the same for me until this project!

More Web Site Traffic Guide December 30, 2011 at 7:16 am

I have been guest blogging for a while now. And yes, I experienced the problem you underwent. The idea about ‘it’s not about always offering something for free’ is a good one. By simply, taking interest to the person you’d win their affection. Great post!

Gregory Ciotti December 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

Steve Wells @ How to Pick up a Girl December 30, 2011 at 10:26 am

Great post, lots of useful tips. Speaking of social networking and requests – don’t you think it’s really time consuming? Added up these interactions can easily take hours per day!

Gregory Ciotti December 30, 2011 at 2:16 pm

It definitely can be Steve, but it’s manageable if you set aside a certain amount of time per day, preferably all at once, and then don’t go on for the rest of the day.

Fazreen January 1, 2012 at 9:20 am

This is excellent! Just what I need for my new entertainment blog. I love your plan. Attack the right person.

Gregory Ciotti January 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Thanks Fazreen, glad you enjoyed it!

Good luck on your new site!

Tom January 2, 2012 at 1:05 am

Thank you for a fantastic article.

It was very helpful.

Gregory Ciotti January 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm

You are very welcome Tom!

Daphné Dohne January 2, 2012 at 5:51 am

I am very glad that I read this post. It will be really helpfull for me.
It help me realize that one site, a famous professional in my niche, and seen these days, very often on TV should be also considered as a partner instead of a competitor.
Until now, I totally avoid mentioning one word of her. You made me realized I was wrong. I just decided I will dedicate one entire post to her And show my audience how our thinking is similar. How my approach is closed to her, and how I can also help them in return.
Thank you very much for this great insight.

Tom January 2, 2012 at 11:31 am

Hi Daphne,

I have fallen into the same trap. We should all work together as a community as opposed to thinking we are competitors. The negative attitude can do much harm as I have learned myself.

Gregory Ciotti January 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Daphne, you touched on a subject that I think effects a lot of people when they first get into blogging.

Many people see “competing” sites as exactly that, because in the business world, it usually it cutthroat in that way.

However, with blogs, since they thrive on traffic and email subscribers, it’s okay for readers to go to competitor’s sites and it’s okay for you to support others, the blogosphere benefits from connections in any way you are able to make them.

People generally love helping others who support them, and since it won’t cost them anything (unlike how it might in a brick and mortar business) they are usually likely to show some love back.

All the best with your new site,

–Greg

Shefiu January 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Interesting tips Gregory about blogging for success . I’m quite moved by the idea of being sociable without necessarily having to guest write. And the bit about interviewing an expert that provides more publicity for both parties is another eye opener for me. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Julia Hidy February 18, 2012 at 8:36 am

Lots of good ideas in this post. I really like the Follow Friday approach to reviewing artists. Think I may do the same but for authors and books.

Shannon June 8, 2012 at 12:57 am

Thanks Gregory, I’m already using a few of these tactics, but the #FF one is a goody, my site is run completely on interviews (still very new) and I just did the #FF and already had a retweet. This whole article is really valuable, bookmarked!
Cheers

Bojan - Alpha Efficiency April 5, 2013 at 2:45 am

Insightful post, really dig it’s content. Substance found here is profound and made me look deeper in how I operate my blog.

There is a lot of work involved in what you are doing, so blogging really does become a business. There is a nice etiquette attached to this, that allows you to be a polite asker and value giver. A connector.

Hopefully I’ll be able to implement this in my workflow. Reach out and connect!

Best regards!

mr. tunes December 30, 2011 at 10:14 am

well keep in mind that in the “standard” journalism world, an email interview is the bottom-of-the-bucket quality storytelling. the user has so much time to construe an answer. this is not a problem for most casual interviews, but you hit a snag when you ask anything of real importance.

so by this gauge, i would say that an email interview saves a ton of back-and-forth regarding scheduling the interview. so what’s the big deal about one ice-breaker email?

it has to be up to the interviewer and what they feel comfortable with of course, but to me it just doesnt seem comforting to bomb someone’s inbox with questions on first contact.

Gregory Ciotti January 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I agree 100% Tom!

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