What If You Built a Blog and No One Came?

Several Jupiter Research analysts, including myself, recently started writing Weblogs about our respective coverage areas. Once or twice a day, I comment on events in the travel industry (which I cover, in addition to email), often providing commentary on breaking industry news before the stories find their way into on- and offline publications.

Weblogs like these can be effective marketing tools, especially in niche industries where little news is published in the mainstream press. The software is quite inexpensive and provides an opportunity for small business owners to be seen as experts in their industry. Writing the Weblog is the easy part; the challenge is publicizing it.

To understand the scope of this challenge, I conducted a little marketing experiment to see what it would take to garner more traffic than my 13 Weblog-writing counterparts at Jupiter.

For the first couple of weeks after launch, I hovered roughly at the bottom of the traffic stats. I tried word-of-mouth marketing, telling clients about the site and asking them to tell others if they enjoyed what they were reading.

I stayed at the bottom of the traffic stats.

Next, I included a link and an explanation in the monthly newsletter I send to clients, again asking people to forward the link.

I stayed at the bottom of the traffic stats.

I was experiencing the online marketing frustration likely shared by many ClickZ readers. I’m following best practices for email campaigns. I’m producing interesting (I think), well-designed newsletters. I’m including viral marketing within my newsletters, hoping to encourage pass-along. The Weblog landing page is pretty well designed and easy to use. I think the content is compelling. Why wasn’t my traffic growing at the same rate as my coworkers’?

I don’t know the answer to that last question, nor do many marketers know why their site traffic lags. What I did know was it was time to bring out the big guns.

I started buying Google keywords.

My wife, a voice of reason, brought up a great point when she said, “Wait… you’re going to pay Google to drive traffic to your Web site, and you’re not going to make any money from it?” Well, yes. I admit it sounded funny when she put it that way.

Undeterred, I created a text ad aimed at folks interested in the travel industry and, using Google’s AdWords program, bought a slew of keywords I thought would drive traffic for a nickel a click. I purchased industry terms such as “load factor” and “Airfare Yield.” I purchased aircraft types, such as “Boeing 737” and “Airbus A340.” I bought approximately 20 terms I thought would appeal to travel industry enthusiasts.

Boy, was I wrong.

I’d check every couple of hours to see the click-throughs generated and quickly became depressed. I got nothing. Well, virtually nothing. The text ads were displayed several thousand times. I received four clicks. “Boeing 727”? Nothing. “Airport Codes”? Nothing. A few thousand ads displayed, and I was out just 20 cents. Good news for my wife, bad news for me.

I tested different words over the first week, eventually discarding 21 words and phrases that were completely ineffective. How ineffective? Nearly 6,000 ads were displayed, and I generated 11 clicks.

Much to my surprise, two general terms seemed to work quite well. I’ve stuck with “airline industry” and “airlines news” for a month now, generating 610 clicks and a 1.2 percent CTR. Not too shabby. I’ve also generated the most traffic of the 14 analysts writing Weblogs. Plus, I got to spend $30 of my own money!

Has this been an effective means of marketing my blog? Sure. I am starting to receive positive feedback from clients and, based on the traffic data, I seem to be gaining more visitors each week. If you’re thinking of starting a business-related Weblog, I have four tips to help with the marketing:

  • The keyword program worked well for me, but be patient with results and test many different combinations of words. It took me several weeks to understand broad terms worked better for me than specific keywords. You may have completely different results, depending on your industry.

  • I found it was not worth bidding more than a nickel for higher placement in the results page. My best-performing keywords typically ranked fifth in the listings and performed better than other words that placed higher in the results.

  • Contact other bloggers and ask them to place a link to your Weblog on their pages. This will be even more effective if the blogger is writing about a similar industry.

  • Don’t give up on working your house list. Place a link to the Weblog in each of your newsletters and a link to the Weblog in your email signature file.

Don’t miss ClickZ’s Weblog Business Strategies in Boston, June 9-10.

Related reading