I’m very pleased to announce that Jeff Bullas is my guest on the 24th session of the Content Champion podcast. Jeff is a highly accomplished blogger, speaker, author and social media strategist, and has recently been ranked at number eight on the Forbes list entitled “The World’s Top 40 Social Marketing Talent”.
Amongst many other accolades, he’s been published by the New York Times and the Huffington Post, and is in the top fifty most retweeted people on Twitter.
I’m a regular visitor to Jeff’s blog, and am always sharing his posts and insights on social media.
His engaging writing style and the quality of his content means his blog gets over 4 million annual page views, so it’s great that he’s agreed to share his knowledge of traffic generation with us.
For nearly half an hour, Jeff generously outlined all the ways he drives traffic to his blog – all of which you can use to increase visitor numbers to your own online business.
This is what we discussed:
Plus! The PS Question! Jeff gives some surprising advice on a strategy you can start using today!
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Announcer: Welcome to the official podcast at ContentChampion.com. Join our heroic quest to discover truly epic content marketing. Introducing your host, the Content Champion himself, Loz James.
Loz James: Hi, guys, welcome to Session 24 of the Content Champion Podcast. This time around I’m speaking with renowned social media strategist, blogger, author, and speaker, Jeff Bullas. I’m delighted Jeff’s come on this show as I genuinely love his blog and regularly share his excellent posts with my audience.
Ranked number eight on the Forbes 2014 list of the World’s Top 40 Social Marketing Talent, Jeff’s work has been published by the New York Times and the Huffington Post, while he’s also at number 11 on the all-time list of the Top 50 Most Retweeted People on Twitter. Jeff’s blog gets millions of visitors a year, so if there’s one man who knows how to drive high volumes of traffic to your online business it’s him. Let’s dive in.
Thanks very much for coming on today, Jeff.
Jeff Bullas: It’s a pleasure.
Loz James: You’re an expert, a renowned social media digital marketing and content marketing expert and I know my listeners are keen to hear your thoughts on how to drive increased levels of traffic to their blogs and websites.
My audience would also love to hear your backstory too, so before we kick off can you share with us how you got started in the marketing industry?
Jeff Bullas: I’ve been in tech for about 20 years, I suppose, and I ran my business doing communications, so there’s sales and marketing there. I was in business development for some of the big telco’s in the internet industry when it kicked off in the mid-90s. Took a bit of a seachange change and then came back into the web world and then kicked off the blog.
My background before that was a teacher, but technology, marketing has intrigued me for more than a couple of decades now. When social media turned up it fascinated me because it basically combined technology and humanity. I sort of felt its power as a marketing tool and said I’ve just got to check this out a little bit more. That’s when I started the blog.
Loz James: Ok…
Jeff Bullas: I was unemployed, middle of a marriage breakup, had to close a business and I was $50,000 in debt to credit cards. I had a bit of time so I started reading a lot online and I read David Meerman’s book The New Rules of Marketing PR and then I read Tim Ferriss’ lifestyle book, The 4-Hour Workweek, which talked about how to create a life online, or business and life and a lifestyle.
Then I read a HubSpot blog, it was, that said if you’ve got an inkling of what you want to blog about, just start, so I did. Just started writing about social media. I had no grand plan, spent all of $10 on a domain name, and that was it really. Set up a WordPress.com blog and started writing. It was just from a, I suppose, a fascination and a curiosity driven by online research and reading. I love reading.
Loz James: Now you’ve been published all over the place. New York Times, Huffington Post, you’re on the Forbes list of Top 50 Social Media Power Influences. It’s a real success story, isn’t it? You must be really proud of what you’ve achieved.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, it’s a little bit bizarre in one sense. I suppose people seemed to resonate with what I was writing. I’ve gone back to some of my original blog posts and they were very poorly written, I can say, and very poorly structured. It’s been a lot of learning along the way. It still surprises me. It really does. It’s driven from, I think, what I love doing and what I’m passionate about and also some of my strengths, I think.
It’s the intersection of a variety of interests and passions. I think that’s the secret behind success in any type of pursuit. It’s got to be what you’re good at and also what you’re passionate about and quite often they’re the same things, because whatever you find easy to do flows. It turns work into play.
Loz James: With such an in-depth level of knowledge, I know my listeners will be interested to get your thoughts on how to drive traffic. If I am a small business owner listening to this and I want to get more traffic, I’m perhaps a blogger without any readers, where should I start with this whole process? Where should we begin?
Jeff Bullas: I found Twitter to be a great driver of traffic, so from day one, well within a few weeks, I actually realized that I started building my Twitter followers. I worked very hard and relentlessly on that. Twitter’s a great way of actually building a targeted audience so I pursued some really specific tactics on that. I made a lot of mistakes early on.
Also I use email as well so I continue to build an email list. I didn’t do that very well at the beginning. In fact, I didn’t do it for about 12 months because I really wasn’t chasing traffic, I was just writing because I found it interesting. My advice would be actually don’t just rely on social media. Build an email list from day one. That’s really important.
Also the other thing too is to optimize your blog for search engines. You’re not going to attract search engines very much in the early stage, but you’ve got to keep doing it and over time to earn the authority online that you start ranking in search engines and hopefully get to page one for key terms and phrases.
Loz James: That dovetails into my next question actually. How long did it take you? Did you have 100 posts on the site? What sort of happened in that organic traffic process?
Jeff Bullas: The organic happened maybe six months in when I got nominated by some of my readers to the first Social Media Examiner Top 10 Social Media Blogs. I was one of the ones that was actually selected but didn’t appear on the list finalists.
It’s like your peers that were reading your, readers reading your blog and they actually put me forward and that gave me some what I call social proof and some visibility on another blog that grew quite rapidly. That was about six months in. It wasn’t so much the number of posts.
You reach certain tipping points but it has to come from persistent consistent effort. I think when I kicked off I did two or three maybe couple posts a week and then I put it up to three and then I said, “If I’m going to be serious about this …” When I started getting some feedback that it was working, I then bumped it up to five posts a week, which is pretty well what I do mostly now.
You just got to create the best content you can and build the largest tribes and followers on social media that you can. That’s basically a crowdsource market and they do the sharing for free, so if you create great content then people are going to share it because it adds value to them.
Loz James: What’s the balance now? You have some guests posting, you do obviously a lot of the writing yourself. What sort of length you’re writing, does that play into it as well?
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, I try and aim around 1000 words because if you do something that’s fairly deep and gives what I call very good tips, that makes sense, that are well-structured, then you become a resource and that means that people are going to link to you.
Basically by creating big, fairly substantial blog posts rather than just small, fluffy ones, you’re actually becoming the resource or the go-to place for people to actually get their information. It’s really important.
The mix on guests to my writing is maybe 60% guests and about 40% my writing because I’m developing some other premium content on my online courses, basically outlining a new book, and developing affiliate income off the blog as well. There’s a lot to do and always will be.
Guest authors … They always say give a little bit of a range of topics and also different insights I think people appreciate. Because sometimes when you’re writing yourself day in, day out you start to feel like you’re writing this … It’s Groundhog Day, sometimes it feels like, because you’re actually … “I think I’ve written this before, maybe four or five times but in different ways.”
I think it’s good to add some guest authors to blogs because it gives that different approach that I think adds a freshness and also it’s great to give some other people attention online because people do guest blog and you actually give them an audience and it’s fun to see them get a kick out of it as well.
Loz James: You mentioned persistence and consistency. I spoke to some high-profile bloggers that say, “I do one 4000 word post a month and then I promote it all month,” and I’ve spoken to many more others actually since Hummingbird and everything else where they’re saying, “No, it’s consistency. Now the fresh content is rewarded ultimately in the search engines.” Obviously that’s what you’re doing so that’s a good strategy really for small business owners to follow from the off.
Jeff Bullas: Yes, because Google’s rewarding authority, like I said, fresh content. Fresh and unique content. They see the activities happening and you think about it, Google’s trying to serve up relevant content that’s actually fresh. Google and its algorithm will mark down older content, so you’ve got to be constantly refreshing your blog.
Yes you can do it once a month, sure you can write a long one, but it basically, that’s telling Google, “There’s not much happening here.” The reality is that social search and content is very much a synergy. You’ve got to be making sure that you are distributing content, writing it constantly, so you can actually get the best search engine results.
Loz James: Okay, let’s say I’m a small business just down the road from me here in rural Essex in England in the UK and I want to start blogging. I’m looking at promotion as well, perhaps on social media. I should start a WordPress blog, I should then perhaps go onto Twitter if that’s the most appropriate place for my audience, but looking at some strategies for growing your Twitter following, how would we go about doing that?
Jeff Bullas: I use a few tools. One I found very useful is the premium version of Tweepi. T-W-double E-P-I. It allows me to follow the followers of people within my industry, so other top bloggers in social media, I can go and follow their followers because that’s a qualified list.
Generally the people that are following social media or Examiner, they’re following them because it’s about social media. If I follow their followers, they notice that I’m following them, they’ll go and check my blog out and going, “Jeff’s following me. His content looks good, great, or fantastic,” whatever they think. They’ll go, “Jeff’s worth following,” so actually they’ll follow you back.
That is a very simple way of basically building following and is targeted. Earlier on I just followed anyone that had a big number of Twitter followers. That wasn’t very clever but you have to do it alone. That tactic with Tweepi I found it worked really, really well. Because you’ll find that if you’re creating great content, you followed people, and you’ve got a good profile and you’re starting to build some social proof …
It’s harder earlier on, of course, because you don’t have that authority and don’t have that content depth and maybe don’t have that social proof in terms of the number of Twitter followers and retweets on your blog and so on. That tactic following qualified list and building my Twitter following that way has continued to work for me for the last four or five years.
You just can’t do that on Facebook and you can’t do that on LinkedIn. Well, you can do it on LinkedIn but it’s much harder to do. Tweepi is a very efficient tool. Creates a list that actually can follow people quite quickly.
Loz James: Obviously we can’t lump all the social media platforms in together because they have different uses for different audiences –
Jeff Bullas: Exactly.
Loz James: You mentioned a couple of others there. What do you think of Google+?
Jeff Bullas: Google+ I’ve been on pretty well from day on. It’s got a lot of really cool features like Hangouts and then its also got Circles and all those sorts of things. The demographic tends to be mild and a bit more technical and geeky.
It’s, I suppose, a little bit like Twitter on steroids in one sense being said about it, but I don’t know if that’s actually correct. The profile of Google+ is different to the others. I haven’t found it drives a lot of traffic. It’s harder to build a following on it.
I think you’ve got to be there because it does lend some level of SEO, but how much, I’m not sure because obviously Google’s not going to tell you that.
I find it’s maybe about the fourth or fifth, somewhat sixth driver of traffic for my blog, so I haven’t devoted a lot of time to it in terms of achieving my goals, but I do publish my blog post to it after every time I hit publish. It’s certainly worth participating in and trialing, but I found that it’s not a big driver of traffic. StumbleUpon can be more than Google+.
Loz James: The advice would be then coming from that is that yeah, be across the different social media channels, the main ones, but using the follow the followers if you like strategy, you’ll find out where people are active within your target audience and then just hit on that particular social media platform, whichever one it is, and then you’ll build up your profile on there and it’ll drive you some traffic?
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, I find, for example, Twitter’s maybe not the perfect place necessarily for me to be in one sense for some of the business I do, but it does create a lot of brand awareness that goes back into the other platforms.
Sometimes you don’t know what activity on one platform, how it’ll impact another. It’s different for everyone else and a lot of people are comfortable … Some people love doing video blogs so that might be a different way to use that to build traffic.
You’re going to find where you want to play that you’re comfortable with and I love the simplicity of Twitter as well. It basically hasn’t changed a lot. Yes, it’s got more visual and so on, but it’s still very much the tool I really got to enjoy five, six years ago, whereas Facebook’s just this constant change and how you work with it.
Facebook’s reducing its organic reach which means you have to play it in a different way and then quite often need to pay for attention. That can be very effective and you can actually do quite well with good, paid advertising on Facebook because of its targeting qualities, but organic reach that’s around the 4% mark makes it hard to actually reach people through earned tactics rather than paying for them.
Loz James: For sure. In the mix of traffic strategies you’ve mentioned on-page SEO optimizing your posts for the search engines. We’ve got to be careful about link building though these days. Do you do much of that? I guess you don’t need to.
Jeff Bullas: I have never done or chased link building as a tactic. What I would recommend is if you create the best content you can and also long-form content’s really important because that means as a resource, people are wanting to link to you because they want to reference you and want to keep it as a resource when they write a blog post saying, “Check this out. Here’s 20 tips on how to do Twitter marketing,” or whatever. If you’re creating great content, you’ll actually naturally grow organic inbound links.
Guest blogging is another way of doing that and Google’s made some noises about they’re going to try and stop guest blogging but it’s going to be very hard for them to detect, I think, what are people doing specific tactics that are link building through guest blogging.
If you create great content and you are able to get out there on your channels, social media or email, you will actually naturally build SEO over time. That’s what Google actually rewards is that natural, organic high-value content that people want to share.
Loz James: Really, again, coming from that, if I’m sitting down with a small business owner or client and they say, “How does this blogging stuff work?” I should really be saying, “If you can, if you do have the resources to do 1000 word plus well researched piece of content and publish it to your blog every day and share that on social media, within six months you’ll be going great guns with that”?
Jeff Bullas: You’re going to give yourself a pretty good shot, yeah, especially if you’ve done some key word research as well. Maybe with an SEO expert or depending on how much research you want to do yourself, go to a list of 50 keyword phrases that are important for people finding you online in your industry and what they use to search to find you or research.
It might be very hard for a business to do 1000 words a day. I get up early, so typically 4:30, 5:00 most days to do the guest posts and then work during the day. Some people aren’t going to be very good writers. They might have to outsource it.
Try and be consistent. Do one a week. It really comes down to what they’re going to be able to do internally and what they can pay for externally. It really comes down to not everyone can do 1000 words a day. That’s just not going to be almost realistic. You’ve got to be realistic, some are going to embrace it and run with it. Others will decide it’s just too much hard work and just won’t do it.
Loz James: Here’s a fact now that the more quality content that goes on there the better you’re going to do, isn’t it? I’ve had people asking me myself if you do consistent content, I’m doing it and it’s not working, but there is a critical mass you can reach. I find that fascinating now that if you do blog every day, you are going to get more traffic, aren’t you?
Jeff Bullas: Oh, absolutely. I do say to clients saying, “Don’t expect this to be a shortcut measure, but when it starts kicking in you’re going to be surprised. Expect it’ll take six to 12 months.”
Basically you might have to work at it for six months without seeing much reward, but once you build so much what I call a digital asset, this content and search engine starting to rank you, because then what happens is you start getting more and more traffic organically, you start turning out more, and then that builds on that so it actually accelerates.
The long term benefits are, as you continue to create content, as you continue to be found without having to pay for attention online, that’s what’s really, really important and that’s that earned piece in content marketing.
Loz James: It’s good that you said that because that does lead neatly into the next question. You’ve mentioned Facebook paid advertising. What role does paid traffic, paid advertising play, AdWords and everything in the traffic generation equation?
Jeff Bullas: I don’t do any for my blog. I really don’t need to because I worked so hard on the earned part, but I think if you’re kicking off a website or a blog and you need to not only commit resources and money to designing it or building it, you also to commit to some resources to actually kick it off with some paid to actually maybe accelerate and be a catalyst for traffic so you actually get some awareness.
Loz James: Yeah, and you can do LinkedIn, you can do Facebook, but Facebook is quite targeted. You can select by demographics and location amongst a lot of other things, and then you can do Google AdWords as well. It depends. It’s sometimes worth doing a couple of paid tactics actually to test to see what works.
Announcer: … You’re listening to the Content Champion Podcast, showcasing the best content marketing strategies across the web.
Loz James: We’re back with Jeff Bullas. We’re looked at blogging, we’ve looked at social media, SEO, paid traffic, what other traffic sources should we perhaps consider?
Jeff Bullas: We haven’t gone too much into email but email’s very, very important. We mentioned at the beginning email’s great because when you build a list you actually own it. That, again, is earned. The best tactic for that is giving away something for free. It could be a free video tutorial, some people can opt-in by giving away their email address and then in return they get something, a premium content value.
It might be a free book or a free online video tutorial. That is really important. From day one, especially in B2B, that should be done. That is so important.
Loz James: I’m on your list. I love reading your stuff. Could you outline some of the strategies you’re using with your blog broadcasts and other stuff that we get through your email list?
Jeff Bullas: I work very hard on creating a headline, then I also work very hard on making sure the intro will tempt them to read the rest of it. When I send out an email in my email broadcast to my opt-in list, I don’t give them the whole article, I only give them the intro with a hyperlink to read the rest on the blog.
I don’t reveal the answers in that email. It’s basically a teaser to say … They got to click on the headline first, then they’ve got to read the intro, and then they’re going to say, “I’m fascinated. What is going to be revealed here?”
You’ve got to drive that curiosity and that’s really, really important. I’ve seen a lot of people actually send out a whole blog post just in email. Then they got no reason to click through your website to get them online where they actually can engage with you further. That’s really, really important. Those tactics are vital to actually drive traffic to your blog so you actually can engage with them even more closely.
Loz James: As we talk I’m looking at your website. In terms of personal branding, you are your brand. Your name and your company is your own personal brand. How important is that building that authority, that trust, that unique identity?
Jeff Bullas: There’s two schools of thought that you can create a personal brand that’s just your name. The problem is if you wanted to go and sell that online property later, then it’s very hard to because it’s you. That’s one aspect. On the other hand, with social media people do like to see people rather than just a brand. They like to see the human side.
I think a personal brand is really important, and also being unique. I had an accidental success which is that caricature you see when you visit my blog which is different to your normal Photoshopped images that you see of people taken in studios. The feedback I had over time is it’s memorable, so it actually stands out.
I think creating a unique brand, personal or business, is really important. I was going to originally use an image, just a photo of myself, but a friend of mine said, “Why don’t you use a caricature?” He was an artist and he drew one for me and it’s really good. It worked. I think because it’s memorable, it’s different.
You got to try to work out how you can stand out both with name and your branding, I suppose. Luckily for me I was able to get my name as a domain name because I’ve got a different name. I’m not John Smith. That would’ve been gone ten years ago. JeffBullas.com was available. That means it’s congruent with the brand as well.
Loz James: I’ve done something similar. I’ve got a cartoon character, a superhero, and when I split tested that with my own photo, my sign-up rates on my email list more than doubled.
Jeff Bullas: Wow.
Loz James: It’s extraordinary but it does work because I guess there’s loads of pictures like me, middle-aged slightly balding guys out there on blogs, so something a bit different is, like you said, more memorable.
Jeff Bullas: Exactly. Be memorable.
Loz James: Let’s look at conversion. Obviously you’re getting people to the site, they see your authority, they love your stuff, how do you turn them into consumers of your products and services rather than just tire kickers reading your content?
Jeff Bullas: It’s basically, I suppose, creating premium content. You’re basically creating trust through giving away free content and then once they’ve seen that is then to offer premium content where there’s a call to action. It might be your books, so you’ll need to actually write good copy.
You then need to make it easy for them to buy, and then tactics such as webinars are really important, especially if you’re selling a more high-value product. Webinars are very important from conversion point of view, a series of free webinars, and also associating with other bloggers that actually can create an audience for you where they get a split of the sales. You got to be able to share what you make as well, so that’s why affiliate works so well.
Conversion comes down to actually understanding psychology and the principles of scarcity, the principles of call to action, and one of the things you mentioned, of course, is split testing. See what works and what doesn’t and do more of the … Then optimize the one that works best and continue to … It could be changing the color of button from green to orange.
Loz James: I was talking to Jay Baer about the types of conversions on sites, the different types of offers you make to your audience and I find it really fascinating. You’re doing the same thing on your sidebar. Like you say you’ve got the webinar, you’ve got sign-up for the email list, the free e-book, and you’ve got various other graphical call to action touchpoints on the page. It gives people a choice to start clicking around and takes of action, doesn’t it?
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, and also you need to make sure that you have it high up or top right corner. You’ll notice just about all three e-books are put in the top right corner because you want to build that email list. Some people make it really hard to find your free e-book.
There’s certainly some really important rules have emerged for online marketing that are proven to work, so putting the high yielding, best returned, highest revenue products or affiliate that you might be pushing above the break. In other words, not below the fold of the screen.
Loz James: How are you measuring all this? Are you just using Google Analytics?
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, I just use Google Analytics. There’s other metrics they can tell you about traffic and conversion style. Email will tell you your open rates and so on, but Google Analytics where you have a conversion path.
Loz James: I do like to ask all my guests at this stage about trends in the coming year. Jeff, what do you see happening in the content marketing space over the next 12 months?
Jeff Bullas: I think there’s going to be more focus on taking control of your own digital assets rather than just doing Facebook marketing, especially as Facebook’s wound back its organic reach. I think that’s also going to result in more people spending money on Facebook advertising.
I think as Twitter rolls out its paid advertising I see more people using Twitter and I think Facebook reducing its organic reach is actually going to make people look more closely at platforms like LinkedIn.
I’ve been playing with LinkedIn, especially with its new publishing platform it announced in February, and I think it’s become more social and open and content-centric, which actually suits my strategy. LinkedIn’s something that I’m going to pursue and I think a lot more people will, especially in the B2B space.
For example, I published a blog post for Monday this week on LinkedIn’s new publishing platform and I’ve been playing with that the last month or two, month and a half. It really resonated so it became the second top post on LinkedIn globally for the day.
Loz James: Wow.
Jeff Bullas: It got 165,000 views. Most of those were in the first 24 hours. I had over 700 comments currently and it drove record traffic to my blog for two days. I think we’re going to see some really interesting stuff being done with LinkedIn over the next 12 months as well. That’s a big move.
That really blew me away. Once you can do that, get to the homepage basically through your content on LinkedIn. I’m going to have a look at different strategies and tactics for that as well.
Loz James: As I said, I’m on your list. I’m always showing your stuff on social media and it always gets a lot of click-throughs and drives a lot of interest. Could you remind us where we can find you and some of the stuff you’ve got available online please?
Jeff Bullas: You can find me at the blog at JeffBullas.com. J-E-double F-B-U-double L-A-S.com and you can find me on Twitter @JeffBullas and if you can’t find me, just Google me.
Announcer: Wait for it, listeners. Here comes the PS question.
Loz James: This is what I call the PS question. Could you please share one advanced content marketing strategy that my listeners can take away and use right after this call?
Jeff Bullas: I think one advanced strategy I’m using now is actually this LinkedIn publishing. I think that’s really important. In terms of advanced, it does take time and commitment and it’s maybe not for everyone, but it’s to actually write a free e-book. If you can write and publish your own book, I think that actually lends some real credibility.
Even if it’s self-published. If you can actually publish and get it on Amazon and even put it on your own blog, I think that’s really important because there’s nothing like someone saying, “Jeff’s written a book,” or, “John’s written a book and here it is. It’s well written, well researched.”
A book isn’t that hard to actually write if you think about it because you actually can plan it out and actually write a chapter or two a week as blog posts. Then just compile them later and edit it and maybe add a bit more content at the end and you can turn a blog post into your own published book. I think that’s really important and that’s long-form content and it just adds credibility.
Loz James: That’s a great strategy and, Jeff, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I thank you very much for your time and I wish you the best of luck with everything you do in the future.
Jeff Bullas: It’s a pleasure, Loz, and stay curious.
Loz James: There we have it, guys. That was Episode 24 of the Content Champion Podcast. Many thanks again to Jeff Bullas for a great interview. If you liked this podcast, please leave me a review on iTunes. You can also find us on Stitcher, Zune, the Blackberry Network, and of course on the Content Champion website. Thanks for listening, I appreciate it, but until next time …
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