Four Ideas for Getting Great Little-Known Blogs Discovered

Most bloggers are part of the Long Tail, the 600-foot long gap in the chart above that collectively gets 80% of the roughly 700,000 hours of total blogosphere readership each day, but which individually get miniscule attention. What if you have aspirations for your blog to be discovered, to become one of the 2000 A- and B-list blogs on the other side of that gap that each get at least 30 hours of reader attention each day? How do you get your blog ‘discovered’, when the only established ways are to grab the attention of either an A-lister or two, or Google, and even if you can do that the momentary audience you draw is likely to quickly dissipate again?

The predicament most bloggers face is much like that of athletes, artists, models, actors, writers and those striving to be discovered in professions where a handful are rich and famous almost beyond comprehension, while the huge majority live on the edge of invisibility (according to the Canadian tax authorities, average income for people declaring themselves to be in these professions was about $12,000 last year). The way people in these professions usually get discovered is to use agents. But in a non-profit profession like blogging, where there are no millionaire superstars, there are no agents — so we have to help ourselves out here.

Author and writing adviser Nicholas Sparks suggests these steps to be discovered by a literary agent: (1) write a great book, (2) research to find appropriate, good agents, and (3) write a good one-page Query Letter, consisting of:

  • A description of previous writing experience
  • A quick summation of the story
  • Other books that are similar to yours, and why yours is better
  • The possible market for the book
  • A reason why you want to work with this particular representative
  • A sentence explaining that the book is complete, with a request to have it read

The writing service Preditors and Editors (no great fan of using agents) recommends a Query Letter when you’re writing directly to a publisher’s editor, though with the addition of a ‘hook’ (a couple of sentences to grab the reader’s attention). Once you’ve got their interest, the publisher will often provide you with a template for a Proposal, a 5-20 page document usually comprising:

  • Overview and principal ideas
  • Other similar books, and what distinguishes and differentiates yours
  • The possible audience(s) for the book, and selling points for each audience
  • Table of contents, book length and suggested price (often with a synopsis of each chapter and/or a sample chapter)
  • Author credentials and experience, and what the author will do to promote the book
  • Who will provide the introduction and endorsements for the book
  • The status of the book

Much of what you’re providing to the agent or publisher will be repeated on the book-jacket, which is what the publisher uses to get your book ‘discovered’ inside the bookstores.

The world of book-buying is changing, though, with more and more readers browsing for books online, where the book-jacket is, at best, harder to read. While Amazon’s ‘search inside’ capability does let you browse the book-jacket, the table of contents, the index and usually the introduction or first chapter, it also provides this additional information for browsers:

  • Reader and editorial reviews
  • Affinity information: Other books bought by people who bought the book, or previewed online by people who previewed this book, and reader lists that include this book
  • Books deemed by Amazon’s algorithms to be ‘similar’

How could all of this be applied to blogs? There are a lot of blog directories out there, and I’ve signed up for most of them, but none of them is prominent enough to deliver any significant volume of readership to an undiscovered blog. Here’s what I think we need instead:

  1. Blog-Jackets: Something analogous to book-jackets, that would contain the kind of information readers want to know when they first stumble upon a new blog:
    • A short bio of the author(s), with your credentials and background, and perhaps a ‘why you blog’ paragraph
    • A quick overview of your blog content, how much/how long you’ve written, and perhaps a list of your best articles or table of contents
    • What makes your blog unique, different, and valuable to readers
    • Who your intended audience is (almost no blogs include this information today)
    • Endorsements from readers, and/or Technorati, Bloglines or SiteMeter rankings and data
Where should this information be kept to attract the attention of readers? First, I think blog software should provide this blog-jacket functionality, on a separate ‘About This Blog page’ that can be accessed from any other blog page, just as your blog ‘home’ page is. This would allow blog directories to be more complete and to be compiled automatically, without the authors having to fill in a separate form for each directory. It could also serve to introduce your blog to new readers, both passively when they first happen upon it, and actively in your other promotion efforts, such as when you e-mail someone ‘cold’ with a request that they look at your blog or an article in it. I would certainly use a standardized blog-jacket to orient myself to a new blog, if it were available.
  1. An Amazon Blog-Catalogue: No slight intended to existing blog directories, but I think we need to get Amazon, the cataloguers of all things written, to add blogs to their listings. Why should they do so? Because blogs have become a major source of book reviews and book referrals, publicists for what Amazon sells. Because it would complement what they already do, bring them more traffic and provide another valuable service to their customers. Because they could add a level of professionalism and standardization to the cataloguing of blogs that is currently missing (International Standard Blog Numbers?) The information in blog-jackets could supply the basic content in the catalogue, and then Amazon could use its existing tools like its affinity engines and reader review capabilities to make the catalogue even more useful. Why could Amazon do this better than Google? Because Google is in the search business, not the catalogue business. And Google is already doing a lot for bloggers in their area of expertise.
  1. Samplers: My third idea is to give bloggers a way to cross the digital divide and get their blogs and content discovered by hard-copy readers at face-to-face opportunities. Most of us belong to various networks where we talk with people about many of the same things we write about. But several readers have remarked about the disconnect between our P2P and online networks, and that fact that many of those we meet in person have never read what we’ve written, despite our attempts to get them to do so. Many people just don’t read stuff online — it isn’t their ‘information behaviour’ to do so. And also, when you print articles from your blog on a regular printer, the appearance is usually ghastly — the print size is too large or small, the formatting gets messed up, the graphics chopped, and the blog sidebar content is an annoying distraction and waste of paper. And the value of the links in the article is lost. What we need is a simple mechanism that allows us to select (perhaps by their permalinks) a set of articles we have written about a particular theme, and to get them indexed, formatted and printed professionally, with a cover page that we can customize for the circumstances. My friend Terry Frazier has been exploring this, and I think he’s on the right track. I don’t think this needs to be a complicated or costly offering, and the businesses best positioned to print professional-looking samplers may well be instant printers rather than publishers. Think of it as analogous to what the photo developers offer: You e-mail them your photos, they process them professionally and courier or mail them out to you the next day. Instant printers could strip out the blog sidebars, convert the links to footnotes with the full URL listed, add a cover page, format the results professionally for a variety of page sizes, print it on quality stock and even professionally bind it, and mail it out next day for a modest price (probably not much more expensive than a comparable quantity of business cards, but a lot more impressive). Then when you’re visiting your P2P networks at Meetups, conferences, breakfast meetings, book circles or other social occasions, your sampler becomes your, and your blog’s, calling card.
  1. Hard-Copy Partnerships: My final idea for getting your blog discovered is to partner with hard-copy publications that have a similar audience to your blog’s. Although some publications have their own blogs, there are still opportunities to exploit the flexibility, timeliness and interactivity of the online world to offer hard-copy publishers opportunities and bridges that they probably don’t have the capability, imagination or interest in pursuing themselves. You could offer follow-up forums, research support, additional reading links, reader feedback, and a host of other functionalities on your blog, ‘branded’ with the hard-copy publication’s logo, all of which promotes the hard-copy publication to readers online. In return, you’d get a regular mention in the hard-copy periodical as the ‘place to go’ online for latest developments and follow-ups on their stories. Who knows, you might even build the partnership to the point where they would publish some of your blog content in hard-copy form, and, if they’re big enough, pay you for your services. Even if they don’t, they have nothing to lose by giving you some free publicity, and you have nothing to lose by doing the same for them. It beats ads from people you don’t know, and allows your blog to benefit from their brand.

Has anyone tried any of these techniques, or any other innovative methods to get your under-appreciated blog discovered? My audience surged by 25% after a group of A-listers consecutively wrote about my article on thinking differently last month, but this audience didn’t stay long, and my readership has returned to previous levels. I’m increasingly convinced that the type of attention you get from A-listers, and from serendipitous Googlers as well, is rarely sustainable or terribly high quality. We need to try something new.

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22 Responses to Four Ideas for Getting Great Little-Known Blogs Discovered

  1. Darryl says:

    Dave,All the ideas sound resonable enough. One nitpick with one portion of the first idea: “Endorsements from readers, and/or Technorati, Bloglines or SiteMeter rankings and data” The problem here is if you have no references or endorsements or rankings. The kind of chicken and egg problem. I think it’s better to not publish your ranking when it really stinks.

  2. Lis Riba says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s my account of my brief moment in the spotlight, how I achieved it and why I decided it wasn’t worth the bother.

  3. Jeremy Heigh says:

    I like this idea Dave. Being a giant fan of books, I know what you’re after.I think I’ll do it – want to write an endorsement for me?

  4. dave davison says:

    Dave: I like the Amazon idea the most. consider offering Amazon an outsourced companion service to their existing cataloging/collaborative filtering model. Amazon has several “layers” of collaborative filtering1. Editors2. ListMania3. Associatessince you probably think about the Blogosphere in more productive/organized ways than most bloggers – who better to organize a team to do this work for Amazon – maybe this brings the Blog/magazine (blogazine) into play.You could start with blogs that already fit into your “departments” taxonomy, reach out to other active bloggers to expand the blogroll to other “departments” and offer Amazon an outsourced engine for the process. They’d probably buy the company for a bunch of money if you did a really great job.Key is to have enough breadth in the content departments and in the multiple blog rolls to offer something that might attract Amazon.Best would be where the blogazine drives purchases for other Amazon products from THEIR long tail.This would suggest that the blogazine would be most effective when it clearly added revenue for Amazon they would otherwise not collect.My own experience with the Amazon long tail is from my reading Beyond the Outer Shores by Eric Enno Tamm and then as a direct result ordering the book as a gift for several others and then buying for my own use about $200 worth of books and DVD products related to the Beyond book that were in Amazon’s Long Tail “inventory” These are windfall income for Amazon and representative of the kind of LongTail revenue prospects that are out there.While this gets us nowhere in the AHA world, it might be a project with real cash flow potential that would also be performing a much needed editorial and promotional service for the best blogs out there(from your perspective, or from the perspective of a better quality ListMania recommendation)The Blogazine could promote and bring to the attention of Amazon customers blogs that never makethe A list – but have the effect of driving windfall business for Amazon. If interested see me off line.Dave

  5. BK says:

    Hi Dave,In regards to printing out your blog, CSS stylesheets can actually accomplish a good deal of what you’re looking for. You can set up a seperate stylesheet just for print media, and tell it not to print your sidebar, change the font, line-height, or whatever else you need. It still might not have the feel you want on inkjet paper, but it’d be a step in the right direction.Cheers,BK

  6. Patry says:

    You’ve inspired me–especially with the concept of the “blog jacket.” (I’m of the artistic/dreamer variation so the other suggestions, though clearly valuable, are a bit too business/technical for my blood.)But by defining the blog’s purpose, it might not just orient and attract readers. It might serve to focus and stimulate the blogger as well.

  7. Octavio Lima says:

    Dave, I enjoyed your ideas, clear as usual. Here in Portugal, it happens that the most famous bloggers are connected to big national newspapers and national TV channels, where they print weekly articles or appear as talking heads about this and that. That’s a sort of vicius circle, like I refer to you now, you refer back to me later. Cheers. Octavio Lima

  8. dilys says:

    Hi, Dave, and thanks for your — or someone from your site — visit to G as in Good H as in Happy. I like your ideas, everyone could do a blog jacket. One of my commenters said he liked my site very much, but it was too esoteric ever to become popular. That sounds like Long Tail country…And, really, the appetite to for Instalanches, or a public that demands regular input, just may not be worth it to some of us. I really don’t want to be Glenn Reynolds or Wonkette. All fourteen of my regular readers make me about as happy as forty thousand hostile or clueless ones would. Sounds like it nearly killed Stephen den Beste. One use of a blog is as a kind of animated business card. A place to refer people for the tenor of your mind. Yours works very well for that.Now, a way for me to find blogs I’ll love, that I’d like to know about and read every day, that appeals! Just today, I found one (University Diaries, trenchant conservative academe) about which I’m ecstatic. Didn’t find her until another, less interesting, blogger linked. I’d probably pay $10 US for a list of such keepers. Don’t know how anyone else would figure that out for me, though; perhaps the software Amazon uses for “if you like X, we think you’d like Y”…

  9. Mike says:

    Dave,Great post. Another option that many blogs avail themselves of to reach new readers is the carnival. Carnivals are periodic collections of submitted posts, usually focused on a central theme, hosted by a rotating cast of participants. Not only does the carnival benefit the host blog, increasing traffic considerably for at least a little while, but it also allows unknown blogs to reach an established audience without the regular hurdles. Whether they keep the readers is, of course, another story.The original carnival was, I believe, Carnival of the Vanities but the concept has spread to all different areas and niches. For example, those interested in science blogging might check out the Tangled Bank (new one today!) while the Carnival of the Godless adresses issues like godlessness, atheism, church/state separation.As always, you present a number of intriguing ideas. I don’t know a person keeping a blog who doesn’t want new readers. In carnivals, we have an example where bloggers are doing it for themselves.

  10. Fathead says:

    I like to think of blogging as a long term contribution in knowledge as well as a place to whine and bitch about stuff. People come by when I put something useful up that they need. The rest is just five minutes of nothing better to do. Making people think is admirable, making them read about it continually is too much to ask. I read about 2% of the newspaper, and I lose interest in most things after three lines unless I’m really committed. So how did I end up here reading this entry? Through new links. Will I be back? Possibly. I visit about 50 websites a day, 48 of them I’ve never seen before. Unless I’m researching, I let present me with a list of potentially interesting links. I guess if someone is really seeking an audience, then your advice appears quite sound.

  11. Fathead says:

    And now I remember… I have been here before…

  12. Lis Riba says:

    Since you’re talking about book jackets, I just found this interview with book jacket designers

  13. Good advice overall (I’m not fond of the Amazon idea, not because I don’t like recommendations, but because it’s a centralized system).My own Technorati rank is (or was when I last looked) around 700, which puts me in B category. If email subscriptions (not measured as part of blog readership) were included, it might be a little higher.I’ve done a lot of what you sugggest, specifically:- Book jacket: A detailed about page, describing the nature and purpose of the site, how content is selected, how it can be used- Hard-copy Partnerships: Some connection with physical publications, as I publish articles in some mainstream journals. I haven’t established formal relations with a publication, though if you can get one it’s a real boost – most A-list bloggers have been vaulted into their position by virtue of some association with traditional media.- Samplers: a connection with a real audience through conference participation (this is probably one of the single greatest source of new readership, especially for new publications). I don’t give out samples per se, but I do mention my website in my talks (I have in the past (ie, 2001) created print copies of other work (specifically, the MuniMall newsletter), and this was extremely effective)I think that the essence of what you’re saying is that the way to improve readership is not so much to tap into existing readership so much as to appear to a new (and hence, better targeted) readership; this is not only your best bet at increasing readership, it might be your only bet.I will note two more things, however:- First, my blog is not published merely as a blog but also as an email newsletter – this allows many people less comfortable with web publications to read my content (and also distinguishes me from other information sources). My email readership is still 5 or 6 times greater than my blog readership.- Second, thesingle greatest source of new subscriptions is participation in email discussion lists. By providing content in a form people already use, I am able to establish credentials and encourage people to read more merely by adding a link to the bottom of my email.Like this: OLDaily – news and views in elearning.

  14. jim wilde says:

    Hey Dave,Your technology needs seriously updated. You have no hooks into 3rd party services for tags distribution and probably not the best metadata for search. These two problems make it difficult for people to find/discover your work and ideas. It would be my pleasure to help you with a mostly painless move. Email me and I’ll give you some details and a site to play around with.

  15. Dave, to contradict your point that after some A-list bloggers linked to you none of the traffic stuck around, I’m still reading. A friend sent me an email with a link and then I subscribed to your RSS feed. Now I read almost everything you write.A few more things readers might want to consider on how to get their blog read by more people:- Consider that perhaps the goal is not more people, but the right people. Specify what audience you want to reach then figure out where they are online and what you’ll write / create to attract them.- Advertise your blog with pay-for-performance advertising like Google AdWords, Yahoo (Overture) Marketing, Blog Ads, Marketbanker, etc. These campaigns can be throttled from dollars a day to thousands of dollars a month.- Optimize your blog for search engines. There are hundreds of articles on this, so I’ll not go into detail here, suffice to say that search engines are the routers of traffic and if you don’t exist in the organic, index listings for your targeted keyword phrases, you don’t have a profile.- Make sure your RSS feed works. Get yourself an RSS reader and subscribe to a bunch of feeds to see what works.- Track your inbound links with automatic tools like Google provide and provides, and don’t just use their standard link: to find links pointing at your site. Use a bit of query trickery. I use http://www.upinontario.+com instead of because it returns all the links point to my site, Up in Ontario. Hey, check me out!- Lastly, make valuable comments in the blogs that your audience reads.

  16. Kate says:

    Interesting post, Dave.I’ve never made a particular effort to attract readers. It seems that the days I get the most reads (100+ — not many!) are those when I posted throughout the day. I’d say at least half of my viewers came through google, so they aren’t “regular” readers. Oh well!I like your idea of a blog catalog. I’d love to see a paragraph description of blogs to chose from. I always feel lucky when I’ve come upon a blog I find interesting; it’s almost always through another blog or a comment left on a blog. Pure chance!Take care —

  17. kara says:

    I always look for a blog’s author Bio, Profile, or About text. I need to know they have a purpose. Guess I better get working on my profile. Don’t really like Bloggers profile tool.

  18. mb says:

    In Singapore, a very diverse bunch of the more well-read Singapore blogs got together and created a moderated metablog called, so that readers could submit their blog recommendations to a moderation queue, and the editorial team then publishes the ones which are interesting and relevant.It is working out nicely so far, with many lesser-known but quality Singapore-related blogs being discovered on a daily basis.

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