April 18, 2012
As you may know, I recently started a new website, Custom Report Sharing (CRS) as a place for online marketers to find and share custom Google Analytics reports, dashboards and advanced segments. But a new website is only as good its marketing, because if nobody knows about it, it will be a ghost town. Thankfully, I know a little bit about website marketing.
The on-page SEO part was easy because the content management system (CMS) I am using is IP.Board, which is fairly crawler friendly right out of the box. But marketing a forum-type website is not really an exercise in on-page SEO. It's more about getting the word out to the people who would be interested in what it offers.
With that said, here's what I've learned (so far) trying to market my new website:
1. It's helpful to have a well-established online presence to jumpstart a new one. While in some ways I'm starting from scratch to market this site, I have a big advantage: I can rely on my own brand recognition and following to get the word out. That's been a lifesaver. I don't think I would have the steady flow of visitors (anywhere from 50 to 500 a day) to the CRS site if it weren't for mentioning it to my 25,000 newsletter subscribers and 18,000 Twitter followers (many times!). That's something you can't easily purchase or simulate.
If you don't have that, another option is to align yourself with others who do. But that, in and of itself, can be a long-term proposition, because those people are not going to be as open to promoting a newbie than an already-trusted entity.
Which leads me to the next strategy I learned:
2. Don't be afraid to ask for help from your network. I found that my Twitter followers were only too happy to help when I asked them to mention the new CRS site to their own networks. (That's the day I got the 500 unique visitors!) That's the beauty of having a faithful following. But, as I said, you don't get that overnight. I've cultivated my relationship with my followers for many years by providing them with advice, recommendations, humor, and support, and by promoting their great stuff.
What I learned next might surprise you:
3. Starting a brand-new Twitter account sucks. You're not going to believe this, but my first try at establishing a Twitter account for the CRS site got suspended in a couple of days! Yep, I got banned. There are so many Twitter spambots out there that it's easy to get mistaken for one if you're not careful. I believe that all it takes is a few other accounts to report you as a spammer to have your account shut down. In fact, if you follow the advice given by many so-called social media experts, there's a good chance your account could be inadvertently banned.
I don't know exactly what caused people to report the account as spam (if that's indeed what happened), but I'm guessing it was a combination of the following factors that may have seemed bot-like:
When you first sign up, they try to get you to follow at least 15 of their recommended people. That seems weird to me because Twitter had no way to know who I might be interested in following, so they mainly showed me famous people. (No, I don't want to follow Barack Obama or whoever sends out his tweets!) And every time you do follow someone, they recommend a few other "similar" people for you to follow. So if following people too fast is in fact a red flag, Twitter should stop encouraging it!
Which leads me to the next thing I learned:
4. The right way to start a new Twitter account. After my first account was suspended, I submitted an unsuspend request to Twitter, but I knew it would take at least a few days for them to get it working again. Because I didn't want to wait, I decided to start a brand-new one -- I wasn't happy with the name on the old one anyway. They limit the number of characters in your Twitter name and they had truncated @CustomReportSharing down to @CustomReportSha which just looks dumb. So I created the new one as @CustomGAreports. As an aside, for branding purposes I would certainly prefer it to match the domain. I don't think it's right for Twitter to limit the number of characters.
This time I decided to try a different tack, one that I hoped wouldn't get my account suspended!
I started out by following the people who had previously mentioned the site on Twitter (which I also did the first time). I was pretty sure none of them would report me as a spammer :). Interestingly, although not surprisingly, many of them did not follow me back. I understood that because I typically follow only people, not sites or brands. Then, as with my previous account, I spent time every day doing Twitter searches that related to Google Analytics. But this time, rather than just blindly following the people doing the tweeting, I retweeted the ones that had really good information.
At the same time I sought out posts online that provided custom GA reports, etc., and continued populating the CRS site with them. With each new post, I'd tweet it with the @CustomGAreports account and retweet it with my own personal account (or vice versa). I'd also try to remember to cc: on Twitter the person who originally created the custom GA report, when I could find their names.
Most people thanked me on Twitter for reposting their custom GA stuff. I'm pretty sure that the more people who mention your new Twitter account, the better it is established as a "real" account, and not a bot.
In looking at the stream of my now semi-established Twitter account, it hit me that:
5. Whom you follow and who follows you on Twitter are not necessarily one and the same. At least not in this case. For @CustomGAreports, I realized, I wanted to follow people who tweeted about analytics stuff so I could post the best of it to my followers -- who ideally would be people interested in reading about analytics stuff. I realized I had to be picky about those I followed so that I could easily find the cream-of-the-crop tweets, and ended up unfollowing some of those I had originally followed. I believe that most good Twitter accounts would naturally only be following back a small percentage of those who follow them. Not because they're being elitist or anything, but just that everyone follows people for different reasons.
In addition, I didn't want to mess things up with my main personal Twitter account, so I learned to:
6. Be mindful of my current followers and why they are following me. Google Analytics is a topic of interest to a good portion of my followers, but I doubt that they want all my posts to be about it or my new site. Believe me, it was (and is) very tempting to tweet about CRS every hour from my main account because every time I do, traffic comes in. But I don't want to alienate my existing followers just to promote this new website. (I've seen others do this and it drives me batty!)
I'm still figuring out when to post to the new account, my old account or both accounts, and how often. But I have found that if I spend about an hour in the morning and another later in the day doing some Twitter searches, retweeting and following a few new people, plus posting something new at the site itself, I can keep a steady stream of visitors and some overall online buzz. We've even got 104 registered members!
What I haven't figured out yet, and it just may never happen, is how to get more members to post their custom GA stuff. Lots and lots are coming and downloading the free work of others, but sadly, fewer are sharing their own. If anyone has any ideas on how to get some more participation, I'm open to suggestions!
Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen
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