A while back I got a very nice email from the “E-Marketing Manager” for Liberator.com (the folks who make those wedge-shaped sex pillows and a fair few other nifty looking items.) The email went like this:
We at Liberator.com are doing our best to provide our readers with more content, and a better connection to our product. We are beta testing a blog currently. I came across you amazing blog while doing some research, and wanted your input. You seem to have a great community of bloggers linking to each other. How would I get my blog in with all of the other wonderful sites? I look forward to speaking with you, and wish you all the best in the development and growth of your site.
It’s a big question on a hard subject with no easy answers. None that I have, anyway. But opinions, those I am not short of. So I wrote back an email that went pretty much like this:
I’ll have to be honest with you, you’ve got a tough row to hoe. Starting up a marketing blog and making it human and interesting enough to get natural and organic (and free) links from the blog community is really, really hard. Indeed, I’d say it’s next to impossible. I’ve seen dozens of attempts in the five years I’ve been sex blogging, and most of them have been horrid…and doomed.
I’ve got a lot of info for you on the problems and pitfalls, rather less so on how to make it work. Because it’s an interesting question, I’m going to go into it in some detail. You get what amounts to free consulting work from me. In return, I get a blog post out of it. Fair?
Let’s start with the pitfalls. First of all, you’re just getting started at a time when most bloggers (and especially, most bloggers on sexual themes, who blog in an industry awash with advertising dollars) have become acutely aware that so-called “traffic of good intent” has enormous economic value. Your letter suggests that you are starting a blog in the hope of getting some of that valuable traffic for free. Nobody blames you for hoping, but nobody’s going to feel particularly inclined to just give away valuable traffic that — because you’re in the business of selling things for fairly big chunks of change — you might reasonably be expected to purchase.
As an added complication, some bloggers have powerful aversions to participating in the advertising market that circles and stalks their traffic of good intent. Reasons differ, but they usually add up to some sort of profit-averse “blogging should be unsullied by filthy lucre” anti-capitalist vision of what their blog is for. These people won’t refuse to link to you because they want value for their traffic; they’ll refuse to link to you because they don’t want to help you make a profit. So they tend to be a tougher nut to crack even than the bloggers who have banner space for sale.
Second, linking to marketing blogs is hard, because marketing blogs tend to suck. They suck for various reasons, often recombined uncreatively in newly horrifying ways. For example, they can suck because the authors usually are, first and foremost, marketers who haven’t yet gotten on the Clue Train. If the marketing blog is a one-way broadcast, talking to the “customers” instead of talking with the readers, it will suck. More to the point, it will be boring, and nobody will link to it or read it.
Or, marketing blogs can suck because they don’t participate in the blogging community. The vast majority of marketing blogs don’t link to other blogs. Or, if they do, they limit themselves to carefully-negotiated link exchanges. They almost never link to competitors, the leading blogs in the industry, or any of the other resources likely to be of interest to potential customers. A good blog functions almost like a mini-portal, linking generously outward so that readers come to rely on the page as a place to start surfing. “I’ll start there, and if there is no new post, I’ll find something in the links to read while I finish my sandwich.”
Or, and this is common, they can suck because they only talk about one thing (the product). Unless you’ve got a product with a huge and passionate community, your one-note one-product blog will be boring as hell.
Worse yet, the poor marketing sod (who is often, in these days of small business, also the owner / proprietor) will run out of interesting things to say about the product. Which quickly leads to the next knell of doom for any blog: lack of frequent and regular posts. I would guess that, as a rule, a reader who visits a blog on three different days without finding a new post is a reader you’ll never see again. Very few marketing blogs can meet that hurdle.
So that’s a big kettle of wet blankets. Now that I’ve spoiled your fun, what is to be done about it?
1) Hire a blogger. Seriously. Blogging is not as easy as it looks. If the person writing your marketing blog does not already have a successful blog that’s been up and attracting consistent traffic for at least two years, get a different person. Pay them, with real and actual money. Do this right and they will be a profit center, not a cost center. The world is full of starving bloggers who would much prefer to blog for a living than to do whatever it is they do for a day job. You can find somebody who works cheap. Underemployed sex writers are not hard to find. Most of them even have blogs you can check out first.
2) Buy blog links. If a blogger has an advertising offer, try it out. Don’t track this traffic for sales or conversions, that’s not why you’re buying it. Just measure the percentage of the traffic that bookmarks your blog. If the percentage is low, improve your blog. If it doesn’t go up, buy better traffic. As they say on Making Light, iterate.
3) Flatter and Bribe. Where you don’t buy, try the heady combination of flattery and bribery. You can sometimes bribe your way into a link using nothing but sincere flattery plus traffic. Find a new but stylish sex blogger, quote and say something nice about one of their posts, and give them a permanent link in your blogroll. Often this is all it takes to get another good incoming link. But you have to mean it. People despise insincere flattery from marketers. And yes, it’s obvious when it happens.
(Er, you do have a blogroll, yes? No? BZZZT. Game over, return to the beginning and start over.)
4) Send Loot. When flattery and traffic are not enough, go with your strength: loot. You sell loot by the box car load, so use what you know. Send people samples of the stuff you sell. You do sell something people want, right? And it’s expensive, right? (But, not so expensive for you, because you bought it wholesale.) So send out some loot! (Email first to ask about safely discreet delivery addresses.) When the loot from you arrives in a discreet box via UPS, that will impress a lot of bloggers. If it’s good loot, it will impress them favorably. (If your loot sucks, it means your business is doomed, so we’ll assume it doesn’t suck.) Ninety percent of the time, they’ll feel compelled to mention you and your loot on their blog. Some of those mentions will be intensely favorable, because you’ve just made a new friend. You just got a nice link for a wholesale-priced one-time cost. However, beware: you can’t afford to even hint that you expect or demand a link or a writeup in return for the stuff. Review stuff doesn’t work like that. You cast it forth, like bread upon the waters, and if you’ve picked your targets carefully, they’ll be so thrilled they will not be able to wait to write about your product.
5) Blog Strongly, Market Subtly. Forget everything you ever learned about old-school hard-sell print marketing. Build a blog first. Sneak the marketing in later. Be subtle. No, much more subtle than that. Imagine a first time reader being asked about your blog. “What is it about?” If they answer “that foam wedge sex furniture” you’re screwed. You were too focused, you will be too boring for the long haul. Any other answer is acceptable; something like “all kinds of neat sexy stuff, it’s hard to say exactly” is ideal. “All kinds of neat sexy stuff, I think it’s by the folks who make those Liberator sex pillows, but it’s not just about that” you have scored two touchdowns and you may schedule a righteous celebration with strippers and vodka and free popcorn for everybody on your team.
6) Participate In The Community. Finally, don’t forget to be part of the blogging community that you want traffic from. I’ve mentioned that you have to have a blogroll. (Believe it or not, a huge percentage of marketing blogs skip this step, and then wonder why they never get any links. Most links come with at least the hope of reciprocation; if that hope is lost, the links don’t come.) Blogroll: have it, use it. Don’t just blog about your product; do what bloggers do, which is read other blogs and quote (with links and approving commentary) the best bits. That’s also an easy way to jack up the quality of your own blog, so where is the downside?
It was my intention at this point in the email to apologize for not providing you with a few good examples of how to do an adult marketing blog. I was going to explain that I didn’t know of any good examples, and then append a short list of “the best of the bad examples” — a few marketing blogs that don’t suck, and that are getting it almost, but not quite perfectly, right. However, in looking over my examples, I discovered that one of them had graduated (by improving its content-to-marketing-copy ratio) into a genuine “good example” worth linking to for its sex blog content alone. (So I added my link, and then finished this email.)
Best of luck with your blog —
Bacchus from ErosBlog
The Blowfish Blog by the Blowfish people. Some really excellent blogging, but the “and here’s the product we are selling” posts are a little bit too frequent and mundane for my taste. Worse, they have at the time of this writing no blogroll to speak of, so they are still missing the whole participate-in-the-community thing.
Tony Comstock’s Blog by Tony from Comstock Films. Tony has nailed the community part, but the marketing posts to me feel too “recycled press release / film brochure”. Tony (with great justice!) is excited about his excellent product, but PR text needs a better wash-and-tumble before it makes a good blog post. I know he’s not in the highest-margin business, but he ought to consider watching an old Star Trek marathon for a few hours, practice saying “Captain, I’m a film-maker, not a blogger!” a few times in a Scottish accent, and then biting the bullet and hiring a blogger.
(Full disclosure: In the past or currently, I’ve had some sort of advertising or affiliate relationships with the companies and people behind each of these three examples. Sometimes they pay me for ads or traffic, but they haven’t paid me for these opinions, which are my own.)
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