This past week, I talked on Twitter about how to get grow your blog & get press samples. It’s a simple premise, and it follows the same guidelines that I live my own life by: be good, do good, and spread good.
(Yes, I’m well aware of the fact that I’m some sort of yuppie-hippie blend. Now do you want to get on this train & laugh at the Live, Love, Laughers or not?)
Why SEO isn’t the answer in growing your blog
Great SEO will help you start your blog, but it won’t necessarily help you grow your reader base. It makes sense; if you’re one of the first bloggers to get a review up on Google, you’ll get thousands of extra hits a day from that one post… for a while. But over time, only a percentage of those new readers will stick around and read your content for more than a couple of minutes. To keep your page hits up, you have to churn out new content every single day (or even multiple times a day). To grow your ongoing reader base, you need more.
I’m a traditionalist, and I believe in the effectiveness of real relationships. Creating relevant content & making blogger friends is what’s going to grow your reader base — which will translate into sustained page views. Find people in your niche who make content you relate to, and then engage with that content on a regular basis. Leave high-quality comments that specifically refer to the piece in question, because trust me: us bloggers know who cares & who’s just in it for the clicks.
In order to grow your blog, don’t just create content. Become a part of the community. Your friends will direct their longtime readers to you, and one day, you’ll be able to direct your readers back to them in order to repay the favour.
A Google hit gives you one click; maybe two or three if you’re lucky. But a longtime reader will visit your site every day, enrich your life with their responses, and share your work with their friends.
Grow your blog by sharing knowledge
A big part of why people want to run review blogs is that they know there will always be a demand for product reviews. It’s a solid way to ensure clicks for as long as your content is updated, but it can be an exhausting (and expensive!) way to run your blog.
I absolutely agree with many small bloggers that the expense of buying products is a barrier to becoming a full-time blogger, but I don’t think that that barrier is impenetrable. Readers don’t actually want products — if they did, they could visit a brand’s website or just pop by a store. What readers actually want is knowledge. If you can give them more than the brand can, then you can grow your blog.
I joke that I started theNotice with $50 in startup cash and a shitty camera, but the reality is that I actually used far less than that. I didn’t buy a single product for theNotice for years, and didn’t purchase my own domain until long after I eclipsed 50 000 views/month.
Anyone can afford a free blog on Blogger or WordPress if they have access to the internet. If money is a barrier to letting you grow your blog of your dreams, then get a library card, learn as much as you can from their reference books, and condense that knowledge into bite-sized portions for your readers. Humans are lazy — we love being handed information in its most accessible form. What makes bloggers special isn’t our access to products, but rather our eagerness to teach you things you might not already know.
(Within every blogger lies a “well, actually…” that’s waiting to be unleashed in its punniest form.) Build the reader base first, then invest in your blog once you can afford to.
The intricacies of product samples
I’ll let you in on a little secret: the freebies that bloggers get are actually being delivered right to our readers. We add years of knowledge to each sample, dedicate a few hours per post to creating something worth sharing, and then deliver it all to the reader for free.
I like to think of the Picasso napkin analogy when I read negativity about blogger samples on the internet. To paraphrase from Creating the Vital Organization (Brooks and Saltzman, 2016), Picasso was once asked for a drawing at a restaurant. He makes a quick sketch on a paper napkin, then asks for a hundred thousand dollars for it. The man is baffled that he would charge so much for something that took mere seconds to draw, but Picasso responds by telling him that it didn’t take him seconds to draw — it took him over forty years.
When an artist charges you for their art, you’re paying for the years they spent learning how to do the thing that you’re asking them to do. Similarly, when a blogger produces content, they’re sharing skills with you that they took years to hone. The brand often provides the product not to entice them to do so, but rather to help them do so while still keeping the service free for the reader.
How to get press samples as a small blog
Blogging is a creative business, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business. In order to get a brand to send you products, you have to prove to them that there’s something you can give back.
So take it from me, someone who’s blogged for years but never been a mega-influencer (or even, in the age of Instagram, a micro-influencer!) Brands need bloggers to either have a massive reader base or a unique skill set, but rarely both. PR reps want to create as much buzz for their brand as possible. If they had bottomless budgets, I truly believe that brands would send product to every damn person on the face of the planet. They’d rain it on our heads like rice at an eco-friendly wedding.
But they have bosses that they have to justify their purchases to, so help them do it. Whether your “thing” is an interview series that’s run only on your blog, or a curious photography style that no one else can mimic, let it be truly yours. If you can show a brand that your 10 000 readers buy just as much product as someone else’s 100 000 readers, or that they comment 5x as often, or that they’ll get hooked and read for three hours every weekend, then create a media kit that highlights that fact & let your blog speak for itself.
You don’t need to be the biggest fish in the sea to get press samples. You just need to provide an aesthetic or a service so unique that a PR rep can brag about it to their boss!
The products photographed here were submitted by PR for editorial consideration only.