Building an Audience Checklist

Building an online audience is one of the most important things you will do for Internet marketing.  With an audience you can not only reach your potential customers, but you can also keep in touch with what is going on in your market, build relationships with potential partners, keep an eye on your competitors, and get your content noticed by other webmasters.

So, what do you have to do to start building an audience today?  Here is a step-by-step checklist.  Some of you will already have completed a few of the steps, and if so it’s easy to jump right in where you currently are and work down.

1.  Create Your Online Persona

Your persona is who you are going to be: your name, your picture, your personality, and your biography.  You can use your real name or a pen name, your picture or someone else’s, but whatever you choose stick with it consistently across channels.

2.  Define Your Market

You have to know specifically who your customers are, who your potential partners are, and who your competitors are.  What are the other interests of each group.

3.  Sign up for Social Media Accounts

The two main ones to start will be Twitter and Google+.  You can sign up for accounts on the other social media sites, but really try to build up one or two channels at a time.  Our strategy makes it easy to do so on Twitter and Google+.  Completely fill out your bio.  Use the same close up, high quality picture of your face on each site.

4.  Follow Your Market’s Influencers

A good place to start finding people to follow on Twitter is WeFollow.  Just enter your keywords and follow the people with the most followers.  If you have found any blogs or sites that are in your market follow those sites and authors.  See who those people interact with and follow them.  Follow their followers, a lot of those people will follow you back.  It won’t take long before you build up a list of people to follow who send out quality updates.  You can use Manage Flitter to cut down on who you are following later to get rid of the people who aren’t doing much for you.


Building Up Sources

If you want to know what to write about on your site or what to share on social media channels you have to know how to pick a topic.  If you follow our suggestion you will track conversations on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook to find what is trending or popular in your niche.  What you will start to find are a lot of stories will come from the same places.  These people, apps, and sites are called sources and can be used to find new stories in the future.

Subscribe & Follow Any Way Possible

A high quality source will publish and share high quality content.  When you find a source you want to follow the site and/or author on every available social media channel, sign up for their newsletter, and subscribe to their RSS feed so you can be sure to get notified about their latest updates.  This enables you to be one of the first to share their high quality information, building your reputation.

Where to Find New Sources

Use Google to find additional sources.  Search for your keywords plus blog to find blogs related to your market.  You can also search social bookmarking sites or the social networks to find new sites and authors.  The key is to read their stuff and make sure that it is of high-quality.  You don’t want to damage your reputation for sharing junk to your audience.

Wash, Rinse, and Repeat

The longer that you are involved with your niche, the more stories you will see.  If you find a new author or site, check out the rest of their work.  If it’s relevant to your market consider them a new source of information.  It won’t take long for you to build your sources up and you will have a constant flood of ideas on what you can write about and stories to share to your audience.

Picking Topics

Picking a topic is basically deciding what you are going to talk about.  Topics are used for the content you develop on your site through article creation and for discussion on social media channels.  It’s obvious that you need to pick winning topics if you are going to have success online.  Writing content that people are actually interested in reading will generate interest in your site.  It’s also vital to having success on social media where interesting topics lead to discussion and conversations.

Start Following Influencers in Your Market

Does picking a topic sound tough?  It doesn’t have to be.  What I recommend you do is use crowdsourcing when you start out in a new market.  You will do crowdsourcing by following influencers (your top competitors and potential partners) on the social media channels and see what they are talking about.  You’ll then start to follow the people that interact with the influencers you are following and follow them.

See What’s Popular

You can see that in no time you will have quite the stream of tweets, status updates, and Google+ posts that are highly relevant for your market.  The more people that are talking about a topic, the more popular it is and it normally means the story is highly relevant and interesting to others in your market.

Add Something of Value

Now that you know what topics are interesting to your target audience you have to do more than just repeat what everyone else is already saying.  Expand on the story, add your own two cents, take a different angle, agree and state why, or tell everyone why you disagree.  The worst thing you can do is simply take a “me too” approach and regurgitate what’s already out there.

Expand Into Other Channels

If you find a popular status update on the social networks, expand into a more in-depth article on your site.  You can then link to it via your social media channels and have people click through for more information.  If articles on other sites are becoming popular, put your own unique spin on the story to separate yourself from the crowd.  You can also turn that information into an infographic or create a video.  By using a different medium to get the information out there you are standing out.

Discover New Stuff Yourself

Once you start to get a feel for your market you won’t need to rely on crowdsourcing quite so much, you can start to discover your own topics.  Once you find enough interesting stories from a single source, follow that source and be one of the first ones to break their new stories.  Trust me, site owners love it when others quickly get the word out on new content that they published.

Create Your Own

After seeing what is interesting and popular in your niche you can start to create your own stories without relying on others.  Now, not everything you write or share is going to be a big hit, but by being the first to report and share something interesting and unique has massive benefits, so when you do succeed you win in a big way.

Where To Build Your Online Audience

Audience building is a key component in creating a successful online business.  If you don’t have an audience it is very difficult to reach potential customers, network with partner sites, or build your brand.  Having an audience will allow you to leverage the rest of your marketing efforts.  But first, you have to know where it’s important to build up your following.  There are several platforms that you are going to want to establish yourself on.

1.  Your Website

The first and foremost place to concentrate on is your website.  You have to produce quality content that people are going to actually want to read and interact with.  If you don’t then all of our other efforts are going to be wasted.

As soon as you create your site and before you even start writing quality content you want to make sure that you have a few things already in place.

  • Email Signup Form – Your visitors need to be able to signup to receive updates from you.  Growing your email list is the single most important thing you will do in growing your online business.
  • RSS Feed – Most people will not subscribe to your RSS feed.  In fact, depending on your niche 75% of your visitors won’t even know what that is and will never use an RSS feed in their life.  It’s popular among webmasters though so you will want to allow them an easy way to get updated on what is going on with your site and hopefully if they like what they see they will link back to you.
  • Social Buttons – You want people to be able to follow you on the major social networks, specifically Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and if you do videos then you’ll also want to build a following on YouTube.

2.  Twitter

This is the platform that is easiest to get started on and allows you to build an audience quickly.  It’s easy to find people to follow and also to get people to follow you back.  You can send out multiple tweets a day and if people are interested in your market they will appreciate the information instead of being frustrated by you clogging up their feed.

3.  Google+

There isn’t as big of an audience here but Google wants to make it work so it’s going to be around for awhile.  Google also wants to integrate social signals into their search engine rankings and this is the platform they have full control over.  Which do you think will be the most important for future rankings?  Since it’s the newest social network it is easier to become an early adopter, you definitely aren’t late to the game.

4.  Facebook

I have not had a lot of success on Facebook.  It’s not as easy to get people to like your page.  When people actually do “like” you there is the hurdle of actually showing up in their news feed.  You don’t want to post nearly as often on Facebook because a person’s news feed is like the holy grail.  They want to know about their friends and what they are up to more than what you are up to.  If you are getting in the way of that, you’ll get unliked quickly.

5.  YouTube

YouTube is a very big site that you can gain a lot of attention on if you post quality videos about your topic.  I have only dabbled with Youtube.  Most of my content is news that I have to get out quick and since creating a video takes quite a bit of time, I haven’t had a chance to run many experiments on YouTube.  In some niches that have longer lasting content and visitors really need visuals YouTube does very well.

Why the Platforms are Ranked Where They Are

Some of you may ask why I think creating an audience on your site is more important than on social channels.  The reason is simple, you have more control.  If you are relying on your social media channels to build a following and market to, what happens when one of them shuts down your account?  You lose EVERYTHING!

Now, you might think that this won’t happen to you, but I’ve seen it happen to others so why take the chance?  With your own website you have a lot more control.  You might not control your search engine rankings, but you can control your email leads and who subscribes to your RSS feed.  Your content will never be lost (as long as you are backing it up!) and you have a tangible asset that you can possibly sell in the future.

So, to sum it all up: work on building an audience on the five major channels listed above, but funnel as much of that attention as you can to your site and building up an email list.

Building an Online Persona

Before you get started with building an audience you have to define a persona.  A persona is the face of your brand.  It’s who you are going to be and what market you are going to an expert in.  Your persona will be involved in the online conversations in your market, contributing stories, sharing your knowledge, agreeing with others, disagreeing with people, and interacting.

Defining the Market

What market are you in?  This is more general than just what you sell.  It’s the topics that people who are potential customers might be interested in.  If you sell golf instruction, equipment, or are a golf course it’s golf in general.

Your market includes potential customers, clients, and users but also includes potential partners and website owners.  If you sell golf training aids, then your market will also include professionals and pro shop owners who can sell and recommend your products to their customers.

Defining your market means you are asking questions like who do you market to, what are you marketing, and are your known for something already.

Creating Your Persona

Once you know you thoroughly know your market it’s time to build your persona.  The first thing you want to do is use a real name.  On this site I use my real name, but in other niches I have also used pen names.  It doesn’t matter as long as it’s a “real” person.

You also want a real person’s faced attached to it.  On all of my social networks you will find a picture of myself.  You won’t find any cartoons or generalized logos.  People want to interact with other people not a company brand.  Don’t get me wrong, you want to openly associate yourself with your company, just be a person from within the company.

When you fill out your bios create a story.  I use my real life experiences for every bio that I write.  Why am I interested in this topic, how did I get started, why do I think I am an expert, that kind of thing.  This kind of information helps you to connect with people.

You should also use the same handle and picture everywhere.  If you signup for a forum, social media account, or anything else you do online try to keep everything streamlined.  Use the same picture, the same name, the same everything.  It will be easier for people to recognized you across multiple channels and when they do, it starts planting the seed in their minds that you are everywhere and must be an expert in your topic.

I know that Google+ and Facebook have real name policies.  They don’t want fake users on their sites, but if you use the sites correctly you are not very likely to get booted.  You just can’t spam people and act like an idiot.

Once you define your market and create your persona stay on topic.  Don’t post about tennis if you are a golf expert. It’s ok to add some personal information every once in awhile, in fact it helps people to connect with you.  What you don’t want to do is string yourself out in too many areas.  If you are interested in both golf and tennis, create two personas and keep the information on each one on topic.  See what to share on social media for ideas on what you should be talking about.

What to Share on Social Media

So you have decided to build an audience on the popular social media networks, defined your market and have created your persona.  Now the trick is figuring out what to share.

The key is to only share stuff that is highly relevant to your market, interesting, and is well-written.  The different content that you will share all boils down to one of three things: sharing stories, supplying your knowledge or engaging in conversations.

Sharing Content

Do you want to network with other site owners while also giving your audience exactly what they want?  Of course you do.  The best way to do that is to link to content from other sites.  Webmasters are going to be thrilled to see their links sent out to your audience and hopefully will want to reciprocate in the future and do the same for you.  Your audience will love that you supplied them with quality information and will anxiously await your next contribution.

Notice how I said content on other people’s sites?  That’s not just so you can network with other webmasters.  It’s also how you build trust up with your audience.  If you are only pushing your own stuff, they are going to quickly realize you are into self-promotion and will take what you say with a grain of salt.  However, if you are giving them quality content from wherever you find it, they will conclude that you are actually a quality source of information and an expert in your market.  You can mix in your own content as your audience builds, but you never want the majority of your updates to be about you or your site.

Supplying Knowledge

People are going to ask questions, if you are the first to answer them that is a huge plus.  Not only in their minds, but in others that are watching the conversation.  You don’t have to wait for questions, you can post high quality information yourself.  It’s even OK to start a post out with a “For those of you asking…(your answer)” even if nobody is actually asking the question yet.

If you are truly interested in your field you know more about your topic than the average person.  You don’t have to know more about it than anyone else, just more about it than average to be seen as an expert.  Give away some of your knowledge in tiny bits.  If you find that people like what you shared then you have a great idea for a longer article to post on your site.

Engaging in Conversations

Answering questions is a form of engaging in conversations, but there are a lot of other ways to join or start a conversation as well.  If other site owners post content about a topic you can add your own two cents.  Tell them why you agree or what parts of their story you disagree with.  Talk about the story from a different point of view.  The key is to add to the conversation, don’t just respond with “Great post” or “I agree” because that isn’t adding anything of value and will be ignored.

Do not use social media to do shameless self-promotion.  If you have a big sale going on or a rare opportunity then go ahead and send out an update.  This has to be rare though.  People do not go to social media sites to be sold to.  They go to be informed, have fun, and interact. If you do those things you will build relationships with potential customers and other websites and that will lead to far more sales and deals for you than any hard selling will get you in the short-term.

Do not stray off topic.  Post about what’s relevant in your market.  Nobody cares what you had for breakfast or what you do in your free time.  You can post personal updates rarely just to show your audience that you really are a person, but they are following you do their interest in the market you are an expert in.  Posting about politics when your market is dog training will likely lead to people unsubscribing from your updates.


Using Internal Links to Boost Rankings

Internal linking is an important, but often overlooked step in the search engine optimization process.  While having only internal links pointing to a page is not going to earn you a top position ranking for any ultra-competitive keyword, it could be enough to drive you to number one for long-tail keywords and less competitive terms.  So let’s take a look at the different methods you can use to point internal links to your web pages and boost your rankings.

Navigational (Menus)

Navigational links are included in the menus found at the top of your site, on the left or right hand side, and the footer of each page.  These links appear on hundreds or thousands of pages of your site giving you a lot of keyword rich anchor text for a specific page, but you also have to think about the user.  Don’t stuff links in the menu that they are not going to find relevant.

One of the problems with navigational links are that you are limited in how many you can use.  Obviously, you don’t want every single page on your site to link to every other one.  Unless you have a really small site you would run out of room quickly.  Most of your navigational links should point to your category or tier two pages using the keyword anchor text you are really wanting to target for that page.

If you are using relational menus you can change the anchor text used in your navigation on the different menus used for each category.  This will give you a boost for any slight variations of the keyword, but you have to be careful when using this technique.  You don’t want to make a drastic change and confuse the user.

Context (Within the Content)

Contextual links are included in the body of the content that you write.  You can use these links to direct the reader to more information about a subject or to anything else that’s relevant.  I have found a single contextual link is given more weight than an individual menu link.

It’s important to make the contextual links appear naturally in your content.  You don’t want to keyword stuff your content just to give yourself a chance to link to a page using a certain anchor text.

If used the right way contextual links can provide a big boost to your site.  Think of Wikipedia.  They do a massive amount of internal linking across their site and as a result they rank very highly for a wide variety of keyword terms.  They do not stuff these keywords into the text, the author writes naturally and links to relevant pages wherever it fits.

What is Anchor Text

If you have been optimizing your site for the search engines, you probably already know what anchor text is, but for the complete beginner who sees this term all over SEO articles it can be kind of confusing.  Basically anchor text is the clickable text of a link. For example, if I link to my article covering on-page optimization the HTML code looks like this:

<a href=””>on-page optimization</a>

and the anchor text is “on-page optimization.”


Why is anchor text so important?  Because the words used in the anchor text go a very long way towards getting the page being linked to ranked for the keywords used as the anchor text.  The example link above will give a slight boost to my page in the rankings for “on-page optimization”.

For competitive terms, a single link is not going to give you a big boost.  Competitive terms can have hundreds, if not thousands, of links pointing to the top pages for the given keyword.

Internal & External

It’s not only important to link to your own pages using the anchor text you want to rank for, but you also need links from other sites.  In fact, links from external sites are going to be given more weight, because it is easy for you to create pages and send links to your own page using whatever anchor text you want.  In theory, links from other people’s sites are tougher to earn and thus deemed more trustworthy.

Use Variations

It is important to mix up the anchor text that you use to point to your pages.  If 100% of your external links are pointing to a page with the same anchor text, it looks spammy.  I’m not entirely sure if there are filters set up to catch this type of search engine gaming or not.  It seems likely to me that there are, but either way it’s not a good idea.  You want to rank for every possible combination of the anchor text, plus any modifiers that could be used to describe the page so mixing up the anchor text to your page makes a lot of sense.

For example if you have a page that sells “men’s hats” you might also want to rank for “hats for men.”  By driving anchor text to the page with a variety of terms, you can rank for different variations.

What the experts do is drive enough anchor text to rank on the first page for several related keywords, then take a long hard look at their analytics.  They check to see what keywords are driving the most traffic and what converts the best.  Those are the keywords that take top priority.  The answers are not always as obvious as they seem and can lead to a more efficient use of resources going forward.

Relational Menus

If you are using the same menu on every single page of your site (a global navigational menu) then you are pushing a lot of link juice to the pages you are linking to.  However, what if you could instead redirect some of that PageRank to your tier three pages in a user-friendly way?  Not only would you see a boost in the rankings of these pages, but it is also a very user friendly way to show related content the visitor might be interested in.

What I do is use relational menus.  I call it “relational” because depending on the category of the piece of content the user is currently on, the menu will change.

For example, on this site I use a right-hand menu structure.  On the homepage and all of my category pages I list the different categories.  However, if a visitor clicks down to read a pice of “Search Engine Marketing” content the right-hand menu changes to show links to my most popular and important posts pertaining to SEO.  What this does is increase the PageRank that is pushed to these pages, enabling them to rank higher in the search engine results.

Other webmasters who use this trick also try to block the links to other category pages, thus preserving and pushing more PageRank to the tier three pages.  However, I leave the links to my other category pages as well.  For me, these pages serve as landing pages for highly competitive keywords so I still want to push as much link juice as I can to them.

If you try to block link juice from passing through your links you have to use javascript or other technical tricks of the trade.  It’s easy to screw up.  If you do mess something up, you will be doing yourself more harm than good.

In WordPress I use this simple trick to display relational menus.  On the template that shows your posts find the call to include your menu. It will look something like this:




You want to replace that code with something like:
if ( in_category(‘keyword-strategy’) ) {    include(TEMPLATEPATH.”/keywordsidebar.php”);}

else if ( in_category(‘search-engine-marketing’) ) {


} else if ( in_category(‘social-media-marketing’) ) {



else {




In place of “keyword-strategy” you will want to include the slug of a category on your site.  Obviously name the sidebar something specific for each category of menus you want to include.  You can do this with as many categories as you have on your site, just keep adding “else if” statements to include them.

If the category related to your post is not in your list, the default is used.  If you select more than one category, the one that shows up first in your if statement is displayed.

Homepage Linking & Navigation

Once you have learned how to organize the content on your site you need know a little bit about how to internally link your pages together.  Above all else, you want to make things easy on your users so set up your navigation to make it easy for them to get where they want to go.

With this article I am going to focus on linking for the search engine spiders.  You will be designing your link structure to get more of your pages indexed and to focus more link juice on your main pages.

When you are trying to build up your important pages there are two things to consider: limit the number of outgoing links on that page and increase the number of pages linking in to that page. Here are four ways to do that.

1.  Combine Your Overhead Pages

Every site has some standard fluff pages that they need to include but do not need to show up in the search engine rankings.  These can include a privacy policy, terms of service, contact us, earnings disclaimer, etc.  Instead of wasting valuable link juice pointing to an individual page for each, create a single page with all of this information and use named anchors to point users directly to the specific section they are looking for.  In my PageRank sculpting article I describe in detail how this is done.

2.  Control Your Outbound Links

The last thing I want you to do is create a site that is a “black hole.”  These are sites that link juice enters but can never, ever escape because the site will never link to anyone else.  You should freely link to other sites that provide valuable information to your readers.

What I am suggesting is that you avoid linking to other sites from your homepage, category, tag, and archive pages (the pages you are driving a lot of link juice to).  It’s easy to take the links out of your summaries (the short versions of your post that display on these pages).  This will keep your PageRank flowing to your own internal content while also allowing you to link out freely from inside of your articles.

3.  Use a SiteMap Wisely

I use an archive page that links to all of my categories and sub-categories.  If your category archives are large enough where you have several pages of archives, you want to link to each of these pages from your sitemap. This ensures that every piece of content on your site is only three clicks away from the hompage.  By linking to the sitemap from my homepage it increases the chances that the spiders will crawl every single page of my site, leaving no piece of content so far from the homepage that it is forgotten by the spiders.

You should limit the number of links on this page to 100.  The search engines don’t crawl an infinite number of outgoing links on a page, they normally cut it off around 100 so if you have a large number of categories, create additional sitemap pages.

4.  Limit Global Navigation Links

Most sites have some sort of global navigation menu.  This menu is the same on every single page of the site.  If you are going to have one of these, you want to limit the number of links in the menu as much as possible.  This conserves pagerank on every page of the site and pushes more to the few pages you link to from the menu.

Another tactic you can use is to change the navigation as users dive deeper into the site.  For example, on this site if someone clicks on the “Search Engine Marketing” category and then clicks through to a piece of content, the menu changes from what’s on the homepage to my “SEO” menu listing the important pieces of SEO content I have written.