On Sunday morning of the recently-completed conference, we had three “Blogger-Led Discussion Sessions”. These were free-flowing conversations, each moderated by one blogger, on three separate topics: The Future of Wine Blogging, Wine Blogging and the Wine Industry, and Reaching Outside the Wine World. The topics were selected by attendees in advance and people were encouraged to pop out of one session and into another if they wished.
These sessions were among the favorite of the conference and we will increase the time devoted to them in 2012. As just one example, we asked blogger Fred Swan of NorCal Wine to send us his notes on the Reaching Outside the Wine World session. Here are his notes:
Food blogs and websites get more traffic than those focused on wine. A lot more. This should not be a surprise, since everybody eats but wine is enjoyed by a relatively small percentage of people. And, although those who love wine may want to debate the point, food is essential to life but wine is not. Nonetheless, it’s frustrating to see scores of dedicated wine bloggers operate at a loss while I’ve met food bloggers who make more money with their websites than at their day jobs by simply post three or four recipes a week.
That’s why I attended the breakout session entitled “Reaching Outside the Wine World.” If I, or you, want to drive our web traffic way up, we need to attract a much larger audience than we can by focusing on wine alone. I hoped to pick up some new ideas on how to do that. And I did.
Gabriel Key (@foodforus and www.foodfortherestofus.com/wordpress) led the discussion. As a “food guy,” he was well qualified to do so. He also did a good job of encouraging out-of-the-box thinking without allowing people to get completely off topic.
The session generated discussion on four distinct approaches to reaching outside the wine world: engage guest bloggers whose expertise broadens your range, combine wine with topics of broader interest in your own articles, physically take your blogging to the public and provide a forum for controversial topics somehow related to wine.
Many of us are spending as much time as possible on our wine writing. Taking on other topics, let alone gaining the knowledge it would take to be authoritative on them, is not an option. Expanding our scope means finding someone else to write those articles. This leads to three key questions:
- How do I find guest bloggers?
- Edit or don’t edit?
- Do I need to pay them?
Some of the places to find guest bloggers are pretty obvious. Go to blogger conventions. Do Google searches for blogs on the topic in which you’re interested. Ask friends. Scan Facebook and Twitter. There was one suggestion that hadn’t occurred to me previously though, and it sounded really good. Read Yelp.
Yelp is full of people who are writing about businesses, especially restaurants, without being compensated for it. By reading Yelp reviews, you can find and connect with passionate foodies in your area. And you can see in advance whether or not they can write and if you agree with their views. Other sites that may also be useful include Zagat and Citysearch. Great idea!
Whether or not to edit your guest blogger depends on your site and personality. Have you created a destination that has a strong and consistent voice and point of view? (If not, perhaps you should.) Or does your site already have multiple voices or contributors? Do you have editorial chops and or do you need to find someone to edit your own work? You be the judge.
On the topic of payment there were three main variables: the guest blogger’s level of talent, the length of their pieces and the frequency you want them to appear. If the writer is really good or your demands are high, you probably need to pay for what you want. But, if they get something else from you that they value (experience, exposure, reciprocal articles), you may be able to avoid shelling out cash for a while. In the long run though, only money will keep writers coming back.
Maybe you’re not ready to take on guest writers yet. Or perhaps you want to broaden the appeal of your own articles too. What can you do? One approach is to work food into your wine articles. Write about food and wine pairing, restaurant wine lists, winemaker dinners or recipes that include wine. You could also broaden the scope of your beverage coverage. Do articles on beer, coffee or mixed drinks. And there are other topics that can expand your audience substantially yet are related in some way to wine: travel, health, dieting, local business issues, sustainability and the “green movement.”
Even the most compelling blog can be impersonal if your readers only interaction with it is on their computer. Word-of-mouth, Google and links don’t have to be the only way for potential readers to find you either. Market your blog, and yourself, by staging events that promote related business and expose their customers to you. Do live tasting-blogging events at wineries, restaurants or wine shops. Get yourself on panels at local food and wine fairs. This will attract new followers and build a stronger relationship with existing ones.
One thing people get really passionate about is their own opinion. You can build traffic by writing about issues that will generate arguments, either in the comments section of your blog or with point-counterpoint articles. If you’re not afraid to take some heat, espouse strong views on something that many people will disagree with. You will get a lot of criticism but, unless your stand is totally outlandish, there will probably be people who rush to your defense. Comment waterfall!
If you want to stay above the fray, use your blog to host articles from qualified spokespeople with opposing views. Pit a restaurant owner who only sells imported wine against a local winery owner, or a commercial real estate developer against a small local farmer or wine grape grower. Fight promoters benefit from brawls but don’t get punched.
Gabriel Key’s panel on reaching outside of the traditional wine world to drive web traffic created an excellent list of ideas. Perhaps only one or two of them resonate with you. That could still double your traffic. Which ideas sound best to you? Do you have other suggestions you’d like to share?
Written for Zephyr Adventures and the North American Wine Bloggers Conference. Copyright 2011 Fred Swan. All rights reserved.