How to Start a Blog and Grow Your Audience: Expert Tips from Ann Smarty

How to Start a Blog and Grow Your Audience: Expert Tips from Ann Smarty

Written by:
Samantha Lile

Jun 07, 2017
digital marketing tips

Think at least part of content-marketing success depends on luck? While you could be partially right, the most experienced industry experts rely on more than just good fortune -- they possess just the right combination of big-picture vision and technical know-how to consistently meet their goals, week after week, month after month.

Digital marketing influencer Ann Smarty is one of these skilled experts, with more than 10 years' worth of experience in the industry.

A community and brand manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas, Ann is also the founder of several successful startups, including MyBlogGuest, MyBlogU, ViralContentBee and many others.

Insights-from-a-Digital-Marketing-Expert-Bio-card-Ann-Smarty digital marketing tips

The former editor-in-chief of Search Engine Journal and a prolific blogger, Ann also provides effective online marketing consulting through both paid and free services and courses. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Mashable and many other popular publications. She also manages online communities within the industry, including SEOchat and Threadwatch.

When Ann arrived on the digital-marketing scene in 2006, she was studying in her native Ukraine, where her Internet access was equivalent to that found in 1990s America. In her first endeavor, Ann promoted items her employer was selling on eBay. Soon after, she started her first blog, then her own company. In 2011, she relocated to the United States, and has lit the industry on fire ever since.

All of her success and experience makes Ann a true expert within the content-marketing community. Visme is proud to offer her sage advice to our readers through this ongoing series, in which we answer your most burning questions on all things related to digital marketing and visual communication.

RELATED: The Future of Visual Storytelling: Our 'Ask Me Anything' with Shlomi Ron


Digital Marketing Tips from Ann Smarty

What digital marketing tools do you use daily?

Surprisingly, I don't use any tool daily, but I do have a few favorite tools I use regularly (no less than once a week):

1. Serpstat

This growth-hacking tool helps with content brainstorming and optimization. I love using it for content ideas (especially their question and cluster research features). They provide in-depth semantics analysis, allowing you to see related terms, synonyms, etc. It's my go-to tool whenever I am at a loss for words.

For example, for [writing tools] you'll see phrases like [best thesaurus app for writers], [improve my writing skills free], [open source creative writing software]. These are great alternative content ideas! Serpstat works best in terms of blog content inspiration.

2. Plagiarism Checker

plagiarism check digital marketing tool ann smarty tips

This tool is the most reliable duplicate content finder out there. I always make sure to check content I am going to publish (including guest posts) to find if it's original. I also always run it on my own content a few days after publication to find who scraped it.

3. Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo is another frequent tool in my writing routine. I often use it to find articles to reference or research which blog posts seemed to have done particularly well in a client's niche. Its "Content Alerts" feature lets you monitor your brand mentions. You can also use it to monitor content ideas and popular articles on any topic. Very powerful.

4. DrumUp

This social media sharing tool surprisingly became my #1 social media marketing tool. I say "surprisingly" because I thought I had already had my favorite social media solution by the time I came across it. Yet, it turned out to be so easy and effective that it easily replaced the tools I had been previously using.

5. Cyfe

cyfe screenshot digital marketing tool ann smarty tips

Finally, there's Cyfe, my marketing dashboard that brings everything together. I cannot even begin to count how many widgets I have there. I monitor my social media growth stats, track traffic for lots of websites, have my invoices there, look after my brand name mentions and so much more. Great for productivity!

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Which marketing strategy do you consider the most profitable?

Creating good content. There's no way around it. If you could get away without any other thing under the sun (SEO, social media, community building, PPC), without digital content you won't get anywhere.

Every other marketing tactic starts with content. You cannot generate links without content and you cannot build community without it. So I'd say investing in solid content is the most important and profitable strategy.

If I were to get more specific and talk about tactics versus strategies, I'd say influencer-powered content is the most efficient in terms of building awareness, traffic and leads. Invite influencers to participate in webinars, online events and podcasts. This will likely turn your business around if you do it consistently and put a lot of effort into promoting that content and building connections with influencers.

Tools like Respona offer loads of features to find and build relationships with influencers through personalized outreach.


What are the core activities for starting a new online community on a budget?

Being helpful in various ways is probably the most efficient way to build a community. Answer customers' questions, provide real-time support and try to avoid selling but focus on being out there.

As for some tactical ideas:

  • Create effective landing pages encouraging users to join your community (and/or opt in to your list).
  • Guest post (or find people among your employees who are willing to guest post) on prominent niche sites (or, better yet, set up regular guest posting columns) and engage with every guest post, answering comments and promoting content. Commenting and guest posting drive very engaged audience members to your site.
  • Participate in niche Q&A sites, including Quora, and discussion boards. Be helpful and participate in discussions.
  • Participate in expert interviews. I listed a good deal of ways to do that in my article here.


What has been your greatest challenge when establishing a new startup?

No matter how many projects I start, I am always overwhelmed by how much should be done at the beginning. From basic but important things (name, domain and logo) to huge undertakings (like setting up a blog and publishing the first batch of content so as not to launch it empty).

Even if you try to find a good checklist, you'll still be overwhelmed because those lists tend to be huge! I have found this one very helpful, especially if you are at the very start of setting up a web presence. I like that it gives a variety of options without overwhelming the reader.

I have also created my own list to help myself and others get started. I did my best to make it very simple and clutter-free! From having a good website to creating beautiful brand assets, it's got you covered.


What SEO advice do you have for entrepreneurs on a budget?

SEO is not really rocket science. In many cases, it can be handled in-house with a one-man team managing different angles of it. Unless you have a huge site (in which case you probably have people managing it anyway), SEO comes down to common-sense things:

What am I trying to say here? Don't be intimidated. You will most likely only need help if your website is huge and complicated (or already in trouble with Google and its filters). Otherwise, just spend some time slowly getting into it and you'll save a lot of money by handling it in-house.

You may need some help down the road (the link-building aspect of it), but you'll be able to smartly approach tasks if you already have some understanding of SEO and how it works.


What has been your most rewarding professional experience?


The team I once built. I am a strong believer that one cannot be successful without a talented and motivated team, and I am most grateful for those who have helped me create a successful project. I hope we have many huge projects ahead together!


How has the content marketing industry changed since you entered the field?

When I started blogging, the most common piece of advice was to publish a 500-word-long article with some keywords in it. When I used some screenshots and charts, everyone was amazed at how creative I was 🙂

These days, content has become much more in-depth and visual. It's a welcome change. We recommend focusing on quality, referencing niche experts and creating original images.

On the other hand, it was easier for small businesses when I started. These days, content is getting much more expensive, so corporations with huge marketing budgets start winning. It's a sad trend.

I'd say, the web is still a place where anyone can get heard by being diligent and creative. You just need to put much more effort into it than you would have needed 10 years ago.

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What are the main components of an effective content strategy?

Here are the main components I usually focus on:

  • Niche-question research and question-type search queries (Make sure ALL related questions are thoroughly answered on your site.)
  • Evergreen content creation and re-purposing it into digital assets (eBooks, whitepapers, etc.)
  • Trends monitoring and covering related trends on your website
  • Content-based community building (with recurring weekly tasks of replying to on-site comments, engaging with people promoting your content, etc.)
  • Content-based lead generation (using gated content, content triggers, etc.)
  • Content-based link building (using outreach tactics and relationship building)
  • Visual and multimedia content creation
  • Content re-packaging strategy (using old content to create more types of content assets (e.g. using videos to create podcasts, etc.)

As for mistakes, focusing on the wrong campaign performance metrics (number of social media shares, direct social media traffic, etc.) is the biggest mistake businesses often make.

If you focus mainly on those metrics, you'll start spending a lot of time and effort pursuing immediately visible milestones and miss the bigger picture (trust and community building, authority, alternative traffic sources, etc.).

I think this article over at @PakWired does a pretty good job of explaining different goals you may be dealing with.


What do you foresee is the future of SEO and content marketing?

The future is here! I foresee the following:

  • SEO and link building is going to be so heavily integrated into marketing that there will hardly be a separate industry. Technical SEO and usability will be handled by the dev teams. Link building is going to be handled by the community management team.
  • Content marketing is becoming more diverse and more expensive. More and more businesses will want to get into video content to see content marketing success.
  • Video streaming and video storytelling will become part of marketing strategy.


What's the biggest mistake you've seen content curators make?

Content curation helps relationship building big time, and many curators seem to miss that component.

Simply linking to a good article is not enough: Reinforce that with following the author, tagging him/her properly in your social media updates, crafting tweet quotes and much more. This is where the strongest relationships are built!


Your Turn

Is there an influencer you’d like us to include in a future AMA? Or is there a particular question you’d like us to ask? Let us know in the comments below!

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    About the Author

    Samantha Lile is a web content creator with a journalism and mass media degree from Missouri State University. She contributes news and feature articles to various web publications, such as the Huffington Post. Currently, she resides in the beautiful Ozarks with her husband, four dogs and two cats.

    19 responses to “How to Start a Blog and Grow Your Audience: Expert Tips from Ann Smarty”

    1. Andrea Torti says:

      I completely agree – the bar keeps getting higher and higher: for example, while infographics still attract a lot of attention, people are now rooting for “gifographics” (GIF + infographics), videos… it never stops 🙂

    2. jeff thomson says:

      Such a great and useful tricks for creating blogs for the purpose of online digital marketing

    3. Mac Bryan says:

      The Plagiarism Checker is one of the best tool for checking the content uniqueness the content have become a most important part of online digital marketing and through using blogs and contetn we boost the seo of website

    4. Thanks for sharing tips and informative post.
      Great article and interesting. Good going!

    5. vidya says:

      Nice information very useful to me.

    6. Ella Hayes says:

      Hey Samantha, I got so many useful resources from your articel. Namely, some great tools you have shared those are really very essential for an internet marketer. Thanks a lot

    7. Desmond Seo says:

      Hi Samantha,
      I agree that Buzzsumo is a great place to check out what other articles and information is gaining traction specific to a niche… (and buzz sumo obviously has a variety of niches).
      Also another good tool for checking duplicate content is “”. That said it was free up until a few months ago but there is now a fee, though very inexpensive for the service. Thanks for the article.

    8. TOM Com says:

      great article. useful information. thanks for sharing the post.

    9. Raks says:

      This article has been very useful for novice like me who has taken his first step in digital marketing. Thanks for sharing this valuable post.

    10. Emmet Jack says:

      Hey, this article is extremely enlightening and interesting, Thanks for sharing such a useful article with us. What is local digital marketing? What are the types of digital marketing? What is the latest most important trend in digital marketing? What are the benefits of Digital Marketing Services?

    11. jerry john says:

      Hi! I Hope you are good. Such an informative article. But after reading this article and like more my observation is that designing the right digital marketing strategy is essential for all businesses, but it can be difficult to know exactly how to do it. There are many digital marketing platforms and all platforms are not created equally when it’s come to different types of content.

    12. Ritika Goswami says:

      Superb such nice information shared really helpful keep sharing more thanks for it

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