Last November, I decided to commit myself to a healthier lifestyle. I became ‘mostly’ vegan and started training for a half-marathon, but I wanted some help with planning a diet that would accommodate my exercise level. So I did a Google search for something like “vegan running,” and a site called the No Meat Athlete popped up at the top of the listings.
I was instantly hooked. I didn’t just find recipes: I found formulas for smoothies and energy bars that I could adjust to my own tastes. I found helpful advice on how to make sure I was getting enough protein and how to adapt to what can be a rather inconvenient lifestyle. There was none of the proselytizing that you often see on other vegetarian/vegan websites about animal rights or the dastardly food industry. It was just practical advice and commentary that I, as a newbie vegan runner, appreciated.
The information on the site was so useful that it made me want more. And so I did something I don’t usually do: I signed up for the site’s email “E-course” on training without meat. I get plenty of email, but I always make a point of reading anything that comes from the No Meat Athlete.
This is content marketing at its best and a perfect example for authors, particularly nonfiction authors, grappling with how to market their books online. This content, directed at a very specific audience, ultimately leads visitors down the path to purchasing either a Full- or Half-Marathon Roadmap. Both of these programs include a 117-page guide that covers the mental game of training, diet recommendations, recipes, and a training plan.
It turns out that the mastermind behind the No Meat Athlete, Matt Frazier, lives near me in Asheville, NC. (We also grew up a few miles from each other in Maryland.) When I found out we lived in the same town, I invited Matt to coffee at the Battery Park Book Exchange, so I could pick his brain for an hour or so to learn more about his online book-marketing techniques and he graciously agreed.
Waiting to Be Picked
Many of the writers I talk with feel guilty about not having or not sticking with a blog, but I can tell that they’re not really sold on how it will help attract attention to their books. When I shared this observation with Matt, he immediately brought up Seth Godin and his notion that you can either sit back and wait to be picked or go ahead and pick yourself.
“To me,” says Matt, “starting a blog is just saying ‘I’m going to use the tools at my disposal to pick myself, to put myself out there,’ and the irony of it is, once you do pick yourself, that’s when you start to get picked.”
Building an Audience
Matt started his blog while in grad school. But the blog quickly began to resonate with people who wanted to switch to vegetarianism and make it work. Soon the blog became a business in itself.
“As I got better at it, I realized it could be something where I shifted from telling my own story and talking about my own experiments, and just really writing for me, to something where I was writing for other people and writing things that I already knew and wanted to teach other people.”
Now the No Meat Athlete is becoming more of a community with frequent guest writers. It’s a full-time gig for Matt, which is a place where we’d all like to be.
Matt initially attracted attention to his blog with the help of Twitter. (As of this posting, he has 11,787 followers.) This was back in 2009 when Twitter was still in its early days and there was a lot less noise on the social media platform. Still, Matt did what still works on the site: He followed people who had similar terms in their profiles. Most of those people then started to follow him and when he tweeted about a new blog post, they made their way to his site.
He also commented regularly on a handful of other blogs that covered similar topics such as veganism and marathon training. Initially, he thought the point of this was to attract visitors to his own site based on the comments he was leaving, but what was really happening was relationship building with his fellow bloggers, “so that they could know who you were and start to recognize you as someone who knew what you were talking about and then they would eventually link to your site.”
He also started to ask bloggers with a comparable number of readers to guest blog for him to help generate content. No Meat Athlete experienced its first big jump in traffic when he asked for a guest post while he went on vacation. What happened was both he and the guest blogger were advertising and linking to the post, in a sense, doubling the traffic.
Paying attention to SEO and tweaking his content for search engines also worked for Matt, so much so that, after about six months, he was getting about 300 Google search visitors per day.
How Much Is Too Much?
A question I often get from writers and clients is “how often should I blog?” Matt started the No Meat Athlete blogging every day, but because it is such a time-consuming task (if it’s done right), he now blogs about once per week. Though he originally only spent about an hour per post, it now takes him a minimum of two hours.
“I want to get to twice a week,” says Matt. “But I haven’t figured out or tested what is the right amount to blog. It seems to me that once or twice a week is the sweet spot. If I wrote more than that I think people would unsubscribe because they were getting too much stuff. Plus, to do that, I think the quality of the content would have to fall off.”
What to Blog About
“When I started out, I wrote a lot personal posts about me and what I was doing and my story, and I think because of my story and because people wanted me to succeed with it, that worked at the very beginning. But very shortly after that, I realized that if I wrote a post that was like ’10 Ways to Do This Better,’ or ’10 Super Foods to Replace Whatever,’ that was the type of post people shared on social media, and often without even reading the post.”
(For a really great example of one of Matt’s more informative posts, check out: “There’s WHAT in My Rice!? How to Kick Arsenic’s Arse.”)
So by far, the informative posts worked best for Matt when it came to search-engine results “because no one searches for someone’s personal story.” Still, the personal posts do generate a lot of comments, and they allow readers to connect with Matt and feel a part of his story. That’s exactly what happened with me: I was lured to the site by the practical information, but then I started to learn more about Matt and ended up having coffee with him.
He also notes that he’s detected a weariness in other bloggers and readers with the “10 Ways to Do Something” posts, and he recommends to that new bloggers always start with a really strong personal story.
How to Keep People Coming Back
Matt gets about 500,000 page views per month and about 60% of them are unique/new visitors. But in order to sell books and other merchandise like t-shirts, he needs visitors to keep coming back, to become fans and customers. After all, the No Meat Athlete is much more than just a blog.
One way to do that is through regular autoresponders, or permission-based emails sent out to a list of subscribers. I mentioned at the outset of this article that I signed up for his “E-Course,” and I thought that was a really interesting alternative to the typical newsletter opt-ins.
The e-course is what Matt refers to as a sort of “ethical bribe.” In exchange for an email address, subscribers to the course get 10 training lessons that come every four to five days. After that, they continue to receive the newsletter and an occasional bit of news, a special offer, or a new product announcement.
“I should have done that from the very beginning,” says Matt. “Not just collecting subscribers from an RSS feed list, but actually having email addresses where I had permission to email these people. That is so much more valuable than even a Facebook following. First of all, it’s yours. No one can take it away from you. You own it. It gives me some security.”
It also gets people used to opening your emails, which is invaluable in this age where we’re all fighting to get heard above considerable online noise. On the other hand, Matt notes, a short e-book that people can download might initially entice people to your site, but once they read it, they don’t necessarily come back for more.
Online Marketing for Fiction Writers
Even if you’re a fiction writer with no merchandise to sell, you can still learn a lot from the No Meat Athlete’s online marketing strategy. I’ve read a few articles lately declaring that the age of blogging is dead for fiction writers, but if you establish a firm connection with a specific group of readers, and you understand what content that readership demands, I think having a home base that “you own” is a great way to build that all mighty following many publishers now demand. And who knows? With some hard work and perseverance you might start getting 500,000 pageviews yourself.
Thanks again to Matt Frazier for his willingness to take time out of his busy day to meet with me. Be sure to check the No Meat Athlete even if you’re not a runner or a vegan. It’s a great example of online book marketing that works!