Inbound Marketing and SEO for Bands and Musicians
**Guest post written by Brandon Seymour, musician, SEO analyst, web designer, and social media marketer.
As SEO and inbound marketing continue to rapidly evolve, businesses are feeling more and more pressure to improve their online presence in order to help them stand out among the competition. Although the strategies and tactics typically vary depending on the industry, the vast majority of businesses are most concerned with one thing: Visibility. However, as time goes on, this quest for higher visibility has forced many businesses to get more creative in how they attract and interact with their potential customers, by leveraging different mediums, such as social media, local SEO and link building strategies. What I find really interesting though is that some niches act as if they are immune to the constant pressures of the modern day marketer. In my experience, one of the biggest offenders is the music industry - specifically independent artists. I've been working in SEO and inbound marketing for about four years now and since I've always had a passion for music, I wanted to take some time to discuss some simple, highly actionable steps that musicians can take to start marketing their band like a boss.
Don't have a website? Get one!
That outdated Myspace page just isn't going to cut it. Don't get me wrong, social channels are excellent tools for building an audience and promoting your band, but it's only a small piece to a much larger puzzle. Your website serves as your online central hub. It's where you compile everything that your fans could ever possibly want to see, know and hear, all tucked away in your very own precious little slice of the internet.
When I ask bands why they don’t have an official website, the response is usually one or a combination of the following:
- "I don't know how to do that stuff." Let me put this myth to rest. If you can work a smartphone, chances are you can build and maintain a nice-looking website. You may have to read a little bit to get the feel for how everything works, but it's certainly not rocket surgery. The first step you’ll want to take is buying a domain name and purchasing a hosting package (we’ll talk more about this later). Next you’ll want to choose a content management system (CMS). The CMS is an online platform that helps you to maintain and manage the content, design and technical components of your website. I’m partial to WordPress because it’s quick and easy to install and since it’s among the web's most widely used CMS, they offer a lot of helpful plugins and widgets that eliminate the need for extensive coding or programming knowledge.
- “I can’t afford a website.” Like many things in life, when it comes to websites, you get what you pay for. So while there are some options out there where you can create a website for free, these sites typically reside on subdomains (a domain that you don’t personally “own”) and are more restrictive in terms of features and customization. My band’s website costs us less than $80 per year. That includes the hosting and the domain registration. Go Daddy is probably one of the more popular hosting services/domain registrars, but there are several others that work just as well, such as BlueHost and Host Gator. Providing that you’re managing the site yourself, and not paying a webmaster to do it for you, the only other cost you may incur is if you decide to use one of the many themes that are available for purchase online. Themes are essentially preformatted layouts that you can use to change the styling of your website or blog to make it more unique. Themes can range anywhere from $15 to $200 for a standard license, depending on the theme. You can actually Google "music and band WordPress themes" and you'll get a ton of theme options that are specifically designed for... well, you get the point.
- “I don’t need a website, I have a Facebook page.” This one really grinds my gears. Sure, when a social network boasts a user base of over one billion strong, you would be silly to pass up a golden marketing opportunity like that. But why stop there? Facebook is a great free advertising platform. Especially for bands. But using Facebook alone isn’t going to cut it for most bands and musicians. To put it simply, contrary to popular belief, you don’t “own” your band’s Facebook page – Facebook does. This means that all of the content that you publish on your page must abide by Facebook’s oftentimes confusing terms of service. This also means that you’re limited to how much you can customize and style your page, so you don’t have as many creative liberties as you would if you were using a website that you actually owned and controlled independently. Try not to view your Facebook as a destination, but more so as an extension of your website.
Where should you host your music online?
Once you have your website, the first thing you'll want to do is add some music for your audience to listen to and/or download. But it doesn't have to stop there. It's also a good idea to host your music on 3rd party sites like Soundcloud, or Bandcamp. Many of these third-party hosting platforms come with a high domain authority, so it's in your best interest to take advantage of these external channels to market your music to a larger audience. Additionally, some of these sites allow for the option to include other media assets, such as pictures and bios, and in some cases, you can even customize the skins and layouts to match your color scheme, to provide the user with a richer and more unique experience. You can also find a variety of sites that offer embeddable music players, so you can add your music directly to your site with one simple line of code.
Video Killed the Radio Star
Next to your music, videos are one of the greatest media assets you can use to promote your band online. According to statisticsbrain.com, 17% of users will spend less than four seconds on any given website, but will spend an average of 2.7 minutes watching a video on the internet. Whether you're showcasing a new song, telling a story or simply providing your audience with some quick updates on an upcoming tour or an album release, videos can help add a whole new dimension to your online content and significantly expand your marketing reach. If you weren't already aware, YouTube is actually the world's second largest search engine. In 2012, Mashable reported that YouTube users watch an estimated 4 billion videos each day. The other good part about hosting your videos on YouTube is that YouTube has a very high domain authority, so your YouTube content will typically rank higher in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
I could probably write a whole separate post if I were to provide a complete breakdown of all the social channels and how each can be used individually to connect with your audience. But for now, I’m just going to discuss the overall value of social media for bands as a whole and list out some of the common issues I've seen come up in the music industry.
- Buying vanity metrics – With websites such as fiverr.com and others of the like, it’s relatively easy to purchase likes, comments, views and fans on the cheap. When it comes to purchasing these types of vanity metrics, you need to ask yourself one very important question: Why am I doing this? There is very little value in acquiring fake fans. Chances are they won’t come to shows, they won’t buy your music or merchandise and the majority of the time, they won’t even engage with your content, rendering them pretty much useless. That being said, there is another side to this debate. And that’s why it really depends on what the long-term goal is. Let’s say you started a new project and you create a new Facebook page. You make it look all pretty, fill out the "About" section and add some personality to the page with some clever posts and engaging content. After sending out the page invites to your friends and family to become a fan, you find yourself stuck at 130 likes. You think to yourself “That’s it? I have over 1,000 friends on here and less than 20 percent liked my page?!” Yup. Many of us have been there. People naturally want to “like” what’s popular. Yes, even your friends. So the higher the number of likes that your page has, the more inclined others are to give you that coveted “like.” That’s where the fake fans can help. I ran some experiments with various band pages and found that there seems to be a confidence threshold. Pages with 500 or more fans grew much quicker than pages with fewer than 500 fans. So buying a couple hundred fans could in fact give you a nice jump-start. However, there are still many other strategies to help you organically build an audience to cross this threshold. I've listed some of these tactics below.
- Like-gating: Like-gating is where a user is forced to "like" or become a fan of your page in order to gain access to a custom tab or application. Basically, it's a way to incentivize users to like your page in exchange for something of value. This could mean a free song download, a coupon, voucher or discount/promo code for merchandise or any other exclusive content that you only want to share with engaged fans.
- Use images: They say a picture is worth a thousand words. By incorporating images into your posts, you can make them more visually appealing and significantly boost engagement for posts. This will lead to more likes and shares, meaning that more people that aren't yet fans of your page will be more likely to see your content in their newsfeed. In my experience, the best leads don't come from costly paid ads and promotions - the best leads come from word-of-mouth - or in this case, social sharing. Use your current fan-base to attract more fans by providing them with engaging, graphic-rich posts that catch their attention. Best part is... it's free!
- Shares for downloads: This one is very similar to like-gating. Most bands and musicians make their music available for download on their Facebook fan pages. Capitalize on your assets by requiring a "like" for a song play and a "share" for a download. This will increase the amount of "stories" that are created in other people's newsfeeds that mention your page.
- Engage with YOUR audience – The internet is big. Like, really big. If you look at various social media profiles across different industries, you’ll see that each industry and even each company within that industry has a specific voice or tone that they use with their audience. When it comes to tone, it’s not a matter of right and wrong as much as it is effective vs. ineffective. In order to find the right “voice” for your audience, I would recommend starting with some light market research. What other bands or musicians have a similar audience to you that get a lot of positive engagement with their fans? What are they saying? How are they saying it? How often? Once you get a feel for what works and what doesn't for these other pages, you can then begin testing some of your findings with your own audience. Facebook insights is a great tool for this. You can get a detailed breakdown of how each post is performing and then fine-tune your content strategy accordingly. Once you find the voice that works best with your audience, you’ll want to make sure that it’s consistent across all of your channels. Minor tweaks might be necessary to better suit different channels, but for the most part, your overall social presence should carry a consistent underlying look, feel and tone.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. This one is kind of self-explanatory, but I still see it all the time. Specifically, I see a lot of bands taking a scatter shot approach to marketing their music on social channels. Go for quality over quantity. In addition to the more popular social sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Google+, there are literally thousands of websites that musicians can use to list their band details or make their music available for download. And while it would be awesome to be listed on all of them, it’s not really realistic. Managing a bunch of different social profiles can become an arduous task. Especially when you’re trying to stay consistent by updating content on a regular basis across multiple channels. A good place to start is to figure out which social channels suit you best. I have personally found Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to be the most beneficial. They are a few of the most popular social channels and they are also the most versatile. Once you figure out which social channels are right for you, you’ll want to make sure that they are branded in such a way that there is a consistent theme across the constellation of profiles. It’s important to remember that these profiles are useless if you don’t maintain them regularly, and creating these profiles, only to end up neglecting them later down the road will probably end up doing more harm than good.
Three reasons you’re not getting press
1. You’re not asking. I listed this one first because in my opinion, the easiest way to get a nice review or write up is to simply ask. There are plenty of bloggers and webmasters that are constantly looking for fresh, unique, quality content. If you come across some good reviews of other bands with a similar style, try to find out who wrote the article and contact the author directly. One thing to be careful of when doing this type of outreach though is to make sure it sounds like it’s coming from a real human being. Be real, but professional. The more personal you can make it, the better chance you have of them actually taking the bait. Maybe compliment them on some of their past work and mention that you’d like to set up a phone interview or maybe even meet up for lunch sometime if it’s a local publication. I never turn down free lunches. They may not always take you up on the offer, but stay persistent and learn from your mistakes to refine your media pitches until you find a strategy that works for you.
2. You’re not interesting enough. Just because your girlfriend thinks your band is awesome, doesn't mean anyone else really gives a crap. With the proliferation of the online technology, it doesn't take much to have some sliver of a presence on the world wide web. Like many industries, it’s highly over-saturated and as a result it has become extremely competitive. You need to separate yourself from the herd. Take a look at some smaller local music publications in your area and see the types of bands they like to write about. Not so much the style or genre, but more so the caliber of their overall image. Do they have music available for download? Have they opened for national acts? Do they have an active social following? How does your band measure up? Try to build up a collection of media assets that show different aspects of your band, like photos, videos, tour schedules and even blog posts and combine them all into one convenient, easy-to-digest press kit. This way people aren't rummaging through your website and social channels to find what they’re looking for.
3. You’re not using the tools that are available to you. When I attended LinkLove in 2012, I was blown away by Wil Reynolds’ presentation on stalking people for links. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Wil’s (somewhat shady sounding) tactics, allow me to elaborate. There are plenty of ways that you can track down influential people within your niche. Let’s say you play in a band in Miami, FL. You can use platforms like Followerwonk to filter Twitter profiles by querying local keywords, such as “Miami music blogger” or “music blog Miami” to identify bloggers and writers that review music in the Miami area. Many users on Twitter include their job titles and organizations within the descriptions of their profiles, so it’s fairly easy to filter them this way. You can also stay up-to-date with some local publications and when you see an article that you like, you can almost always find the authorship information within the article itself. You can then take their name and query “[author name] on Twitter” using Google and most of the time you’ll get a result for their personal Twitter page. Don’t be afraid to reach out to these people. Just be cool.
Livin' la Vida Local
Lastly, I want to discuss some local strategies that bands and musicians can implement to make sure that they're standing out in their local market. The only thing worse than being a small fish in a big pond, is being small fish in a small pond. Local SEO is an online marketing practice where a business increases its search visibility based on geographically-related keywords and search queries. Just like most businesses, there's a lot of competition in the music industry. Now let's be real... There aren't many bands that think to themselves "we want to be the best band in Kalamazoo." Unless you live in a massive metropolitan area, like New York or Los Angeles, chances are you want to set the bar a little bit higher than being the best band within a 50-mile radius. But even if you're chasing after national fame and fortune, you have to start somewhere, right? That's where local SEO can help.
- Localized keywords: There are many tools you can use to gather search volume data for specific keywords and search queries. A good place to start is by using Google Trends. Google Trends allows you to see the search volume for specific keywords and phrases and determine which keyword grouping has the most benefit. Once you figure out which localized keywords have value for you, you can begin targeting some of these keywords and phrases by peppering them into your content.
- Localized media: Previously we discussed some ways that you could get more press mentions. But if you want to take it a step further, you can localize the press you're getting by targeting local online media outlets and press contacts. Sometimes small write ups can snowball into bigger opportunities. Since my band was active on the PR and media front, we actually were selected as "Best Rock Band" by two different local publications. And that would have never happened if these publications had no idea of who we were. It's not just about write ups either. Many of these websites host monthly and weekly event calendars where you can add upcoming gigs and events. The benefit here is two-fold: you get some quality press mentions by locally reputable sites and you also get free advertising for shows. It's a win-win.
- Localized websites and directories: Another great way to stake your local claim is by using 3rd party websites and directories that list or feature local bands and musicians. There are plenty of websites out there that have directories for local bands to list some basic details and some of them even allow you to add a link or two to your site and/or social channels. Another channel that I don't see enough bands taking advantage of is WIkipedia. After creating our Wiki page, we realized that there are many opportunities to link our page to larger directory-style pages. For instance, if you're a rock band from Florida, you can add yourself to the "Florida rock bands" category. This increases visibility and also reinforces the local aspect.
I hope that you found this post useful. As I was writing this, I realized that I kept going off on tangents, so I plan on writing a lot more, some that go a little more in depth with specific aspects of how musicians and bands can leverage SEO and inbound marketing strategies (+5 Ways Bands and Musicians Can Leverage Social Media). If you have any specific questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll be more than happy to answer them. Also, if you have any personal experience with band/musician-related SEO/marketing, I’d love to hear about it!
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Brandon Seymour has been playing in bands for over a decade, playing hundreds of shows at many different venues across South Florida. He currently plays in 3 different bands and works full-time as an SEO analyst at BodyLogicMD in Boca Raton, FL. He also does freelance online marketing for bands and musicians, specializing in search engine optimization (SEO), web design and social media marketing.
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