One time I was on a hike with my two young sons (we always schedule in a little “man time” on Saturday mornings).  We were in a somewhat remote area of the woods, but there was a well-traveled path leading from the dirt parking area into the woods.  As soon as the kids jumped out of the car, they immediately headed down the path.  I sat back and thought a bit about what had happened.  We go to the woods to experience new places and to get away from other people.  Yet, as soon as we arrive in the woods, our instinct is to only travel along the path where others travel.  Strange, isn’t it?

There is something about a well-traveled path that tricks out minds into thinking it must be the best, easiest, most scenic, safest, or fastest route–even if it actually is not.  You do the same thing.  What is the last time you did a Google search and immediately jumped to page 6 of the search results, looking for a “hidden gem”?

You have spent a few weeks by this point setting up your site and making it surprisingly helpful.  But no matter how good of a “forest” you’ve created, no one will explore it until there is a well-traveled path leading to your information.

What is the internet equivalent of a well-traveled path?

In short, it’s comments, social shares, recommendations, professionalism, and links.

It is generally easy to see if a blog post is already well-traveled.  In fact, right at the top of most blog themes is a little box that says how many comments the article has.  In a conspicuous place on each page of most sites, you can see how many people have shared the content on social media.  In fact, most of the blog posts that people read are found by a friend sharing the content on Facebook or another social network.

If you are fortunate enough to get a visitor to your website, you need to clear a path for them that clearly communicates “this is a well-traveled way to find information.”

Not quite sure you follow yet?  We have all seen hoaxes on Facebook claiming that if you like or comment on a particular post, you will win a lavish prize, or a hoax article that is completely untrue but tricks people into sharing it.  When you see content like this, you immediately look for red flags like if the name of the Facebook page sharing the information is reputable, how many likes the page has, etc.  All I’m asking you to do in step 4 is to make your site look trustworthy and well-liked by making the site look “lived in.”

How can I make my site look “lived in” or “well traveled” when it’s brand new?

I recommend you work through step 4 in two phases.  You already have a useful site, and now we need to make the site look “lived in.”

Phase One: Preparation

First, you need to create spaces for your community to gather.  You have already created your website.  Now you’ll want to create social media profiles.

With a new site, you don’t want to water down your audience.  If you start a Pinterest, Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube account right off, then some people will come and like one social network and others will choose a different one–thus watering down your audience.  I recommend sticking with one or two networks to begin with and slowly building out from there.  Eventually, you will be everywhere, but if you start everywhere to begin with–nobody will be able to catch up with you.

One caution on this step is Twitter.  In the beginning of my website I chose it as my primary social network.  I spent days and days working on building up a Twitter following, and finally got to 7,000 followers… and it brought 50 visitors to the website that month.  The fact is that Twitter is so incredibly noisy with so many tweets being sent that people hardly ever click links.  I would seriously caution you from using Twitter as your primary social network, but almost any other will work.

For most, Facebook is still the hottest social network for building an audience where you can get traffic too.  The practical steps for settings this up are (1) Create a Facebook Fan Page for your business.  Do NOT use your personal Facebook profile.   (2) Get the link for your newly created page.  (3) Implement phase two.

Phase Two: Use your existing network

Nobody likes to call in a favor, but in this case you really need your friends and family to come through for you.  Phase One gives you the raw numbers you need to make your site look “lived in” but Phase Two is about starting meaningful conversations on your Facebook page as well as in all of the comments in all of the articles you have on your site.

Post on Facebook, email, and text everyone you know.  Tell them about your new site and just ask them to PLEASE head over to your Facebook page and like it, and then check out your new site and comment on the articles you write.  This not only makes the site look lived in and gets a conversation started for other readers to see, it also lets your friends and family know what you’re doing so they can recommend your site to other people they know.

Some people feel uncomfortable asking their friends and family to help them out, but the fact of the matter is that you can start a fire without a spark.  You have to have someone be the first visitor to your site.  Somehow you have to go from zero blog visitors to one.

You won’t get that spark from Google.  Google is unlikely to send you hardly any traffic at all for the first few months until it sees that visitors stay on your site and other sites link to you because you have good content.  The only way to get the traffic snowball to begin on your site is to call all your friends over and have a good old-fashioned trail-blazing party.

Let’s move on to Step Five…

Start Step 5