- Tips to Support for Free
- What do Algorithms want?
- Engagement is Key
We all want to support our favorite indie creators, but we don’t always have the money. So how can you support indie creators on the web for free? Well, there’s a number of ways to do that, so let’s get into it!
Follow Them On Social Media
The simplest step and yet sometimes one of the most difficult for indie creators. At this point, just about everyone is on a social platform of some sort. They may not live on it or be super active, but they have an account somewhere. Be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Well obviously this is great for fans, as it’s an easy way to stay up to date, there’s also a greater benefit to creators.
Social media platforms work based on a word we hear a lot, Algorithms. No one knows how exactly they work as every company keeps their secrets under lock and key, but we do have a general idea of how they work. And one of the biggest things is simply having a higher follower count. Social media seems to give more weight to messages from indie creators if they a larger following. It gives the algorithm this sense of, “This person is a big deal, let’s show this to some people who aren’t following them. They’ll love it!”
Remember, social media is always trying to show you what it thinks you want. What’s going to keep you on the platform the longest? What keeps you talking to people and seeing ads (more on ads later)? So even if you don’t use a platform personally, if you have an account, following them can help. All for free! With that said, there is such a thing as having a large, but inactive following, but in many ways, it's better than having no audience at all.
Like/Share/Retweet (Early and Often)
Now that you’ve followed your indie creator of choice, it’s on to the next step. The magical word, Engagement. Each platform measures it differently (mysterious algorithms again) but it always comes down to interaction of some level. For Facebook, it’s about likes and shares, both of which seem to increase how much your posts will be shown. For Instagram, it’s all about the likes. Some blogs suggest that comments help as well, but just browsing Instagram you can see high visibility messages with low comments. Twitter is in the strangest place right now with some combination of commenting, liking and retweeting influencing things. There seems to be no golden rule, so when it doubt do all three if you can.
You can still see the overlap though and the rule that governs this stuff, fans engagement. And not just any, but early and often. The faster a post gains Likes from the time it’s created, the more people the algorithm will naturally serve it to. It’s why some posts seem to spread like wildfires and others suffer a slow death no matter what people try to do.
There’s always a lot of talk about “Hate Mobs” and such on the internet, but we don’t really talk about the opposite. If the algorithm is driving by engagement, then if we engage more on the stuff we love…the stuff that makes you feel good and helps others…then the algorithm has no choice! We often think of these systems as a person, or rather at the beck and call of people. But in reality, it’s a math model run by a computer. It will serve whatever it’s programmed to do. So, if it wants engagement, then simply give it engagement of a healthier kind. Ok, that’s my speech, on to the next slide.
Visit Their Website (and actually browse)
Almost everyone knows about the first two tips, but this third one is becoming a secret struggle. For creators that sell content, they usually have a website of some sort. Usually, fans see these as places to go only when they need something. And maybe some indie creators are like that, but as a whole most creators yearn for steady traffic. Especially those with blogs and product catalogs. The internet at this point is basically run by Google, so Google Search standards are the ones websites aim for. One of the biggest metrics, just like social media, is Engagement (we meet again, old foe). Except on a website, this takes place in the form of how many people go to your website, and how many pages do they click-through.
In general, the goal is to get a single person to visit the website, then view another 4-5 pages, and scrolling at least halfway through each page. It sounds specific, but really, it’s just a way of gauging if a person actually liked the website. One of the biggest problems we have on a website is the Bounce rate. The higher, the worse. It’s a measurement of how many people arrive at your website and leave without loading another page. They bounced, literally. (Queue, “I’ma head out” meme). That tells Google that either the website doesn’t have good content, or maybe even spam!
That’s why you see so many websites try to get you to load another page by using pop-ups or excessive pagination. It’s not even about money, it’s literally one of the metrics that determine how high you show up on Google Search. So, exploring the website of an indie creator instantly helps them. Ranking higher on Google is the thing that everyone fights for. And simply going to the website often and browsing can really help them out. It raises the odds that someone else might discover them as well and shows Google it’s a website that real users go to.
Whitelist Ads (and why it’s ok)
We’ve come to hate ads over the years. The rapid rise of intrusive and loud ads sent everyone scrambling for popup and ad blockers. I don’t blame you; I have both myself. However, companies like Google have done a good job of cracking down on some of the worse offenders. The problem, however, has been that ad revenue for everyone is down as the ad blockers have stayed. While that might seem good, it’s really not.
Ad serving has long been a tool for small and indie creators to supplement their income. There are companies out there with products to sell and money to give. Pairing up the right ads with your website has always been a great way to earn a little cash, or at least pay for the hosting itself. Bots and a guilty few have sorta ruined that for everyone. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Keep your ad blocker, but just Whitelist your indie creators of choice. These are usually people you follow, not some random website you’ve never heard of, right? Click in the toolbar, is the website using an https? If so, then you're pretty safe. Whitelist the website! Just seeing the ad itself can help out. If you see an ad that you like, one that actually has you curious about the product. Something you might be interested in. Click it!
Remember, not all ads are spam or tricks. Google Adwords is a service just about every indie creator uses when they want to serve ads and spread the word. Adwords works off of a form of engagement as well. The more an ad is clicked, the more likely Adsense is to serve that ad up to other people. Keep in mind that these companies are also paying for your attention and ultimately, money. So I’m NOT advocating randomly clicking on ads, as this really can hurt businesses who needed that ad to go to a potential buyer. But these Adsense algorithms can be trained just like social media. Clickbait ads are shown so often because people actually DO click them. So blocking/ignoring the bad ones, but clicking the good ones shows the system the kind of content we really want to see.
*Side Note. This may not apply to Etsy currently as they are doing some shady stuff with ads*
Add Their link on your website (If you have one)
Google search ranks are about “Respect and Integrity” and that comes in the form of what’s known as Backlinks. That means another website has added a link to your site somewhere, usually in an article. Google uses this as a measurement of how trusted your website is. The thought is that bloggers/webmasters only post links to things they like and trust. Therefore, the more websites that have linked to a particular website, the better it must be. However, it’s also based on how Google ranks the website doing the backlinking gets. So the bigger a website is that backlinks you, the more effect it will have on the invisible almighty algorithm.
That also means if a spam or phishing site links a website, that site will actually take a hit to their Backlink respect-o-meter. So not only do websites strive for someone to Backlink them…but also for it not to be a phishing site. So even if you just have a little blog, as long as it’s not full of malware (and why would it…?..hmm?) you’re helping your indie creators out with the link! Sometimes it’s just a number game. This is also a good reason for creators to also thoughtfully cross-promote. It doesn’t always have to be in the form of money or sponsorship. Simply linking each other when appropriate and maintaining a clean website can go a long way.
And of course, you have the benefits of cross traffic. You never know who might also come across your website, or post and find a new creator to love. I’ve often received new fans through personal websites and blogs. Usually, this results in me going to visit THAT website to see who linked me. Sometimes that leads into a shoutout of my own on my website. There’s a great synergy to it when done right.
Send in Tips to News sites (it really works)
If you do everything above, you’ve done basically all you can do for free. Now, it’s time to see if you can get someone else to do the promotion. The news media. Just about every news website has a form or e-mail to send in tips! News outlets, especially small independent ones, get a lot of their stories from these tips actually. They can’t be in every corner of the web, or sometimes they might not even KNOW something is going on. That’s what the tip box/e-mail is for.
Don’t feel afraid to send in a tip on stuff you like. In fact, you SHOULD be doing it. Why? Because of everyone on this list, news outlets work on Engagement (I have nightmares about this word) the most. Every article is engineered and tweaked to get you to read it. And if they already know a story is brewing, that means instant engagement. Not only will they have a story, but they’ll have a prebuilt audience waiting for them. It can be hard for indie creators to get an interview in a bigger news outlet. Especially if they’re new or in niche markets. All because the news outlet thinks it’ll be a waste of time because not enough people will read it.
Tips, especially an abundance of them on the same issue, cut through that limbo. During the Welcome to Tikor Kickstarter, we got a write-up in Kotaku that that was due in large part to a tip from a fan. This effect is even greater for indie blogs and news websites. They usually can’t afford advertisement, so having a potentially hot article is even more enticing. For an indie creator, few things are as needed, but hard to get, as news coverage.
The Wrap Up – Engagement is Free and Needed
The wrap up to all of this is simple. Engagement is the free currency the internet lives on. It’s entirely free for you but can have a real impact on an indie creator. The advice above works for websites of any kind. From Shopify to Wix to Wordpress to even Patreon. And in hindsight, these tips are great for creators looking to figure out the web as well.
So if you have an indie creator you like, look them up on the website and interact. Engage! When you want to support, but can’t afford to, these things can really help make up for it.
- Social Sprout – https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-algorithms/
- Mashable – https://mashable.com/article/etsy-offsite-ads-program-sellers-backlash/
- Forbes – https://www.forbes.com/sites/ajagrawal/2016/04/20/what-do-social-media-algorithms-mean-for-you/
- Buffer – https://blog.hootsuite.com/facebook-algorithm/