By day, I’m a link builder/content marketing specialist. By night, I’m asleep. Sometimes there is a small window of available time in between leaving work and collapsing on my mattress. When that available time presents itself, I’m doing one or both of my favorite things: stand-up comedy and drinking craft beers.
Stand-up comedy is a hobby for me, and it’s the best one I’ve ever taken up. I tried acting, but even after a few years I never felt a sense that I was heightening my skills. I loved playing basketball, so it’s too bad I grew up to be a 5’ 8” dork with little dexterity and a graceless jump shot. I’ve tried picking up a few instruments, but my attention deficit disorder doesn’t agree with the long hours I would need to dedicate to be a guitar god. Stand-up combines my love of writing and making people laugh.
Yet allow me to stress that it is a hobby. I’m a fan of making people laugh. I’m also a fan of being able to pay my rent on time. A life in stand-up comedy does not a life of financial stability make. For many who have gone before me, it leads to a life of insurmountable debts, social isolation and heavy drinking.
Unlike acting, I’ve been able to detect a reasonable amount of growth over time, so I have no intentions of giving up any time soon (ask me again five minutes after a bad set and I’ll say different). Despite that growth, I’m not getting my hopes up of ever making it “big.” Would I love to perform in front a sold-out crowd at The Laugh Factory? Absolutely. Would I love to live in a house that was constructed to have Paris outside the front door and New York City outside the back? Again absolutely. These both are equally unreasonable ambitions in my own estimation.
Despite having minimized my internal expectations of a nationwide tour and Friday night HBO special, I would LIKE to be able to book more rooms. I would LIKE to be able to play a couple different cities over the course of a weekend a few odd times a year. And even though I consider myself to be fairly talented comedian, I’m never going to be able to do that without marketing myself.
A lot of the marketing/promotion done by my local comedic cohorts is done via social media. You know how you can “like” a product page on facebook? If you “like” pages such as Doritos, Little Debbies and Pepsi, you will be exposed to a flurry of ads and promotions from those products. Of course if you like all three of those pages, I hope you have adequate health insurance.
Technically, anyone can set up their own fan page. Many of my comedian pals have done as much; I’m lagging behind. For an indeterminable reason, I feel uncomfortable making a page devoted to myself and asking my friends to “like” me. I feel even more uncomfortable thinking about the friends who probably wouldn’t.
But I found something fascinating upon research: Most young comedians, however, do NOT operate a website. To an aspiring comedian, social media profiles and malfunctioning kidneys have a lot in common: you’re certain to have one or more. To an aspiring comedian, a website/blog and a significant other have a lot in common: you probably don’t have one.
If you’re a comedian looking to get booked, you need a website. A website is a business card for a booker/club owner on the other side of the country. A website is a place to post clips of recent performances; prove to those bookers how many people are laughing at your jokes. A website is your own creative space. Most importantly, a website makes you visible to the most powerful website in the world: Google.
Even though I don’t technically work for Google (I just tell my mom I do), I’ve learned a lot about the company during my tenure at Page One Power. I know that Google fancies itself as a dewey decimal democracy; it counts votes in order to declare a “winner.” And much like American government, they’re kinda sorta spying on you. In Google’s democracy, the ballot is replaced by a hyperlink.
A hyperlink in the eyes of Google is more than merely a connection from page to page; it is also construed as one domain’s endorsement of another. If johnmulaney.com were to host a link to anthonyjeselnik.com, not only would that be a seal of approval from one veteran comic to another, but that would be a flow of link equityfrom johnmulaney.com to anthonyjeselnik.com. If anthonyjeselnik.com accumulated a series of these kinds of links (links from sites devoted to other comedians), his site would accrue authority and trust in the eyes of Google’s algorithm, which would consequently help his site to rank higher.
Not all votes are equal in Google’s algorithm. Sites with more quality backlinks are considered more authoritative. If I owned a site, it wouldn’t provide nearly the same amount of link equity that *blech* carlosmencia.com *blech* would. Way to algorithmically put me in my place Google.
Of course, there are a myriad of other contributing factors that dictate a search engine results page (SERP), but the collection of quality/authoritative links is prioritized within the algorithm.
If you’re a comedian that’s truly interested in increasing your online presence, you need to build a site and you need to build links to it. End of story.
How exactly? Link building isn’t the easiest of professions. Everyone at my agency puts in 40 hours of link building every week, and that rarely feels like quite enough time to do all that needs to be done. Of course, amateur comedians represent a large portion of the unemployment rate; dearth of available time is hardly an issue.
But here’s a glaring example of hypocrisy for you to feast upon: I do not operate my own website and/or blog. I work ten hours a day as link builder/content marketer for other websites: my energy to do anything remotely resembling online marketing is kaputt as soon as I leave the confines of my office. I know it’s something I should do though. Wouldn’t take too much out of my budget. Godaddy tells me I can buy the domain jessestoler.com for 9.99 dollars. The going rate for jessestolercomedy.com is the same. Jsto.com is tragically unavailable to me, but admittedly it’s being put to funnier use (albeit untimely). Note: I gave myself the nickname “J.Sto” back in the 8th grade, around the time Jennifer Lopez was in her prime. Yes, I did get picked on high school. Why do you ask?
What if I went home and decided to buy up (the keyword rich domain) jessestolercomedy.com? How could I build links to it?
Here are some strategies I, other new comedians and really anyone else can use:
- Easy Wins
- Fresh Mentions
- Leverage Relationships
- Ego Bait
I can give you an example of a link I could attain fairly simply. I consider myself a member of an unofficial troupe called The Hahaffices of Clement-Stein & Vera. Clement-Stein and Vera built a site for the troupe, a place to promote shows and other various creative endeavors. The owners and operators of this site have been two of my most ardent supporters since my humble beginnings, and book me for shows far more often than I merit. They’ve been so giving to me, and I feel like I haven’t given much back. I could start with FINALLY agreeing to submit my bio.
Here’s a page that features a healthy sample of comedians within what we internally call “the sacrifice cult.” No, I’m not on that page. No, it’s not because of I was the one chosen to be sacrificed. But as altruistic as Clement-Stein & Vera are, they don’t write your bio for you, nor should they. I’ve never submitted mine. I’ve put it off for quite some time, and I’m not even sure why. I think it’s partially due to the fact that even though I have no trouble describing the sensibilities and styles of other comics, I feel befuddled trying to describe my own. What if I finally decided to get my act together?
Truth be told, that’s a pretty poor bio; I don’t think it sums me up very well. I’m not here to conduct a writing seminar though; what’s more pertinent for the purposes of this piece is the link at the bottom. It points nowhere now, but if jessestolercomedy.com were live, it would be the recipient of its first inbound link.
This is what we call a profile link. Honestly, they’re not the best links, but you're not going to get the best links right out of the gate. If there’s a relevant/natural linking opportunity available to you, take it. Some SEOs would argue that profile links of this nature should be nofollowed. I don’t think that should always be the case, but even if I wanted to nofollow this link, there’s still value here. The link still drives traffic to my site. Win. If a booker is looking at my profile, he/she has an instant lead to my site/contact info. BIG win. Plus, there’s evidence to support that a sizable dose of nofollow links will keep you in Google’s good graces. A link portfolio consisting of 100% dofollow links will be construed by Google as an effort to manipulate their algorithm.
There IS a surefire dofollow opportunity available to me on the same domain. Last July, I was interviewed on the podcast Straight Hahaffices Propaganda. Dustin Chalifoux, Truman Bishop and I riffed on everything from… okay I don’t remember. It was nearly a year ago. I think I made some really dated Million Dollar Baby reference. I could just refresh my memory by listening to it.
Disclaimer: I refreshed my memory. Not at all safe for work.
This is a screencap of a page on the site that hosted the podcast. See how my name is highlighted? It’s a link to my facebook page. That’s all well and dandy, but if I had been operating jessestolercomedy.com at the time, I would have set up a Google Alert that alerted me that my name had been freshly published somewhere on the vast landscape of the internet. I actually do that anyway, website or no. When the email notification came through, I would have contacted the operators of thehahaffices.com, expressed my gratitude for promoting my podcast and then ask them to convert the link to my facebook profile to a link to jessestolercomedy.com. In my business, this is called a fresh mention link.
This is one of my favorite link building strategies, if for no other reason than it’s one of the least demanding. Set up a Google Alert? Check. Email the webmaster who published my name/keyword? Check. Cross my fingers that my family won’t read this article and set up a Google Alert on me? Check.
I have a pretty firm connection to Liquid, Idaho’s premiere comedy club. And by premiere, I mean only. I’d venture to say that makes them an authority on Boise comedy. Google agrees with me.
Google agrees with me twice actually.
Next month, I will be hosting a couple of shows at Liquid. Liquid will sometimes list the host on the events list. If they were to list me (and if I operated jessestolercomedy.com), I would hit them up faster than you can say… whatever word you can say quickly. The. Quill. I. Anything monosyllabic I suppose. If I want to rank for Boise comedy, I want votes from the sites that already rank highly for that search term.
So that’s one way to get links from comedy clubs. What about other comedians? I want links from them too. Not only will links from other comedians increase my chances of ranking higher, but I’m an artist: of course I want the seal of approval from my contemporaries! This leads me to ego bait. To summarize, ego bait is a form of link building in which you attract links by appealing to another webmaster/authority figure’s, well, ego.
As self-deprecating as we are on stage, I personally contend that stand-up comedians are an egotistical breed. Thinking you can go on a stage and make a room full of strangers laugh for five minutes is something you don’t do without a healthy dose of ego. Comedians are wired in a way that we NEED people to know how funny we are. Is it because of early childhood neglect? Some variation of madness? I don’t know. I just know that if I were a shrink, I’d go to every open mic in my city and hand out business cards to the performers.
This is why I would use my site to host a bracketed contest. Why bracketed? Hey, I have the right to March Madness too!
There’s a Google+ community for link builders in which I conduct a weekly caption contest. It’s fun and keeps people engaged. I’ve also come to realize in my time as an SEO that my industry attracts some really humorous people.
Personally, I love caption contests. I participate in The New Yorker’s when I can. In the Boise comedians facebook group, we used to do similar “contests” (don’t think winners were ever declared). Those ceased, even though they tended to spark significant engagement. I feel like jessestolercomedy.com is a great place to resurrect it.
If I owned and operated jessestoler.com, I could reach out to 64 comedians in the region. The 64 participants would be selected on the criteria of respect, trust they would participate and, most importantly and surreptitiously, webmastery.
Each week, the participants would be asked to caption a picture of my choice. The winners of each pairing would be anyone who visits my blog, and the eventual champions wins… something. The promise of the exposure would certainly go a long way; so would a forty of Olde English.
This contest wouldn’t be primarily about giggles for me, although I’m sure I would get many. The end goal for me is to get these comedians to link to my blog. Why else would I open up the voting to my readership? Because I WANT these comedians to link my blog on theirs in order to drive their readers to me. This, my friends, is ego bait.
So what’s the point I’m making here? It’s simple: I’m a doofus. Seriously.
There’s a guy named Adam Waddle. Three months into his life as a stand-up comedian, he launched Laugh Addix, a social network for comedians. Three months. In stand-up years, your umbilical cord is still attached. Yet he had the bravado to start building a substantial online presence.
Three months into his comedy career and he was already being interviewed by a comedy publication in Knoxville, TN. I’ve been doing stand-up for two years. Except for the one comic I met waiting for Passion Pit at Bonnaroo last summer, no one on the Tennessee circuit knows what a Jesse Stoler is.
As far as I can tell, Waddle has not played in Tennessee. He has played outside of his home state though, something I’ve yet to accomplish. Many bookers across the west know his name. On a good day, my father sometimes remembers mine.
Waddle used social media, but building links to your own site is an even more effective way of establishing an online presence. If a fan is looking up “Boise comedy,” which gets decent search traffic, I want that fan to find me. I want that booker to find me. It really wouldn’t take that many good links either.
Like Waddle, I could be on the road writing this article on my laptop in a hotel room in Seattle, basking in the laughs I attained at The Comedy Underground the night before. Instead, I’m on a desktop, sitting in between two fellow content marketers, and my eyes are pointed at a dark wall and a webcam that only works sporadically. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job and my teammates immensely. Why do you think I’ve stuck around at this company for almost two years?
Okay, that’s just a coincidence. I stick around here because I love it. But if I could do my job on the road, that would be something of a dream for me, better than when I dreamed of being an astronaut back in first grade. First grade Jesse didn’t know that he would grow up to suffer from a crippling fear of heights/being separated from a decent bagelry.
This article has helped me to see the error of my ways, and if you’re a comedian out there reading this, I hope you’ve seen yours. Honestly, if you operate a site of ANY kind that isn’t building links, I hope you take something away from this. I’m a firm believer that “doing something different is a driving force in marketing. For comedians, “doing something different” can and should be link building.
Okay, I’m ready now. I’m going to go home and spend 10 bucks to buy up jessestolercomedy.com. Or I could use that 10-dollar bill to buy a bottle of wine. Ugh. Decisions.