Derek Halpern Exposed: Get your blog or startup $100,000+ in national media coverage for free


in Make Money, Productivity

This is an expert guide to getting $100,000+ in free media coverage for your blog or business. It was written by Michael Alexis.

It is based on a private interview I did with Derek Halpern of Social Triggers (plus many hours of research), and includes two of Derek’s master strategies plus dozens of bonus tips from influential entrepreneurs. If you are serious about getting loads of attention for your project, this is a must read.

But heads up: this article is long and extremely detailed. It took 32 hours to write. It will take you 15 minutes to read. Here is the PDF version (17 pages), and here is the ePub.

If you came from HackerNews I recommend you save this guide and schedule 30 minutes to read it later. For visitors from Reddit, here is the tl;dr – If you don’t spend 80% of your effort promoting your business, you are going to have a bad time.

I know you may be skeptical about the $100K in free publicity, so let’s start with the facts.

Derek Halpern and Social Triggers

Derek’s business advice has been featured on Fast Company, Huffington Post, CreativeLIVE, and most recently in a 52 minute 27 second video series on (9 million visitors per month — value? Easily $100,000.)

His blog, Social Triggers, is ranked 6,719 on Alexa worldwide, 2,583 in the US, and in the top 8000 most visited sites in 6 other countries. It is read by over 300,000 people each month, has 125,000 subscribers, and 33,556 Twitter followers. Derek also has a raving fan base on Facebook, with his average post getting hundreds of shares, likes, and comments. In a blog post, Forbes writer called him an “expert on consumer psychology.”

The Social Trigger’s podcast recently hit #1 in the business section on iTunes (ahead of Motley Fool, Oprah, Ted Talks, Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal).

Derek’s premium training course, Blog That Converts, has 1000+ students. The most impressive part? He started Social Triggers just 2.5 years ago.

Before founding ST, Derek built up his expertise bringing millions of visitors to a variety of websites – one site that attracted more than 67 million visits. He is also the former marketing guy for DIYthemes Thesis.

Okay, dude has got street cred. Let’s take a closer look at how he hacks the media to get free national coverage.

Table of Contents – Derek Halpern’s Guide to Free Media Coverage

  1. Part 1: The Foundation
    • One simple rule that will earn you massive traffic
    • The biggest barrier to promotion and what Tom Hanks has to say about it
    • 7 specific examples of overcoming this common barrier
    • The keystone skill that separates top bloggers from everyone else.
  2. Part 2: The Strategies
    • How to get massive coverage for free by hacking your competition.
    • 3 case studies about “the Drafting Technique” including a word-for-word script ($100 value)
    • The proven formula for unleashing viral content (with academic research)
    • Derek’s 12 Commandments of Natural Controversy
  3. Part 3: The Conclusion
    • Summing it all up and a list of uncommon promotion techniques

Foundation: do you know this 80/20 rule?

It’s on you to create [your best content], leverage proven psychological principles to make sure it spreads, and then PROMOTE THE HECK OUT OF IT.
-– Derek Halpern, on the 80/20 rule for building a blog audience

A secret fuel of Social Trigger’s rocket-powered growth is Derek’s 80/20 rule for building an audience.

I don't always include pie graphs in my posts, but when I do they look like pacman. CationBot: I don’t always include pie graphs in my posts, but when I do they look like pacman.

Here is his logic:

  1. If you spend time writing a piece of content, and that content only gets 1,000 readers, chances are there are one million other people in the world who can benefit from what you wrote.
  2. It’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more.

And it sounds pretty simple – just spend 20% of your time creating amazing content, and then 80% on promotion. But there are two key things you need to know.

First: this DOES not mean you get to slack on content creation. Derek puts five days of prep work into creating one episode of his video series Social Triggers TV. Ramit Sethi spends 12 to 18 hours on a single blog post. Once I interviewed a guy that wrote his entire book over a weekend. He didn’t sell very many copies. Tim Ferriss cut 250 pages out of 4-Hour Chef, published the remaining 672, and it was a New York Times Best Seller. You can choose which sandbox you want to play in.

Second: we’ve all seen that scammy internet guru that has magic tactics for explosive traffic. You’ll go viral! Just do this one thing! It’s not going to happen. That’s why Derek teaches proven psychological principles. If you have these and put in the time and effort, you will get results. From March 2011 to April 2012 Derek published an average of 2.54 blog posts per month, and earned nearly 27,000 subscribers. Do that.

If you are ready to learn Derek’s master strategies for free media coverage, you can skip ahead. But if you want to go a little more in depth, take a closer look at the Psychology of Self Promotion.

The Psychology of Self Promotion: Be like Tom Hanks

A lot of people aren’t comfortable with self-promotion (we feel like imposters). But if you have something great to share, it’s totally okay. That’s why you want to be a Tom Hanks not a Nicki Manaj.

Back in 2008, Tom Hanks went on The Late Show With David Letterman to promote his movie Charlie Wilson’s War. Check out the clip here. This is how it went…

TH: I didn’t realize it was legal to play baseball on The Mall in Washington, D.C.
DL: I don’t think you can do that!
TH: I didn’t want to, but I was prepared to drop the H-bomb if any cops [pulled up]
DL: What do you mean?
TH: Well the H-bomb Dave, the H-bomb — “Look officer, I’m Tom Hanks. I get to do whatever I want.”

Basically, Tom Hanks knows he is the man and isn’t afraid to say it. Also, TIL that Hanks’ films have grossed over $8.5 billion, making him the highest all-time box office star.

Compare this to Nicki Manaj, who claims to be on her way to a billion, but actually made $15.5 million in 2012.

Promote what you’ve got

No doubt it helps that Hanks has multiple Golden Globe Awards and Academy Awards to back up his brags, but we all need to start somewhere. As you accumulate small victories, showcase these. Here are a few examples:

  • When Derek first started Social Triggers, he talked about getting %201 %20million visitors to one of his sites in a single day. Now he lists off his impressive set of speaking engagements, and promotes his hour long video feature on
  • Maneesh went to Stanford, published 4 books (including an international bestseller), founded an NGO, built a zero-hour workweek business that was featured on Tim Ferriss’ blog, was interviewed on Arise.TV (broadcasted to 60 million people) etc.
  • In the early days of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Ramit Sethi created authority with his Stanford education. Then he started making TV appearances. Then his book became a New York Times Bestseller. Then Fortune Magazine wrote a 6 page feature about him. Then Forbes included him in a list of top money gurus, with his photo right next to Warren Buffett.
  • Neil Patel started promoting his early successes. Being a top 100 blog on Technorati, and a “top influencer on the web” according to Wall Street Journal. Now Entrepreneur Magazine says he is one of the top entrepreneurs in the world, President Obama has recognized Neil as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 30, and he has been awarded a Congressional Recognition.
  • Michael Ellsberg uses his day job (writer for Forbes) for credibility, as well as specific achievements like his “Eye Gazing Parties” being featured in major media and even Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek. No doubt when his next book becomes a NYT Bestseller he will promote himself with that, but for now he lists off a major achievement of his book Education of Millionaires: being sold into 8+ countries.
  • David Kadavy is author of the #18 Amazon Best-Seller, Design For Hackers.
  • After one of his projects was featured in the Globe and Mail (national newspaper in Canada), Richard Garand wrote about it on his blog.

These stories of Derek, Maneesh, Ramit, Neil, Michael, David and Richard show that self-promotion is totally okay. You just need to know what stage you are at.

So where are all the promoters?

Online, you only have a second to grab someone’s attention. And during that second, people make snap judgments about your, your business, and your website. Before. They. Read. Your. Content.
-– Derek Halpern, on why content isn’t king

One of the leading reasons we don’t promote our work is we believe we just need to create great content and that the masses will follow, or that if you have the right product idea the market will come knocking at your door. This is perpetuated by the myth that “content is king” – a myth that Derek debunks in this post.

Now, sometimes content really does propel a project on it’s own. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Sometimes Kickstarter projects just seem to catch fire, like 3Doodler: The World’s First 3D Printing Pen, that was featured across the web and raised $2,344,134.
  2. Friends of mine in Beijing opened a Korean BBQ restaurant on a quiet side street. They have great food, quality service and a cool atmosphere. But they never promoted it. Slowly people started to come, and then the media started running stories about their business. After 6 months they consistently had hour long line-ups every single night.

But sometimes a great idea just isn’t enough, or you aren’t reaching your true potential.

  1. There is a pirate ship in Peurto Vallarta, Mexico that you can party on for the night. You go sailing out with a bunch of pirates. There are sword fights, lasso wranglers, dudes throwing fire around, pretty good dinner, and an open bar. It’s a great concept and a lot of fun, but if you just stuck a pirate ship in the port people are going to think you are a nutbar. So 90% of their business comes from relationships – hotels that promote their business to guests for a fee.
  2. Back to my friends in Beijing. When they opened their second restaurant they learned to promote and had line-ups after 3 months. Now they are working on strategies to make it happen in 1 month. The end goal? Line-ups from day 1.

It’s possible that your content/product/idea could catch fire – but would you rather be an anomaly or ensure your own success?


Derek says promotion is an iterative skill that you will improve over time. When you first start you might be terrible (though with the strategies in this article you should still get above average results). A month from now you will be better. After a year of consistent effort you will be better than 99% of people. Commit to long term results.

Alright, now let’s dig into the meat – specific strategies for promoting yourself.

Keystone skill: connect with anyone

Connecting with people and networking seems like such a basic thing, but this is a keystone skill. A large part of Derek’s success is using this skill to get featured on media like, Copyblogger, and Affiliate Summit — and also to connect with people like Ramit Sethi, Andrew Warner, James Altucher, Chris Brogan, Pat Flynn, David Risley, Corbet Barr and Marie Forleo.

Derek published a free 9 page PDF called How to Email Influential People – And Get Responses Fast, with an accompanying post here. The PDF includes word for word scripts and more importantly – the psychology of why it works. I’ve used these same principles to connect with people like Derek, Andrew Mason (Co-founder, Former-CEO, Groupon), the CEO of a $1 billion+ revenue food service company, and many top bloggers.

Maneesh also has a guide for networking with influential people (it’s that important!).

BTW: I love connecting with people and featuring their projects in my work. Just send a quick intro to [email protected].

Alright, time for the strategies.

Strategy #1: The Drafting Technique

I decided to apply the drafting technique as you suggested and I want to share my results…

This has now given me the the amazing opportunity to get my name and brand out there in front of the entire country and also in front of the millions of expats who read their newspaper online everyday… All I can say is wow!!!
— Vanessa, Social Trigger’s reader on her results with the Drafting Technique (cut out the middle part)

What is the Drafting Technique?


The Drafting Technique is a flagship strategy over at Social Triggers. It’s a way to get major press for your startup, small business or website without connections or a PR firm — totally DIY.As a starter for understanding this technique, take a look at the name. Drafting is a skill that top athletes like cyclists, race car drivers and speed skaters use to get better results with less effort. If you’ve ever watched Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, one dude is up front breaking the wind, and the other cyclists are riding in his slipstream to reduce drag from wind, etc.Now think of this in marketing. Being the first to contact a major media outlet is tough — maybe they don’t know about your product or service, so you have to educate them. Maybe you don’t even know who to contact. But if your competitor gets featured first, e.g., in a newspaper, you know you can contact the author of the column and they will understand you. Now you’ve reduced the drag (who to contact, education), and can slide in with way less effort. The next section will show you how.

How to Draft like a pro

Drafting is about hopping into your competitor’s slipstream. If they get featured somewhere, you try to get featured there too.
— Derek Halpern, summing up the Drafting Technique

Derek has a 4-step process for you to get started drafting:

Step 1: List off 5-15 competitors. These don’t have to be direct competition — just people that are in the same world as you. E.g., If you sell front-pocket wallets, you can find other companies that sell modern men’s accessories.

Step 2: Search for any media mentions they have (including features, links, etc.). On Google you can write and see all the incoming links to that site (if this doesn’t work for your site, try taking out the www).

Drafting Tip #1: “Doesn’t matter who’s first. The trick is to find someone who was already covered, and draft behind them.” When we see a competitor featured in the media, it’s natural to think, “the opportunity is gone. They’ve already reported about X. I’m too late.” But this is actually just a mental barrier to getting started. Instead, think about how you can add a unique perspective to the conversation.

Step 3: Find the contact info for the blogger/reporter/journalist.

Step 4: Instead of just reaching out and asking for links, make a value-focused pitch.

How to make a value-focused pitch

Derek says when you are looking to get featured in the media, “It’s not about you or your company. It’s about providing the reporter with an incentive to cover your company.” And this doesn’t mean buying links! Instead, you need to give them a story — a unique/new idea, or new developments to an existing story.

To find your angle, carefully analyze the story about your competition. Find any gaps or errors — if you are an expert in your niche this should be easy. Once you have your story idea, write and send your email.

Drafting Tip #2: “With Drafting, you don’t have to write about what’s hot right now. Instead, you write about what reporters or bloggers have a history of writing about.” Drafting successfully doesn’t require you to be talking about the story of the day. Seek out reporters/bloggers that write about your niche. If you are a tech startup, find writers that cover that. If you are a relationship expert, there are countless columns in newspapers and magazines.

Here’s a tip that I always keep in mind when emailing someone new: KEEP IT SHORT — assume that people are good intentioned but lazy.

You can write your own, or use Derek’s outline:

Hey Name,

I saw you wrote about [insert topic]. Well, I’ve got some [insert unique story angle] that answers the concerns you raised in your original article. Here’s the article:

[insert link to article here].

You’re busy but you’ll find this as the perfect answer to [insert the concern they raised].

– Derek

Final step: click send :- )

Case Studies: How these 3 bloggers used Derek’s Drafting Technique to get featured in major media

Pro Tip: case studies are one of the most powerful tools available to a marketer. Not only do they establish credibility for the business, “Derek’s advice works”, but they are also useful for a) establishing social proof, “this advice works for people like me”, and b) showing a variety of application scenarios, “this is how it could work for a business like mine”.

That last point is key. A lot of advice gets passed around online over and over again — with very few people taking action and getting results (Derek calls this the “echo chamber”. Say something unique that gets people actual results and your business will stand out!)

So let’s look at how a few Social Triggers’ readers applied the Drafting Technique…


Example 1: Jadah used the Drafting Technique to bring 4,148+ readers to her parenting blog

Jadah runs a parenting advice blog called Family Sponge. Her and her blogging partner Jen write about child rearing, diet, design, sustainable living, etc. After writing an article about life without a TV, Jadah leveraged the Topic Drafting Technique to bring 4,148+ new visitors to her site.

From Jadah:

I agree that connecting with your “competitors” is a huge help. I sent a simple email to a blog I admire (it’s in a similar genre as my blog). I included a link to an article on our blog that I thought her readers might benefit from: The blog owner actually read it and shared the link in one of her posts which brought us 1,211 views on our site to that specific article on the day it was posted with consistent 400+ referrers from her site days after. We had another big blog share with the same article weeks earlier on another site bringing us 1,737 views on that one article the first day. We actually back linked one of her posts in our post. Sometimes people get afraid to leak out to other blogs, but I find it as a way to share resources and ideas. I want to build an honest community and give credit where credit is due. But not sure how it will pay off in the long run. Our blog has been running less than 3 months, and I’m thankful for the articles I read here for inspiration and action steps.

A few things to note:

  1. Notice that being featured on each of the host blogs happened weeks apart. There is no time limit on the Drafting Technique. If your content is relevant, you can promote it days, weeks, months or even years after you write it.
  2. Did you see her mention fear? “Sometimes people get afraid to leak out to other blogs”. Linking to another blogger or business in your niche is an easy way to add value to them and open yourself up to reciprocity.
  3. Traffic spikes are actually a really good thing. Derek says Social Triggers was built on traffic spikes — because even if you just catch a few hundred subscribers each time, the numbers accumulate. Ramit Sethi told me something similar in another interview: features on major media sites result in a “staircase” like pattern for your web traffic.

Free Bonus: the word-for-word email script Jadah used to reach out to influential blogs

I followed up with Jadah for more details about her success. She was kind enough to share the EXACT email she used to reach out to influential blogs in her niche. Copy below.

From: Jadah Sellner <>
Date: Wed, Jan 4, 2012 at 5:43 PM
Subject: Blog crush + Life without TV

Bonjour Gabrielle,

Your blog is fabulous. I adore your family photos
and your writing style.

I subscribe to your blog, and drool over your
images and fascinating stories.

I don’t subscribe to many blogs, but you and are invited to my inbox. 🙂

I just wanted to share a post that may benefit
your readers from a site a mommy friend and I
partner on together.

With the New Year, I thought it might be nice to
inspire families to unplug a little bit.

I am also available to provide any assistance
that may help you out. I know balancing a family
and maintaining a successful blog can be time
consuming. I would be open to writing or sharing
something that may be helpful to your readers.

Warmest regards,


P.S., We have a blog crush on you. Your
site rocks!

More notes:

  1. Notice this is different than Derek’s email copy above — that’s totally okay! Success comes from the fundamental principles you apply, not by stressing over word choice.
  2. Jadah sent her email January 4, and the target blog linked to her February 3. Sometimes your results will be instant (I’ve had people respond back within 10 minutes and say, “love it, can we post this tomorrow?”), but sometimes you need patience and perseverance.
  3. Also, when you send emails do you think about the width of your text? The narrow formatting of the email above may actually increase responses. Derek wrote about how to do these tests over on the Thesis Statement.

Jadah has since used Derek’s techniques to grow a second blog with 700,000+ visitors per month. But if you are more interested in boosting your credibility/authority than web traffic, check out the next example.

Example 2: Sean drafted his way into a national magazinethiscouldbeyou

Just a quick example. Sean Mysel is another Social Triggers reader who used the Drafting Technique to land coverage in a national golf magazine in the UK. Here’s how he did it:

This works brilliantly! I used this exact technique to get ongoing press coverage for the oldest, most wide read golf magazine in the UK. They needed help figuring out a brief drought season and how to take care of courses, I offered to give them some ideas.

Pro-tip: Think of both online AND offline media outlets for your promotional work. By getting featured in a major publication like a magazine or newspaper you can earn a great credibility badge and place their logo on your site.

Example 3: Rachel got featured both online and offline in an award-winning photo magazine

Sometimes you can actually double up on your efforts. By targeting media outlets that publish both online and offline you can get the credibility boosting power of being in print, with the link boosting power of being online.

Used the competitor’s draft to get a feature in PDN Magazine’s December 2012 issue (online and print edition) with a link to our site.

Very nice :- )

If you have any questions about the Drafting Technique, let us know in the comments below.

And for now, let’s look at another one of Derek’s media strategies…

Strategy #2: Natural Controversy

If people are going to hate you, they’re going to hate you.

You can’t really stop it.

And when you present balanced arguments… for the sake of being balanced… you’re actually hurting your chances of finding the people who truly resonate with whatever you’re trying to get them to do.
— Derek Halpern, on why you should be controversial

How controversy = traffic

Derek has a simple equation for getting massive traffic to your website…

Outrage + Controversy = Massive Traffic

Alright, two parts. Let’s break it down…

Master Outrage

Mastering outrage is all about understanding the emotional triggers of your audience, and pulling those levers in the right way.

As Tim Ferriss says, “study the top stories at Digg or and you’ll notice a pattern: the top stories all polarize people. If you make it threaten people’s 3Bs—behavior, belief, or belongings—you get a huge virus-like dispersion.”

And as Derek says, “people go to great lengths to let everyone know how mad they are.”

So if you want to threaten behavior:

  • write a blog post like “why your morning routine is actually making you fat”
  • post a YouTube video about “the three things you should have done in College”
  • ask Facebook “breast feeding or bottle feeding?

And if you want to threaten belief:

  • write a blog post like “why Content is King is a myth
  • post a YouTube video about “how art school is a big fat waste of money”
  • Tweet that “99% of beer actually tastes terrible”

And if you want to threaten belongings:

  • “Do this or risk foreclosure”
  • “The hidden costs on your cable bill”
  • “Investors are about to lose 50% on this one common stock”

If you aren’t sure what will outrage your audience, try testing. Send a snippet to a small segment of one of your lists (email, Facebook, Twitter) and gauge the reaction.

And once you’ve caused outrage…

Master Controversy

Mastering controversy is about harnessing both sides of an argument.

With the examples above, each is going to have supporters that take different sides.

  • Writers believe content is king — designers believe the design is more important (it’s the first impression!)
  • “Breast feeding leads to higher IQ!” vs. “It’s not proven! Einsten was bottle fed!”
  • Etc.

But you can’t rely on these groups to seek you out.

Instead — go to their home turf — blogs, forums, and other places that they congregate.

  1. First, reach out to the people that will disagree with you. Send a quick email with the link. Watch as the outrage/comments roll in.
  2. Then, reach out to the people that will support you. Again, comments, dialogue, and shares.

Here is email copy you can use to contact each side.

Hey Name,

I saw you wrote about [insert topic]. I know [insert unique story angle] is something your audience feels strongly about, and I did some research that might surprise them. Here’s the article:

[insert link to article here].

What’s interesting is how [useful point about your article].

– Derek

Repeat as necessary, and then let the traffic flow.

By making people take a stance, you are going to gain loyal followers.

But there is a risk of using this technique. You can actually be TOO controversial (or sputter and die because you aren’t controversial enough).

How to be the right amount of controversial 99% of the time

With great power comes great responsibility.
— Stan Lee (via Spiderman), Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and possibly first by Francois-Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire)

Even though controversy is a powerful tool for driving traffic, it does have limitations. There are ways of communicating and promoting controversial topics that work — and there are those that have a net negative effect by offending your most loyal fans. Derek actually warns against publicly taking strong stances on topics like politics, gender, religion, etc.

It seems vague at first, “be controversial without being too controversial”, but it turns out there might actually be a right level of controversy for bloggers and businesses.

A 2012 academic paper[1/2014 Maneesh Note: The link no longer works. It was originally this: ] published by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania discussed how online marketers can manipulate controversy to achieve results like increased comments or traffic. Here are a few major takeaways:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, controversy doesn’t always increase discussion.
  2. Moving from low to moderate levels of controversy increases the number of comments an article receives — additional increases result in less comments.
  3. Exception: If you allow online commenters to be anonymous, the are willing to discuss more controversial topics.
  4. Less controversial stuff is more likely to be shared with weaker ties (i.e., acquaintances), and so is more likely to diffuse through a social network — or in Newspeak, if you want your posts to be shared by the Ministry of Twitter then low level controversy is doubleplus good.

The basic mechanics of controversy are pretty simple: “while controversy increases conversation by making topics more interesting to talk about, it simultaneously decreases conversation by making people feel uncomfortable talking about these topics.

So the art is in understanding what makes your audience tick, and not going beyond their limit. My friend Gregory Ciotti calls engaging in this low level controversy the Toilet Paper Strategy.

I recommend you read the entire academic study. It answers questions like:

  • How does online controversy compare to offline?
  • Does “knowledge” matter more than “interest”?

Of course sometimes even when you have zero-intent of being controversial, it still creeps in. This morning I was reading an article about air pollution in China (it is literally off the charts). One of the first commenters wrote, “This is the America the Libertarians and corporations want.” Okay — WTF?

Good Guy Internet Commenter Good Guy Internet Commenter

Good Guy Internet Commenter [FIXED] Good Guy Internet Commenter [FIXED]

To help keep you on track, I’ve created a list of rules to follow: Derek’s 12 Commandments of Natural Controversy.

Derek’s 12 Commandments of Natural Controversy

  1. Rally the people you inspire. Find the topics and emotional triggers they care about.
  2. Building an audience is more about exclusion than inclusion, so don’t worry about offending outsiders.
  3. Never piss off your loyal fans and friends. You CAN polarize people in the wrong direction.
  4. Instead, piss off the people you want to exile from your community. “If people are going to hate you, they are going to hate you.”
  5. You don’t have to be opinionated about everything. This is a big one. One of the common barriers to using Natural Controversy is “but I don’t feel really strongly about things like X”. This is easy to overcome. Someone once asked Derek, “Why do you always have such strong opinions on everything?” He replied, “It’s not that I have strong opinions on everything, it’s that I only talk about things I have strong opinions on.”
  6. Don’t create problems for no reason. Being controversial just to try to drive traffic, or worse — without a goal — is a no-no. Instead, only use this technique when you truly support what you’re saying.
  7. Be confident and people will believe in you. Always maintain your position unless someone provides new data that makes you change your mind. Don Moore, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, demonstrated that “consumers tend to pick advice from those who express more confidence that they have the right answer (Moore, 2009).”
  8. Stay out of conversations related to politics, gender, religion, etc. These topics are a little too polarizing for the average blogger. Studies show that above a certain level controversy actually decreases discussion. Instead, optimize for “low level controversy”. Obvious exceptions: you run a political blog or church.
  9. Find the common enemy. Derek says every group of people has a common enemy. “You gotta find out who that enemy is, and then use outrage + controversy against them.”
  10. Question the 3 Bs. This one is borrowed from Tim Ferriss. Threaten the 3 Bs (behavior, belief, belongings) and traffic follows.
  11. All controversies burn bridges. “I don’t mind burning bridges that I don’t want to leave up.”
  12. Controversy is like chess — it’s easy to learn how to move the pieces, but it’s hard to learn how to play like a grandmaster. AKA: this all may sound pretty basic, but it’s actually quite hard to pull off.

And here is the pretty version…

right click + "save as" to download right click + “save as” to download
Warning: Natural controversy is a powerful technique you can use to drive traffic to your website. However Derek warns that if done poorly it can have a negative effect (like pissing off your loyal fans). Also, you may get into trouble by failing to support your opinion (e.g., with data or other research), or failing to address the major counter arguments to your point-of-view.

Here are a few more examples of controversy in action:

  • Andrew Warner used controversy to build up the viewer base at Mixergy. When a Techcrunch intern was accused of taking bribes, Andrew reached out to get his story. Remember Derek’s rule — this is not just about being controversial — “he did an interview with me because he knew that I would listen, instead of sandbagging him.” Sometimes just providing a new viewpoint is enough to provide value to your fans (this also turned out to be one of Mixergy’s big traffic days).
  • When I interviewed Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion, he told me about how he jumps on controversial topics (that he has a genuine opinion about) to get more traffic. e.g., When pro-blogger Chris Brogan deleted all his Twitter followers, it caused a small uproar. Marcus voiced his opinion on his blog. See the mega-comments for how well Marcus rallies his readers around ideas.
  • Once you become an expert, you know when you can bend — or even break — the rules. Ramit Sethi masterfully executed a gender series back in mid-2012. Here’s the starter post: A confession about gender and money…, and even better How Much Should You Spend On An Engagement Ring.
  • My brother’s party rock band is made up of reformed heavy-metal dudes. They name all of their songs after girls. They produced a fun music video and got slammed by a major heavy-metal blog for being sell-outs. The result? Over 100,000 views for their video.
  • I wrote the first issue of Blueprint Entrepreneur. As part of my research, I asked Quora, Programmers, what do you think when you hear “I just need a tech co-founder”? A rage storm followed — 45 comments, 23,120 views and marked as “one of the best conversations online” by one of the mods. All because the question struck an emotional chord.
  • re: burning bridges. Back when I was interviewing top bloggers for Writerviews, I went to Man Vs. Debt to reach out to Adam Baker. His most recent post was called, “The Cost of a Dead Osama Bin Laden”. I found the parody title and tone of the post distasteful, so I never reached out (this is painful for me to admit because generally I favour learning opportunities. Also, P.S: even now I’m linking to this controversial post). But like Derek says, “I personally don’t mind [burning] bridges that I don’t want to leave up.”
  • A thread on Reddit re: controversy, BLEW UP, getting 13,000+ comments in 5 hours and actually crashing Reddit. Check it out here: What extremely controversial thing(s) do you honestly believe, but don’t talk about to avoid the argument?

Conclusion: If you don’t spend 80% of your effort promoting your business, you are going to have a bad time

There is a lot of terrible advice out there: “you have to blog every day”, and similar. But it’s not about how much content you produce, and past a certain level it’s not really about the quality either.

What matters is the marketing and promotion you do for your product or business — and when you master high level strategies like the Drafting Technique and Natural Controversy, you set yourself up for explosive growth.

The strategies in this article are just two ways to promote your business. If they aren’t the right fit for you, that’s totally okay, try one of these instead:

Remember, spend just 20% of your time/effort on creation and the other 80% on promotion, and you will see terrific results. BTW: Derek says this also means that you get to repeat your BEST stuff everywhere you go — that’s a $1 million insight.

Last thing: an article like this is a lot of effort to research, draft, write, revise, etc. You can do us a huge favour by leaving a comment below. Let us know:

  1. What are you struggling with in your blog or business?
  2. What have you tried for promotion? What worked? What didn’t?

Maneesh, Derek, and I will review every comment — thanks!

About the author: I’m Michael Alexis and I wrote this article for Social Triggers, the top resource for Online Marketing Strategy. Check out this other mega post I wrote for Hack the System: The Ultimate Guide to Building a Recurring Revenue Business From Scratch.


Toria April 19, 2014 at 10:58 pm

Why would you write “WTF” about the guy’s comments about air pollution? His point is obvious. Libertarians and corporations are anti-regulation, libertarians on principle and corporations because of profit. Corporations lobby against environmental regulation and Libertarians protest it. China is polluted because of lax regulations because they are more interested in fast development than protecting the environment. In GOP states yousee things like mountaintop removal. Without green groups and the few Progressives we have in Congress, the U.S. would be as polluted as China. Republicans want to get rid of the EPA and even regulations on food safety.q Your “WTF” has me wondering “WTF.” Do you just never read the news?


Andrew April 9, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I’m planning to start a blog that actually delves into religion, because this topic is one of my passions. Of course, it’s not a standard “religious” site – it’s more about evolving spirituality and insights from neuroscience. Do you have any advice on how I can best approach this? BTW, AWESOME article! You’re smart guys!


Kellie April 7, 2014 at 12:46 am

Wow, great post and combined bounty of brilliant business tips. I read a lot of marketing related books and posts but this is one of the best yet. Thanks for sharing the info. 🙂


Jen March 12, 2014 at 7:38 am

I’m struggling with the overwhelm from blog design and not having the money to pay someone to do it.


Maneesh Sethi March 12, 2014 at 5:37 pm
Uchendu Uchendu February 1, 2014 at 4:18 am

Awesome stuff. Got Derek’s 5KemailList book. Awesome.


Chloe January 30, 2014 at 1:30 am

Hi Michael,

Thanks so much for your post.
I was having a frustrating day today because I feel so stuck increasing traffic to my site.

I will try the drafting technique you covered in this article and keep you posted.


Welly January 14, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Extremely helpful text. Well done!


Adam December 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I am a big fan of Derek’s and what he does. I shout from the rooftops about the 80/20 rule and truly believe it. I am working on the emailing influential people thing. In fact, I sent out a few emails on Tuesday, using his verbiage, and got a reply from a lady that is going to link out to my post. So, yes, this stuff works. Need to put it into practice more.


joey B December 2, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hey guys, Great article. I see this is mostly geared towards blogs and I see some applications I could use to help promote my mobile app.

What is a way I can modify these efforts so they will be better suited for my app? I see how the power of drafting can help me find the right people, but I need to find how to offer value.

To avoid the risk of being spammy, I will not post a link to the app.

Thanks for the great article!



Joe November 28, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Great post! I’ve learnt a few new techniques which I can implement now.


Regev November 27, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Awesome post.

The info on controversy is gold. I had 3 prime-time TV talk shows invitations because of controversial content I produced. One of them was about leaving the academy to make money online and travel (Was originally in Hebrew, you can read the English version here:, the other one was about feminism – and it led to a HUGE outrage here in Israel.

The interesting part comes when you get threatening for your life. So be careful people, words are sharper than knives.


Michael December 1, 2013 at 8:27 am

what happened with the invitations?


Somesh November 26, 2013 at 10:33 am


Great stuff. Thanks for providing it.
I can understand how these ideas work for a blog, but how about an online store.
How do you increase traffic to an online store? I am struggling to increase traffic to my online store ( Any thoughts or comments?


Michael December 1, 2013 at 8:22 am

Hey Somesh —

1: attach a blog to your online store

2: Derek’s drafting technique doesn’t actually require a blog — you could reach out to media sources that have talked about wine, etc.

3: I wrote up this strategy awhile back:



Rob November 26, 2013 at 9:28 am

You get things FREE.

You do not get things FOR FREE.


Karen November 26, 2013 at 4:16 am

Thanks for the awesome post! I’ve put it on delicious and will refer back to the scripts.

With my blog, I’ve set it up and it’s good enough to go. I’m struggling with focusing on activities that will make me money before making the blog perfect (the blog is just there to add credibility to my in-person presentations and basically for me to have a website and look legit).


Michael December 1, 2013 at 8:24 am

Are you earning money from your presentations? Email me: [email protected]


Ben Pavlovich November 25, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Very few times you read an article that needs to be saved and studied over a course of time. This is one.


Michael December 1, 2013 at 8:25 am
Bryan Haines November 25, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Nicely covered. We’ve seen controversy positively affect our blog – and generate spirited comments.


Luan Marcel November 25, 2013 at 11:26 am

Great post!

I’m glad I came back to subscribe to your blog.


Arie, November 25, 2013 at 10:53 am

Thanks for the Mixergy mention!


Michael December 1, 2013 at 8:26 am

thanks for Mixergy :- )


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