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Tell us about Your Blog in 140 Characters or Less

Update – 48 hours has expired and I’ve now closed this experiment.

OK – here’s a little experiment for us to participate in this weekend. Below I’d like you to ‘pitch’ us on why we should read your blog. Read on to find out how.

I get asked these two questions a lot:

  1. Can you link to my blog on ProBlogger
  2. Can you recommend a blog on the topic of (insert topic here)

The answer to #1 is invariably no. It’s not that I don’t want to promote great blogs – but the reality is that if I promoted every blog I was asked to link to it’d take over this blog completely.

The answer to #2 is for me to sometimes give people a link but more often it’s a blank look. You see while I track the feeds of over 700 blogs that is just a drop in the ocean and the blogs I follow tend to be on just a couple of narrow topics.

So – what I want to do is give people an opportunity to promote their blog here on ProBlogger and an opportunity for others to find new blogs to read.

It’s all going to happen in the comments section of this post.

Here’s how it’ll work.

  • Over the next 48 hours I am leaving the comments of this post open for you to give an elevator pitch for your blog.
  • To keep the ‘pitches’ short – you have to do it in 140 characters or less.
  • You can ‘sell’ your blog to us in any way you like as long as it’s 140 characters. Use humor, tell us what it’s about, tease us… what ever you want. Just keep it family friendly please.
  • Feel free to use your blog’s name in the ‘name’ field in the comments section and to leave the URL in the URL section to help you save on characters.
  • Please only pitch one blog to us. If you have multiple blogs just pick your best one.
  • After 48 hours I’ll close the comments on this post and will point people back to it and encourage them to surf through the list and find some new blogs to read. I’ll also encourage people to link up to the ones they find and enjoy reading.
  • I’m not going to do a summary list of all blogs submitted (I suspect there will be quite a few) but I will pick out a few of my favorite elevator pitches to highlight in the 2nd post.
  • updatePlease include the number ’140′ in the comment. This will help us find any comments that are filtered as spam. The ’140′ doesn’t get counted in your 140 characters.

Will this bring you tens thousands of new readers to your blog? Probably not – but it could bring a few, and they could bring others…..

I’m looking forward to seeing how you pitch us your blog (I think it’s important to be able to sell your blog in a few words so hopefully this is a useful exercise) but also to discovering some great new blogs! Your 48 hours starts…. NOW!

Subscribe to my feed to be notified when the project ends so you can come back and surf the list!

update: If you don’t see your comment come up immediately please be patient. It will have been queued for moderation – we’ll get to it eventually. There’s no need to add a 2nd comment. Thanks!

Update 2 – thanks everyone – I’ve now closed this experiment off. I do appreciate everyone’s submissions and apologize to those that missed out but this page slowed down so much that I can’t extend the experiment past 48 hours! I’ll post in the next 24 hours a few of my favorite pitches plus some reflections on the project. Wow – over 1400 submissions – thanks!

Tips on Finding Your Blogging Rhythm

Today I had this question from a reader about their struggle with posting daily on their blog:

“Darren I am a new blogger and I really want to be posting every day, but I just can’t keep up. I find it takes me so long to put each post together that to do 7 a week would take me 7-10 hours (I am writing ‘how to’ type posts). While I’d love to dedicate that much time to blogging each week I have a full time job, family and social life to keep up. Do you have any tips?”

This is a great question and one that I know a lot of bloggers struggle with – particularly in their early days.

Finding a posting rhythm is important to do – but it doesn’t just happen. In this post (and the next one tomorrow) I want to make a few comments that may assist in the finding of your posting stride.

1. There is no Right Posting Level

One of the common misconceptions that new bloggers have is that they are somehow failing as a blogger if they don’t get a post up every single day.

The reality is that there is no posting schedule that is right for all blogs. For some blogs a post a day is just right, for others posting 20 times a day is ideal, for others it is one or two posts a week. The ideal post frequency for your blog will depend upon many factors including:

  • Your topic (how wide the niche is, how much news there is on the topic etc)
  • Your post style (for example posting tutorials can take longer than posting short ‘news’ posts)
  • Blogger time (how much time you have available for blogging)
  • Your audience (some blogs readers seem to love lots of short posts each day while others are after something more meaty)
  • How Many Bloggers You have (a blog with multiple authors can sustain a higher number of posts)

There is no optimal posting level for all blogs. Last time I surveyed ProBlogger readers on how many posts they published a week I found that on average they were doing 8.9. However, as you’ll see from the chart below (showing the spread of results from the poll) the most common answer was actually 5 posts a week.

Posts-Per-Week-1

2. Start out Slow and Work Your Way Up

My advice to new bloggers is to start out slower than what you’re aiming for, to work hard on quality of posts and then over time increase your posting frequency as you’re able.

This was the approach that I had with my photography blog. My initial goal was to post 3 quality posts per week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Once I had consistently met this goal for a month or so I added a 4th post into the schedule and then a month or so later a 5th.

At 5 posts per week (each weekday) I stopped increasing my posting frequency (I couldn’t sustain any more) until a reader actually came to me and offered to post a summary of the activity on the forums every Sunday. I then decided to make Saturday a ‘reader question’ type day where I simply started a discussion (a fairly easy post to write) and suddenly I was at 7 posts a week.

This process of getting up to daily posts took me over a year to achieve. In more recent times I’ve hired writers to take on 4 of the posts per week and have weaned myself off writing them all. This will enable me to concentrate on expanding other areas of the site in coming months.

The beauty of this gradual increase of posts was that I was able to work up to daily posting and not over stretch myself (or have quality of work suffer). The analogy I use to describe this is that when you’re training as an athlete for a long distance event, you don’t suddenly go out and start running the eventual distance you’ll run. You need to work up to that distance over time, get yourself in condition and get your body used to the distance. Too much too quickly can mean you burn out.

It also meant that there was no sudden change in posting frequency for my readers to have to deal with. I doubt any of them would really even notice the changes.

3. Monitor Your Readerships Response to Your Posting Levels

As you increase your posting levels pay careful attention to how your readership are responding.

What I’ve found is that there is generally a ‘sweet spot’ where a blogs audience is most content. This sweet spot will vary from blog to blog.

Watch what your readers say about your posting level – but also look for other signals and signs that you might be posting too much (or not enough).

For example watch what happens to your traffic levels on days when you post more as opposed to days that you don’t post (or post less).

Another thing to watch is comment numbers. I find that if I post too much the numbers of comments on a post will decrease while if I only post once a day the comment numbers go up (conversely if I don’t post for a couple of days comment numbers slow on a post after a day or two signaling that my readership are done with the topic and want more).

4. Consistency is Important

What is probably more important than ‘how many’ posts you do a week is that you establish some kind of consistent posting rhythm that readers can expect to get from your blog. The only time I’ve ever had readers complain about how many posts I do on my blog is when I’ve suddenly changed things in one way or another.

For example there was a week a couple of years ago where I simply found myself with a lot to say and where there was a lot of breaking news on the niche of blogging. As a result my posting frequency here at ProBlogger leapt up from twice a day to 4-5 times a day. Readers pushed back because I’d been consistently producing 2 posts a day and suddenly they were needing to find time to digest double that.

The same thing can happen when you suddenly decrease your posting frequency – readers come to expect a certain level of posts and suddenly it is gone.

If you do make changes to your posting frequency consider doing them gradually and/or explaining what is going on to your readers.

4 More Tips Tomorrow – Have Your Say Now

This is just the first part in a two part series on finding your posting rhythm as a blogger. As I began to write this post I realized that there was a lot to cover so wanted to hold the second half of this post (with 4 more tips on finding your blogging rhythm) until tomorrow.

In the mean time – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on a couple of things.

  • Firstly – how many posts do you do a week? Is this your goal or do you struggle to meet your goal?
  • Secondly – what advice would you give to bloggers on posting frequency and finding your blogging rhythm?

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and sharing more of my own tomorrow.

Update – See the second post in this series at Finding Your Posting Rhythm Part 2.

8 Reasons to Add a Newsletter to Your Blog

Reasons-To-Add-Newsletter-To BlogAlmost every time I write about having an email newsletter associated with my blog (as I did yesterday in sharing how I drastically increased subscriber numbers) I get people asking me why I use newsletters?

The questions on newsletters as a medium often include:

  • Isn’t Email old fashioned?
  • Isn’t RSS the new way forward?
  • What about Social Networking – isn’t that more effective than email newsletters?
  • Aren’t Newsletters very one way and not very conversational?
  • Isn’t building a ‘list’ as a way of doing online marketing a thing of the past?
  • Doesn’t the Blog replace the newsletter?

While I can see why people would ask these types of questions – if I had to name one technology or medium that has had the greatest impact upon building my blogs readership – newsletters would be right up there, particularly since moving services to Aweber.

Let me qualify that by saying it does vary a little from blog to blog depending upon the topic and the type of reader they attract.

8 Reasons I use Newsletters & the benefits they bring

Before I go any further – let me say that I’m not talking about RSS to email newsletters that simply convert your RSS feed into emails. I’m talking about building a list of subscribers who get a weekly or monthly (or some other period) purpose written newsletter. It might point people to your blog and posts you’ve written but it’s purpose written and often includes other material exclusive to newsletter subscribers.

1. Newsletters create Loyalty

The majority of your blogs readers never come back.

The sad reality is that despite our best efforts, there’s a lot of passing through traffic on most blogs. People arrive from a search engine, another blog or website or a social media site – they stay for a few moments, consume what they can and then move on.

Unless you find a way to ‘hook’ people into returning to your blog the majority of your readers won’t return. It’s not that they don’t want to or that your site is bad – they just forget and/or have no means to remind themselves of your blog.

A newsletter is a way of giving those people who arrive on your blog a way to opt in to being reminded to come back to your blog. The same can be said for RSS but a newsletter reaches a different crowd to RSS (more on this below).

2. Newsletters Develop Relationships and Trust

After two years of sending weekly newsletters to my readership at DPS I’m now starting to get some interesting interactions from subscribers. They’re emailing me like they’d email a friend.
What I’m finding is that the weekly newsletters (in which I’ve got a photo of myself and share the occasional snippets from my life including the birth of children, trips I’m taking, things that I’m doing) are making me very familiar to my subscribers. They seem to feel like they ‘know me’. It’s difficult to explain but I guess when you get as many emails from someone as these people get from me – they really do ‘know me’ (at least on some levels).
Not only do emails build relationships and intimacy with your readership – they build trust. My newsletter subscribers respond to affiliate promotions much more than my normal blog readers. They seem to follow the recommendations that I make and try the things I suggest.
RSS and just blogging can build relationships and trust also – but I suspect adding email newsletters into the mix adds to it.

3. Newsletters Drive Page Views/Traffic

My biggest traffic days are those that I send out newsletters. I use newsletters to highlight new posts on the blog and key discussions in the forum that I run. The more helpful and topical the posts and discussions the more traffic the links in the newsletter drives.

Interestingly – if you need an ‘explosive’ burst of traffic to a particular post a newsletter can be great for this. For example:

  • if you’re launching a new product or service and want to kick it off well – do it with a newsletter as well as a blog post
  • if you’re launching a new affiliate campaign – do it the same day you send a newsletter
  • if you’re wanting a post to do well on a social bookmarking site like Digg – put a digg button on the post and a few minutes later send out your newsletter pointing people at the post.

These sudden bursts of traffic can really help build momentum around the projects that you’re starting.

4. Newsletters are Familiar

Most of your readers don’t know what RSS is and unless you offer them an email subscription option they are unlikely to ‘subscribe’. While RSS awareness is growing, some research shows that it’s slowing and even peaking in it’s use. I personally feel it’ll continue to grow and be utilized by people (even when they don’t know they’re using the technology) but email will continue (at least in the short term) to be one of the most used forms of communication on the planet.

This is a little dependent upon your topic and audience. Some of your readerships will be more tech savvy (and RSS familiar) than others and in those cases email newsletters may not be quite as effective – but I suspect in most niches offering a newsletter will be effective.

5. Newsletters Build a Core Community and Enhance Reader Engagement

One word that keeps coming up as I interact with my newsletter subscribers is ‘membership’. I don’t use the word but have noticed increasingly that subscribers refer to themselves as ‘members’ or as having signed up for ‘membership’. I find it interesting that these subscribers don’t see themselves as just receiving an email (as a subscriber) but as having joined something or being a member of a community.

I guess signing up for something is a reader showing some level of participation and commitment to a site – by doing so they’re investing something in your blog and feel like participants.

I use the words ‘core community’ above because I find that those who subscribe to a newsletter are often among the most loyal and committed members of your blog’s community. These are people who want the inside word on your site and are telling you that they want to know what’s going on as soon as they can. They’ve given you permission to contact them – as a result they’re a powerful group of people to know and be able to communicate to (and they can actually help you grow your blog further as they can be effective evangelists for you).

6. Newsletters can Track and Target Groups of Readers

Using a tool like Aweber to run your newsletter gives you access to all kinds of interesting tools, stats and opportunities. You can track which links in your post get the most clicks (this can be used as a form of research into what readers respond to) but you can also segment readers into different groups and target them with individual messages.

For example:

  • You can send special newsletters just to new subscribers – for example you could send an email every month just to those who’ve signed up in that time highlighting key posts in your archives.
  • You can track who clicks on affiliate links in your posts and send them emails with special offers
  • You can send special emails just to subscribers who never open emails (testing subject lines with different strategies in them)

Really the sky is the limit as to what you can test and how you can target readers.

7. Newsletters help build Momentum

I use my newsletter not only for promotion of content and affiliate products but to build a sense of momentum on my blog. Every few weeks on my photography blog I’ll give subscribers a little extra insight into milestones that we’ve reached as a community, mentions we’ve had in mainstream media, new features that we’re adding etc. In this way I give those subscribed a sense that they’re a part of something that is growing and exciting.

I find that as I do this that readers respond very well and give me feedback on how they’ve been helping the site to grow (by promoting it to their friends).

8. Newsletters Open Up Possibilities for Monetization

Newsletters open up another avenue for profit for those of you developing online businesses.

I’ve already mentioned numerous times that newsletters can be effective when it comes to affiliate programs – but they can also be good when it comes to advertising revenue.

Selling ad space in our newsletter can be quite lucrative when you build up your readership. I’ve found that advertisers can be willing to pay quite good CPM rates because they know a newsletter subscriber base are usually pretty committed and loyal readers (and very focused around a niche too).

Further Reading on Email Newsletters

Update: While I use Aweber to deliver my emails I also recommend checking out Get Response which is being used by a lot of bloggers these days.

Google Analytics Integrates with AdSense

One of the earliest requests that I remember seeing AdSense publishers making of Google in forums is for better analytics and stats on their AdSense earnings.

Today (years later) AdSense have announced what we’ve all been suspecting would happen for ages – they’re integrating AdSense with Google Analytics stats.

It isn’t available to all publishers yet (they’re rolling it out gradually) but if it is you’ll see an invitation in your AdSense admin area. Here’s how AdSense describe it:

“you’ll now have access to granular reports that break down AdSense performance both by page and by referring site. Armed with this new data about user behavior, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions on how to improve the user experience on your site and optimize your AdSense units to increase your revenue potential.”

Being able to know which specific pages on your blog are earning a lot (or not much) and which sites traffic earns you the most is going to open our eyes as publishers to many possibilities and hopefully more profitable blogging.

Here’s a video from AdSense that hopefully sheds some more light on this new feature for those of us not yet able to access it.

Gmail Adds ‘Canned Responses’ and Saves Us all Time with FAQs

If you’re a blogger with even a smallish readership you probably get asked the same questions over and over again by readers.

Oe great way to save yourself a lot of time when it comes to these frequently asked questions is to have pre-prepared answers that you can email back to those asking the questions. Up until now I’d been using a little program called ‘TextExpander’ (a Mac application) to speed up the process of getting these answers into emails – but in the last 24 hours Gmail came to the party with a new featured called ‘Canned Responses‘.

Canned Responses

Canned Responses is a feature you can turn on in Google Labs and allows you to type up responses and to save them as templates. I know a lot of other email programs have this capability already – but as a Gmail convert it’s exciting news to me and I know will save me a lot of time.

I’ve already got a few Canned Responses drafted including:

  • A couple for most commonly asked questions – pointing people to articles I’ve written on these common topics.
  • One as a response to a problem that some of my forum users have with logging in.
  • Another as a response to people wanting consulting.

What would you use Canned Responses (or draft templates in your email client) for?

How to Drastically Increase Subscriber Numbers to Your Email Newsletter

Two weeks ago I was seeing 40 new email subscribers per day to my photography blog email newsletter. This week I’ve been averaging over 350 new subscribers a day. In this post I’ll share the story of how I did it.

newsletter-subsriber-numbers.png

In this months ProBlogger Newsletter I gave subscribers some inside information on how I’ve increased the daily newsletter subscriber rate to my photography blog almost tenfold in the last couple of weeks.

Before using this technique I was averaging around 40 new (and verified) subscribers a day to my email newsletter (I use Aweber to manage my email newsletters). To be honest I was pretty happy with that. 40 a day is over 14,000 per year – who would complain about that!

However last week I decided to experiment with a feature that Aweber offers its publishers that I’d resisted using previously – the ability to collect subscribers using a ‘Pop Over’ subscription form.

Most bloggers with newsletters put their subscriber form in a sidebar like this:

normal-newsletter-subscription-method.jpg

This is a good and prominent position above the fold and in a place that people notice.

The Pop Over on the other hand is a form that appears, hovering over the content on the page, after a certain predetermined time frame. Here is one of the versions that I’ve been testing:

newsletter-subscription-form-pop-over.png

These Pop Over subscription forms are of course much more intrusive to readers than a sidebar form – this is the reason I resisted using them for so long. My fear was that they’d annoy readers, page views per visit would drop and that I’d end up with a lot of angry emails from readers.

Aweber gives different options to limit how many times these Pop Overs appear on your site – you can show them to every visitor, limit them to show once per visitor or have them show every ‘X’ days. You can also use what they call a ‘lightbox’ which allows you to have the rest of your content fade and for the form to fade in, slide in from above, below or a side etc. I’m testing the Lightbox against the PopOver at present and my early tests are incredibly positive and are increasing subscriber rates even further than pop overs!

So what was the result of my testing?

I think this chart of my subscriber numbers says a lot:

newsletter-subsriber-numbers.png

I think it is probably pretty obvious when the test started. The last days results are still incomplete but look like being similar to the day before.

Average confirmed subscribers per day have risen to over 350 per day (over a year this would translate to over 125,000) so at least on that front it has been successful.

But what has the reader feedback been?

To this point I’ve had two readers email me to complain about the Pop Overs. One saw them multiple times (I suspect because the cookies associated with them seem to be associated with different versions of the Pop Overs). The other complaint came from an iPhone user who said that the Pop Over took up the whole screen and was impossible to close (something Aweber might want to do some testing on).

Did Reader Engagement or Page Views Suffer?

One of my concerns with Pop overs was that readers would be annoyed by them and surf away from the page. As a result I’ve paid particular attention to the ‘pages viewed per visit’ statistic on Google. Here’s how it looks (click to enlarge):

pages-viewed-per-visitor.jpg

Pages viewed per visitor has remained stable – in fact if anything they are slightly up since I began the experiment!

Considering page views per visitor didn’t go down and I’m adding 350 or so new potential weekly readers to my blog each day I’d say reader engagement has actually significantly been increasing!

Split Test for Better Results

One of the great things about AWeber is that they’ve built in the ability to split test different versions of subscription forms.

This means that you can design two different forms and have them each show 50% of the time to readers of your blog. Over time it becomes clear that one version out performs another enabling you to then test the best performer with another version of the signup form – making incremental improvements as you go along.

I’ve been testing on two levels:

1. Timing – you can test subscription rates on forms that have a short time before appearing versus forms that have a longer time before appearing. I’ve found that forms that take longer periods of time to appear have a slightly higher signup rate. However these forms show to less people as some navigate away from the page.

2. Copy and Design – the copy and design in your signup form impacts signup rates. I’ve found pictures seem to increase signup rates – also giving benefits and strong calls to action seem to increase signup rates also.

As a guide – I’m seeing signup rates of between 4-5.5%, depending upon the forms. I’m still playing with the split testing though – there is lots to learn!

Final Thoughts

Over all I’m pretty happy that I began to experiment with Pop Over signup forms. On DPS they’ve worked very well and are helping me to make first time readers loyal readers.

I don’t think that they’d work with every blog in the same way. For example to this point I’ve resisted using Pop Over subscription forms here on ProBlogger as I think the audience here will be more annoyed by them than on my photography blog as ProBlogger readers tend to be a bit more skeptical of intrusive marketing.

As always – it’s something to test and track. Pay attention to signals of how readers are receiving it and tread carefully. However don’t rule it out completely too quickly – you could be missing out on a significant way to convert first time readers into loyal ones.

One thing that I think would also be good to experiment with is targeting specific types of readers with Pop Overs. I think specifically targeting search engine visitors with these would make more sense than to target those coming from RSS Readers for example (or at least to be able to present different versions of the pop overs to different readers). Aweber didn’t seem to have plans for doing this themselves but suggested that it would be possible to do with a little coding (I’ll need to work out how).

PS: Tomorrow I’d like to follow up this post with the answer to the most common question that I get when I talk about newsletters – why should a blogger consider starting a newsletter? Stay tuned to my RSS feed for this followup post.

Winner of the “Learn about Poverty” Day of Digital Learning in Sydney

Earlier in the month I ran a competition here on ProBlogger in conjunction with World Vision Australia and their blog Learn About Poverty. The competition was for Australian bloggers to give World Vision advice on their online strategy going forward.

We had 29 entries and having read through them all late last week I was really impressed with the quality of the work submitted. The effort that some of you went to in putting your submissions together was quite extraordinary and I know the team at World Vision are incredibly pleased with the advice that they’ve received and with the wisdom that was in the comments.

However there can be only one winner of the amazing prize (a trip to Sydney and a day of digital learning with Microsoft, Amnesia, Yahoo!7 and Google. That winner is Loreena Walsh.

Steve Hopkins from World Vision said this about Loreena’s entry:

“I loved this post, largely for the great way she outlined how we could get around the staff-safety thing. Whilst many people had great suggestions about how we could ignite a social movement with social media tools, Loreena’s response to how to achieve this AND protect the safety of our staff was top notch. She highlighted what was most important to her, and the blogging community, and that helps us enormously. Certainly, we have already taken much from her post.”

Steve also went on to mention another submission that was incredibly helpful from Pete Williams who came a very close 2nd place. While there’s no prize for 2nd – I’d like to send Pete a copy of my book as a token of appreciation for sharing his wisdom. If for some reason Loreena is unable to take the prize we’ll send Pete to represent ProBlogger readers on this day!

Thanks to everyone for their submissions. Loreena and Pete were just two of the great entries received. There were plenty of others also! Thanks everyone.

Tell A Friend – Let Your Readers Promote Your Posts

Here’s a cool little blogging tool to help spread news of your blog posts from readers to their networks of friends via email, social networks, instant messaging and their blogs – it’s called TellaFriend.

IN essence it’s a little widget that you embed above or below your posts that readers can click to ‘tell a friend’. Here’s a video to describe it.

There are numerous tools out there that do this type of thing but this incorporates a number of services into one. The only thing I’d probably suggest that they add is the ability to include submission to social bookmarking sites like Digg, StumbleUpon etc (think ShareThis (which enables bookmarking and emailing a friend) meets Tell a Friend).

Are your Readers Doing what You Want Them to Do?

Are your readers doing what you want them to do? – In this post blogger and author Jonathan Fields explores this question and gives some tips on how to get readers to take the actions you want them to take on your blog.

Ask a roomful of bloggers why they blog and you’ll get a wide variety of reasons.

Some do it for fun, others for profit. Some do it for platform building, while others love the community aspect. Some do it to practice their writing chops. And, hey, I even know a few who do it as a form of public therapy. The potential motivators for bloggers are endless. But, no matter why you blog…

Nearly every blogger is looking for her or his readers to take some action.

So, I have two questions for you:

  • What action or actions do you most want your readers to take? And…
  • Are you making those actions as effortless as possible?

Let’s explore the questions, one at a time…

Question #1 – What action or actions do you most want your readers to take?

Hands down, the three most common actions most bloggers would love readers to take are:

  1. Subscribing, either by RSS or e-mail
  2. Clicking on revenue-generating ads or links, or
  3. Evangelizing content through social media

There are likely a number of secondary desired actions, but these tend to be most universally desired.

Whatever your reason for blogging, it’s critical to take a step back and ask what single action you most want readers to take. Because, knowing the answer to this question will allow you to make some basic design and formatting tweaks that may dramatically increase the percentage of readers who actually do what you want them to do.

Once you’ve sussed out an answer to question #1, it’s time to move on to question #2.

Question #2 – Are you making those actions as effortless as possible?

Take a look at the design and “action options” offered within your blog. The design may be drop dead gorgeous, but if the design and structure are making it difficult for readers to do what you most want them to do, then the design may actually be working against you.

Ad positions and reader action

If you want people to click on PPC ads more than anything else, take a look at the positioning and type of ad blocks you using and ask whether the positioning and block type you are using will give you the highest possible click thru rate. Sometimes, actually many times, the answer is no.

Many bloggers know one of the highest click thru rates comes from positioning square ad blocks within the content itself. StevePavlina.com and JohnChow.com are great examples of this. And, many larger, more commercial blogs and websites use this approach.

Problem is, it’s also one of the most disruptive places to position ads, and many bloggers are not comfortable with this, so they go for less intrusive ads, knowing it’s also very likely going to knock down their clicks and potential revenue. That’s fine, the point is, if you are going to make that choice, at least do it consciously, with an awareness that you’ll be diminishing your most desired reader action in the name of a less “in your face” feel.

Or, do what Steve does and make your content so compelling and highly differentiated, people will put up with more disruptive ad positioning.

Social media button positions and reader action

Another example of the role that positioning plays is social media buttons. Let’s say the action you most want readers to take it to promote your content using social media. In order to make that easier, you decide to insert social media submission/voting buttons into the content.

The question arises, then, where should you place them to make is easiest for readers to submit or vote on your content and increase the change they’ll promote it? Some people position buttons at the top of an article, others position them at the bottom and some do both. The question is…

Does one option make it easier/more effortless for a reader to click?

At first glance, it seems that positioning social media buttons at the bottom would be most logical, since people would want to read the post first to decide whether it was worthy of promotion, before hitting the button.

But, practical experience also tells you that, as you build your following and network, many people will simply skim the first few sentences and be willing to promote your content based only on their first impression. So, for those people, many of whom might not want to have to read the entire post to find the social media buttons, placement toward the top would work best.

Or, maybe, the best way to cover your bases it to place the buttons in multiple places—top, bottom, sidebar. A similar question exists when asking people to subscribe, one of the other most desired reader actions. Do you ask before the post, after the post, in the sidebar, all over…or none of the above?

Our first hunch is often to give the most possible options in the greatest number of places, but, as we are about to discover, that could be a recipe for disaster. Because, positioning is important, but there’s another factor that may be even more critical. And, it’s something so many of us get wrong…

When it comes to inspiring our readers to take some action, we may, in fact, be giving them too many choices

There’s some fascinating research that reveals that, much to most peoples’ surprise, too much choice actually dramatically decreases, rather than increases action.

In a study conducted by Sheena S. Iyengar from Columbia University and Mark R. Lepper of Stamford University, a display of jams was set up in a grocery store. On the first day, 6 flavors of jam were displayed. Then, on day two, the number of flavor options was increased from 6 to 24.

No doubt, the 24 flavors attracted more people. Sixty percent of the shoppers stopped at the table with 24 jams, while 40% of the shoppers stopped at the table with 6 flavors. But 30% of the people who visited the table with 6 flavors of jam actually purchased jam, while only 3% of the shoppers who visited the table with 24 flavors bought jam.

Translation—The people who were presented with 400% more options were 90% less likely to purchase ANY jam. So, the 6 flavor display actually ended up selling way more jam.

The theory is that too many options make people have to work to decide what action to take. They become overwhelmed. And, for many, instead of working to choose what they want most, they just walk away without taking any action.

Now, transfer this principal to blogging

In a 2006 seminar, optimization mavens, MarketingExperiments.com, backed up the jam experiment, revealing:

“Too many choices fragment a prospect’s attention. In a split test, we simplified from 3 columns to 1, the subscription process from 2 pages to 1, and reducing the number of subscription options from 3 to 2 resulted in conversion rate increasing 42% and revenues more than doubled.”

This is precisely why the classic long format sales pages is only one column wide and offers but a single action option…buy now. Marketers have known for years the power of minimizing action options. So, how does this apply to blogging?

The effect of ad quantity on reader action

Positioning is important, but quantity is also important. If you place too many different ads on your blog, you may in fact offer so many click-thru options that readers will feel overwhelmed. The volume and variety of ads will literally shut down a reader’s click response. So, often, a small number of highly relevant ads with yield a substantially higher click-thru rate than a veritable sea of unavoidable ads. Counter intuitive, yet true.

The effect of social media button quantity on reader action

A similar thing happens with social media buttons. There are now so many different potential social media hubs and promotion options, many bloggers feel compelled to add a lot of social media buttons in an effort to give the most possible submission and voting options. And, certain plug-ins, like Sociable or Share This for WordPress make it easy to simply check boxes and add dozens of buttons or options with the swipe of a mouse.

As we’ve seen, though, there’s a good chance this strategy will backfire, leading not to evangelism, but overwhelm and inaction.

So, you may be better off limiting your readers’ submission/voting choices, placing only to one to three social media buttons on your blog and encouraging readers to aggregate their promotional effort among these hubs.

Reality is, too, people who are in the regular habit of promoting content, the social media mavens, often already rely on shortcuts and tool bars to facilitate the process. They don’t need to be prompted all that much. So, it’s really those not highly accustomed to content promotion that social media buttons target, and those are the very readers most susceptible to becoming overwhelmed and bailing on action.

The effect of too many overall action-options on reader action

Last item, let’s bring it all together here, go bigger picture and look at all of the action-options presented on your blog.

A big place we see reader overwhelm shut down action is in presenting too many “overall” options. This is most likely to happen when a blogger doesn’t strongly favor a given action. So, instead of simplifying and featuring one or two most desired reader actions, there is equal and frequent emphasis on a wide variety of actions.

So, for example, if don’t have a strong reader action preference, we might ask a reader to subscribe by RSS or e-mail in three or four different places, click on a variety of ads and links in 5-10 different places, promote content in 3 or 4 different places and at offer them the option of 10 to 20 potential social media hubs. In the end, rather than taking all of the above actions, or even a single action…they shut down and take none.

It comes down to knowledge and simplicity

Know what action you most want your readers to take. Then make the changes in design, content format and layout that will make it as effortless as possible for your readers to take that action. Create what marketers call a sales/action funnel that leads the reader to a single, compelling action…the one you “most” want them to take.

Then once you have your blog optimized for that action, slowly introduce other potential action options, test how they impact your most desired reader action and choose consciously as you add then.

As always, feel free to share your own experiences, insights and observations in comments below.

We’re all in this blogging evolution together…

Jonathan Fields writes on the crossroads of work, play and life atAwake@TheWheel and is the author of forthcoming book Career Renegade: How To Make A Great Living Doing What You Love (Jan ’09).