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7 Ways to Engage Readers of a Business Blog

In this post Alyssa Gregory from avertua, LLC shares some tips for business bloggers wanting to become more engaging with readers.

People are busy, and in order to gain and keep readership as a blogger, you need to provide your readers with information that makes their lives better, easier, and less stressful. Business blogs are a unique case because the general subject matter tends to be a bit dry. It’s up to you as the blogger to overcome that obstacle and provide the business information you are offering in a quick and easily digestible way.

How do you do that? Here are seven ways you can engage readers of your business blog and keep them coming back.

1. Offer Advice

You’re likely blogging about business because you have business experience. One way to gain loyal readers is by sharing your knowledge and giving them practical information they can use in their own businesses. You can give your readers an instant benefit by avoiding abstract ideas and providing specific tips, advice and tools they can use right away.

2. Talk to the Audience

You’re already ahead of the game with this one, because the readers of your blog have interests that are common to yours, otherwise they wouldn’t be reading your blog. Get to know them by keeping an eye on comments, watching for trackbacks and listening to feedback in other forums. All of this input can be material you can use to make your posts resonate with your individual readers.

3. Share a Personal Story

Business is business and personal is personal, right? Not anymore. Today there is an increasing amount of overlap between the two, and people want to know a little more about the person behind the blog, beyond that they are an expert in business. So give a little of yourself to create a stronger relationship with your readers.

4. Go Off-Topic

Throw in an occasional post that’s not exactly business-related. If it bombs, it bombs and you know to go a different route next time. But if it is successful, you can insert some comic relief, mindless banter and maybe even a personal story as listed above to give your readers a brief change of pace.

5. Keep It Short and Sweet

You could probably write some very long posts when you’re discussing your latest business endeavor or what it took to have your website redesigned. If that much information is necessary, split it up into a multi-part series. Use lists, subheads and images to break up heavy content whenever possible.

6. Give Up the Wheel

Ask directed and specific questions at the end of your posts to encourage reader commentary. For every few posts where you provide advice, throw in a post that asks for the answer. Involving your readers will give them an opportunity to take an active role in your blog.

7. Give readers what they want

Carefully read the comments provided by your readers. They are invaluable because they allow you to tailor your posts to the information your readers are asking you to provide. Acknowledge the comments, answer the questions, and address the requests and you’re on your way to building great relationships with your readers.

What are some other ways you engage your readers when you’re blogging about subject matter that may not be the most exciting subject matter?

Alyssa Gregory is the owner of avertua, LLC, a full-service virtual assistant firm. She has been designing websites since 1995, and has a passion for supporting small businesses. Alyssa provides business tips, advice and news through her Small Business Idea Generator blog. Alyssa is also a regular contributor on SitePoint.

Hot Button Marketing (Factors that Call Your Readers to Action)

Hot-Button-MarketingOne of the books that I’ve been reading off and on over the last 12 months (it’s a good one for dipping into a little at a time) is Hot Button Marketing (by Barry Feig).

It’s an interesting read that caught my attention in the book shop because it puts words to some theories that I’ve had for a while now.

The sub title of the book is:

‘push the emotional buttons that get people to buy’

Sounds quite manipulative doesn’t it? In some senses it could be argued that it is (as is much of marketing) but it is a book that really taps into human psychology and that we as bloggers could probably learn a little from as we think about how to call our readers to action of different kinds (whether it be with affiliate marketing, getting people to subscribe to our blogs or an other action).

The basis of the book is that it identifies 16 ‘buttons’ that marketers can ‘push’ to get people to buy. A lot of the ‘buttons’ are things that we do (or could do) with our blog posts.

I’m still pondering it (and I’ll probably write something on ProBlogger about it at some point) but wanted to share the buttons here quickly as something to think about. The 16 buttons won’t all apply to all of our blogs (and some of them won’t apply to any of us) but they might help some of us put words to what we see our readers responding to.

Here they are (the headings are the authors – I’ve included a few thoughts on the first few to show how they might apply. I’ll let you check out the book if you’re interested for unpacking of the rest):

  1. The Desire for Control - a lot of what people do, buy, put energy into is about getting more control for different areas of their lives. One of the things that we can do as bloggers is provide people with content that helps them find this control. I’m not talking about manipulating them into thinking they have it – but some of the posts we can write can actually help a person make good decisions, be empowered to live better lives and live to their potential. Give someone the tools to take control (or be better) in their work, relationships, health etc and you give them something powerful that they’ll thank you for, pass on to others and keep coming back for more of.
  2. I’m Better than You - this is largely about self esteem and the desire of people to feel noticed and important. We’ve all seen it at its worst (egotistical and arrogant behavior) but it’s also something that isn’t all bad (I think people should have a healthy self esteem and have some level of confidence in their own abilities). As bloggers we operate in a medium where there is a lot of ego stroking and while I try not to get into it too much to acknowledge others and ‘make them famous’ is a way to grow your blog. Acknowledge your readers, promote other bloggers and give your readers a sense of worth and you’ll create a space that people want to belong to.
  3. The Excitement of Discovery – how many times have you had emails from friends or families saying ‘look what I found’? We all like to think we discovered things or were in on them at their beginnings and blogs are a real tool for this. Look at the popularity of the big tech/gadget blogs and gossip celebrity blogs – people who want to know within minutes of an announcement about the new phone or who was seen kissing who. Give your readers a sense of being among the first to know and they’ll lap it up.
  4. Revaluing
  5. Family Values
  6. The Desire to Belong
  7. Fun is its own Reward
  8. Poverty of Time
  9. The Desire to Get the Best
  10. Self Achievement
  11. Sex, Love and Romance
  12. The Nurturing Response
  13. Reinventing Oneself
  14. Make Me Smarter
  15. Power, Dominance and Influence
  16. Wish Fulfillment

All in all Hot Button Marketing a thought provoking book. As I say, some of the ‘buttons’ will be more relevant for blogging (and different blogs depending upon their topic) than others but it’s a good way to challenge you to get into the minds of your readers and see how they make decisions.

Blogging Debates – There are Many Ways to Build a Successful Blog

Debates in blogging circles have raged for years now on many topics.

  • Should a blog have full feeds or partial feeds?
  • Is a blog a blog if it doesn’t have comments?
  • Frequency of Posting – Should a blog post once a week, once a day or 20 times a day?
  • Should you self host your blog or use a free blogging platform?

There are many questions and issues that bloggers tend to debate when it comes to blogging and each time I ask one of these questions as a reader question it is amazing to see the diversity of opinions that bloggers have and decisions that they’ve made about how to run their blogs.

Here are some of the topics I’ve seen debated regularly over the years:

  • RSS Feeds - Full vs Partial Feeds
  • Comment Sections – Comments vs No Comments
  • Post Frequency – Post More vs Post Less
  • Domain Names – long vs short, hyphens vs non hypens, .com vs other extensions (like .net, .org), local vs global domain extensions
  • Hosting – hosted vs self hosted
  • Titles – descriptive vs keywords
  • Content – Link content vs Original content
  • Design – Professional Design vs Templates
  • Ownership – Use Social Media vs Build Your own properties
  • Topic – Niche vs Broad Topics
  • Dating Posts – Dates on Posts vs Non Dated
  • Anonymous blogging vs Using Your Name
  • SEO – Writing for Search Engines vs Writing for Humans
  • Personal Blogging – Sticking to Topic vs Injecting Personality and Personal details

I’m sure if we were to go through each topic in turn (and I intend to tackle each going forward into the next month) that there would be a little heat in some of the discussions because many of them are things that bloggers have quite strongly held opinions on.

However – the reality is that there are many ways to build a successful blog and in almost every debate that bloggers have there are bloggers who manage to take almost diametrically opposed approaches to blogging yet who build successful blogs.

For me it comes down to being willing to enter into building blogs that are shaped more by the topic you’re writing about, the audience you’re attempting to reach and in a way that fits with your style, personality and situation. Out of all that will emerge a way of blogging that is unique.

What other blog debates do you see happening?

11 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Being Linked to By a Blogger

Today I received what seemed like a fairly generic email from the website Dummies.com. I won’t republish the email (I’m not into that) but it was a fairly generic ‘could you link to our website’ type email asking for a link because they’ve redesigned their site. It even included a suggested link/code.

My reaction was not positive – in fact within a few moments I’d tweeted that I’d had the request and wasn’t overly impressed.

This post is not about Dummies.com – it’s about asking for links.

I have no beef with Dummies – they produce some great books by some amazing authors. This post isn’t about them. It’s about asking for links.

You see I get quite a few emails asking for links like the one from Dummies but they’re not always from big well known brands, they’re more often than not emails from bloggers. In 99% of cases the email ends up in my trash folder in Gmail but occasionally I not only read the emails but I link to the persons site.

Why do some emails generate links and others don’t?

Following are 11 suggestions for those wanting to email a blogger to ask for a link (whether they be big brands or bloggers):

  1. Write something worth linking to – this is a no brainer but so many people don’t get it. In the same way you wouldn’t successfully pitch a TV news service or newspaper a story like ‘I’ve got a newly designed website – it’s got videos’ you’re not likely to get much success with a blogger. The best way to get the attention of a blogger is to write something useful, entertaining, controversial, helpful, informative, intriguing…. etc. Check out my series on LinkBaiting for more ideas on this (particularly the post 20 Link Baiting Techniques).
  2. Suggest a Link to a post not your site – don’t ask for a link to your site – suggest that they check out a link to an individual page or post that you’ve written. A blogger is much more likely to run with a story linking to a post about a specific topic relevant to their topic than adding a link to your site.
  3. Develop a Relationship – cold calling a blogger that you’ve never interacted with before asking for a link is not the best way to start off a relationship. It’s like in real life – would you walk up to a stranger and immediately start asking them for favors? Get to know the blogger, their blog and let the ‘favors’ emerge out of that.
  4. Demonstrate Knowledge of the Blog and Blogger – building upon the ‘relational’ aspect – use the blogger’s name, show that you know what their blog is about. You don’t need to write an epic introduction that proves your knowledge – but a polite and not overly familiar approach can do you wonders. Also – introduce yourself to the blogger you are pitching to. You might feel like you know them but they could be in contact with many people – a quick reminder of who you are and what you do could help.
  5. Research – sometimes it can be worthwhile doing 5 minutes of research before you email another blogger. Look back over their last few months of blogging. What is their topic? Do they link to other blogs? What kinds of sites/posts/topics do they link to? Do they interact in other mediums (ie perhaps Twitter could be a better place to contact them)? The more information you gather the more able you are to tailor your pitch to them appropriately.
  6. Add Value – a blogger is unlikely to link to you unless there’s something in it for them or their blog. I’m not talking exchanging of money or even reciprocal links when I talk about value (although for some bloggers those will be motivating factors) – I mean the page you’re asking for a link for should be something of value that will actually enhance their blog. I can only speak for myself but I know that if someone pitches me a link that I’ll link to it or at least tweet the link in a heart beat if I think it adds value to the lives of my readers or followers.
  7. Stay on topic – this really is an extension of a couple of the points above but it always amazes me how many emails I get for people asking me to link to their ‘golf’, ‘stock market’, ‘book review’ and ‘kids fashion’ sites (they were just 4 requests that I got today alone). If you’re pitching a blogger to link to something you wrote make sure that the blog you want to appear on has relevancy to your topic. For starters it increases the chances of a link, it increases the chances of a reader clicking the link and it increases the power of the search engine juice that you’ll get from the link.
  8. Be selective in what you promote – we all like to think that every post we write is worthy of links from thousands of other blogs but the reality is that some are more likely to be linked to than others. Pick your very best posts to promote in this way and keep your requests to a minimum.
  9. Reciprocate – I want to be clear here that I’m not talking about reciprocal links. ‘Link to me and I’ll link to you’ doesn’t really hold a lot of value in SEO any more from what I can see. What I am talking about here is being willing to be generous TO the blogger and not just expecting them to be generous to you. Shane Gibson described these emails on Twitter yesterday as “we Win you Lose invitations” – I think that sums it up nicely. See the relationship as being like a bank. You’ve got to put in to get something out. If you take too much out the relationship will be bankrupt. I’m not just talking about giving the blogger links – you can reciprocate in many ways including by writing them guest posts, sending them small gifts, sponsoring a project that they’re running, promoting them to your own network…. etc
  10. Build on the Experience – no matter what the bloggers response is – you can learn from and build upon the experience. If they do link then there may be opportunity to deepen the relationship in some way. If they respond angrily, you probably don’t want to send them links again. If you get silence, don’t take it personally and continue to find ways to build relationships with the blogger.
  11. Be Link Worthy – let me emphasize this again. The best way to get linked to by a blogger is to produce a page or post that is link worthy of the link.

The Changing Face of Interlinking Blogging Culture [And the Impact of Twitter]

Today at SMX Sydney Rand Fishkin and I had a pretty cool chat about how Twitter (and other factors) might have changed the landscape of blogging and the way that people link up to one another.

I was going to sit down tonight to write up some reflections on the conversation but Rand beat me to the punch and wrote it up better than I could:

“In 2006, a popular blog post or piece of content would generate a remarkable amount of blogging activity. It wasn’t uncommon for a few hundred small & mid-size blogs & news sites to pick up a story, add their thoughts and create links. Today, even very popular pieces of content in the technology sphere are lucky to have two dozen blogs and traditional websites write about them. What’s happened? Darren and I proposed a few potential theories:”

I’ll let you read what those theories and some implications of that on Rand’s post – Could Twitter Cannibalize the Web’s Link Graph. I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts in the comments section of his post.

To have a Niche Focus with Your Blog or Not? Tips on Making the Decision

In this guest post Sherice Jacob from iElectrify and author of Get Niche Quick explores a question I get a lot – how should a blog be niche focused or not?

At one point or another, all bloggers have had to sit down and make a crucial decision with their blogs. Do you focus exclusively on one topic or do you cover several related subjects in an attempt to “cast the biggest net” and capture a larger share of visitors? Once you’ve decided – how will you profit from your new blog?

And as a side note, you can profit from your blog with more than just money. Added exposure, loyal readership and a greater marketing reach are just some of the many untapped “profits” that result from a popular blog. But deciding whether to “niche-ify” or expand is that one critical tipping point that influences your blog’s success more than any other.

Ultimately, your decision will likely reflect the amount of information on the subject, plus how much time (or not) you want to devote to it. Here are a few tips and insights to help make your decision easier.

To Niche or Not to Niche?

To successfully write a niche blog, you not only need an interest in the subject, but you need to come up with timely, detailed content about it that no one else has.    Don’t be afraid to go deep into the subject – something that your competitors haven’t done because they either don’t know the answers or they’re afraid to do more than just skim the surface. Become known as the person who goes a little deeper, uncovers a little more and shares it with fellow fans and readers and you’ll reap an extremely loyal audience.

There is a downside to niche blogging, and that is the issue of “boxing yourself in”. Do you have enough to say about the subject to actually warrant a full-scale blog? Or will you run out of steam within the first few months? Sketch out possible titles and topics for articles if you have to – just to see how much time and effort you can devote to this blog.

Then there’s the question of serving ads or not. Consider your audience and their reasons for wanting to visit your site. Do you want to create more of a community around the topic or accentuate it with relevant, focused ads? Either way, you’ll need to prepare yourself to cultivate that niche blog until it thrives on its own.

One Blog, Many Topics

Having one blog cover several topics can be a great choice if you have the self-discipline to stick with it and give each topic its own space. My own blog (www.ielectrify.com) focuses on design and marketing tips – but each of these branches off into their own niches as well, such as copywriting, social marketing, email marketing and so on. A larger blog like this takes more time to develop and you may find yourself blogging for a year or more until you get a sizeable audience. That’s because there’s no defined topic. People who are interested in email marketing might not want to know about social networking, or people who are looking for copywriting tips might not care about adding audio or video to their site, but all of these sub-sections are necessary for the “big picture” of what it takes to have a successful design and high-converting content.

When It’s Good to Go Big

You’ll want to create a larger blog with broader categories if you have a subject that includes so many “pieces” to the overall puzzle that it’s impossible just to focus on one part alone. ProBlogger is a great example. Not only does it teach you how to make money with your blog, but you also find blogging tools, blog design details and freelancing/job posts as well – all conducive to helping you make a solid income as a blogger.

In the end, the decision to go with a niche blog or a larger content-focused blog depends largely on your goals for it and what you want out of it. Either choice has the potential to become a remarkable success as you continue to grow and develop it. Now get out there and start blogging!

Using Aweber Web Forms to Track Conversions for Email Newsletters

While I’ve delayed the start of the 31 Day Challenge until next week I wanted to show you a glimpse behind the scenes of my signup process using one of the features that Aweber gives those using it’s email newsletter system – Web Forms.

The idea is simple – Aweber lets you make up as many signup forms for your email list as you like.

In launching the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge I have so far set up 5 lists. Let me explain each one in the order that I set them up:

  1. Twitter list – I set this one up when I first started to promote the project on Twitter (before I promoted it here with a post on ProBlogger). When I promoted it on Twitter I set up a ‘page’ here on ProBlogger (behind the scenes) that was just for the Twitter promotion. It had a message just for my Twitter followers.
  2. In Post (ProBlogger) – this one is the the email form in my announcement post here on ProBlogger.
  3. Linked In – on linked in I experimented with the Q and A feature which I sent out to 200 of my contacts in that network asking them to share their Blog Tips so that I could use some of their quotes in the 31 Day project. Again I pointed people to a ‘page’ here on ProBlogger with a web form just to track LinkedIn subscribers.
  4. Previous Newsletter – I have an old newsletter list here on ProBlogger which I rarely use any more but sent a broadcast out a few days back to let them know of the challenge. Again, it directed people to a ‘page’ with a personalized message and this web form.
  5. Refer a Friend – When I emailed the list of subscribers to the challenge to let them know about the delay in the start date I suggested that one good way to get more out of the challenge would be to do it with a friend. While this might sound like a selfish suggestion I believe it’ll also help people be more accountable and effective with the project if they do it with someone else. This email only just went out so I’m yet to really see how it will work.

You can see from the above that all but one of the options directed people to a ‘page’ (as opposed to a ‘post’) here on ProBlogger. Each page had it’s own web form (you can set them up in a minute or two) which enabled me to track the results of each one.

The beauty of this is that at a glance you can see where your subscribers are arriving from. Here’s the stats as they currently stand (click to enlarge):

Web-Forms-1

You can see that some forms were viewed more than others and as a result better results – but the line I’m most interested in is the S/D and S/UD lines. S/D is the percentage of ‘displays’ of the form that sign up and the S/UD is the percentage of unique displays that signed up.

You can see that while the ‘in post’ form drew the most subscribers that because it was viewed so many times that the ‘previous newsletter’ and the ‘twitter’ forms actually were more successful at converting a higher percentage of signups.

This type of information is amazingly powerful to know when it comes time to run other promotions!

Using unique web forms is useful on numerous fronts. Not only does it enable you to track different promotions (as I’ve done above) but it is also useful at tracking a variety of other factors including:

  • Page Position of Forms – want to test how positioning of a form impacts signup rates? Simply make each form a unique one and you’ll quickly see what position works best.
  • Types of Forms – Want to test having a form appear in a popup compares to having one in your sidebar? Want to see how a Pop-Up compares to a Po-Under or a Lightbox display? Again – just make each one a unique form and you’ll see what converts better.
  • Design of Forms – Does adding a picture or different headings or copy into your forms alter signup rates? Test it with different web forms.
  • Signup Pages vs Sidebar Forms – Got a sign up area in your sidebar and another in a page dedicated to converting readers into subscribers? Unique forms will show you what works best.
  • Testing Landing Pages – Want to see how the copy and design of a landing page impacts signup rates? Test two (ore more) pages with unique forms.

The options are endless and as Aweber gives you unlimited forms you can really test, tweak and improve your signup rates considerably over time.