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Color-Coded Solution for Keeping Track of Multiple Posts on Multiple Blogs

blog-calendar.jpgRecently Mary Mimouna, author of Expat Abroad shot me an email telling me about how she uses a simple color coded system to keep track of her posting on multiple blogs. I’m always interested to hear how bloggers organize themselves and I thought it might make an interesting read for others in a similar position – here’s what she shared.
 
Do you write multiple blogs?  Do you have trouble mentally keeping track of what you’ve recently posted, and when?
 
Over a period of two years, I’ve gone from writing one blog, to seven.  If you are also writing multiple blogs, no doubt you are having the same problem of keeping your momentum going equally on each blog.  As you get involved with the writing on one blog, it’s easy to lose your momentum on the others. 
 
I recently discovered an easy solution to this problem which I thought would be useful to share with other bloggers.
 
Keep a simple calendar with squares, and use a different color pen to mark each blog entry.  A glance at the calendar can tell you immediately which blogs you’re close to getting behind on, as well as to see if you need to do a follow-up post on a topic you already started.   For example, looking at this calendar, I can see immediately that the Women’s blog and the Feng Shui blog need immediate entries.  Additionally, the Women’s blog needs the second part of my three-part series on Divorce.
 
With this simple system, you don’t even need to be on-line to check your progress or think about your next entry.  This handy reference tool will free up your mind from trying to remember these details, and give your creativity a boost.

From Darren: How do you track your posting? Do you have a tool or system for this type of thing? I’d love to hear about it in comments below.

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Starting A Successful Blog Is Like Planning An Invasion

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This post was written by Alan Skorkin. Alan shares his thoughts about software development, people and teamwork on his blog skorks.com.

Every blogger wants to be successful, it is only natural. We often start out blogging about something that is our passion and we want everyone else to be just as excited about our passion as we are. It is therefore surprising just how many people have no concrete plans regarding what they want to achieve with their blog (let alone how they are going to achieve it) beyond vague dreams of grandeur. I understand that it can be difficult to set yourself concrete goals, you may not really know what you’re capable of and so much is simply beyond your control. But, I have a trick that you can use whenever you’re starting a new blog (or want to kick-start your existing blog) that will help you focus and put everything in perspective.

Think of your blog as a country that is planning an invasion. What does an invasion have to do with the internet, I hear you ask? Well, consider this. What you want to do with your blog is to take over the internet (i.e. be successful), but the internet is a big place and you probably won’t be able to hold the whole thing, so what you’re really trying to do is carve out a little piece of the internet for yourself (being the supreme ruler, god and emperor of it is strictly optional :)) and that is exactly what an invasion is all about – at least in the classical sense. Whenever you’re planning an invasion you don’t just send your troops out to ‘see how they go’ and ‘play it by ear’ the first thing you need is…

A Strategy

Every grand strategy starts with a grand objective. Where do you want to end up and at what point will you pronounce yourself a success? You need to know what you’re working towards, it gives you your general direction. Once you have a direction, you need to map out – in broad strokes – how you will achieve your grand objective. What are the steps on the road to your goal – these are your milestones. Get 1000 subscribers, have at least 100 blog posts published, guest post on 10 of the top 100 blogs, get at least 300 visitors per day from Google, these are all great milestones and can form part of your strategy. And don’t forget to set yourself some deadlines, you’re invading, not going for a leisurely stroll, you don’t want to be at it forever. This is all well and good, I hear you say, but how do I reach each of those milestones? For this you need…

Superior Tactics

A grand strategy is necessary, but invasions are not won with grand plans, it is all about having superior tactics from battle to battle. In the blogging world it comes down to:

  • how targeted your posts are – make sure your posts fit your niche, otherwise you dilute your message. It can make tactical sense to creatively jump out of your niche once in a while, but in general you want to play to your strengths (presumably you chose your niche based on your strengths). You will fight better and last longer (i.e. write better posts) and you will constantly reinforce your message.
  • how timely your posts are – learn to know what’s happening in your niche, find out what’s important, what’s hot and what everyone is talking about. You need to know when and where to strike to achieve maximum impact. People don’t want stale content, that doesn’t mean you always have to break news, but a timely opinion piece on a hot topic can bring a tremendous amount of exposure.
  • how your promote your posts to give them maximum exposure – you can’t just use brute force all the time, sometimes it helps to use terrain to your advantage. In blogging terms that means you need to promote your posts, use the social media terrain and let it do half your work for you.

Even with all these efforts it can still be tough, you’re targeted and you’re timely, but the terrain is vast and there is just so much ground to cover. Plus the more ground you cover, the more you leave your flanks exposed, not a good situation. You will need some help, you have to find yourself some…

Allies

Often you get stuck in a rut, you hit a stalemate, you and the internet are just equally matched. This is where having allies comes in really handy. It sometimes makes sense to band together with another invader, you’re both after the same goal and there is more than enough territory for everyone. You can help promote each others content or provide a fresh voice on each others blogs, and you don’t have to band together with just one, sometimes a coalition is a good idea – everyone benefits. You might even try to get the support of a major power (a top blogger), that can be a real bonus, all you have to do is be creative and persistent in your approach (a little luck doesn’t hurt either). And of course don’t forget the local powers (the social media power users), these can make the outcome of some of your battles a foregone conclusion. A successful invasion can be largely about relationships and the internet is no different. But of course, no amount of allies will help you win your battles if you don’t…

Win The Skirmishes

Skirmishes are the bread and butter of any invasion. They are not glamorous and there are lots of them, but together they combine to let you succeed when you fight your major battles. In blogging the skirmishes are your daily (or at least) regular periods when you produce your content. It is not a glamorous time and it is not very social, but it is the bread and butter of a successful blog. You need to make time to regularly produce content, it doesn’t have to be daily, but you do have to keep doing it. The more skirmishes you fight the more you wear down the enemy, or in the case of blogging the more content you get out there the more chances you have of being noticed. There is one thing though, that will always jeopardize your chances of winning your skirmishes (and battles)…

Getting Distracted By The Scenery

There is always more to learn in the blogging world. There is a lot of info, much of it free and you can keep reading and learning indefinitely. But while you might get knowledge or satisfaction from watching the scenery, it is also how you get ambushed. You look around at the beautiful trees (or helpful blogging info) and before you know it you’re ambushed and have lost the skirmish (not writing content) and ultimately the battle and the war. You have your strategy and you know what tactics to employ, these may or may not be the latest and greatest, but they’re tried and true and they do work – stick to them. And if you really want to give yourself some motivation and kick this invasion up a notch try…

A Blitzkrieg

In a blitzkrieg you hit the enemy fast and you hit them hard, and you keep moving before they get a chance to recover. This means you brainstorm an idea for several successful posts or a series of posts, then you write them all and then you release them in quick succession and go all out promoting each one. I don’t mean release them one minute after each other, but instead release them judiciously. Build some hype around the first one and before it starts dying down, you release the second and build hype and promote that one, and then do the same for the third. Don’t give them a chance to recover. A blitzkrieg series of posts can really allow you to move far in short period of time. The allies you built before will really come in handy here (to protect your flanks as you move forward). Sometimes though, all this is not enough, none of it seems to work because you have forgotten one of the most important things…

The Logistics

Your invasion will only continue to have momentum as long as it is well supplied, ratty equipment and threadbare clothing will come back to bite you eventually (invading Russia in the middle of winter has proven this time and time again :)). For you this means, looking at where your blog lives and maybe sprucing it up a little while you’re at it. Make sure your blog is hosted reliably, a poor host can really cost you. It doesn’t mean you need to pay an ëarm and a leg’, but it does mean you server should be able to handle traffic spikes that you will no doubt supply through your promotional efforts. At the very least you need to make sure you have a caching solution of some sort in place (e.g. WP-Cache plugin for WordPress). It is really embarrassing when your blog falls over after a small traffic spike – almost as embarrassing, as realizing your tanks are not water proof when you need to cross a river. Oh and do invest a little bit into your blog design it will pay off handsomely in the long run. Everyone enjoys a unique and cool-looking design, it may not be the major selling point of your blog, but it does add that little bit extra. Finally, if you remember nothing else, always remember this old maxim…

No Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy

What this means in terms of an invasion is that no matter how good your strategy and tactics are it can all go to hell in a second when you’re in the thick of things. The key is being flexible enough to adjust to these changing conditions, take advantage of the opportunities and minimize the losses you take from circumstances you couldn’t foresee. In blogging terms it means – well, exactly the same thing. You need to have a grand plan, you need to set milestones for yourself and work towards achieving them, you need to know how you will promote your content and your blog and you need to build relationships to help you do so. But above all you need to be flexible enough to adjust to anything. If something is not working for you, scrap it and try something else, figure out a different way to approach that A-List blogger instead of giving up. Find a way to advertise creatively rather than using Adwords like everyone else. Always remember this, you can become as successful as those who have come before you by emulating them, but to surpass them you will need to forge your own path. I wish you a successful invasion!

How to Go Beyond Your Small Business Blog and Create a Social Media Footprint

footprint.jpgEditor’s note: This is a guest post from Mark Hayward. You can follow him on Twitter @mark_hayward. Image by Tyla 75

Is this you?

You have a polished website for your small business and even a professional blog where you publish posts a couple of times per week, and both are meant to help spread your story and bring more sales.

However, you are a bit frustrated because based on your initially optimistic website and blog marketing expectations, for some reason the customers just aren’t coming.

Many small business owners that I know (myself included!) have faced a similar predicament. It can be a bit disheartening on a daily basis knowing that you have a mortgage and bills to pay, yet your online efforts aren’t really providing a return.

When I started my business a few of years ago I made a nice website and a companion blog and waited for the customers to come rushing down the road and break down my door.

Well, I continued to wait for about six months and it garnered minimal results… *insert crickets chirping here*

At first I didn’t really know what the problem was. The information I was posting to my small business blog was not spammy, and in fact was just the opposite, as the site was developed to act as a helpful resource.

What was the problem?

Looking back and analyzing the situation now, the main issue as far as I can tell was that in my mind, my business was being well represented online.

Though, in reality, I was only doing about one-tenth of the work that was required to manage the reputation and promotion of a small business online.

Lucky for me, one day I had what I call, “a social media awakening,” wherein something struck a nerve and I finally realized:

Perhaps, it is time to take the next step and create your small business social media footprint.

The plain and simple truth about marketing your small business online is that there’s much more to Internet promotion and gaining social media traction than a stellar website and blog.

Social Media Footprint

Don’t get me wrong, having an optimized website and small business blog is a fantastic start, but it is not enough.

Creating a social media footprint is the process of getting the name of your business and brand recognized on the Internet at various sites where your niche customers are likely to find you.

The ultimate goal is to establish the online identity of your small business and to proactively manage your reputation.

If for nothing more than the simple fact that, the more locations we (the customers) can find you, the more we can begin to understand and trust what you’re about. The end result being, we are more likely to purchase your goods or services.

How did I do it?

Armed with this new knowledge I decided to take a different approach and move beyond my blog and create a social media footprint for my business.

Disclaimer: It’s very important to remember that there really is no right or wrong way to delve into social media promotion for a small business. You should feel confident in know that we are all learning. (Although, I hear that being a jerk does not provide very good results.)

My specific strategy might not work for you, but listed below is a good portion of the steps that I undertake to promote my small business online:

  • FLICKR – post relevant, well tagged, pictures to FLICKR on a daily basis. That way when people are searching for a photo that is relevant to your niche, you will always be on top of the search results (if they sort by date). Sounds strange, but this part of my routine helped me to land a full page write-up on my business in the international publication, Islands magazine. Note: there are groups and all kinds of manner to get fully (socially) involved on FLICKR, but my plan did not include that much participation.
  • YouTube – along with FLICKR, I started uploading videos to YouTube. Whether you make jewelry, are a plumber, or sell real estate you could start simply with a Flip camera and make some videos that show us how you ply your craft.
  • Forum visits – I am fond of saying that no matter what business you are in, from pet grooming to selling shoes and beyond, there is most certainly a forum that covers your small business niche. Find them, be helpful and answer questions. For my own particular business, TripAdvisor is one of the most powerful sites out there, so I try to answer questions that are related to my destination. By being helpful, you can begin to gain the initial trust of those you hope will become your customers.
  • Help a Reporter (HARO) – is an amazing, FREE email newsletter that comes out three times a day. It is broken down by category (e.g. business, health, lifestyle, technology, etc) and its purpose is to put reporters in touch with potential sources. Read: Free press.
  • Twitter & Facebook – it’s hard to argue with the fact that Twitter and Facebook are revolutionary communication and social media tools. Some small business owners have remarkable results promoting their venture on these sites. At the moment I do NOT really use Twitter or Facebook for marketing my business. I primarily use Twitter for listening, learning, and engaging. So far it has proven to be an invaluable source for networking and hearing about potential opportunities for my business. Should you choose to use Twitter or Facebook for small business promotion, just be aware that you should really know someone well and be comfortable with them, before you start pushing your business. As I stated in a previous Twitip guest post, “It takes a long time to build up a loyal following and develop trust, but it only takes one Tweet to alienate every one of your followers.”

When you review the list above, it might not seem like much, but I always try to remember that it’s the little things (the basics!) that we do on a daily basis that really help with small business promotion over the long term.

Also, it’s not about what anyone else does, the hope here is to get you thinking creatively and to expand your online marketing efforts.

After you spend some time developing a consistent strategy, sooner or later you will figure out what works best for you and which actions are providing measurable results.

Unfortunately, there are NO shortcuts. Hardwork, consistency, listening, engaging, and helping are all required over a period of time to establish a well distributed social media footprint.

I often like to explain to people that you have to tend to your small business social media efforts (almost) everyday like a garden in order to make them bloom and grow.

Have you moved beyond your small business blog to promote your small business? What is some of your strategy?

Mark Hayward lives in the Caribbean and built up a clientele for his small business using nothing but social media. He tries to help beginners make sense of social media and how they can use it for business promotion. You can follow him on Twitter @mark_hayward.

10 Last Tips on Making Money from the Amazon Affiliates Program

Today I’d like to conclude my mini series of posts on how to make money with the Amazon Associates Program. In case you’ve missed them – the first two parts are at:

In this last post I’d like to share 10 more general and overarching tips and principles that I’ve found can help with making money with Amazon’s Affiliate program. I hope you find that together with the more practical tips from yesterday that you’ll find them helpful!

1. Time is a Major Factor

As I mentioned in my first post on the topic – the $119,000+ that I’ve earned from Amazon has only come over 6 years. While this last 12 months has seen me earn over $50,000 of this it took 5 years of building to get it to that level.

That was partly due to traffic but it was also partly due to my regular inclusion of affiliate links in my posts over time. I don’t promote Amazon in every post I write but in an average week I’d say that I’ve linked to Amazon in at least 5 posts. That adds up to 250 or so posts per year and around 1500 posts over 6 years.

These posts are each a doorway into the Amazon site and over time as their number have grown and as my blogs have begun to rank higher in Google and my loyal reader numbers have grown the number of people going through these ‘doorways’ into Amazon has grown – hence the escalation in earnings.

2. Start Early

As a result I do recommend that bloggers start to use Amazon’s Associate Program early. In doing so you’ll be populating your blog with links into the store that may not convert brilliantly early on before you have readers – but which can potentially convert for years to come as your blog grows in popularity.

The other good thing about starting early is that you’ll learn a lot about affiliate marketing. Most of the lessons and tips that I’ve shared in this series of posts have come directly from my own experimenting with Amazon’s Affiliate program.

In the early days of using it I knew so little and made a lot of mistakes – but each time I messed up I learned another lesson that has helped me to grow my Amazon earnings into a more significant part of my own business.

3. Experiment with Widgets and aStore

I’ve mentioned in my previous posts that I largely rely upon Contextual links to promote Amazon. I find that these convert best – however I do know of a few bloggers who’ve successfully incorporated a variety of the widgets that Amazon gives their Associates to use into their sites.

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Similarly – I know some readers who do pretty well with aStore which is a tool whereby you create your own little online store using Amazon’s technology.

I’ve tried a couple of times to use this and have had a little success with my photography one and my ProBlogger Bookstore but know I need to do more with it to take it to the next level.

I guess it comes down to experimenting with the tools and seeing what works best with your audience. If you’ve used some of these widgets I’d love to see examples of where you’ve had them work for you – please share links in comments below so we can all learn!

4. Transparency with Readers

There is always debate about the topic of transparency when the topic of affiliate marketing comes up. Should you disclose that your links are affiliate links or should you not? Each blogger has their own stance on this and with a lot of talk about laws changing in some parts of the world it seems that some bloggers are now being forced to make such disclosures.

I personally don’t disclose every link on my blog in a direct way but do have disclaimer/disclosure pages on my blogs. I also have written numerous times on DPS about how the links to Amazon earn us money and help the site to keep growing and be free.

I was nervous the first time I mentioned this to readers and expected a backlash – however what I found was that most readers not only accepted it but encouraged us to do it. In fact a few of our readers tell me that if they’re going to make some kind of purchase at Amazon that they always come to DPS to click on one of our links to do so! Transparency isn’t as scary as you might think (although this might depend upon your audience a little).

5. Don’t Hype – Put Your Readers First

Whatever you do – always keep your readers best interests at heart when you engage in any affiliate marketing.

I’ve been critiqued for taking this stance lately by a group of bloggers who take a different stance and seem to put the priority on ‘making money at all costs’ – but while you certainly can make money without a focus upon quality content or building community on a blog and by hyping up the things that you promote – my approach has always been to put the reader first.

I do this because I want to build a solid reputation and a loyal readership who trust me rather than simply making money at all costs. I’d rather make less money and still have a reader than make lots of money and never see the reader again. For me this comes not only from my ethics but my belief that in the long term building a good profile and reputation leads to other opportunities for profit.

The problem with hype is that you set readers up with expectations that are beyond what the product you’re recommending can deliver. This might lead to a sale but it also leads to disappointment and anger – the loss of readers – damaged reputation etc.

6. Pick Quality Products

This relates to the last point but is worth stating on its own. The success and failure of your Amazon Associates Program promotions hinges upon choosing good quality products.

When you promote quality it is much easier to be both genuine in your reviews and recommendations and get conversions that lead to commission.

Wherever you can test the products you recommend to ensure their quality (or find someone who can do it for you).

7. Be Bold

It has been interesting to read the comments on the previous posts in this series and to see that one of the recurring themes from readers is that they worry about using Amazon links too much. Won’t readers push back?

I’ve always shared this concern – but as you’ve probably picked up by now the reader push back has been almost non-existent.

Perhaps this is because I choose the products carefully or because I often promote these links in posts based upon reader feedback – but I can think of less than 5 occasions when I’ve had people on my photography site question the links. In fact, as I said above, I’ve had more people give positive feedback about them than anything.

I guess there would come a point where too much promotion would get a negative reaction so you do want to be at least a little subtle about it – but in general I think readers can handle more than we might think they can.

Note: I think the line where readers will push back probably will vary from blog to blog depending upon their readership. For example here on ProBlogger I get a little more negative feedback from readers on affiliate promotions – I guess ProBlogger readers are a little more tuned into the issue and suspicious of some of the affiliate marketing that goes on around the web.

8. Localized Audiences? Try Local Amazons

Another comment that has come up a number of times in previous posts on this topic is that Amazon.com doesn’t work brilliantly for blogs and sites with traffic from countries outside the USA.

A couple of reflections on this:

Firstly – it’s not completely true. I have previously had a blog with almost completely Australian traffic that did convert reasonably well with Amazon. Amazon does ship some products to Australia and other countries (books, CDs etc) so if you’re promoting those products it can work. Of course I always missed out on the bigger ticket items that didn’t ship outside the USA – this was part of the reason that I moved my efforts to starting Digital Photography School which has a more global audience.

Secondly – if your traffic is very localized to a country with its own Amazon store join the affiliate program for that store and promote it. I know of one UK photography site that does very well from promoting the UK version of Amazon. I also know one blog that adds two links to every post he does – one with the US and one with the UK store. I’ve also heard that some people use geo-targeting tools to look at where a reader is from and serving them a localized link for them.

9. Topics Convert Differently

In one forum that I came across discussing my previous articles a number of people reported that Amazon didn’t work on their sites (doubting whether I was telling the truth about my earnings). When I delved a little deeper and looked at their sites the reason for their lack of success with Amazon became apparent – their topics.

Some topics will naturally fit with Amazon better than others. In the end a lot of it comes down to the fact that Amazon is a product related affiliate program – it only works when people buy stuff. If your blog is on a topic that doesn’t have any natural connection to people buying stuff it is going to be an uphill battle.

In my experience it’s product related blogs that tend to do best with Amazon. Most blogs probably have at least some possibilities (for example here on ProBlogger I occasionally link to a book that relates or a computer or electronic tool that I think might be useful to bloggers) but the reality is that this blog will never convert as well on Amazon as my photography site.

Keep an Eye on Amazon

My last tip in this series is to keep an eye on what Amazon is doing. I mean this in two main ways:

1. Learn from Them – be a regular user of Amazon. You don’t have to be an active buyer – but regularly surf the site and pay particular attention to the way that THEY are promoting products on their site.

Amazon have spent years perfecting the art of online selling – they constantly test different ways of promoting products and have evolved their site quite a lot over the years. See what widgets they use to promote related products, watch how they use reader reviews, see the way that they describe products. You’ll learn a lot about online marketing by observing how they do it and you’ll also be in a better position to pre-sell the products you recommend if you look at the page you’re sending people to before you do it.

2. Watch for Opportunities – I mentioned earlier in this series that Amazon run a variety of promotions on their site that you can tap into. Some of these they promote directly to their Associates – for example they send out emails to associates semi-regularly promoting their latest promotions) and also have a blog where they do likewise. If you read the blog and get the emails you’ll see promotions where they are offering discounts to readers but also where they’re giving bonus commissions for some items or categories of products. Not all of them will relate to your niche but over time some will.

However there are other opportunities that they don’t promote to us as affiliates but which you can still tap into. For example – today I was surfing on Amazon and this popped up at the top of the screen:

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It’s an internal promotion that Amazon are currently running for a series of new cameras that Canon released this week. It seems to appear to anyone surfing through the camera section on Amazon. The promotion links to this page (I’m not sure how long it’ll be up so here’s a screenshot – click to enlarge).

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The page is a sales page specifically designed to hook in people looking to pre-order newly announced cameras. Amazon are heavily promoting this page – they wouldn’t do so if it didn’t convert – so I’m jumping on board created an affiliate link to the page (you can create an affiliate link to ANY page within Amazon including these kinds of pages, search results, category pages etc) and I’m promoting it to my readers.

They more you keep an eye on how Amazon are promoting products to their readers the better informed you’ll be about how YOU can do the same thing.

Share Your Amazon Associate Program Tips

This brings to an end my mini series of posts on this topic. I’ve shared everything that I’ve tried – what about you? Got any tips to add?

10 More Amazon Associate Program Lessons I Learned on My Way to Six Figure Earnings

Yesterday I shared 11 of the lessons that I’ve learned in my journey to earning over six figures from the Amazon Associates program. Today I want to share 10 more. This time we’re going to drill down a little with a few more specific tips on some of the techniques I use within posts (many of yesterdays were quite ‘general’).

I hope you find them useful.

1. Multiple Links Per Post

Lets start with a simple yet powerful technique – linking to the product you’re promoting on Amazon more than once in a post.

When I used to write reviews of products with affiliate links I did so with one link. I’m not sure why but for some reason I thought a single link would be enough and I didn’t want to run the risk of annoying readers with more. However one day it struck me that the reviews I were writing were quite long and by the time people got to the end of them they’d scrolled down the page so that the link to Amazon was no longer visible.

At this point I started to experiment with a link at the top and tail of the post. I did some heat map tracking of which link proved to be most clickable and also used Amazon’s tracking codes to see which one would ‘convert’ to a sale more often. The results were interesting:

  • both links got clicked quite a bit but the one under the article was clicked on slightly more than the top one (despite being under the fold)
  • the lower link converted better than the top one
  • those who clicked on the top link still made sales (although not as many) – but interestingly it wasn’t always the product I reviewed – often it seemed to be related products

I concluded that having read a review of a product that people were now better informed to make a purchasing decision. As a result, if they did click a link after reading the review they were more likely to buy the product.

Those clicking on the top link seemed to be more in a ‘surfing’ mode. They clicked on the link less because they wanted to buy it but more out of interest to learn more. Some bought the product and some bought other products once they were ‘in the door’ at Amazon.

These days I generally use two links per review post. The first one is usually a link on the first time I use the product’s name – the second one usually has a stronger call to action (‘check it out on Amazon’ or ‘get a price on XXXX’ or ‘buy your own copy of XXXX here’.

Live Example: Let me illustrate it with a quick video that also picks up my next point.

2. Link Images to Amazon

One of the things I learned when doing some heat map tracking of where people were clicking on my reviews is that there was quite a bit of ‘click activity’ on images of the products in the reviews – even when those images were not linked to anything (note: I use CrazyEgg for creating heatmaps – it has the option to track clicks on all areas of your page, even where there’s no link to click).

There’s something about an image that people are drawn to and that makes them click. I began to experiment with linking images to Amazon with my affiliate links. Again I set up a tracking code to test whether they converted. While they didn’t convert as well as text links they still did convert in some instances and to this day I still use this technique most of the time.

3. Buy Now Buttons

buy-now-button-amazon.pngThis is a technique I need to experiment more with but which I’ve heard others having real success with.

It basically involves using a ‘buy now’ button in your post (I’d suggest below a review would be a good place to start using it). I’ve written more about the technique here but the blogger I first heard was doing this actually used the yellow Amazon Buy Now button in his posts – the familiarity of the button seemed to help increase conversions.

Again – it’s not something I’ve done much of but it could be worth a try!

4. Multiple Promotions Per Campaign

I’ve talked above about using multiple links in a post – but another way to increase conversions on a particularly hot product is to promote it more than once over time. I only do this on very popular or highly anticipated products – but it certainly works well. The key is to find a number of different ways to post about the product over a few weeks (or longer). I wouldn’t do all of the following for a single product but here’s a few ways I’ve done it on occasion in the past.

  • If a highly anticipated camera is announced by one of the manufacturers I immediately publish a post announcing it. Amazon often has advance notice of these announcements and will usually have a page up for it where it can be pre-ordered on the same day it’s announced. I link to it immediately in my announcement post.
  • A few days later I might post a post asking readers what they think about the camera or one of its features (for example I recently wrote a post asking readers what they think about the idea of a camera with a projector built into it after the release of the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj).
  • When the camera hits stores I might post a short post announcing that it’s available.
  • When we get a review product we’ll post a review of it with our recommendations.
  • We might at some point post some other reader reviews of the product if enough of our readers have it.
  • We might put together a compilation of quotes from other sites who review the product.
  • We might pull in and embed some videos from YouTube that show the products features

Again – I wouldn’t do all of these things with a single product but if it’s a significant product release and newsworthy over a month or so around its release we might cover it in 2-3 posts. You know your readership best so tune in to where they’re at and whether you’ve posted too much on the same product – you don’t want to over do it but if it’s a product your readers are discussing and are interested in there’s plenty of ways to bring it up (and promote it on Amazon) more than once.

5. Focus Upon the Holidays

amazon-associates-christmas.pngIf you check out the chart that I shared of my earnings in yesterdays post (also pictured to the right – click to enlarge) you’ll notice that 4th Quarters of years usually were bigger than those proceeding them. The reason is simple – Christmas.

The only December that I saw a downswing when my first site was temporarily de-indexed for a few weeks by Google. Each other year there has been healthy rises for the later half of November and all of December (last December was massive).

The upswing in sales around Christmas is partly natural as people are more in a ‘buying mood’ at that time of year – but I also create content at this time of year that is specific to the holiday season.

Such content includes buying guides, reader questions getting people talking about what they’re looking to buy or would like to receive for Christmas, lists of popular/recommended products etc.

6. Promote Related Products

One of the challenges I came up against when writing about cameras regularly is that while a certain percentage of my readers were actively shopping for a new camera – many already had them. In fact writing a ‘photography tips’ blog kind of means you attract more people wanting to learn how to use a camera that they already had rather than buying a new one.

As a result I often do more promotions on ‘related products’ than cameras themselves.

In my space that means promoting lenses, flashes, memory cards and other photographic accessories as well as photography books (which is strongly related to my core ‘tips’ focus).

One great way to get suggested related products to promote is to look at the stats/reports that Amazon gives you to see what products readers are buying. After a while you’ll start to notice that they’re not only buying the products you directly promote but other products. Some will be completely irrelevant to your niche – but many times trends will emerge that could signal other products that it might be worth promoting.

Lets look at an example of this. Following is a screen capture of a small part of the orders on my Amazon account for last quarter. I have arranged them in order of how many were sold.

Hot-Products-Amazon.png

What you can see in this screen grab is that the #1 electronic item sold in the period was a Canon 50mm lens. You can see that in the ‘product Link Clicks column’ that people came to Amazon directly through a link from my site to this item – it’s something I promoted on DPS.

However look at the next most popular item (the Tiffen 52mm UV filter). You can see in the ‘Product Link Clicks’ column that there is a ’0′ figure there. I never promoted this product directly on DPS – yet 44 people bought it.

The next two items were things I promoted but the next 8 were things that people bought in number by themselves without me promoting them at all. To me knowing about these items that people buy without my prompting is GOLD! These are hot products that almost sell themselves for one reason or another.

The reason may be that Amazon is promoting them heavily or that one person is buying a lot of the one product – or they just could be great products. Whatever the reason I’m sure to look into them further and see if they could be products I should be promoting somehow.

7. Promote Pre-Orders

I’ve mentioned this one above already – but one of the things that I do that I see some other bloggers don’t do is promote the ability to Pre-Order products on Amazon.

It doesn’t happen for every product but I find more many significant ones that Amazon will create pages for new products before they’re even available for purchase.

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When I post an article announcing a new camera I always check Amazon first to see if they’ve already created a page for that product. If they have I make sure to mention that the product is already available for pre-ordering on Amazon.

For example last year when Canon Released the Canon EOS 50D DSLR I used this technique. This post generated 10 sales of the camera before it was even available in stores. While two of them cancelled their orders later 8 sales of a $1000+ product certainly add up!

8. Track Your Campaigns

Until a bit over a year ago I was lazy and just promoted every single Amazon affiliate link with the one tracking code. As a result while I saw what products were selling I never really knew what links on my blog were converting and what ones were not.

I eventually decided that I needed to know more about what was working for me and decided to start tracking campaigns. Amazon allows you to create 100 tracking ids (once logged into Amazon Associates you manage them at this link). I didn’t realize there was a limit until a month or so back when I hit the maximum and wish Amazon would increase it. To be honest I find their tracking system pretty messy and think it needs an overhaul – however it is great for testing what works and what doesn’t – most of what I’ve written about in other tips in these articles was learned through tracking.

Because there’s a 100 tracking code limit I would suggest creating a few general tracking codes – one for each blog, perhaps one for each category on your blog – and then use other codes for major promotions that you’re doing. This way not every Amazon link will be tracked but important ones will.

Note: I’m told that Amazon do give more tracking codes if you email them – however it’s a bit of a drawn out process. If you need more it’s worth a try (I know I’ll be trying).

9. Small Ticket Items Add Up

One of the most common criticisms that I hear of the Amazon Associates program is that it’s just too many small commissions. Getting a commission of a few % on a $15 book just doesn’t cut it for many. Some people use this to justify not using Amazon at all while others just promote big ticket items and ignore the smaller ticket products like books, DVDs, CDs etc.

While I agree that these small commissions are not much on their own – they do add up.

Yesterday I earned $401.49 from Amazon. It was actually a pretty good day, higher than average. One might think the higher than normal figure came from selling some big ticket items – but that was not the case. The highest commission for the day was a $21.34 commission. The vast majority of the sales were books sold from my list of photography books which went up on the blog recently.

The other beauty of getting lots of smaller ticket sales is that they go towards increasing the commission tier that you’re on. The more items you sell (not the more $’s you refer – but item numbers) the higher % commission you make from Amazon.

amazon-tiers.png

As you can see from the above screen capture – when you go past 6 items referred you move from a 4% commission to a 6% commission. Keep referring more and the commission increases. The only category of product not included in this is consumer electronics (frustrating for a camera guy!).

This means that if you refer enough small ticket items you can double your commissions.

Note: Amazon lets you choose two types of payment structures – ‘Classic’ and ‘Performance’. The classic one has a 4% flat commission – while the ‘performance’ one has the tiers. I’m not sure why anyone would select ‘classic’ so make sure you choose ‘Performance’!

10. Big Ticket items are the cream on Top

While I strongly advise promoting small ticket items to help boost your sale numbers and for the commission that lots of such sales can generate – it’s also worth
doing some bigger ticket promotions too.

In my experience they don’t convert anywhere near as well as cheaper items – but when they do they can give your revenue a real boost. As someone promoting cameras that can sell for several thousand dollars – I’ve had single commissions in the hundreds of dollars range (even when the commission is limited to 4% on consumer electronics). Here’s a few from the last week:

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I hope that today and yesterday’s tips have been of help to you in growing your Amazon Associate program income. I’ve decided to wrap up this series tomorrow with a few last thoughts – 10 more slightly more general and over arching tips (update: you can read my 10 last tips for making money with Amazon here).

11 Lessons I Learned Earning $119,725.45 from Amazon Associates Program

I have earned $119,725.45 from Amazon Associates Program since I began using it as a way to make money online late in 2003. Around half of that amount was made within the last 12 months.

In this post I want to share what I’ve learned along the way on how to make money with Amazon.

amazon-associates-tips.pngWhile Amazon’s Associates program is not my largest income stream (I rank how I make money blogging here) it was actually the first experiment that I did with monetizing blogs. I began to experiment with it in the last quarter of 2003 (just before I started using AdSense).

I started using it on a personal blog that had been going for around 12 months and had around a thousand readers a day – the first quarter was not spectacular in terms of earnings – I made $31.80 (around 30 cents a day) and almost gave it away.

I’m glad I stuck with it – here’s a chart of the quarterly earnings since the last quarter of 2003 (note, it doesn’t include July or August of this year as that’s an incomplete quarter so the overall figures from this period is below the $119k figure mentioned above):

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As you can see there has been some ups and downs since the early days but the overall trajectory has been positive. It’s a little hard to see in the chart, as it is quarterly, but Decembers are always great months – last December is still the best month I’ve ever had despite last quarter being a record over a 3 month period.

So what have I learned on the way to earning six figures from Amazon?

Today I want to share 11 tips on what I’ve learned in making money blogging from the Amazon Associates Program. Tomorrow I’ll share another 10 (update: You can read Part 2 here).

1. Traffic Traffic Traffic

night_traffic.jpgLet’s start with the most obvious point – one of the biggest factors in the upward swing in my Amazon earnings has been a corresponding upward swing traffic.

As with most ways of making money from blogging the more eyeballs that see your affiliate promotions – the better chance you have of it converting (of course this is a generalization as not all kinds of traffic converts – but more of that in the next point).

While I do think it’s worth starting to experiment with affiliate promotions early on in your blog (even before you have a heap of traffic) your main focus in the early days needs to be upon creating great content and building traffic to your blog.

2. Loyalty and Trust Convert

trust.jpgOne of the other major factors that has come into play with the increase in earnings that I’ve had has been the type of readership I’ve managed to gather on my blogs. While I do get a fair bit of search engine traffic I’ve found that in most cases (and there is an exception below) search visitors are not converting with affiliate programs on my blogs – instead it is loyal and repeat readers.

The main reason for this is that those readers who connect with you on a daily basis over the long haul develop a trust with you (and your blog) and so when you make a recommendation or do a review they’re more likely to take that advice.

3. The Intent of Readers Matters

buyer.jpgAnother big factor in the equation of Amazon conversions is the intent that your readers have when they visit your blog. Why are they there and at what stage in the ‘buying cycle’ are they at?

I began to think about this just over a year ago as I looked at the growing traffic on my photography site but realized that my Amazon earnings didn’t seem to be keeping up with the traffic growth that I was experiencing. What I realized is that DPS was a blog that was largely writing about ‘tips on how to use a camera’ and that as a result it wasn’t really drawing readers to it who were in a ‘buying mood’. In fact a survey that I did found that many of my readers had recently purchased a camera and were on my site specifically because they wanted to learn how to use it.

As a result I added to the mix of new content on the site more articles relevant to people buying a digital camera. I wrote tips with advice on buying cameras, reviews of digital cameras and equipment etc. This culminated in a while new section on the blog devoted to ‘gear’.

Slowly this has attracted new readers to the blog – readers who are researching their next camera purchase – readers who are more likely to click a link to Amazon and who once there are more likely to make a purchase.

This is where search traffic can convert with affiliate programs – ie when you’re writing content that people in a ‘buying mood’ are searching for.

4. Relevancy Matters

Picture 4.pngThis is another common sense tip that many of us (yes I failed on this one in my early days) mess up. The more relevant to your audience the products are that you promote the better chance you’ll have of converting.

  • Promote iPods on your blog that largely talks about spirituality and you are unlikely to convert (believe me, I tried) – promote relevant books, CDs and DVDs instead.
  • Promote perfume on your travel blog and you’re unlikely to see many sales – travel books, luggage and other travel products will work better.

Sometimes it is hard to find a product that matches your topic (Amazon doesn’t work with every topic) but try different products related to your topic and track what converts best for your audience.

open-door1.jpg5. Get People in the Door and Let Amazon Do What they’re Good At

One of the great things about Amazon is that it is a site people are familiar with, that they trust and that is very good at converting people to be buyers. They have honed their site to present people with relevant products to them (based upon previous surfing and buying habits) and over many years have tweaked their site to convert well.

As a result I find that once you get people to visit Amazon (pretty much for any reason) that a percentage of them will naturally end up buying something. The cool thing is that whether they buy the thing you linked to or not – you’ll earn a commission.

While I find specific promotions of particular products work best with Amazon – I also have had some success by getting people in the door for other reasons. For example I recently ran a post on DPS that gave readers a hypothetical $1000 to spend on photography gear and asked them to surf around Amazon and choose what they wanted to buy. The result was 350 comments and quite a few sales.

While a ‘get people in the door’ strategy might seem to grate a little with my ‘Relevancy’ tip in point #4 – the key is to get people in the door in a relevant way. Once they’re there the purchases they make might not be ‘relevant’ to your blog but their motivation to visit should be.

NYT-extended-list-715372.jpg6. Social Proof Marketing 1 – Best Seller Lists

People are more willing to make a purchase if they feel that they’re not alone and if they know that others have and are buying with them. I’m sure there’s some insightful psychological reasons for this but from where I sit buying seems to somehow have become a communal activity.

One of the most powerful social proof marketing strategies that I’ve used with promoting Amazon affiliate links is creating ‘Best Seller’ type lists for readers to show them what is currently popular in terms of purchases in our community.

The best example that I can give of this technique in action is my Popular Digital Cameras and Gear page on DPS. It’s a page that I update every three months, that I link to prominently on the blog and that converts really well. To construct it I simply go through the reports/stats that Amazon gives affiliates to look at what products are selling the best from within my community. I then pull it into different categories of products and ‘Waahlaaa’ – we have a best seller list.

It converts well because readers know that others in their community are buying these products too – there’s a Wisdom of the Crowd mentality going on I guess. Another quick example of this was a recent post – 23 Photography Book Reviews [Ranked] where I ranked the top selling photography books in order of sales but also linked to reviews we’d done of each of them on the blog.

Note: the key with these ‘best seller’ lists is to drive traffic to them. One way to do this is to link prominently to these pages from within your blog and to link to them from within other posts from time to time on your blog so that the post doesn’t just convert for a day or two while your post is the most recent one on your blog.

7. Social Proof Marketing 2 – Reader Reviews

Picture 6.pngI used to do all of the reviews of photography books on DPS. It was mainly because I couldn’t find anyone else to do them and probably partly a little because I’m a control freak.

However one day I had a reader offer to write a book review for me. Because I knew the reader I thought it’d be OK so published it. As with all my reviews it had an affiliate link to Amazon in it. I was a little skeptical about whether it’d convert though because I thought my readers might not respond as well to a stranger’s review of the book as opposed to my own. I was wrong.

The review not only converted as well as my normal reviews – but did even better than normal! This could have been for many reasons but one that I suspect came into play was the way that I introduced the reviewer as a ‘DPS reader’. I didn’t build them up to be an expert, I just presented them as a normal reader with no agenda wanting to share some thoughts on a book that had helped them.

I suspect that the social proof concept came into play a little here. Readers saw another reader recommending something in a genuine way and wanted to get a copy for themselves.

Note: interestingly Amazon themselves uses reader reviews as a fairly major feature of their site.

8. Genuine Recommendations and Reviews

bookrev_600.jpgThere are two main ways that I promote Amazon links. The first is in ‘Reviews’ for products (the second I’ll cover below in the next point). These links are where I or one of my writers will genuinely look over and test a product and give it the once over.

I insist my writers actually read the books, test the cameras and use the software products that they review and encourage them to be as genuine and unbiased as possible so as to point out both the pros and cons of the product. While there’s some temptation to hype up a product and only talk about it’s positives a real review will help your reader relationship over the long haul and I find actually helps promote sales.

Review links work well because it’s usually people who are considering buying a product who really read reviews – it comes down to the buying mood/intent mentioned in point #3.

9. Informational Links

information.pngThe other type of link that I use to Amazon is when I’m mentioning a product in passing and/or a new product is announced that is relevant for my niche. For example when the Nikon D300s was announced recently by Nikon we immediately posted about the news because it was a notable and anticipated camera announcement. The camera was not yet available in stores and we were not able to get a review sample yet – but it was available for Pre-Order on Amazon so we linked to it.

There was no recommendation or review attached to the link but it was a relevant link for readers who wanted to know more about it (price, specs, pictures etc). Some readers pre-ordered the cameras from that link.

Similarly if we’re writing about Photoshop or another photography post production software we’ll usually include a link to the software. Again it’s not a review link but rather an informational/contextual type link. These don’t tend to convert as well in terms of sales but they do get people ‘in the door’ at Amazon and can help a little with sales from time to time.

10. Contextual is King

contextual.pngOne of the biggest reasons my initial attempts with Amazon fell flat on their face and simply didn’t convert was that I thought it’d be enough to slap an image based button on my sidebar that featured a product or that was simply a banner ad to Amazon.

Amazon give publishers a lot of these type banners but despite trying almost all of them I’ve had little or no success with using them at all. Instead – 99% of my conversions have come from links to Amazon from within blog posts when I’m writing about the products themselves.

By all means experiment with the widgets and buttons Amazon gives you – if they do convert for you then more power to you – but every blogger I’ve talked to that has had success with Amazon tells me that it is contextual links from within blog posts that work best.

11. Promote Specials, Promotions and Discounts

sale2.gifThere’s hardly a product on Amazon that does not have a listed discount on it. Most books are as much as 30% off recommended retail prices and at different times during the year Amazon runs other special discounts and promotions on different single products or in different product categories.

Keep an eye out for these kinds of promotions because they can be well worthwhile promoting (if relevant to your readership). In fact last time Amazon had cameras on special I promoted it to my newsletter readers and had readers emailing me to thank me for letting them know about it.

Another related tip is that when you’re writing a review of a product and Amazon have a listed discount – include a note about the discount in the post (see yesterdays post about Chris Brogan’s new book for an example).

11 More Amazon Associates Tips Tomorrow

I’ve got another set of tips to share with you on how to make money with the Amazon Associates program tomorrow (update: You can read it here. I’ve also added a 3rd post to the series with 10 more tips for making money with Amazon Associates).

I’d love to hear how you’ve gone with promoting this program? Have you had any success? What tips would you give?

Learn to Be a Trust Agent

trust-agents.jpgTrust is something that is crucial if you want to build a blog that has influence. As a result I think it’s something that we as bloggers should be working hard to build but also be willing to invest a little into learning about.

As a result I want to recommend Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust to you. It’s a book that has just been released by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith and today it has skyrocketed up the Amazon best seller list (as I write this it is sitting at #34).

Why has it sold so many copies so quickly? The answer is simple – Chris Brogan is one of the most Trusted guys in social media that I know. He’s worked his butt off over the last couple of years building a presence (and more importantly building relationships) around the web. He doesn’t just build connections with the ‘A-list’ but with as many people as he can.

He injects himself into his blogging and other social media activities and as a result he’s widely regarded as a trusted source of information – the perfect guy to co-author this book.

I’ve started reading it and it’s great – please grab a copy today – Amazon currently have it at 34% off.

Creating A Blogging Maintenance Routine That Isn’t A Chore

Guest Post by James from Organize IT.

Running a blog isn’t simple. Besides the obvious challenges of regularly writing great content and making sure plenty of people get to read it, there are so many elements of a blog that need regular attention. You could ignore things like spam comments, out of date posts and broken links and just about get by, but if you really want to keep your blog healthy and running smoothly you need a maintenance routine.

Many people I know don’t have a regular or organized routine, they just deal with situations as and when they feel like it. The problem with this approach is it quickly becomes a big time-consuming chore. They might get fed up of all the spam comments one day and decide to do a massive deletion session which takes several hours. Alternatively they might decide to shake up their categories in one go which again takes lots of time.

What I personally do is break down my maintance sessions into small chunks and focus on it every week. It’s much easier to take little steps regularly than large strides occassionally. Rather than editing dozens of comments in one session, for instance, you can do just ten comments in each weekly setting. Similarly with links, rather than trying to get on top of them all in one go, you might set a target of fixing twenty links each week. This approach allows me to keep on top of maintaining my blog without it becoming a time-consuming chore.

With that in mind, below are the things I focus on during my weekly routine.

  • Comments
    If you do only one thing in this category clean up your spam comments. You should have Akismet or some similar anti-spam plugin in place which will capture most of it, but a little involvement on your part may be required. You may also want to edit and clean up some comments, particularly older ones. I personally check over all new comments from the week, plus a page of older comments.
  • Old posts
    There are a couple of things you can do here. If you’re like me, you’re writing skills and blogging knowledge will have improved over the years and many of your older posts will be lacking. It’s never too late to freshen them up – improve the grammar, expand it, add extra links, etc. If you think that’s a waste of time, see if it’s worth just updating the post title/permalink to make it more SEO friendly (remember to redirect properly). I’m slowly working through each post each week, right from the beginning of my archive.
  • WordPress/plugin updates
    What better time to get the latest release of WordPress downloaded or get all those plugins finally up to date than during your maintainance routine?
  • Categories and tags
    This is perhaps a minor area to maintain but if you have a lot of categories or you’re quite liberal with your tagging, it may be worth giving this some attention. If you have dozens of categories or have a mish-mash of unorganized tags they’re no use to anybody. Delete or consolidate!
  • Broken links
    Linking to dead content is bad for obvious reasons but it’s inevitable that over time link rot will occur. That’s why it’s useful to keep them all up to date, especially if you’re changing categories, titles, etc. Download the broken link checker for this. You may be surprised at just how many dead links you have. Don’t forget to check old pingbacks and author URL’s too (while editing your comments). I update or delete ten broken links each week.
  • Backup
    The last and most obvious step. After all your hard work providing great content and maintaining it all, it would be a shame if you lost it all due to some mishap, hack or general disaster. Make sure you backup regularly!

James is a blogger and aspiring author from the UK. He writes regularly about how to work smart and play smart in the 21st century at his blog, Organize IT, and on Twitter.

Coming Soon – ProBlogger.COMmunity

A few readers have stumbled upon it by themselves and some of my followers on Twitter have heard about it too – but I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to put themselves in the first group of people to hear about a new development here at ProBlogger – ProBlogger.COMmunity

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Yes I’m finally going to fully utilize the ProBlogger.com domain and it’s going to be all about Community. We’re still putting the final touches on it and are not ready to fully unveil it but we’ll be looking for a group of readers to preview it and help it get going before we go to a public launch. If you’re interested – head over to ProBlogger.com where there’s a signup form and leave your details. You’ll get details of how to participate in the next week once we’re ready to move into a beta phase.

Note – if you use a firefox ad blocker you’ll need to either turn it off or use another browser or you’ll not see the signup form.