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Understanding the Difference Between “Want” and “Want to Buy”

This guest post is by Ryan Barton of The Smart Marketing Blog.

As I was sitting at a café over breakfast, the couple nearby flipped through their Sunday paper. As I tend to do, I eavesdropped on their conversation.

“Will you look at that bedding? That’s wonderful!” “Oh my God, I’d die for those shoes.” “I love that movie, and it’s on sale!”

Aside from my habitual eavesdropping problem, the conversation’s simplification of the “want” impulse is vital to your online success.

Buying versus browsing

There’s a significant, actionable difference between admiration and buying intent.

The first is an attraction, a respect, a good feeling. “That car has beautiful lines.” “Wow, a front-facing camera and it supports Flash?” But regardless of all those positive thoughts, admiration lacks a fulfilled need.

The second says, “not only do I admire this service or product, but it’s exactly what I’m looking for.” “My New Year’s resolution was to focus on marketing, so this is perfect!” The product satisfies a real need—not a flighty want.

Earlier this year, Lemon and Raspberry subscribers said they’d absolutely love to win my ebook, Smart Marketing, during Amy‘s New Year’s blog party.

“Ooooh I’d LOVE to win this! I’m always up for some good marketing insight!!,” said one reader. Another agreed, “I would love to read this book. Maybe I can count it as one of the many books I resolve to read this year.”

That’s flattering; really, lots of kind words. Yet, after the contest ended and the book was awarded, some readers suddenly didn’t want the book; or, more accurately, they didn’t want to pay for it.

This is the “want” gap in action—the difference between liking a product and actually wanting to pay for it.

The “want” gap

Amy’s readers may have liked the idea of reading my book, but they didn’t realize a present need for it. It’s a great idea, and it’d be a nice addition to a library, but there wasn’t enough of an internal need to get them to pull out their wallets.

We see the same principle, but to a greater extent, with larger giveaways. Sure, I’ll take the car, the free cruise, the year’s supply of coffee—but I’m not going to pay for it.

Image by Austin Kleon

Friend and artist John T. Unger experienced something similar with a book of poetry he wrote; the “want” gap was later brilliantly illustrated by Austin Kleon.

John’s poems had a real, emotional impact on a reader; the reader admired the author. Yet all the admiration in the world couldn’t compete with the prospect’s lack of buying intent.

Asking the right question

Businesses tend to forecast and allocate advertising monies based on consumer feedback, which is unfortunately more “do you like?” than “will you buy?”

That’s what focus groups have become, haven’t they?

“Do you like this new and improved artisan sandwich? How ‘bout this car? Pretty isn’t it? Would you go on vacation with this airline?”

None of those questions ask, “would you buy?” And that’s the question that makes or breaks most launches.

Understanding this gap and how you can bridge it is your way to converting admiring prospects into paying, satisfied, and loyal customers.

How to bridge the “want” gap and boost sales

What you may not realize is that admiration is a big step forward in closing the sale. The prospect has already indicated they appreciate you and your product, but they don’t think they need it. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck; you can fix this.

Here are five steps I use to effectively bridge the gap between admiration and convincing a prospect to buy.

1. Establish your authority

Chances are, before reading this article, you’d never heard my name. If you’re launching a product of your own, you may face the same challenge—obscurity.

If I had released my ebook under Darren’s name instead of my own, the sales would’ve been drastically different than my initial figures. Darren’s an established figure in the industry. Over 167,000 subscribers and 19,000 Facebook fans are testament to this. His community buys into his history of success. My own success isn’t global like Darren’s, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as relevant.

That’s why the endorsement of Hall of Fame speaker and bestselling author, Scott McKain, was so powerful. Scott had a lot ofkind words about my book—and his review told new prospects my book wasn’t a scam, it was real and unique, and they needed it.

That’s the power of word-of-mouth marketing. But it’s leveraging these words that helps you confirm legitimacy and close the sale.

2. Create value

It’s pompous to assume that because you have a product, it’ll be bought. Give prospects a reason to buy. What’s in it for them? Show them value and security in their purchase.

For my own book campaign, my value offering included free quarterly updates. Every quarter, I send my customers an updated digital file that highlights new industry trends and developments. This makes my ebook a living book—it doesn’t gather digital dust, it’s a constant resource.

Plus, it maintains my personal brand awareness among my clientele in a most personal manner.

I also went so far as to include a 100% results-and-satisfaction guarantee with every purchase. Yes, I’m that confident in my content. It works, so why wouldn’t I offer a guarantee?

And as for the prospect, why wouldn’t they buy? There’s absolutely zero risk in making the purchase. If they were apprehensive or worried they’d get burnt, this guarantee eliminates those fears. What’s more, I’ve never had a request for a refund—it’s a guarantee I’ve never been called on.

What type of value-added element can you include in your launch that convinces your prospect that they can’t afford to not buy from you? Can you offer a limited-time price reduction to create a sense of urgency? Or a creative incentive to reward multiple purchases?

3. Put their needs in lights

You launched your product for a reason: you recognized a demand, a need. So don’t be ashamed to tell your audience that you know it. Speak directly to them.

In my case, that meant telling small business owners and first-time entrepreneurs that I understand the daunting challenge they face in marketing themselves. What’s an effective strategy? What offers the greatest ROI? I know the thought of their business failing keeps them up at night. Moreover, I understand that heavy feeling—I’ve been there. And it’s difficult to navigate through new business decisions.

But simply telling prospects you understand their need isn’t enough. You also need to satisfy it. Which brings us to your solution. In my case, I hold the marketing road map to their success.

4. Spell out your solution

For my small business owner audience, it wasn’t enough to say, “Don’t worry about your business failing, I wrote a book on marketing.”

I needed to take a step back and detail the topics I’d covered—targeted marketing, brand differentiation, social media ethics, blogging, and so on—and explain how each topic plays into their success.

Andy Nulman uses the analogy of “virgin contact lenses” as a great way to remove yourself from something you’re deep into, to gain valuable perspective. You, yourself, are in-the-know. You understand what you offer, since you’re the product creator. But for the first-time prospect, you need to say exactly what you do. Assume nothing on their part. Look at your product the way a first-time prospect would, taking nothing for granted.

You’ve highlighted their need, and you’ve detailed exactly what you’re providing. Now, explicitly tell your prospects with confidence, “I am the solution. My product will fix your problem.”

5. Show them what others have

You’re at the mall; you’re hungry. You walk towards the food court, and as you get closer, you begin to smell the variety of foods. “What do I want? What am I in the mood for?” you ask yourself.

And as you arrive at the food court entrance, before you stand 15 different restaurant choices, people with trays of food rushing to and from tables. Your gaze moves across the large room, scanning the signs and lines of each of the restaurant choices. Asian food? Not bad. Pizza place: ghost town. Sandwiches … not really in the mood. But the burger joint is hoppin’.

Without saying a word, every person in each line is telling you their preference—the majority favored the burger over the pizza. And that makes you wonder, what is it about the burger that everybody loves so much? You don’t want to miss out on what the people in the burger line are enjoying. Now, your decision is made: burger it is.

In the digital food court, it’s similar; it’s the online equivalent of, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Show prospects how much your customer base supports you. Show them you’re popular, show them what other customers are buying and how they’re benefiting from it, and force the inactive community to buy in and be part of the “next big thing.”

The hype, the tangible energy in your community, your popularity—they’re all extremely powerful selling tools.

What people want

Your blog, your business, your campaign, your new product—should be less about what you think people want, and more about what your prospects will actually act on. Want to be profitable? Then that’s your focus: what people want.

Save yourself time and money. Understanding this “want” gap and bridging it—conquering it—improves your conversion rate, it motivates you through your new-found success, and it takes your efforts to a competing level.

How have you experienced the “want” gap in your blogging efforts? And how have you bridged it?

Ryan Barton is the author of the “Smart Marketing” eBook and he writes at The Smart Marketing Blog for Small Business Success; you can follow him on Twitter, where he shares entirely too much information. He wrote “Smart Marketing” with the intent that small businesses would glean insightful information and tangible marketing strategies so they too, could compete competitively with industry giants.

Will Your Blog Be Big? Or Great?

This guest post is by Marjorie Clayman of Clayman Advertising.

Recently, it was announced that Richard Thompson was going to be awarded the OBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Your response, in any order, might be, “Who cares?” and “Who is Richard Thompson?”

Richard Thompson has a career in music that spans 40 years. He is a brilliant lyricist, but even more, he may be one of the best living guitarists out there. He was a member of folk rock super group Fairport Convention and he partnered with his ex-wife Linda in the 70s to make some fantastic albums. He wasn’t much of a vocalist back then, but now, even his vocal stylings are outstanding. And yet, Thompson plays small theatres and “intimate” concerts, and has a hard time enticing record labels to keep him on.

Richard Thompson is great, but he is not big.

Big? Or great?

Over the years, at any moment, Richard Thompson probably could have chucked his own particular style and his own particular skills out the window. He could have promised himself and his fans that it was for just one album, so that he could get his name out there. Then he’d come back to being himself.

So it is with blogging. You bring your own particular voice to your blog. You bring your own unique experiences and skills to your readers. But at any moment, you could say that honing your skills is not nearly as important as getting a lot of traffic. It’s so easy to think that aiming for “big” may be better than aiming for “great.”

Let’s face it—it’s probably easier to achieve “big” in comparison to becoming great in this competitive space. Write a few posts attacking big names, offer link bait, be controversial—you’ve seen all of those tricks in action. But are those bloggers great? Will you remember them in 40 years?

Aiming for greatness

If you want to aim for greatness instead of trying to be big, here are some tactics you could try.

  • Look at how you can improve. Richard Thompson probably realized that his vocal work needed improvement. Instead of resting on his laurels, he worked hard, and it paid off. Look at your posts from the last month. What would you do to improve each post just a little bit?
  • Blog outside your comfort zone. Stretch your limits. Attack new areas that will enrich your experience and that of your readers.
  • Look at the content of the comments you receive, not the number. Are people saying that you helped them out or helped them see things in a new perspective, or are they just saying, “nice post”?
  • Track your subscribers. Although this can be a metric for size as well, subscribing is an action people take when they are confident every post you write will be of interest to them (though they won’t read every single one). Are people placing that much confidence in you?
  • Become a cult classic. While Richard Thompson may not be “big,” his followers are about as loyal as they come. Look at your readers. Do you have people who are not just reading your posts but gushing about them to their followers and their community?

You can be big and great

This is not to say that everyone has to be like Richard Thompson, toiling away in the genius room while only the Queen of England cares. But becoming “big” is often a function of elements that are out of your control.

If folk rock had really become popular, Richard Thompson might well have become king of the world. The Beatles became as big as they did in part because they caught a new sound just as it was growing.

But aiming for great? That’s entirely under your control. It is defined by you, it is measured by you, and it is something you do from the heart. It’s important to remember that greatness can help pave the way for getting big. Getting big does not promise greatness.

Have you been concentrating on getting big lately or have you been working on honing your craft? Which do you value more? I’d love to discuss it with you in the comments section.

Marjorie Clayman is Director of Client Development at Clayman Advertising, a full service marketing communications firm located in Akron, OH.

You Have a Niche! You Just Don’t Know It Yet

This guest post is by Heather Eigler of HomeToHeather.com

Yes, you do have a niche. You’ve likely read it a thousand times on blogs about blogging. Two of the number one pieces of advice are ‘choose your niche wisely’ and ‘write what you know.’

So what if you aren’t wise and don’t know anything? What could you write about that qualifies as a niche? And what does having a niche do for you anyway?

Having a niche has its benefits

Your niche gives you focus. It gives you identity and purpose. A blog with no niche is like a magazine with no cover model. The model on the cover of a magazine tells readers instinctively what they are likely to find on the interior pages. A fashion model indicates articles about celebrities and shopping can be found inside. An athlete tells us we can likely learn how to improve our golf swing.

The same goes for blogs. A niche is our version of a cover model. We include it in our headers, our buttons, our posts and our SEO. Readers who land on our page will instinctively know what the blog is about—if we’ve done our jobs well.

There are blogs about food and blogs about cameras. Blogs about travel and blogs about sports. But what if you just write about your everyday life? What if there is no core subject matter and your blog is a grab bag of this and that.

What can you do then?

You have a pre-made, bona fide, built in niche

Yes, you do! It’s your location. Everyone lives somewhere. And there are other people who live where you do who might be searching for information on local events or restaurant reviews. And there are many people who don’t live where you do who might be interested in visiting someday … but how would they know if they can’t come across anything on the web that tells them what a great place it is?

When I rebranded my site, HomeToHeather.com, to be more of a personal blog, I knew that I was going to have issue expanding my readership because of my content—it’s a mom blog. Only so many people are going to want to read about my kids
and they certainly aren’t going to surf in from search engines to do so. Yes, I write about other things, too—like blogging and products.

I’ve had a small bit of success with traffic from StumbleUpon but not enough to keep the site growing. Since I live in a fairly large, dynamic city I decided that incorporating a local slant could be my niche. So I started incorporating a few posts here and there about Calgary. I added my city to my title tags and banner. Then I sat back and watched my stats to see if anyone arrived via search.

And they did.

What topics can you take local on your blog? How about:

  • events
  • restaurants
  • parks
  • wildlife
  • sports
  • local celebrities
  • local schools, clubs, and associations
  • tourist info.

If they’re talking about it, they’re Googling it

What’s going on right now that people are talking about? Read through your paper and write a post on the opposite view on a major topic. What are people talking about at work? Write about it.

I get a smattering of Google traffic every day for phrases such as Calgary Daycare, Calgary Blog or Calgary mom blog. I’ve attended a few events as a “local blogger” and have had one or two advertising inquiries from local
businesses. The new local focus is working and I’m excited about what’s next for me.

While HomeToHeather is still a small blog—very small, I am slowly working my way towards establishing a local readership, with local content. It’s a great way to round out the rest of my more random posts about blogging, motherhood and creativity. So try it yourself and take advantage of your built in niche—you never know where it will take you.

Have you done any local posts on your blog? Could this technique work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Heather lives, parents and blogs in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Grab her rss feed for more posts on local blogging.

Social Media … or Social Blogmarking?

This is a guest post by Devesh of Blokube.

What is “blogmarking”? Many of us already use and understand social media, but very few of us tap into the great and growing potential of social blogmarking sites.

Blogmarking is the process of you bookmarking your blog post on a blog bookmarking site. Blogmarking can also be referred to as blog bookmarking.

How blogmarking works

The blogmarking process involves you writing a post on your blog, looking for a great and active blogmarking site, and then submitting your post to the blogmarking site.

Your post will be ranked on the site based on the number of votes it gets from users. If your post has a great title there is every chance that it will get a lot of eyeballs. If it’s good, it’ll likely get a lot of votes, and moved to the front page of the blogmarking site.

While blogmarking works just like social bookmarking, the concept is different. A social bookmarking site is highly influenced by power users who determine which posts can be promoted to the homepage. Most of these power users have been on the site since its inception, and they read and work on the site rigorously. It’s not easy for just anybody to become a power user.

The concept of a social blogmarking site is different from this, as any post can be promoted to the front page on the basis of the votes it receives from site users. If you’re not familiar with blogmarking, here are a few blogmarking sites:

Social media … or social blogmarking?

There are many ways to spread the word about your blog while building stronger relationships online. Currently, the key most popular options are social media sites. So let’s look more closely at the pros and cons of social media sites in comparison to social blogmarking sites.

Social media sites

You’re undoubtedly familiar with social media sites and are using them to promote your blog. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and so on, allow users to create a profile, providing photos, website links, biography information, and a host of other personal details.

To get solid traffic from social media sites, you usually have to be very active on those sites, and that can take lot of time.

Advantages of social media sites

First, let’s look at some advantages of social media sites.

They’re open to anyone: A major advantage of social media sites is that they’re open to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new blogger or you’re already established, you can easily open an account on any social media site you love, and you can begin to interact with others immediately.

They foster community: Social media sites also encourage discussion and community interaction—that’s the main reason why they were established. Take Facebook as an example: a lot of your high school/college friends probably have a Facebook account and you can easily get in touch with them through the site. Another community-related advantage of social media sites is that they encourage personal discussions and people will be encouraged to discuss and interact with you if they know a lot about you as a person.

Disadvantages of social media sites

Even though making use of social media sites has strong advantages, it also has disadvantages.

They can help build relationships and brand loyalty, but take time and dedication: If you observe how marketing is done on social media sites you will notice that influence matters. Those with bigger audiences, greater popularity, and stronger reputations will have more success with social media sites than those of us who don’t. Social media sites also require you to spend a lot of time building your profile, especially if you’re a new blogger, and even though the results you will get will be great, this takes considerable time.

They’re littered with ads and spam: Another major problem with social media sites is that they can be havens for spammers, and many are laden with ads. Since it’s very easy to join social networks, a lot of people who are just using the site for spamming purposes join, and this can lead to a lower-quality service.

Social blogmarking sites

Social blogmarking is the process of submitting your blog content to social voting sites and blogging communities.

Many bloggers don’t utilize the power of social blogmarking yet, but it’s a great way to get traffic and connect with other bloggers.

Advantages of social blogmarking sites

They’re less time-consuming than social media sites: A major advantage of social blogmarking sites is that they tend to consume less time than social media sites. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new or established blogger, you have an equal opportunity to gain exposure. What matters most when trying to get attention for your blog is not your influence or reputation, but the title of your post and its content.

They help you connect with other bloggers in your niche: Another great advantage of social blogmarking sites is that they allow you to get in touch with other bloggers in your niche. Since these sites are mainly used by bloggers (where social media sites are used by a much broader audience) they make it easy for bloggers to get more targeted traffic. For example, I notice that I get more links to my articles when I submit them to social blogmarking sites because most people reading my content there are bloggers, and they’re more likely to share it on their blogs if they like it.

They allow users to comment and vote on their favorite articles: Another major advantage of social blogmarking sites is that they allow people to comment on blog posts through commenting systems like those we see on everyday blogs. It’s also easier for bloggers to connect with others using this feature.

They’re a great way to share favorite blog bookmarks: Social blogmarking is a great way to share your favorite blog posts with friends, family members, and your readers. Content can easily get lost in the social media space but with blogmarking it’s easy to share your content with other people who care about your blog.

They champion quality content: If your main aim as a blogger is to find quality content to link to, or you’re a reader who wants to read more about a niche subject, social blogmarking sites are highly effective because they are always moderated. The quality of the blog posts you’ll find there is usually high, and the sites are spam-free.

Disadvantages of social blogmarking sites

They’re very specific: The major disadvantage of social blogmarking sites is that they’re very specific, and they don’t yet have broad appeal among general or mass audiences. For example, most of the current blogmarking sites focus on blogging tips and making money online, so it’s often difficult for bloggers in other niches to make effective use of these sites.

They’re not well-known yet: Social blogmarking is a relatively new concept, so although social blogmarking sites are growing their audiences, the concept hasn’t yet gained the same traction that social networking sites have achieved.

Getting started with social blogmarking

Social blogmarking has its drawbacks, but it also offers a lot of advantages. You don’t have to have a high profile or a huge following to succeed at social blogmarking.

Have you tried social blogmarking? Where do you think this field is heading in future? Feel free to share your views in the comments.

Devesh is young entrepreneur and author of Blokube, a social voting site for Bloggers and Intenet Marketers. Follow him @blokube and join Blokube on Facebook.

Time Management for Travel Bloggers … and Others

This guest post is written by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.

While I hate the name, I am, to some degree, a digital nomad. I spend my time traveling the world and working as I go. By that very definition, I’m a digital nomad. But unlike most other digital nomads, I don’t move to a city for a few months, live and work there. I run a travel blog so I’m constantly on the move. In fact, my life would be a lot easier if I stayed in one place. That’s why the issue of time management is so important to me.

Balancing life and travel is a hard task when you’re constantly being pulled outside for activities, while the demands of running your own business keep you inside.

As a traveler who makes a living by building and publishing travel websites, I’ve found that the web can be all-consuming: it’s easy to spend hours or even days online. There’s always work to be done. The Internet will take as much as you give it. Conversely, it’s easy to get off track and “play” too much. Meeting new people and traveling to new destinations often becomes more important than work. It was hard for me to strike a good balance between the two for some time. I worked too much and I traveled too much, so something always suffered.

Meshing travel and work into a manageable and fulfilling lifestyle is an art. If you are going to have a travel blog, you are going to eventually need to travel and blog at the same time. A some point you’re going to need to find a way to balance work and travel if you want to be a successful travel blogger.

Time management involves a lot of trial and error, and I have had to learn how to balance conflicting demands. I’ve been pulled in many different directions, and it has taken a lot of discipline to balance my work and life. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over my years of travel is that it’s important to set specific times for work. You have to force yourself away from the computer, otherwise “a few more minutes” can easily turn into a few more hours. Over the years, though, I’ve developed a few strategies that help others manage their time more efficiently on the road.

Check email once a day

It’s easy to get distracted by incoming email. I increase my productivity by scheduling specific times to check my email. Nothing is ever so urgent that it can’t wait a few hours. If you’re always checking email, you are going to be constantly distracted and not as productive as you could be.

Know when you are productive

My most productive hours are in the mornings and late afternoons before I go out. That’s when I do my best work. By scheduling work when I’m most productive, I get the most done and then I don’t have to worry about anything else.

Avoid tourist times

This point continues the one above. As a traveler, you want to be out, traveling and doing stuff. You don’t want to be working all day. Avoiding work during the day is important. Museums, tours, activities—they all occur when the sun is up, and that’s when you should be out too. Working the late afternoon or early morning will still give you time to see the sights.

Set a time limit

I set a time limit for work and tasks. If I force myself into a time constraint then I have to work during that time. It’s a mental trick, but it works. This works even better when you’re traveling with other people. You don’t want to make them wait!

Create a task list

It can be easy to get into work or forget about important tasks. I find that creating a list of tasks helps me to focus my efforts and increase my productivity. I like to break the list up into daily tasks. Once I finish a day’s work, I go out and play, and I don’t feel like there is still more to do.

Compartmentalize

Another trick I find helpful in balancing the workflow is to create day tasks. For example, Monday is my writing day, Tuesday is photo day, Wednesday is a random task day. By further breaking up the work into more manageable pieces, I spend less time getting stressed out and going, “Oh! I have so much to do!”

Shut off social media

Twitter and Facebook are the most distracting tools ever invented. I love them both and constantly use them, but when I am working I shut them off. If I don’t, I spend too much time chatting with friends on Facebook or reading tweets, and my productivity suffers for it.

Learning to balance work and travel—or blogging and the rest of your life—is a hard task that everyone has to work on. You can better balance work and play, however, by training yourself to lead a disciplined life and by having good time management skills. I didn’t learn these lessons right away, and I’m still not all the way there yet, but I’m getting there. What are your time management secrets? I’d love to hear them!

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site and has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL’s Wallet Pop, and Yahoo! Finance. He currently writes for AOL Travel and The Huffington Post For more information, you can visit his Facebook page or sign up for his RSS feed.

5 Fast Tips to Improve Internal Links

This guest post was written by James Hay, Social Media Coordinator for Fasthosts Internet Ltd.

Playing to your strengths is an important part of SEO, and before going out and spending all day endlessly pursuing external links, it is important to look at your own site.

You control what is displayed on your site and the SEO tips below provide a number of ways to increase your rank strength and improve your blog’s internal link architecture.

Just in case you’ve not come across the phrase “Internal Linking” before, here’s a quick definition from SearchPath:

The process whereby words or phrases within a web page are linked to other pages in the site. Internal links are considered important in SEO terms, as they are often spidered and displayed by Google.

So here are my top five tips to help you improve your internal link architecture.

1. Use keyword-relevant anchor text

Ensure that the keyword(s) you’re trying to get ranked for is used as your anchor text (the text within the link). For example, if the phrase you are trying to get ranked for is “Internal Links”, and the page you want people to find for that phrase is your article “Guide to Internal Linking”, then use that phrase as the anchor text for your link. The search engine spiders will then understand what your target page is about, and it will increase the content’s ranking strength for that phrase.

2. Use absolute URLs

Although there is no empirical evidence to say that search engines spiders prefer absolute URLs (i.e. http://yourdomain.com/pagetitle.html) over relative URLs (i.e. /pagetitle.html), it is good practice to use absolute URLs. It help spiders determine exactly where the page is located on your site, and if your content gets copied, then at least the links will point back to your website.

3. Improve your site’s speed

The speed at which your pages load certainly affects your page rank. I recommend using Google Webmaster Tools and adding a sitemap to your blog. You can then look at your site performance and how quickly your pages load. Google seems to regard 1.5 seconds or less as a good load time. Compress any large images and refine unnecessary code to help speed up your site.

4. Use text menus

Although search engines are improving all the time, the search engine spiders still have difficulty crawling non-text navigation menus. It is advisable to use text menus rather than those that require Flash or JavaScript.

5. Clean up your links

It’s important to keep in mind that search engine spiders love to move freely and quickly through your site, which is why I’ve provided the tips above. But one thing that spiders really dislike is hitting a dead-end, and broken links are the cause of this. The Google Webmaster Tools can also identify broken links on your blog. Go through those links and either remove them, or change the anchor text and redirect the link to a valid page.

These are my top tips for improving internal links on your blog. What others can you add?

This article was written by James Hay, Social Media Coordinator at Fasthosts Internet Ltd and the main contributor to the Fasthosts Blog which provides advice on everything from B2B Marketing to Social Networking.

5 Ways Facebook’s Discussions App Will Make You a Better Blogger

This guest post is by Tommy Walker, Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name.

“Build a community.” You hear it all the time. “Comment on other people’s articles, guest post, and join the conversation.”

One of the problems with the way most online communications systems are set up is that they’re top-down in nature. A blog requires posts before people can comment, Facebook’s Pages require updates if they’re to stand out in the News Feed … the list goes on and on.

And while these methods are essential to community building, getting more comments or tweets or Facebook shares on an article is not an act of community building. You’re building a successful broadcasting platform—sure—but broadcasting to a bunch of people is not community.

Community isn’t defined by a high number of comments, either. Community is defined by the conversation that’s happening between the people leaving comments.

If you want to be an authority, creating killer content is only the first step. A true leader has the ability to embed ideas, spark conversation, and inspire others to rise to the occasion. The next step is to give those you inspire the resources to communicate with each other about the ideas you’ve implanted.

This is where the Facebook Discussions Application comes in.

The Discussions App

1. Facilitate lateral communication

Think of Facebook’s Discussions Application as a poor man’s forum. While it lacks the ability to share photos, link with anchor text, or even give users a signature, it does one thing that’s vital to community building: it allows members to communicate with each other.

Find a healthy balance of topics that you can discuss, and invite readers with whom you have a relationship to start topics on their subject of expertise to help out. Topics can be started by any person who “likes” a Page—they don’t have to be started by the Page administrator.

At first, it’s likely you’ll have to get people into the habit of checking the Discussions tab through status updates, because conversations in the Discussions Application are not published to the News Feed. However, once you’ve got people communicating with each other, your Discussions application will take on a life of its own.

2. Have exclusive conversations

Have a favorite book, tool, or other secret weapon that you’d like to talk about, but it doesn’t quite fit into your content calendar?

Instill a sense of comfort among your community members that encourages them to start conversations that apply to their specific situations. Use the Discussions App to share resources with your community and keep the information exclusive. In other words don’t tweet it, post it on youtube, or blog about it: keep it exclusive to the Discussions tab.

Of course anyone can “like” your Page and gain access to it, but the idea here is to keep little gems tucked away so your loyal and most active readers gain a feeling of exclusivity.

3. Field questions

If all of your content surrounds a specific theme, but a member of your community has a question about something else you’ve established your authority on, the Discussions Application is a great place for them to have a side conversation with you.

One of my clients runs a regional restaurant chain. Fans of their Page frequently use the Discussions App to ask questions about a new stores opening in their area, vegan/vegetarian friendly food, and upcoming events.

Hubspot, an online marketing agency and technology firm, sees frequent queries on their Discussions tab ranging from questions about their products and reports to blog-and-website-101 type questions.

By encouraging your community to ask questions in this setting, you do two things:

  1. If they’re asking a Frequently Asked Question, you can address it in a public setting so others may be able to see it.
  2. You make it possible for other members of your community to show their expertise on a particular subject.

Of course, sometimes not everyone will agree on a particular answer, which brings us to our next use for the Discussions App.

4. Discuss incendiary ideas

Can’t we all just get along? Well, quite honestly sometimes the answer is just plain “No!”

Discussions can be a great tool to either spark or facilitate debates on incendiary topics. Sometimes when a conversation has the heat turned up on it, people come out with their best stuff, so every now and again bring up a topic on which you know people will have opposing and strong viewpoints.

Just a word of warning, though: a good debate can bring a community together—or tear it apart. Your job as the authority is to keep debates respectful and to prevent people from crossing the line.

5. Extend the conversation

Don’t let the conversation die simply because it gets buried in the News Feed. Start a topic in Discussions to extend the conversation further.

One of the perks of being a Page administrator is that all participants of a comment thread are notified when you respond to that thread.

So let’s say for example you publish a status update that, for one reason or another gets a ton of feedback. Chances are that the conversation won’t die simply because it’s no longer interesting. More likely, they’ll die because it’s no longer visible.

Why not start a Topic on the Discussions tab to allow members to continue the conversation? Though the conversation won’t be published to the News Feed, it does bring people a little deeper into the overall experience, giving more meaning to your relationship. Also, depending on the topic, the thread could become a resource that you can link to from time to time.

These are my preferred ways to use the Discussions App to build community around a blog. Have you tried the Discussions App yet? What tips or advice can you add?

Tommy is an Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name. He is about to release Hack The Social Network, the ultimate guide to Facebook Marketing, and is currently developing a “mind hacking” course.

December Earnings Breakdown: My Best Month Ever

It’s that time of the month when I take a look over where income has come from in my own business over the preceding month—this time, December.

Let me start with the trending chart (click to enlarge it) that tracks earnings in the total and separate income streams for the last nine months. You’ll see from this that December was a very good month!

income streams 2010

Actually, “very good” is something of an understatement: it was my best month ever, and just under double the income for the previous month.

The increase came from a number of the income streams, and it occurred for two main reasons:

  1. A Christmas promotion on my photography blog: I ran a “12 days of Christmas” promotion on dPS that promoted 11 different products—my own eBooks as well as a series of affiliate promotions. This was the main reason for the leap in the affiliate stream (it’s over ten times higher than the previous month), but it also pushed ebook sales up significantly (double the previous month). I’d be happy to write a post on this promotion in the coming weeks if people are interested?
  2. Holiday shopping: AdSense income always rises at this time of year for me as a result of the Christmas rush (up by about 20%) and Amazon Affiliate earnings also rose (around double the average monthly income from the last year).

Following is the income stream breakdown:

income streams december

Note: ‘Continuity’ refers to membership sites ProBlogger.com and Third Tribe. I did not do any speaking/events in December.

Looking forward, it’s going to be slightly depressing to post January’s figures after this month—affiliate sales, AdSense, and Amazon will of course return to normal after the Christmas promotions (in fact they often are a little lower than average in January). However we’re also looking to launch a new ebook on Digital Photography School next month, so hopefully that stream will be healthy.

How were your December earnings?

How to Create a Membership Program that Rocks

This is a guest post by Mary Jaksch of A-List Blogging Bootcamps.

Many bloggers dream of adding a membership program to their blog. And with good reason. A membership program can create raving fans, will make your blog stand out, and can even create a great revenue stream. But most membership programs fizzle out because the creator made one or more of five critical mistakes in creating and running it.

In the last couple of years I’ve set up two successful membership programs, the A-List Blogger Club, with over 800 paying members, and the free Goodlife ZEN Fitness Challenge, with over 350 members. And I’ve helped quite a few bloggers to plan and set up successful membership programs. I’ve learned what works, and which mistakes to avoid.

Initial questions

Before I share my tips with you, let’s consider a few important questions.

Is creating a membership program really worthwhile?

A membership program is a lot of additional work for a blogger, so it’s important to think carefully before you establish one. The upside is that a membership program boosts a sense of community on your blog, creates goodwill, and can be a great source of income. The downside is that it’s hard work to maintain a membership site. In other words, you have to work your backside off in order to make it a success.

Paid or free?

Whether you want to create a paid or unpaid membership is a decision you need to make before you start. It’s hard to convert a free program to a paid one without losing most of your members. If you are dead keen on starting a free program, make sure you have a plan of how to monetize it in the future. Otherwise, it will become a drag on your time and energy. (You’ll find some suggestions on how to monetize a free program further down).

What’s your offer?

If you want to create a paid membership program, you need to make a crushing offer in order to get people to join. And you need no-brainer benefits in order to get people to stay.

If you start a paid program, just creating a forum isn’t enough. If you offer some kind of training as well, you’re off to a good start. Because people expect information on the Internet to be free, and they don’t want to spend money in order to just bitch and moan about their life on a private forum. But many are willing to pay for new skills.

For example, for membership of the A-list Blogger Club (which Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and I run jointly) we offer free access to any future A-list Blogging Bootcamps, as well as to all the material of past Bootcamps. Members get a monthly interactive masterclass, plus members-only monthly training seminars. All this for an under-the-radar price of $20 a month. Members regularly tell me that we’re giving away too much. True. It’s our intention.

How can you over-deliver?

Take-home tip: offer “too much” for a price that’s “too low”. It’s not enough to have a crushing offer. There are some important pitfalls you need to avoid if you want to create a successful program. I’ve sighed over many new programs that were doomed to fail, just because the blogger made one of the following mistakes.

5 Critical mistakes that can kill your program

Mistake #1: There isn’t enough momentum

You need momentum in order to start a membership program. That is, you need a bunch of people who are ready and eager to join. I reckon that you need at least 50 members in order to make it work. If you have less than that, the program will most likely fizzle out. Nobody likes hanging out in a dead forum where zilch happens.

When Leo and I started the A-List Blogger Club after our first Bootcamp, we started with 45 members. The first month was touch and go because we had barely enough momentum. I used to post on the forum about ten times a day, just to keep the thing alive. Then, as soon as we hit over 100 subscribers, the forum burst into life.

When I created the Fitness Challenge on Goodlife ZEN, Leo Babauta suggested creating a forum so that members could report how they exercise each day. Over one hundred readers had expressed that they wanted to join the Fitness Challenge in comments on my introductory post. So, from day one, I had over 100 members in the program. Now numbers have swelled to over 350 and the forum is a lively place.

Make sure you have at least 50 people who will start your program from day one.

Mistake #2: You start because you think it’s a good idea.

Many bloggers tell me that they want to start a membership program. I applaud the idea in principle. But warn that it’s not you, the blogger, who needs to think it’s a good idea. Your readers or participants need to clamor for an ongoing program. My suggestion is to create something on your blog that creates a buzz – and only then start a program.

Let me give you an example: Project 333—which was started by Courtney Carver of Be More With Less—is the kind of project that’s begging for a membership program. The project is about creating a wardrobe with only 33 items that you can live, work and play in for three months. The project has had a huge buzz on Facebook, and Courtney is now developing the project on her blog. I see that her latest post about the project has over 100 comments. That’s a sure sign of enough momentum for starting a membership program.

Mistake #3: Your program lacks clear benefits.

You need to give prospective members a good reason to join. I’ve seen a lot of limp programs especially in the self-development field that offer this kind of “benefit”: This program is a place where you can share your journey of development. Boring, right?

What’s important here is to think about what aspirations members share. Common aspirations are the glue that holds members together. For example, fans of Project 333 want to experience practical minimalism, the participants of the Goodlife ZEN Fitness Challenge want to get and stay fit, and the members of the A-List Blogger Club want to become better bloggers.

Once you’ve got the handle on the common aspiration, it’s easy to formulate clear benefits. Just make sure you don’t use what copywriter Clayton Makepeace calls “faux benefits”, that is, features masquerading as benefits.

Mistake #4: You let spammers and ranters into your forum

People who join a membership program get hacked off if they read spam comments in the forum. To scan the forum for spam is one of the necessary tasks of maintaining a good program. Make sure that only registered forum users can post. And assemble a group of moderators to help you with the task of keeping your forum clear of spam and rants.

Set the culture of the forum by responding in a friendly, supportive way to comments. Create guidelines and make sure members adhere to them. If you get nasty people in your program, don’t hesitate to give them a warning, and block them if they continue to flaunt your guidelines.

Mistake #5: You pluck a name out of thin air.

I’m often amazed at the names bloggers come up with for their programs. Take a name like “Cut Your Coat”. You might think that “Cut Your Coat” is a dress-making program. Wrong. It’s about self-development—but who would have thought that?

Make sure that the name of your program clearly states what it’s about. The purpose of the program needs to be self-evident. If you need to explain the name, bin it immediately.

How to monetize a membership program

The best way to monetize a free program is to create digital products that are tailor-made for your ‘captive’ audience. For example, I’m in the process of creating ebooks and podcasts about fitness and motivation for the Fitness Challenge at Goodlife ZEN. The key is to create products that can help your members to participate successfully in the program.

If you run a paid membership program, you can create courses or digital products to sell to your members. Survey your members to find out which relevant skills they would like to develop.

How to set up a membership program

Setting up a free membership program is easy. All you need to do is to add a forum to your blog. I use the free WordPress plugin Simple:Press. It may not the best forum software, but it’s easy to install, and it preserves the appearance and branding of your blog.

If you want to set up a paid membership site, I suggest using the WordPress plugin Wishlist Member. It’s a premium plugin and costs $97—but it’s worth it. Wishlist can be adapted to many different program structures. And it’s easy to integrate with payment processors, such as Paypal or 1Shopping Cart, or with email responder services, such as AWeber, or Mailchimp.

So should you create a membership program right away?

Whatever your plans for a membership program may be, don’t be in a hurry to create it—especially if it’s going to be free. Wait until you have enough momentum, as well as a real reason for setting up a program. Then think carefully about the structure you are aiming for. You need to know exactly what you want to offer, and how you are going to deliver it in your program.

Don’t settle for mediocre. Instead, create something of real value. Most of all, be insanely useful. Create something that can change lives.

Over to you—if you’ve run a membership program, what are your tips?

Mary Jaksch has created the Great Fitness Challenge on her blog Goodlife ZEN. She is passionate about blogging and is co-founder of the A-List Blogger Club.