This guest post is by Ashley Ambirge of themiddlefingerproject.org.
Blogging. Successful blogging. My own. Yours. If I could sum it up in three little words, they would be:
Wait, what? Magazine advertising sales?
Yes—magazine advertising sales.
You see, (insert voice of the narrator from The Princess Bride), once upon a time I sold advertising for a national print and online magazine, when the only writing I did involved contracts and thank-you letters. Day after day, I proudly won over the hearts of marketing directors everywhere. For my efforts, I became recognized as one of the top account executives in the nation—and, well, ev’body likes a nice plaque, right?
So, what do magazine sales have to do with blogging success?
The short answer: everything.
The long(er) answer: At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, every aspect of blogging is, in fact, a form of sales.
There—I said it! Please don’t shoot!
Ah, sales. If you haven’t thrown up yet, your first reaction is likely to be one of the following:
It is not. Blogging is about providing useful content.
It is not. Blogging is about authenticity.
It is not. Blogging is about building community.
It is not. I hate you and your stupid blog, so go away and leave me alone.
All perfectly valid responses, indeed.
But if you operate on those grounds alone, your would-be-profit-making blog might face the eternal destiny of … (deep, soothing breath) … Personal Journal Land. And if you’re just starting out, it’s a tempting place to visit. But if you’ve got any type of business-related purposes in mind for your blog, you’re gonna wanna take a big, fat detour.
Let me be clear for a second: creating insanely useful content, for example, is really important. But that’s kind of a no-brainer, right? You want people to read your stuff? Make it worth reading. No magic tricks there.
Yet despite the no-brainer value of useful content, traditional wisdom for blogging success continues to be trumpeted as more of the same: create useful content, create useful content, create useful content.
But there’s more to it than that.
The problem with relying on useful content alone is that what’s useful is isn’t always obvious. In your opinion, you might have the world’s most useful content, but if no one else perceives it as such, then you’ve just purchased a one-way ticket to Personal Journal Land.
Perception is everything. Right out of the gate is everything. If new visitors don’t perceive your post titles, your blog—or, more importantly, you—as useful, right off the bat as soon as they land on your site, then your stellar content might as well not exist, because no one’s going to take the time to read it—whether it’s actually useful or not.
And then you’ll grow frustrated. You might throw a series of mini temper-tantrums. You’ll lose motivation. You’ll curse your keyboard. And then curse it some more. You’ll want to ditch the whole blogging thing, and send hate mail to WordPress. And you will want to give up. It will be a sad, sad day. Especially for the poor chap opening mail over at WordPress.
Enter: Sales. The good, non-icky kind. (There is such a thing, you know.)
In the good ol’ days, when I would walk into a sales meeting, I had approximately eight seconds to make a good impression. During those eight seconds, prospects basically made a decision as to whether, a) They liked me, b) They thought I had something valuable to bring to the table, c) They were going to buy it.
Fortunately for me, I can do some pretty amazing things in eight seconds. (Not open to interpretation. Well, maybe.)
But here’s the thing: Your blog? It works exactly the same way. Except you’ve only got eight seconds or less. (If you’re lucky.)
In that (incredibly short and unforgiving) time frame, a new visitor decides as to whether, a) They like you, b) They think you have something valuable to bring to the table, c) They’re going to buy it.
In this case, however, “buying it” doesn’t mean your ebook, your product, your service, or your pet hippopotamus; it means buying you, which is the very first step. No other transactions can occur until they’re sold on you. And how, exactly, do they buy you? They buy you with their time and attention. Time and attention are the currencies du jour of the blogging world. It’s whatcha want.
You better do some pretty amazing things in eight seconds.
I guarantee that no matter how useful your content is, no human being in the world will be able to discern its usefulness in such a short time frame unless you can convince them first that they should give you their time and attention. That’s half the battle.
And that’s precisely why sales just went from being the smelly kid on the playground, to being your best friend.
When new visitors land on your site, it’s your job to have things organized in a way that’s compelling At the end of the day, that’s all that sales is—presenting things in a compelling fashion.
Yes, your site design plays a large role in this, but there are other factors that are just as important. From your tagline (you do have a tagline, don’t you?) to the photo you have displayed of yourself, to the content in your sidebar that shows above the fold, to your About page, to your post titles, to the way you present your content, and more.
It isn’t just about being useful; it’s about presenting what’s useful in a way that’s compelling.
During my magazine ad sales days, our product, frankly, was very useful. By far, it was the best product on the market. But that didn’t mean I could just walk into a sales meeting, nonchalantly slap a magazine down on the table, and expect them to magically understand exactly how useful it was. I had to take them by the hand, and not just talk about how great my product was, but demonstrate how great they’d be because of it. I had to make it compelling. I had to make it about them.
Same goes for your blog.
Your blog is insanely useful. It might be the best blog out there on your topic. But that doesn’t mean you can just show up, nonchalantly slap up a post, and expect them to magically understand how useful it is. You’ve got to take them by the hand, and not just produce great content, but demonstrate how great they’ll be because of it. You have to make it compelling. You have to make it about them.
Only then will it actually be perceived as useful in their eyes. And only then will it get read. And only then can you escape Personal Journal Land.
So, how can you make your blog more compelling right out of the gate?
1. First impressions really count. A lot. Even more than on a first date, because at least your date is stuck with you for the night; new visitors aren’t.
Enough talk about dating; we’re still talking shop here. So, back to the ad sales analogy: you wouldn’t walk into a sales meeting wearing a tee shirt drenched in ketchup and mustard, unless you were selling a fabric cleaning product … or you happen to be rushing back from feeding orphans at your neighborhood homeless shelter. (Nice try.)
Same goes for your blog. Keep it clean. Keep it simple. Make it easy on the eye, so the visitor can focus on the message, not the 30,000 widgets you’ve got blinking in your sidebar. Or the ode to every other blogger you’ve ever exchanged an email with, a.k.a. the blogroll. Or that schizophrenic cloud of alleged keywords that induces more seizures than searches. Remember: you have eight seconds or less. In those eight seconds, you need to engage, not distract.
2. Talk less about yourself.
You wouldn’t walk into a sales meeting, ignore the client, and spend the entire hour giving your esteemed opinion on [insert unrelated topic]. Why? Because the client doesn’t care about your opinion; at this point, he only cares about how you can wave your magic wand and help a brother out. That’s why, in sales, you go in asking questions, you make it all about the prospect, and then you offer a logical solution that addresses the pain points that the prospect himself just finished identifying. This way, you aren’t selling; you’re offering a solution. You know the drill.
How does this apply to your blog? On first visit, a reader doesn’t care about you; at this point, he only cares about how you can wave your magic wand and help a brother out. Therefore, you should be presenting your blog in a way that makes it all about the reader, addressing their pain points, and then presenting your blog as the solution.
Where do you do this? Your About page is a good place to start. Try putting the readers first, and explaining how your blog is going to blow their minds. Give them a reason not to X out. Get them engaged. Get them fired up. Make them think, “This is what I’ve been looking for!”
And then talk about yourself.
Another way to talk more about them is right in your headlines. You know, the titles of your blog posts. Any copywriter will tell you with their eyes closed that headlines should translate into a benefit for a reader; otherwise, why click on it? Yet, “benefit for the reader” doesn’t necessarily mean spelling it out verbatim “this is what you will get if you read this.” More often, it means “subtle implications of what you’ll get if you read this.”
Whether you’re offering to solve a problem (e.g. Top 10 Ways to Cure Yourself of Writer’s Block), hooking them up with insider knowledge (e.g. The Secret to Making Thirty-Seven Zillion Trillion Dollars By Blogging—No Yellow Highlighter Required), tapping into their insecurities (e.g. The Hairy Mistake You’re Probably Making, But Have No Idea), arousing their curiosity (e.g. What Everyone Needs to Know About Darren Rowse), promising them something desirable (e.g. Drink Beer, Lose Weight), or saving them time (e.g. The Quickest Way to Make Her Fall In Love With You & Have Your Babies), for example, all of these translate into some benefit for the person who clicks on them. And benefits are all about them. And when it’s all about them, they’ll give you their time and attention. And then you win. The first part of the battle, anyway.
3. Talk more about yourself. Wait, didn’t I just say to talk less about yourself?
It’s all about the stories, baby. A good storyteller knows the difference between stories that have a greater purpose and message, and stories that don’t. You want the former. And when you tell stories in a way that ensures they have a greater purpose and message, on the surface it may feel like you’re talking about yourself, but you’re not. You might be telling your particular story, but you’re also telling the greater story of many. And in that respect, you’re indirectly talking about them. So I guess this bullet point doesn’t even count, because when it comes down to it, we’re still talking about them. Sorry—our moment in the spotlight is over.
By telling stories with a greater purpose and message, you’re guiding them through their own past experiences, when they’ll start feeling like they really relate to what you’re saying. If you can end your story with a solution (i.e. how you’ve come out ahead, how you finally sold your pet hippopotamus online, etc.), they’ll start to envision themselves having the same success if they stick with you. And then, by golly, you’ve got yourself a sale, in which case, again, the sale = their time + attention. Boo-yah. What you do with their time and attention thereafter is a whole other post.
4. Be a rebel. Skull tattoos and all. And do the opposite.
I’ve just written about why a sales mentality can be useful in order to grow a successful blog. But by the same token, one of the reasons I was so successful in sales is because I wasn’t sales-y. Being a salesperson and being sales-y are two very different things. Instead of tried and true sales-y approaches (that were also tired and trite), I remixed things to create a fresh approach. While many of my colleagues were sending out letters with their business cards attached, I was sending Fed-Ex packages containing rooftop shingles. (The magazine was specifically targeted toward the new-home construction industry.) One client with whom I had zero luck with for months, finally called and agreed to an appointment after receiving a rooftop shingle I had purchased at Home Depot. On the back, I wrote in silver marker: “[Their Company's Name] + [My Company's Name] = Sales Through the Roof.” She then became one of my best clients.
Tried and true doesn’t always mean better and best. And most of the time, people are bored with tried and true. Their eyes glaze over. They want you to make the effort to stand out from the crowd—they want you to earn their time and attention before they willingly give it. And you can (and should) absolutely apply this to blogging. Sometimes it’s a matter of reading up on other blogs in your niche and, every time you come across something that makes you cringe, go ahead and do, say, or be the opposite. Chances are good that if you’re cringing, so are others. Be the fresh breath of air that they want (and need). This, too, is a form of sales, because you’re deliberately and intentionally picking an angle and attempting to present yourself in a way that’s more compelling.
And like I said, at the end of the day, being compelling is all that sales really is.
And if compelling = sales, and sales = a key element of early-stage blogging success, whatdya say we throw a little deductive reasoning into the hat, and uncover the real answer to early-stage blogging success?
Perhaps that’s easier said than done, but if you remember to treat your blog as a product—not just a blog—and your reader as a prospect—not just a reader—the sales mentality will begin to naturally unfold, you’ll navigate yourself out of Personal Journal Land, no (bitter and unfortunate) hate mail will be sent to the folks at WordPress … and the best part?
You can brag to everyone you know that you can do amazing things in eight seconds. Whether you leave it open to interpretation or not is your call.
Ashley Ambirge is the sassiest freelance writer, entrepreneur and digital strategist on the block. She authors books on leveraging the internet to make a business out of your passions, runs her semi-insane but lovable blog (click here to subscribe), and does one on one strategy sessions with new bloggers, entrepreneurs & small businesses looking to¬†rock their online space with the brilliance of a diamond (and finally make some damn money). She’ll also kill you at beer pong without batting an eyelash. Just the facts, Jack.