Close
Close

Charles Darwin’s 12 Rules of Blogging Survival

This guest post is by Tom Treanor of the Business Blogging Telesummit.

Blog readers have a myriad of reading options for almost every topic you can think of. In fact, within your niche, potential customers may be enjoying blog posts written by your competitors while they ignore your blog like the plague.

So what do you do about this dire situation? Do you hire ghost writers to create more content? Do you promote your content more via social media? Do you get better at SEO so you can attract more search traffic?

Well. These may work to a degree. You may see some minor bumps with more Tweeting, Facebooking and catching more long tail keywords in Google. But, it’s a long and slow process if you’re using these brute-force tactics.

There has to be a better way. And there is.

Like Darwin’s finches, which evolved different beak sizes over the generations to better suit their differing environmental conditions and to survive, your blog has to become better suited for your audience’s needs over time. You need to develop more “evolved” blogging strategies that are more effective at differentiating your blog and attracting and keeping the readers that you target.

You don’t want your blog to end up on the wrong end of Natural Selection, do you?

Here are 12 ways for your blog to survive and thrive.

1. Be the best teacher in your niche

Explain the things that most people in your niche assume don’t need to be explained. Answer all of your potential customers’ frequently asked questions in writing, with pictures and (or) in video. Do detailed tutorials on fundamental as well as on in-demand advanced topics.

Keep the quality high and listen closely to your audience when you pick topics and develop the content. When competitors start sending customers to your site to understand a complex topic, then you’ll know you’ve won!

2. Be more personal than the others

Getting personal can lead to a deeper connection with your audience and pay dividends in terms of allegiance to your blog and brand.

Many business bloggers put up a barrier between their personal lives and what they share on their blog. Including aspects of your personal life is one way to differentiate yourself from your “plain vanilla” competitors.

3. Be funnier than the others

People love to laugh. Using humor well is hard, but can separate your blog from the pack. if you can successfully pull off inoffensive humor (depending on your industry), you’ll bring a lot of readers back again and again. You’ll also likely increase the amount of social media shares that your blog gets.

4. Say what everyone else thinks

It’s uncomfortable to do. Saying what everyone else thinks is really hard. If you can be the “voice of reason” without upsetting everyone around you, you can gather a tribe of people who say “Yes!” to every post.

5. Be the expert on a specific sub-niche

Don’t focus on widgets: focus only on the custom-designed, high-end widgets from Alaska.

If you can focus on a specific, but important sub-niche within your industry and become the authoritative source, you can develop a big advantage against your competitors in that area. Once successful, you can extend from this beachhead into the broader widget market.

6. Have a bigger vision

Tie your blog to a bigger goal. What far-reaching vision can you use to inspire people to join you in your mission? Can you align your company and blog with a bigger movement that is out there? Can you create your own far-reaching vision that aligns with your passions as well as with your company goals?

7. Be more extreme than the others

Go much further than the other blogs in terms of topics, challenges, transparency or risks. It doesn’t have to be dangerous, just extremely different. You’ll get noticed.

8. Be more creative than the rest

If everyone’s writing articles, why don’t you mix in video? How about being the first infographic producer in your industry?

Try new topics, writing styles, media or blog post structures. Think of other ideas that will provide value while separating your from the rest. Give yourself permission to try something unique.

9. Cross-pollinate better than the others

Do you only work with other real estate-related blogs or influencers? How about looking at the lending, architecture, finance and relocation industries?

Spread your tentacles where your competitors never dreamed of going by guest posting, blog commenting or connecting with other bloggers in those industries. If the target audience is the same, you can gain some great benefits from this kind of cross-pollination.

10. Be the best curator of meaningful content

Find the best information that others have written and posted online—the best articles, charts, tables, infographics, videos, or pictures. Collect it in a logical, easy-to-use navigational structure on your blog.

Make sure you link to and give credit to your sources and only summarize (or take small portions of) the articles you link to. Content curation is a way to share great information that is already available and to become seen as a key source of great information.

11. Be the news source for your industry

Focus on being the source of timely news and analysis for your industry. To be able to keep up with the news cycle, this often means a combination of curated content mixed with some original content or analysis.

Niche or industry news blogs can do very well because they get lots of shares, links, SEO benefits and subscribers. Just have a plan for getting regular, high-quality updates onto your site.

12. Work harder than the rest

Sometimes all the right things are in place but you don’t have the results yet. Working hard can pay off, but pace yourself and don’t burn out! Grab more virtual land than the competitors to create a barrier to entry for “lazier” niche-mates.

Come up with your own unique variation

Just like nature’s many variations (which we never could have predicted), come up with your own unique way to differentiate your blog. The blogs that thrive in a given niche will be the ones who evolve in ways that allow them to meet the needs of their audience better than the competitors’ blogs.

Avoid finding yourself on the wrong side of Natural Selection by using one of the strategies above, combining a couple or by developing your own differentiated strategy.

Tom Treanor is the founder of the Business Blogging Telesummit, designed to help SMBs succeed with their blogging and social media efforts. Visit his blog at RightMixMarketing.com.

5 Ways I Kill Two Birds With One Stone and Generate Ideas for Blog Posts

I love making the one piece of work pay off multiple times. One of the ways I do this is by turning other activities that I do into blog posts. Here’s five ways I’ve done it recently.

1. Live streaming video sessions

If I find myself with a spare half hour to fill in, one of the activities that I’ll sometimes engage in is a live video streaming session on Ustream.

I log into my Ustream account, start a broadcast, and then announce it on Twitter that I’m on and happy to answer questions. The sessions are fun and also deepen reader engagement for those who join in. But I’m also constantly taking note of what I’m being asked and will often turn those questions and answers into posts.

ProBlogger Training Day

Answering questions at the ProBlogger Training Day

2. Being interviewed

From time to time I’m asked by another blogger, journalist, or author to do some kind of interview with them. Some are live webinars or on radio, others are email-based interviews, others are on the phone.

Being interviewed in this way is great for bringing new readers into your blog, but I’m also usually asked at least one question during the interview which is the stimulus for a post.

3. Interviewing someone else

On the flip side of things, I also love to interview other people.

Many times as I’m preparing for an interview and researching the subject to work out what questions to ask I’m stimulated to write a post. Other times it is the answer that they give that gets me writing something new.

4. Public speaking

I’m fortunate enough to be asked to speak at conferences both here in Australia and around the world. While I love this type of presenting, I always get a little nervous in the lead up to doing it, and tend to put in quite a bit of time for preparation.

This often unearths post ideas. In fact, last time I spoke at a conference, I turned my slides into a series of blog posts. The Q&A times at the end of presentations and speaking one-on-one to attendees afterwards also gives me great ideas for posts.

5. Answering reader emails and comments

Not a day goes by when I don’t either get an email from a reader asking a question or see at least one question in blog comments.

While I try to respond to as many as I can, I also quite often turn those email or comment answers into blog posts in and of themselves. When one person has a question, it’s likely that others are thinking the same thing—so I turn that one on one answer into something others can benefit from, too.

How do you kill two birds with one stone and use other actives to generate blog post ideas?

5 Ways to Never Run Out of Blog Post Ideas

This guest post is by Katy Farber of Non-Toxic Kids.

When I started Non-Toxic Kids four years ago, I had no idea I would never run out of things to write about. In all those four years of posting between three and seven times I week, I never struggled for more than a few minutes with a topic to post about.

Why?

Maybe it has to do with my tech-savvy mom who is constantly sending me interesting links to articles about current parenting and health issues.  Seriously, how lucky am I?

But I’d like to think it has to do with the fact that I need to know about these topics. They are common sense issues and concerns that I face as a parent, and a human being on this planet.

I offer these ways to find continual and unending sources of blog material, and they are all right in front of you.

Write about what keeps you up at night

I call it the common-sense blogging approach.  Just think about what matters to you.  What can you not stop thinking about as you fall asleep, or worse, when you wake up in the middle of the night? I can’t be the only one who does this.  What are issues that your colleagues, or people in your blog niche, are worrying about right now?

For me, one topic lately is what mattress we should buy for my youngest.  A conventional one, although cheaper, may contain harmful chemicals, but the safer ones are twice as much.  I’ve put off this decision for years. Clearly, this would be a great topic to explore and write up as a post, or series of posts.

Find your flow

You may need to find your source for perpetual ideas.  It’s a different place for each of us, but we can all find it.  For me it’s running. Once my feet fall into that repetitive pattern, my mind lifts.  The steady drumbeat of my heart, the calmness of being alone, the soft sounds of the woods slow my thinking.  Sometimes it’s only then I can access a place of creative ideas and problem solving.

I like to think of it as a river right above my head.  Flowing in it is every place I’ve ever lived, my childhood, dreams, fears, loves and ideas, all flying around at electrifying speeds.  If I don’t grab ideas, pull them down into the here and now, and onto paper or the computer, they are gone until next time.  Or some I might never find again.

That is where many of my ideas are born.  On a long dirt road in Vermont, the idea for my blog was born this way (can you hear the song?).

Where is your flow? Whatever it is—sewing, walking, rocking in a hammock, gardening—find where your ideas live and grab them before they get away like birds scattering in the sky.  Then grab your computer and write, bird by bird (to borrow an expression from one of my favorite authors, Annie Lemott).

What do you and your friends talk about?

Before I started blogging, I was constantly talking with my friends about parenting issues, and we eagerly shared ideas and troubling questions about the safety of products, and what we had success with. These early conversations and questions became the foundation of my blog, Non-Toxic Kids. I was doing the research anyway, in trying to find out what was healthy for my infant daughter.  All it meant was getting these ideas into posts and sharing them with other parents in my blog.

So consider, what topics do you discuss regularly with your friends? What do you need to know about, or want to know the opinions of others you trust?  This is gold blog post material, and it is usually right in front of you.

What makes your blood boil?

There are some topics that outrage us into action.  Some of my best posts were written after I learned about a new piece of legislation, action, or inaction, about an environmental issue.  These posts usually do well sitting at least over night—or even for a few hours—for a re-read. 

Posts written hastily in anger can have troubling effects but a post written from the heart about a current issue can make a difference and strike a chord with people. Here is one example of that; it’s a post I wrote after President Obama told the EPA to withhold new ozone (smog) air quality standards that would have saved thousands of lives.  It felt good to put that negative energy into something that could make a difference.

Write about how you wish the world to be

This is a bit harder, especially in our current economic and political climate. But we have to as Gandhi said, “Be the change we wish to see in the world.” Write about your dreams.  What do you see as how we can solve our most vexxing problems? What do you want to see in terms of our environment, local communities, human communication, education, etc.?

Write about it. Describe your vision. We need to hear from each other about how we might solve the complex problems facing the world.  Take on any issue, and describe the change you dream of seeing in your lifetime.  Or describe a small moment in your life that showcased how this change is possible. This is beautiful, optimistic blog material.

These are our ever-flowing sources of blogging material, because we are all constantly exploring what it means to be alive in this world, how we can live better, and help others and ourselves more fully.

How do you generate your blog post ideas?  Please share these in the comments. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Katy Farber blogs at Non-Toxic Kids.  She’s a teacher, author, and blogger who just released a new ebook, Eat Non-Toxic: A manual for busy parents and is the author of two education books, Why Great Teachers Quit and Change the World with Service Learning.

Why I Wrote the Kind of Book I Hate

This guest post is by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.

We all have pet peeves. Things that annoy us. Products that we would never spend money on. And things that we swear we’ll never do ourselves.

But sometimes, fate turns the tables on us. That’s what happened to me, and that’s why I ended up writing the kind of book that I usually hate.

Writing a book

Image copyright moshimochi - Fotolia.com

It’s all because of Derek Halpern. And Ana Hoffman, and Corbett Barr, and Brian Clark. Here’s what happened.

Building an engaged audience, from scratch

I’ve dabbled in the online world for a few years now, but my current blog is less than a year old.

Just like everyone else, we started with nothing—no traffic, no subscribers, and no followers. We had no post history, no comments, and no search traffic.

We had to build an engaged audience, from scratch.

But we didn’t know how, so we tried things. We ran PPC ads, but it was too expensive, and the traffic didn’t stick. We tried SEO, but that was taking too long to get results. We started tweeting, but nobody was really listening.

We were basically trying to learn by trial and error, and while that can lead to some really great and robust learning, it also takes waaaaay too much time for you to be able to build a business around it.

Then I realized something: I could outsource the trial and error!

Outsourcing to the world’s top audience-builders

When I say the word “outsourcing”, you usually think of people working for very low wages in developing countries.

You think about tasks that require a lot of repetition and systematization, like data entry, backlink building, and other dull and tedious tasks that we don’t want to do ourselves.

That isn’t the outsourcing that I’m talking about.

No, what I had in mind was a lot bigger.

I was going to outsource to the very best audience-builders in the world. They’ve already done the trial and error, right? I just needed to find out what they had learned.

I made a list of the top blogs that I read, and the top audience builders that I follow. Some were huge, established names, like Guy Kawasaki and Brian Clark, and others were much earlier in their audience-building, but were clearly bringing something special and unique to the table; people like Jk Allen and Stuart Mills.

I read what they wrote, and I watched what they did. I listened to their podcasts, attended their webinars, and took careful notes along the way.

Pretty soon, some patterns began to emerge…

Patterns of audience-building

The patterns that I started noticing were pretty simple. Here’s what most successful audience builders do:

  1. Have a clearly defined objective.
  2. Write great content.
  3. Put it on sites that people are actually looking at.
  4. Stay focused.
  5. Gather and share information that your audience wants.
  6. Build relationships.
  7. Express gratitude.

Simple enough, right?

Well, I wrote all those posts (which were all published here at problogger.net) while putting the same best practices to work for our blog, and the results were spectacular.

In less than a year, our traffic and subscriber counts have grown by several orders of magnitude, and today I’m recognized in much of the blogosphere as the Freddy Krueger of Blogging.

Something was still bothering me, though…

What about the other ways?

While observing what the audience-building superstars were doing, I didn’t just notice the patterns—I also noticed what seemed to be exceptions to the patterns.

There were lots of very successful audience-builders who did things very, very differently, and it worked for them.

So … was I doing things wrong? No. I was getting great results, so of course I wasn’t doing things wrong.

Then … were *they* doing things wrong? No, they’re getting great results, too.

So what was going on?

No one right way to build an audience

That’s when I really understood what I had already been told so many different times:

There is no one right way of building an audience.

There are lots of ways, and mileage will vary depending on your circumstances, experience, background, and personality. What worked for one audience-builder won’t work for another, and what worked for me might not work for you.

So, how do you know what to do? I mean, if you’re reading this, then you’re probably trying to build your own audience, and you want to know how to go about doing it. Am I saying that I can’t tell you, because even if it did, it wouldn’t help?

No, that’s not what I’m saying at all.

The patterns that are right for you

When I was watching all of those audience builders, I didn’t just notice the patterns of what was working—I noticed the patterns of what would work for me.

You could watch the same people do the same things, and notice different patterns—the patterns that will be right for you.

Why?

Because that’s what our brains are wired to do—notice the things that are relevant to us, and filter out the rest. But in order to do all that, first you need to see enough people doing enough things to actually notice the patterns.

That’s when I realized that I was going to write a book. And not just any book. This was going to be the kind of book that I hate.

The kind of book I hate

We all have books that like more, and like less. Some people like reading about philosophical discourse, some people like popular science, and some people like post-apocalyptic serialized fiction.

Personally, I like the kind of popular science or business book that delves deep into something and draws insightful conclusions. Some of the authors on my list of favorites include Malcolm Gladwell, Chip and Dan Heath, Steven Pinker, Clay Shirky, Marcus Buckingham, Dan Ariely, and others.

Their books are fascinating, and they all run hundreds of dense pages of thorough analysis and conceptual exploration.

None of them write books that are collections of articles or perspectives by various authors. I usually hate that kind of book; I find that they don’t get into any real depth, and you end up with a couple dozen articles all telling you more or less the same thing.

But I wanted to write a book that would give people the road map that they need to build their own engaged audiences. And to create this road map, I knew that I would need a lot of guides to point the way.

So I reached out to all the audience-building superstars that I had followed, and I asked them one simple question:

“If you had to build an engaged audience from scratch, how would you do it?”

It took a bit of time, but then the answers started rolling in. They were rich, and thorough, and many of them surprised me. They were even more diverse than I thought they would be, and every single one of their perspectives was useful and valuable.

The ironic thing is that I usually can’t stand this kind of book, but in this case, I think it’s the best book I could give to anyone who is looking to build an audience. The coolest part is that it isn’t even all that self-congratulatory of me to say so, because even though I “wrote” it, only about 10% of the 239 pages of great ideas were written by me!

But enough about the book. What’s the lesson here for you? Actually, there are two of them.

Lesson #1: One peak, many paths

The first lesson is the lesson that I learned when I set out to write the book, which is that there are many paths up the mountain, and many ways of reaching the peak.

This lesson comes with good news, and bad news.

The good news is that just because someone built their audience in a certain way doesn’t that you have to do the same; there are lots of other ways up the mountain, which means that you never run out of options. As long as you’re committed, and keep on exploring, you’ll find a way.

The bad news is that there isn’t any step-by-step plan that you can follow verbatim to get really great results; the bad ones just won’t work, and the good ones will have to be modified to fit your skills and situation.

The only way to find your own path is to study the paths that so many others have taken, and then chart your own course.

Lesson #2: Sometimes what we hate isn’t so bad

The second lesson is that you shouldn’t make blanket statements about not liking something, because every situation is different.

I don’t like reality TV, unless it happens to be about martial arts. My wife doesn’t like eggplant, unless it is pureed and cooked. And I don’t like books that are collections of articles, unless it’s the best way to share all this information about how to build an audience.

So don’t get too rigid about what you like and what you don’t—instead, think about what will work best to help you achieve your goals. And then go do it!

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, expert marketer, and the Freddy Krueger of Blogging. Together with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark and Mitch Joel, he wrote the book on how to build an engaged audience from scratch.

How to Avoid Legal Trouble, Income Tax Fines, and Penalties as a Blogger

This guest post is by Sunil of Extra Money Blog.

Making money online is no different than making money from any other type of business in that you have to abide by the same laws and regulations as any other business or citizen.

Many internet entrepreneurs fail to consider this and are later faced with severe fines and penalties from relevant governing authorities. Others face even more severe repercussions.

How do I know? I’ve had to help many get out from their terrible situations! See, I have a slight advantage. Not only am I a successful internet entrepreneur today, but I was also a CPA and financial consultant in my past life.

Tax time

Copyright Christopher Meder - Fotolia.com

Although I have no data to prove it, my theory is that many young entrepreneurs enter the online business space without fully understanding its nature and the laws and regulations one must adhere to in any for-profit activity.

The lack of awareness and knowledge is what leads most people to unforeseen unfortunate circumstances with the legal authorities.

Below are a handful of legalities to consider as you embark and progress in your journey of making money online. These are some of the most financially impactful in terms of fines, penalties, liability exposure, and money left on the table, yet they’re ones that are most commonly overlooked by bloggers and internet marketers.

Note that this post focuses on regulatory obligations under United States law.

Note: None of this should be construed as legal or tax advice. Consult your personal and paid accountants and attorneys before implementing any part of this discussion.

Legal incorporation

A business online is a business nonetheless. And any business can be sued for anything.  At the very least, it’s a good idea to ensure your personal assets are protected and “separated” from your business assets.

One way to do this by incorporating your business under a formal legalized structured such as a limited liability company (LLC).

Contractor pay compliance

In the United States, you are required to timely complete and file Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 1099 for each contractor hired if you paid them at least $600.

This is how the government tracks who is earning money from freelance labor. This is also how the government tracks whether expenses claimed as deductions are being claimed as income elsewhere. For example, when you claim a $600 business deduction, that is $600 less the government can tax you with. But they will expect someone else to claim the $600 so they can collect their fair share of tax revenue.

Quarterly Tax Installments

When you’re self-employed, the Government expects you to remit your anticipated self-employment taxes on a quarterly basis so that it can operate within its budget.

Rather than paying a lump sum tax amount at the end of the year, you are expected to pay taxes in four installments (one each quarter). The idea is to pay all your tax liability by the time year-end comes around.

It is always a good idea to overpay and then claim a refund rather than underpaying and having to pay fines and penalties. You don’t want to mess with rude Uncle Sam.

Business losses

If your online business generates a loss and you happen to have a full-time job and therefore get a W2 form at the end of the year, you may be able to deduct your losses from your wage income to reduce your overall tax burden.

For example, if you made $40,000 working in a job and lost $2,000 in your online business due to expenses such as paying someone to design a website, domain, hosting, email newsletters, etc., you can deduct the $2,000 from the $40,000, netting you a total of $38,000 in taxable income. This essentially reduces your effective tax rate.

Now you won’t get into trouble if you don’t do this, but it is to your benefit to claim your business losses as a deduction against your wage income. The IRS will not remind you of this, so be sure to capitalize on what you deserve.

NOL carry-forward

If you don’t have a full-time job, and your online company is all you’ve got, providing you have it incorporated appropriately, you can carry over losses from one year to another, future year, to offset your earnings.

This is called a net operating loss deduction in more technical terms. There are certain rules around how much you can deduct, when and how long you can carry over a balance in the future. Speak to your accountant for more information.

When must you consider these income tax legalities?

These legalities collectively can sound overwhelming, especially if you haven’t had to consider them before. That said, these are not prerequisites by any means to start blogging or an internet-based business.

You can wait until your online ventures become profitable before considering the legalities involved. It makes sense. Why go through all that planning, work and possible hassle for nothing? After all, a very small minority of online businesses make money and survive in the long term.

That said, it can’t hurt to meet with a tax professional and get familiarized with the law and your obligations when you decide you want to monetize your online ventures. In fact, I highly recommend that approach. At the very least, spend some time reading about the law and your responsibilities to avoid any surprises in the long term.

Subsequent to all that, it is important to stay organized and keep track of all income and expenditures from your online endeavors. Many bloggers scramble at the last minute to obtain this information when their ventures turn profitable and they have to pay taxes on those profits.

Staying prepared and organized ensures that you can comply with tax laws if and when you have to cross that line (when you become profitable).

And while the above considerations are the most impactful and commonly overlooked, the tax law is broader and varies from one jurisdiction to another. Therefore there may be nuances unique to each blogger’s home base or jurisdiction.  For these reasons collectively, it may be best for a professional blogger or internet marketer to consult with a tax accountant who is familiar with this industry when your online endeavors start turning profit.

Conclusion

Although these points specifically apply to the United States legal system, the general premise underlying this discussion is broad. In other words, every jurisdiction has its set of legalities, and it is important to understand what you are expected to comply with as an individual earning income in that jurisdiction.

Knowledge is power, so make sure you are equipped with the right information before you start any worthwhile endeavor, whether online or off, and avoid potential legal liabilities that may come your way.

You can prepare yourself by initially learning about tax laws and your responsibilities, and subsequently consulting with a tax professional when it comes time to pay Uncle Sam.

Did you think about these things before you dove into blogging for profit? What did or do you do to prepare yourself for tax compliance?

Sunil owns over a dozen profitable niche websites and is the author of “How to Go from $0 to $1,000 a month in Passive and Residual Income in Under 180 Days All in Your Spare Time“, a FREE report you can download instantly from his Extra Money Blog, where he discusses how to create multiple streams of passive and residual income, entrepreneurship, internet marketing, blogging and personal finance. In 2007, he sold his ecommerce website for $250,000 to a top Ebay Power Seller and since then has sold several niche sites for five figures each. You can read more about him and his work on his blog

The 10 Secrets to Making a Spellbinding Video Trailer for Your Next Blog, Book, or Product Launch

This guest post is by Jon Morrow of boostblogtraffic.com.

Okay, so not everybody is a natural-born Steven Spielberg.

You might like the idea of creating a trailer for your next launch. You might even believe it’s doable after reading this guide to creating movie trailers.

Movies

Image copyright Rafa Irusta - Fotolia

But is it reasonable to think you can be “spellbinding?”

Can little old you really make a trailer that connects with visitors on such a primal level it throws them into a frenzy to subscribe?

Are you really capable of making a video so jaw-dropping they want to tell their friends, creating a tidal wave of viral traffic for your new project?

Well … I won’t make any promises. For one, you probably wouldn’t believe me, and for two, spellbinding millions of people isn’t something anyone can do at the drop of a hat.

It takes work. It takes thought. It even takes (gasp!) a little bit of talent.

But it’s probably easier than you think.

Here are ten little strategies for making it happen.

1. Beware the technology

When you pop open a site like VideoHive, it’s easy to get hypnotized by all the jaw-dropping special effects, musical nuances, and limitless possibilities of what you can do with the technology.

But beware.

The secret to creating a great trailer isn’t special effects. It’s not music. It’s not even the great and powerful Adobe After Effects.

It’s story.

In my trailer, I told the story that I’m an up and comer respected by some of the biggest names in the industry. In Google’s Super Bowl commercial, they told the story of how Google is an integral part of a beautiful and constantly changing life. In the Lateral Action trailer, they told the story about how creativity is the new secret success.

Yes, the special effects and music and technology were important, but it all started with sitting down and writing the story. The reason we see so many big-budget Hollywood flops is directors routinely forget this fact and try to put the gadgetry first.

But it doesn’t work. Regardless of whether you are creating a video trailer, a book, a radio show, or a blog post, the story comes first. It always has.

2. Put your creativity in a box

Okay, so I’m a pretty creative guy, right? I understand the desire to do something new, to create art that uniquely represents your brand, to drive people to places they never thought they would go.

But you have to fit it inside a box.

With your trailer, for instance, you’ll be tempted to hire an After Effects designer to develop a trailer that better represents your brand. You’ll be tempted to believe you need to take an entirely new approach. You’ll be tempted to invent said approach all by yourself.

But don’t. Stick with a template that’s already created, or at the very least, confine yourself to a style of trailer that’s proven to work. You can still do amazing things; just do them inside of those limits.

Because, you see, real genius isn’t about reinventing the wheel. It’s about doing things with the wheel nobody ever thought of.

PS: Thank you Twyla Tharp for showing me this.

3. Forget about teaching anything

So, in your launch video, you need to give everyone all sorts of useful advice they can put into action right away, right?

Actually, no. Yes, giving away useful advice is an important launch strategy, but in your trailer, you don’t have time. If you use the Hollywood guidelines, you only have 30-210 seconds, and that’s only enough time to do one thing:

Create a bond.

You can’t show off your expertise. You can’t teach them a tip that will improve their life. You can’t give them a sample of what they’ll get inside.

But you can make them care. And if you trailer accomplishes that and only that, you’re off to a good start.

4. Deliberately manipulate people’s emotions

What’s the simplest way to create a bond?

Easy: manipulate people’s emotions.

Yes, there’s a dirty connotation to it, but there doesn’t have to be. Your date or spouse is deliberately manipulating your emotions when they put up candles for a romantic dinner, but we don’t care, because it feels good.

Same idea here. In your trailer, you can use your story, special effects, and music create a state of happiness, curiosity, expectancy, inspiration, or pretty much any other positive, enjoyable emotion.

It’s good for you, because it builds an emotional bond, and it’s good for them because you put them in a positive frame of mind. Everybody wins.

5. Decide who you want to be

When I told everyone how I got 1740 subscribers in only a week from my trailer, the response was both loud and predictable:

But that’s because you have quotes from Darren Rowse and Brian Clark! Not everybody can get endorsements like those!

And, well, that’s kind of the point. If everyone could get endorsements like those, it wouldn’t be as impressive, now would it?

But nobody said you have to take the same approach.

In my trailer, I consciously positioned myself as an authority on blog traffic. Maybe you want to position yourself as the:

  • nurturing mommy or daddy type who can help and encourage beginners
  • eccentric but creative genius who creates works of art
  • reformer fighting heroically for change.

All those positions can make people want to subscribe, and all require a different approach with the trailer. Not everybody has to be an authority, so if you’re not one, don’t worry about the quotes. Choose a style that fits your positioning.

6. Keep it under three minutes

If you’re using a trailer from VideoHive, this one isn’t an issue, because your template will determine how long your trailer is, but if you’re designing one from scratch or substantially modifying a template, here’s the rule of thumb on length:

Keep it under three minutes.

Yes, it’s possible to go longer, but you start to lose viewers, and it affects your subscription rate. Longer videos are fine for sales or training, where it’s necessary you educate the viewer, but in this case, you want to give them just enough to get them excited … and nothing more.

7. Autoplay the video

Okay, so saying this is going to get some people upset, but you’re reading this to learn how to craft an effective trailer, right?

Well, here it is:

Autoplay video works better than making people click play.

When visitors arrive on your trailer page, in other words, the video should begin playing automatically. Yes, it annoys some people, but marketers have tested the socks off this, and it gets a better subscription rate pretty much every time.

8. Eliminate all distractions from the page

If you look at my trailer page, you’ll notice it’s pretty stark. Just the video, a TV-style border, and the subscription box at the bottom.

Here’s why:

It keeps people focused.

If you put your trailer on a page with a sidebar and other blog posts and comments and tweets, your visitors are going to do everything but subscribe. They’ll get distracted, they’ll intend to come back, but then they’ll forget, leave, and you’ve lost them forever.

So eliminate the distractions from the page. If you already have a blog, set up a separate page with its own template, but under no circumstances put it in the body of a regular blog post. It will get a horrible subscription rate.

9. Tell them what to do at the end

This is one area where I disagree with Hollywood.

Normal movie trailers end with a cliffhanger or a quip or a snappy line of dialogue, fading to the logo and the film’s premiere date. They don’t actually expect you to remember the name or the date, of course. You’re just supposed to remember you like it and it’s coming soon.

And that’s fine, if you have $30 million to buy thousands of commercials, reminding people several times a day that your film is coming out, but if you’re a little guy, and you’re getting all of your traffic from word-of-mouth, it’s deadly. For us, it’s absolutely essential we get them to subscribe the first time they see the trailer, and to do that, we have to tell them:

Subscribe.

You can still have the cliffhanger or quips or snappy dialogue, and I do recommend inserting your logo somewhere in the trailer, but the ending must absolutely tell them to subscribe, and you need to do it in the strongest possible way. If there’s one thing I regret about my trailer, it’s having such a soft call to action at the end. It’s probably cost me hundreds of readers.

10. Be worthy of the hype

Now we come to the most important point of all.

The purpose of a trailer is to build buzz. The purpose of a trailer is to raise expectations. The purpose of a trailer is, bluntly, to hype your project.

But are you worthy of it?

All too often, the films we see trailers for are not. The trailer makes it seem uproariously funny, edge-of-your-seat tense, or satisfyingly lovey-dovey, but when you go see the movie, it’s just … terrible.

We feel betrayed. We feel lied to. We feel like marketers are evil scum buckets who will say anything to make a buck.

Many times, it’s true. But here’s the question:

Do you want to be that guy?

I don’t.

I want to go beyond what people could ever imagine. I want to enchant them. I want to create a little sliver of magic they carry with them until the day they die.

And it’s hard work. I’ve been working on my blog launch for … umm … three months, and honestly, it’s just getting started.

But it’s also worth it.

At the end, I’ll have tens of thousands of subscribers. At the end, I’ll have a business that will support me for years to come. At the end, I’ll have changed the lives of countless people.

You can too. You just have to make an uncompromising commitment to being worthy of your hype.

Do that, and you’re not a scam artist. You’re a hero.

And if you ask me, the world needs more of those.

Jon Morrow is also on a mission to help good writers get traffic they deserve. If you’re one of them, check out his upcoming blog about (surprise!) blogging.

5 Tips for Maximising Your Earnings from Amazon’s Affiliate Program During the Holidays

With the holidays almost upon us, now is a time for bloggers who are Amazon Affiliates to act to capitalize on what is usually one of the most profitable times of the year.

While Amazon is not my biggest source of income (it makes up around 5% of total income for me) it does spike at this time of year. Here’s how Amazon performed in 2010 and into the early months of 2011 for me.

amazon-earnings.png

As you can see, December is always the biggest spike in commissions for me, but November and January are the second and third highest earning months of the year.

Obviously the holidays are times when people are in a buying mood, and with all the holiday sales already under way, now is the time to act to maximize your commissions with Amazon if its an income stream you want to get the most out of.

Tips for maximizing Amazon commissions

So how do we get our commissions up in the coming weeks? Here are a few quick tips to start with:

1. Get people in the door

Okay, this isn’t rocket science, but the best thing about promoting products on Amazon is that it’s one of the best-optimized online retail stores. Amazon are known for testing their design and sales techniques and, as a result, if you get people in the door of Amazon.com, you’re well on the way to getting some commissions.

The cool thing about Amazon is that anything people buy once they’re in the door from your referral link will earn you a commission. So while you might suggest a book or a camera, if they end up buying a ride-on lawn tractor you’ll take a commission for that (don’t laugh—I sold one of those once)!

So drive people to Amazon and let the site do its work. Much of what I’ll outline below are some techniques to get people in the door.

2. Promote the sales

Amazon currently have a lot of sales going on. Black Friday sales are already underway and Cyber Monday sales will follow—in fact, in the leadup to Christmas there will be regular sales and promotions going on in most departments.

The key is to watch for what is currently on special and to be promoting the best of it. For example, in their photography department they have some great cameras on special including one that we use at our place—the Canon Powershot S95. I promoted it a couple of times on social media earlier in the week and saw several sales.

So keep a watch on what’s on sale in terms of products that relate to your niche. Choose the ones that will fit with your audience the best and promote them!

3. Bestseller lists

People love to see what other people are buying to help them determine what they should buy. There are many ways to utilize this in your own promotions on Amazon.

  • Use one of Amazon’s bestseller lists: Almost every type of product on Amazon can be sorted based upon what is selling best. For example here’s their Best Selling Digital Cameras and Gear list. You can refine these further to hone in on specific types of products, like DSLRs, Lenses, Point-and-Shoot Cameras.
  • Affiliate stats: Another way to create a bestseller list is to look at the stats that Amazon gives you as an affiliate to see what people have bought previously via your affiliate links. This will only work if you’ve referred a decent amount of sales, but it’s particularly useful if you do, because you can present the list as being the bestselling products in your community. That’s how I created the Popular Digital Cameras and Gear page, which is my top-earning Amazon affiliate page on dPS. I similarly do smaller focused bestselling lists like this one for lenses.
  • Surveys: Surveys are another way to create these lists. Survey your readers to find out what their favorite products are, and report back to them the results (example).

4. Buying guides

Another type of list post that readers love, and that converts well, is the “buying guide,” where you walk your readers through a variety of products of a certain type or price point. It’s like a list of mini-reviews of products that your readers might find useful.

An example of this that worked well for us last year was 15 Must-Have Photography Accessories under $25.

5. Hypotheticals

This one is a little from left field, but has worked well for me on two occasions (and I’ll be running it again in the coming days). On each previous occasion I gave my readers a hypothetical sum of money to go and spend on Amazon on cameras.

The challenge was to go and research what cameras they would buy from the Amazon Camera section and then to come back and report on the products they’d buy. The links to the section I suggested they go to were affiliate links (I also made some suggestions on cameras that they might like to look at) and in the days after the post went live commissions spiked.

Readers also loved the challenge—we had hundreds of people come back and share what they’d buy with their hypothetical money! Update: I’ve just posted this year’s hypothetical post here.

Other great techniques for making money during the holidays with Amazon

There’s a lot more tips and techniques to read on making money with Amazons Affiliate program. I’ll link to some more extensive articles below but wanted to highlight these five techniques because I think they particularly relate to this time of year.

Here’s some further reading from a series of posts on the topic. The tips are not specifically holiday-related, but will give you a great overview of how to make money with Amazon. They also contain a lot of tips that would be relevant to other affiliate marketing efforts.

When No One Knows Where You Are. Or Needs To.

This guest post is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

As you’re reading this, it’s 80º Fahrenheit and sunny with a light breeze. Not necessarily where you are, but somewhere.

That somewhere is where I’ve chosen to blog for a living. Most of the time, that means Las Vegas. Right now, this being November, it’s Maui. In other years it’s been Mexico or South Africa. I’m untethered from any particular location, and able to give value to my clients while neither shivering nor wearing layers. It’s a lifestyle that I’ve merely adopted, but that Jon Morrow seems to have perfected. Also, it’s a lot less expensive than you might think.

What motivates you? Yes, money, health, family, friendship, I get it. Those are all the universal answers. But what motivates you in particular? Spend a few seconds thinking of an answer, then keep reading.

For me, money and self-determination are motivating factors 1 and 1A. Following right on their heels is the avoidance of cold weather in all its dreary, cloudy, soul-crushing forms. I would gladly starve my children if doing so meant I’d get to live somewhere warm, and if I had children. I might hate winter more than I hate terrorism.

If the idea of blogging on your own terms (and closer to the Equator) resonates with you, understand that the demands on your time will increase. (That’s not a typo. I did mean “increase”, not “decrease.”)

What you need

In this post-industrial society, blogging has few physical demands. In addition to blogging, I run an advertising business. I write radio and TV commercials. You and I happen to be living in 2011, which means that all we need to be productive in certain fields of endeavor are a laptop, a power source, a word processor, and an Internet connection. Oh, and discipline.

If you can’t motivate yourself harder than any employer can motivate you, do yourself a favor and return to your 9-to-5 world before thinking about the remote blogging lifestyle any further. The distractions abound when you determine not only your own schedule, but your own workplace.

The problem with many people who aspire to blogging remotely but who can’t actually make it happen is that they forget one crucial component—“setting your own hours” really does mean setting your own hours. Not, “I’ll blog today, maybe Monday, depending on whether the mood strikes me and whether the fish are biting.” Rather, it’s “From 6:00 to 11:00 tonight, I’m going to apply myself as diligently as a new hire on his first day. I’m going to pretend a boss is watching me on camera. This is my probationary period.”

Remote blogging is a tradeoff, like anything else in life. There’s freedom, but with the concomitant temptation to slack off. With respect to the latter, you’re at a disadvantage to people who work in conventional office settings. Discipline is easy for them, because it’s forced upon them. They can’t take a five-hour lunch break when there are coworkers in the adjacent cubicles. They probably can’t put their feet up and watch TV when the mood strikes them. It’s doubtful they can work pantslessly, either.

Taking the plunge

As a practical matter, researching before you pack up and go remote is critical. One of my favorite working spots is the village of Playa Naranjo (Orange Beach) on the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica.

It’s bucolic, and it’s relaxing, but it’s miles removed from the metropolitan first-world bandwidth that many of us take for granted. Customer support is provided during inconsistent hours, and in a language I understand only the fundamentals of. That means that I have to allot slightly more time to my projects, and upload them in batches. It also means that if I want to travel any deeper into the jungle to look at toucans, I’d better do so on non-working days. But it can be done. It can all be done.

Don’t assume that ease of communication is correlated with human development, either. The fastest Internet connection I’ve ever enjoyed was on a free Wi-Fi network in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. (The Mongolians never had obsolete legacy equipment to dig up and work around, so they started with state-of-the-art.) Months later, my failed attempts to log on to a trusted Canadian network from a hotel a mere five miles over the U.S. border were met with lamentations and the gnashing of (my) teeth. And they charged $15 a day for the privilege.

The remote blogging lifestyle—and it is a lifestyle, more than it is an occupation—isn’t something you want to dabble in and then maybe reconsider. Yes, it requires you to make sure you’ll have the right tools at your disposal and readily accessible, but there’s more. Like finding and pricing a place to stay. And pricing your existing place on the rental market to see if the numbers can pencil out in your favor. They probably can, but it’s better to determine so before you make the commitment.

If you can somehow engineer the remote problogger lifestyle for yourself—and it took me plenty of trial-and-error before getting it right—most of your clients, coworkers and vendors will be disdainful. Fortunately, you won’t be able to hear them over the surf and the ukulele music.

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].

10 Productive Tasks You Should Be Doing On Google+ Right Now

This guest post is by Neil Patel of KISSmetrics.

Google+ had a hot start, but has since cooled down. For a lot of people, that means ignoring Google+. I want to warn you that is a bad idea.

Although the lights are on and it seems like nobody is home, trust me: there are people there. And they are the very people who can have a huge impact on your blog and business.

Why Google+ isn’t going anywhere

Google+ is designed to draw you away from both Twitter and Facebook. And in time, it could do this.

Yes, Facebook has over 800 million users. People like to state that number and then say “Facebook isn’t going anywhere.” Fair enough. But people do migrate. It happened to AOL. And it could happen to Facebook. In fact, former Facebook president Sean Parker says influencers are already moving from FB to Twitter and Google+.

That’s bad news for Facebook. But good news for you.

Of course I know that it’s important not to waste your time. So the following list of things that you should be doing on Google+ will keep you both productive and effective, not just entertained.

1. Create a stream of thought leaders

Because of the appeal of Google+ by many innovators, thought leaders, and early adopters, you have a lot of forward-thinking people hanging out in Google+ right now. As Robert Scoble said, “Google+ is for the passionate users of tech.”

Your mother won’t use Google+, but that guy who can help bring attention to your blog sure will!

Being early to the party, and it is still early, has its advantages, namely you are more visible to these thought leaders and are more likely to catch their eye. But before you start thinking about hounding them, look to what you can learn from them.

Can you imagine the power and creativity you can tap into if you created a Circle dedicated to thought leaders in marketing, a Circle dedicated to social media, to technology, to innovation, and to blogging?

2. Get circled by thought leaders

In the end, it’s not so much who you’ve circled in Google+. What matters is who’s circled you. Again, because it’s somewhat early, you can take advantage of the breathing room and get to know these people more intimately than you could on a crowded space like Twitter or Facebook.

But how do you get them to follow you? Here are some ideas:

  • Comment like crazy: Just like you would on a blog, you should leave thoughtful and useful comments on things that these thought leaders share.
  • Promote with precision: Everybody likes a little promotion, and when a thought leader sees you sharing his work, and even making meaningful comments about it, he or she is inclined to circle you.
  • Share your work carefully: If it makes sense and doesn’t feel pushy, share your own work when you comment.
  • Fill out your profile fully: People are more likely to follow you when you have a profile that is thorough and interesting. Do not neglect this. Besides, your profile allows links, photos, QR codes and more. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t use it to its fullest.
  • Post with particular thought leaders in mind: This seems like a no-brainer, but you should post meaningful content. Go a step further, though, and post with a particular thought leader in mind. If he happens to swing by your profile, he’ll see you have a lot in common with him and possibly circle you.

3. Use Google+ to source ideas

As you start to gain traction with these thought leaders and build a solid group of Circles, tap into all that knowledge and experience.

  • Post a provocative, thoughtful question: Ask people their opinions about technology, the future of social media, and design. Ask them what they think of a particular high-profile blogger’s position on a certain topic. What you are looking for is information to help you solve people’s problems.
  • Jot down ideas: As you follow the streams in your Circles, make sure you are keeping notes on things that you find interesting. You could find particular ideas for blogs or your own questions you want to ask.
  • Engage in thoughtful discussions: Occasionally take the time to challenge and drill down in the comments with a post somebody left in your stream. It’s worth the time to have a healthy debate. People will notice.

4. Collaborate with business colleagues

The Hangout feature of Google+ is for that person who is truly social. They not only want to hear your voice, they want to see you as well.

That makes it great for company meetings, conference calls, mastermind groups, ad hoc brainstorm sessions, or just simply hanging out. If your company has fewer than ten employees, or is even spread out across the nation or world, you can always connect everybody through hangouts.

And keep in mind that hangouts are meant to be loose, so bring your own drink, and remember that you can actually start a hangout on YouTube.

5. Manage large circles with Sparks

Think of Sparks as Google Alerts for Google+. Where the magic happens with this is when you track particular topics, then jump in to to share the content or make a comment.

This is a simple way to control large amounts of information, especially if you have a lot of people in your Circles. It also gives you the ability to interact on targeted subjects, lifting your profile as an expert.

6. Create smart custom Circles

When creating Circles, it’s possible to run into “Circle fatigue” where you might just throw up your hands and say “What’s the use?” But there is a very good argument for creating custom Circles.

Chris Voss, for example, created a “Commenter” Circle, which is a list of people who have commented on his posts in Google+ but are not connected with him. He then reciprocates with this group by commenting on their posts. It’s a great way to engage the power users!

7. Use it as a niche blog

Listen, I don’t recommend you pull a Kevin Rose and replace your blog with Google+. However, you should think about using Google+ as a place to share content geared to a particular, focused audience.

Perhaps you’ve been wanting to drill down in a particular area, but you’re fearful that doing so on your blog might scare away some of your loyal readers. Google+ is perfect for inviting them to join you.

For instance, say you are a web copywriter and your blog is centered on persuasion and conversion. While SEO is definitely part of your job, your audience might not appreciate you going down that path. Yet it’s definitely a subject you want to explore more and build some expertise in so you can broaden your business. The level of engagement you’ll get on Google+ is perfect for a tightly-focused group like this.

8. Use Hangouts as an educational tool

One way to start attracting more people to use Google+ is by inviting people to a Hangout in which you are going to teach on a particular topic.

For instance, you could teach a beginner’s guide on public relations through a series of Hangouts. Of course you’d make this free, but in time you’re audience will continue to grow, and so will your influence.

This way you are using Google+, your circle base is growing and you are actually creating content that you can turn into a podcast you could eventually sell one day.

9. Use Hangouts as a podcast tool

The Hangout feature in Google+ allows you to invite up to ten people to engage and chat via video. You can even turn this feature into a recording for a podcast. Let me show you the simple steps:

  1. Create a private Hangout for up to ten people.
  2. Make the video and chat private, but the viewing “public” so that people can watch but not engage.
  3. Record the video using a tool like Camtasia or Jing.
  4. Share the podcast!

What’s really cool about Hangout is that the camera view will follow whoever is talking. So it’s kind of like having a live producer directing camera shots, but it’s automatic.

10. Looking for a job

Lastly, possibly one of the most productive things you could do is look for a job—especially if you’re out of a job or not happy with your current one. And since there are so many like-minded people in the same space, your chances of landing the right kind of job goes up.

Here’s what you should do if you’re looking for a job on Google+:

  • Announce you are looking for a job: Write a simple post that tells everyone you are looking for a job. State what kind of job you’d like and make a brief mention of your experience. Then ask if anyone can help you out.
  • Ask for introductions: A great way to look for a job is to find companies that you want to work for and then contact them for positions. Well, with Google+ you can scan your circles and see where people are working. When you find a company you’d like to learn about, ask that person who works there if you could ask them a few questions and get a possible introduction to the hiring manager.
  • Host a relevant hangout: Invite some people to hangout to discuss certain trends about your industry or invite a thought leader for an interview. Let them know you want to pick their brains about their area of expertise. This is a great way to network.
  • Follow experts in your industry: Naturally, you should be following those people who matter in your industry. Go out of your way to be helpful to those people. Even offer to help them out.

How effective is online networking? Well, there are currently no numbers on Google+, but the number of people who find jobs online is about 2-5 percent. Regardless, online networking is still effective. According to the Wall Street Journal, 94 percent of people who found jobs did so by networking. That could be through family, friends and professional contacts.

So, it’s worth the effort of networking on Google+. You’ll never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll find!

Conclusion

Whether Google+ takes off or not, you can still use it to accomplish many productive and profitable things for your business. Besides, in the long run I believe that Google+ will play a large part in Google’s search algorithm, and when it does you’ll be ahead of the game!

What productive ways are you using Google+ to promote your business, your blog, and yourself?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.