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8 Blogging Lessons I Learned from Being Scammed by a Marketer

This guest post is by Chris The Traffic Blogger.

This past month my fiancé and I went to a wedding expo. No, I am not one of those guys who lets the girl run around and do everything for the wedding! So I was there getting sold on everything from limos to flowers, and watching marketing at its finest (and worst).

Most of the vendors practiced the art of scummy marketing—you know, making mediocre products look worth much more than they actually were. Even though I understood this, I fell for a marketing scam that ended up costing me initially $1600 and quite a few phone calls to my credit card company to get the transaction voided.

However, I’m not upset that I was scammed. The experience actually reinforced several things I have learned over the years about marketing, and I’m going to use the story of what happened to me to reinforce these core concepts with you. But before I get into the lessons I want to share, here’s exactly what happened to us:

We entered a raffle for a free honeymoon. When we were called and told that we were selected to win, my fiancé and I were ecstatic. We were told that we had to listen to a one hour seminar on pots and pans from the company and then we could collect our reward. That should have been red flag #1.

The seminar lasted two hours. Red flag #2. The pots looked amazing, but they cooked twice as long as they were advertised to cook when the saleswoman made chicken for us to try. Red flag #3. A quick internet search for the company in question came up with articles about how it was an expensive scam. That should have been the biggest red flag of them all!

Despite these red flags, my fiancé and I still bought the pots. Why? Because the saleswoman made the decision ours, and a no-brainer. It was only after we made the decision to buy that we found out she was lying to us, on everything from prices to quality of the pots.

So what did the saleswoman do that made us believe every word she said? What made us think that the all expenses paid vacation was really that, even though it would have cost us a couple hundred dollars in taxes and then enough fees to pay for a second vacation? I’ll show you in this post, but please keep in mind that the entire point is to use this marketing knowledge for good. You know: to promote great products and deliver on the promises you make, not rely on legal gimmicks and tricky documentation to confuse your buyers into buying mediocre products.

Every single day that you post on your blog, you are selling your audience on your blog’s value. Use the following information that I saw on display at the marketing seminar to improve the value of your website and your products.

1. Presentation matters

As you probably already know, the average person looks a fraction of a second at your site before deciding if they want to click away. Sometimes, they don’t even read a single word of your headline!

In this blink of an eye, your graphics are the only way to hold their attention. Having a really nice, eye catching graphic is essential to your blog’s success. Personally, I saw around a 30 second increase on the average time people spent on my first blog, once I had an eye catching graphic for the title.

2. Internet readers are a mix of skim and full readers

Some will just read your headlines and sub headlines before deciding if they actually want to read your paragraphs between them. Make an effort to create interesting headlines throughout your article, not just at the top. A mixture of bold and different sizes for your headings will also draw the eye to the information you want readers to focus on. Lists and numbers do this naturally and our brains want to read each and every bullet, especially if there’s an ounce of OCD in us!

The trick is to hit as many sense as possible in your audience. This is difficult to do online, as you are limited to just site and sound, but offline you can go for touch, taste and smell.

3. Relatability is huge!

I related quite a bit to the saleswoman who spoke to us at the seminar. She was from Jersey (I grew up going to the shore quite a bit) and had an awesome accent. She also grew up in a large family, played outside all the time as a child, and ate meals with her family every night. I related to this so much and this drew me into the experience by recalling memories of my past. I really felt like I had a lot in common with the presenter.

I don’t care if you talk about picking your nose as a child, do everything in your post to try to relate to your audience in any way possible.

4. Interesting facts really do make a difference

Saying something like, “X% of internet readers find facts interesting” goes a long way towards making people believe you are researching the information you present. If you actually do the research and come up with cool facts then readers will pay far more attention to your post.

Also, any fact about life that people ignore is going to have the same effect. For example, the lady at the seminar mentioned that ground meat in the supermarket appears to bleed red, but that’s dye because ground meat can’t bleed! In that moment, I actually admired the intelligence of the statement because I had never thought of that before. Do this to your audience as often as possible, as it greatly improves your credibility and will lock people into reading your entire article.

5. Laughter works

No matter how dry a personality you have, always attempt to incorporate humor into your posts. I don’t care if you have to steal cheesy lines from standup comedians, do as much as you can to make your audience laugh. It helps to hold their attention and keep them locked in throughout the experience of reading your blog.

What’s more, if your headline is funny, then people will pass your post around simply because of the headline! That will greatly improve the chances of someone new being exposed to your work.

6. Price points make decisions easier

In fact, having price points naturally makes people consider the consequences of buying, or rather, not buying your product. Here’s the strategy that the saleswoman used to sell her pots and pans to us.

  • Step #1: Pick a really expensive product that does work for what the audience needs.
  • Step #2: Explain why this product is way too expensive and unnecessary.
  • Step #3: Pick a really inexpensive product that is of low quality and can’t get the job done.
  • Step #4: Explain why this product is subpar for the job and will break, eventually costing you the same over time in repairs or repurchases as the expensive product.
  • Step #5: Show your product that is right between the two other price points.
  • Step #6: Explain why your product is perfect for the job and just the right price.

7. Selling is about never actually selling

By picking the right price points and products to showcase those price points, you create a decision for your audience. When done correctly, this decision is obvious and a no-brainer. Just as it was for us, buying pots for twice the price (or so we thought, it ended up being over four times) of a regular set of pots and getting a lifetime warranty on them seemed like a great deal. It made no sense for us as a young couple to pass up this opportunity!

You can create the same simple decisions for your audience and if you have a product to sell, I highly recommend that you make comparisons to cheaper/worse products and more expensive/equally useful ones. That way you can say that your product is of higher quality yet cheaper than what you would pay anywhere else for that same quality. If you do this, then your audience will not feel sold to; instead, they will feel like they are making a conscious choice.

8. Time limits create hype

By the end of the seminar we were on the fence about the pots, but being told that we only had ten minutes to decide if we wanted them made us buy them. Why? Because we had just been sold on the value of these pots for two hours, the presentation was wonderfully entertaining, and the price points made the decision a no brainer! Of course we bought them, and almost everyone else there did as well.

You can create hype with your blog, even if the purpose isn’t to make money. One great way to do this is to offer a special report by the next day that requires a subscription to your list to see it. In 24 hours I have increased my normal subscription growth by 50% doing this.

Each of these eight lessons rely on the previous one to work. As a blogger, these kinds of ideas create a template for your posts. If you start off with the first point and work your way down, you can create an awesome post that sells the audience by convincing them to make a decision. Most people want to skip all the way down to the deal, without taking the time to build a relationship with their audience. This could take months, weeks, days or even hours, but it rarely happens in a few minutes.

As an internet marketer and blogger, understand that people need to trust you before they will believe in your products and services. Even if you just want to get more subscribers, you need to first convince them that you are valuable. It’s no different than getting them to open their wallet!

If you have the opportunity, go to one of these scams and see how the salespeople target your emotions, sense and reason… just don’t bring your wallet!

Chris “The Traffic Blogger” writes to help bloggers learn how to drive traffic, build relationships and earn revenue through blogging. His most recent efforts have been on teaching others What to Tweet to get more followers and make money on Twitter.

Use Social Sharing’s True Motive For Better Traffic

This guest post is by Shakira Dawud of Deliberate Ink.

You’re getting regular traffic, but it’s flatlining. The regular crowd is still with you, but your subscriber base is fluctuating. And you’ve noticed you’re not being shared on social media very often.

If you were to ask, you’d hear all kinds of reasons why, but I guarantee you the basis of all of them is always personal.

There is no way around the adage, “People do business with people they know, like, and trust.” Your blog is serious business. So why is it we’re told not to take business personal (and business between friends is retold as the stuff of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado“), when every single business decision comes from a personal place?

You need that personal place to get the following and response you want from your readers. Find it and put it to work building your blog’s traffic in the following three steps.

Step 1: Complete the picture of your existing following

I’ll use Twitter as an example. I seldom follow people with just the hope they’ll follow me back (although that’s a reason, too).

I want to take part in their Twitter banter, find likeminded people, siphon useful information from their posts, get them to visit my blog, and build relationships I deem important. I unfollow only after I’ve lost hope of getting those things. Sometimes I lose hope sooner, sometimes later. I know I’m not alone in this.

If we don’t follow our followers, we’re blind to too many quality people who’ve made it a point to follow us. So make the most of your social relationships by finding the real and active people connected to you on each platform and reciprocating, before they lose hope in you.

Step 2: Unravel a “thread of discontent”

Start listening to your crowd closely. Watch the comments they leave on posts and blogs, and note what they share most often. In a recent post, Derek Halpern introduces the concept of the thread of discontent. He encourages being the “pebble dropped in the pond” by creating “ripples” in the standard.

Derek’s point is well taken. But before you become a pebble, I advise that you pick up that thread and unravel it to its origin. I bet you’ll find it’s ultimately a personal one. Something based on their values, beliefs, or experiences. You may even find more than one thread. Once you find out what it’s made up of, hold onto it. Now it’s time for the final step.

Step 3: Provide content they want—but not like you have been

“That’s all you got?” you’re thinking. “Lady, I’ve been creating content out the wazoo, every day for months–and it ain’t too shabby, either!”

No, that’s not all. Let me explain with an example.

Listening in on a webinar for email marketers, I noticed the presenter played up the rivalry between marketing and sales departments. He dotted his discourse with pointed statements like: Salespeople are only interested in their numbers, not our strategy… They asked for all the hot leads we could get, and then let them go cold… So much of our hard marketing work is wasted on the sales end.

On the individual level, marketing employees who’d been frustrated by salesepeople were remembering those feelings of futlity, concern for their careers, and even a bit of self-righteousness. You can be sure he had our undivided attention when he explained how we could refine our strategies to build the credibility of our numbers, and waste less time and energy—in spite of those pesky salespeople. This was personal.

Superglue-strength loyalty

So you see, to be worth sharing, you can’t just deliver consistently high quality content. You don’t have to rock the boat (although it will give you quite a boost). You do need to produce content that provides the value readers can carry out with them in a package that confirms their personal reality.

Subscriber loyalty will grow to superglue strength, and what you write will demand to be shared with more and more likeminded people. Without any further ado, perfectly targeted, better traffic will pour in.

How have you used these ideas to your advantage? Can you share any examples?

Shakirah Dawud is the writer and editor behind Deliberate Ink. Based in Maryland with roots in New York, she’s been crafting effective marketing copy as a writer and polishing many forms of prose as an editor since 2002. Clients in many fun sizes, industries, and locations reach her through the Web.

The Anatomy of a Better Blog Post

The last couple of weeks have turned up some valuable blogging advice for those who are working to hone their craft and become better blog post writers.

Not everyone falls into this category—some bloggers are happy with the way they write. Others publish videos or sound files instead of text. And that’s fine.

But for the rest of us, I wanted to put together a little roundup of advice on each of the parts of a text-based blog post.

  1. 4 Post Headlines that are Guaranteed to Get Readers Excited
    This post by Greg Ciotti was published here at ProBlogger late last year. It has some great ideas to help you focus as your writing headlines, and produce really compelling titles.
  2. 10 Tips for Opening Your Next Blog Post
    I designed this post to help you overcome Opening Line Paralysis (OLP)—something I suffer from often!
  3. How to Write Irresistible Blog Intros
    In this post, Andrea Wren analyses possible introductions, providing a different perspective that I found valuable.
  4. How to Write a Great Paragraph
    Tackle the techniques of great paragraphs with James Chartrand. This post is a great one for any blogger who wants to keep readers glued to their posts.
  5. 5 Tips for Creating a Truly Valuable Tutorial
    Sharpen your skills in writing tutorials and how-tos with this straightforward ProBlogger guide.
  6. Finding Truth in Fiction
    Andrew Dubinksy’s post about the power of story, which was published on Jeff Goins’s blog, is guaranteed to help you bring life to the story you tell in your next post.
  7. How to Use Images in Your Blog Posts
    Karol K covers all the basics of using images to accompany your text content, so even if you’re not technical, this guide’s perfect.
  8. 8 Quick Tips for Writing Bullet Points People Actually Want to Read
    I found Robert Bruce’s Copyblogger article very interesting. I’ll be trying some of these tips myself—who wouldn’t? Great advice.
  9. Is Your Link Text Letting You Down?
    Here, Georgina explores a few different ways you can include links within your blog posts.
  10. 7 Powerful Ways to End Your Next Blog Post
    Of course, today we published Ali Luke’s advice for wrapping up a post—great ways to avoid having your post trail off into nothing.

Have you seen a great article on crafting quality blog posts recently? Help us build this list by adding it in the comments below.

7 Powerful Ways to End Your Next Blog Post

This guest post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.

You know your title has to hook readers.

You know your first line needs to keep them reading.

The start of your blog post matters. But so does the end.

In fact, without a powerful end to your post, all the work that you put into the title and paragraph one is wasted. Because the end of your post is what keeps your readers coming back for more.

Here are seven powerful ways to end your post.

1. Sum up your key message

Sometimes, you need to hammer a point home. The final few lines of your post are a great opportunity to make sure that your key message gets across.

If you can, bring out a new point—or sum up in an engaging way. If you just rehash what you’ve already said, readers will wander off, bored.

Example:

To write 100 books (75,000 words per book) over the next 30 years, you need to be writing 1,000 words per day (writing five days a week, 50 weeks per year). At a brisk but comfortable pace, that’s an hour a day.

If you want to write 100 books in the next ten years, that’s 3,000 words a day.

Being prolific is closer to possible than you might have believed.
—David Masters, Writing Secrets of Prolific Authors, Write to Done

2. Encourage the reader to take action

Many blog posts are full of excellent advice, but how often does that advice actually get put into practice?

Readers love posts that are practical, and if you can persuade them to do something (and see the benefits) then they’ll be much more likely to return to your blog.

Example:

But in the meantime, here’s a tip you can use right away. You’ll have vastly better copy on your website in 20 minutes by following these two simple steps:

Go look at your web copy right now.

Take out every word that doesn’t contribute something new.

Come back here and tell us about the before-and-after. I bet you’ll have something to say!
—James Chartrand, Do You Have Useless Website Content?, Men with Pens

3. Ask the reader to share your post

If you want more tweets or Facebook shares, ask for them. Readers won’t always think of sharing your post, and they may not notice that you’ve got a “retweet” button waiting—unless you tell them.

You might also want to encourage readers to forward a post to friends: unless you’re writing for a predominantly techy audience, there’s a good chance that a lot of your subscribers are getting your feed by email.

Example:

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!
—Ali Luke, How to Have Confidence in Your Writing – and Yourself, Aliventures

4. Link to another useful resource

When readers finish one post, they’ll often be ready to read another on a similar topic. If you’ve written an inspirational piece, for instance, it’s a great idea to link to a practical guide that helps readers turn that inspiration into action.

You don’t need to link to blog posts, either. Pointing readers towards newspaper articles or books in your field isn’t just useful—it also helps demonstrate that you’re on top of what’s happening in your niche.

Example:

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy these posts inspired by art:

  • Writing as an emerging sculpture: Inspiration from Michelangelo’s slaves
  • 15 ways modern art galleries can inspire writers

—Joanna Penn, 7 Lessons For Writers From Leonardo Da Vinci, The Creative Penn

5. Ask a question to encourage comments

Questions work well in titles and first lines—and they’re also a good way to end a post. Asking a question for readers to respond to (e.g. “do you any tips to add?”) is likely to increase the number of comments you get.

Don’t go over the top with questions, though: one or two are usually enough. You don’t want your readers to feel bombarded with a whole string of questions.

Example:

Did you find some great strategies of your own in the videos? What are the exciting ideas informing your own marketing—and how are you implementing them?

Let us know in the comments.

—Sonia Simone, 3 Content Marketing Ideas You Should Steal from Coca Cola, Copyblogger

6. Tell readers what’s coming next

If you want people to subscribe to your blog, or to keep visiting the site for updates, you need to let them know that you’ve got good stuff coming up.

At the end of your post, let readers know what’s coming tomorrow (or next week). You might simply drop a hint like “I’ve got something big to announce next week…” or you might tell them to stay tuned for a more advanced post on a similar topic to the one they’ve just read.

Example:

Next week I’ll post about moving larger WordPress sites. Those might not work with this method because your export XML file will be too large, and you might not be able to upload it via the WordPress import feature.
—Daniel Scocco, How to Move A Small WordPress Site Via the Import/Export Tool, DailyBlogTips

7. Promote your product or service

Even though you might have information about your book/ebook/ecourse/etc. in your sidebar, some readers won’t see that—they’ll either be reading in an RSS reader or they simply won’t notice.

The final line of your post is a great place to let readers know about your product (or to remind them that it exists). This works especially well if your post has been on a similar topic—for instance, if you’ve written about procrastination and you’ve got an ecourse on getting things done, there’s an obvious link between the two!

Example:

Also, check out our Blogging for Beginners Series for more blog tips and ProBlogger the Book for a comprehensive guide to improving your blog and deriving an income from it.
—Darren Rowse, 10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog, ProBlogger

Which of these tips would work well on your next post? Leave a comment below to tell us what you’ll be trying out…

Ali Luke is a writer and writing coach, and blogs for a number of large sites. If you’re struggling to keep up the motivation to write for your blog, check out her post on Six Common Writing Excuses (And How to Overcome Them).

How Gordon Ramsay Can Increase Your “Expert” Value by 23,900%

This guest post is by Amy Harrison of Harrisonamy.com.

To the public, not all experts are created equal.

What’s more, this division exists in all industries, and in every blogging niche.

And it’s not just about working harder, or longer than other people. It’s about knowing how to rise through the ranks of the expert “hierarchy.”

To illustrate, consider for a moment the difference between a chef in a restaurant, a head chef in a five-star restaurant, and then Gordon Ramsay.

In reality, they could have the exact same cooking abilities, but in terms of perceived value, you’re looking at an annual wage of: $30,000, $100,000 and … $24million.

Between the head chef and Gordon Ramsay, that’s an increase of 23,900%

This might seem like quite a leap, but when you understand the following five rungs on the expert ladder,  you’ll see how your own value can change dramatically in the eyes of your audience.

1: Generalist (the fry cook)

Most start out as generalists in their careers. In chef terms, this is like a fry cook. You can cook a number of different meals, but could be replaced by someone with little training and experience.

Your blog is on this level if:

You’ve just started and are still finding your blogging voice. You might cover a variety of topics, or taking a general view of a wide subject such as health and beauty or finance.

You’ll notice other bloggers writing about your subject and may be struggling to get your content shared and traffic to your site.

This is your starting step, and the launch pad of your expert journey. If you want to start standing out though, you need to move to the next level which is…

2: Specialist (the vegan chef)

Here you have a more focused area of expertise, for example a chef who only creates vegan meals. This specialist view means that when it comes to vegan cuisine, we value this level of expert more than the fry cook.

Your blog is on this level if:

You’ve drilled down your blogging topic to a more specific niche, such as skin care routines to help with acne, or how to get the best deal from credit cards.

By covering a smaller topic, your blog content has a more consistent theme, and you’re able to make points which are more in-depth and of greater value to your audience. You’re less overwhelmed by what other generalist bloggers are writing about and more aware of what topics fit into your niche, and what don’t.

This is where some bloggers stay, yet it’s only the second rung on the expert ladder.

You can continue to increase your expert value by moving to the third stage which is…

3: The certified specialist (the five-star restaurant chef)

People love credentials.

A certified Executive Chef has a competitive edge over someone with only “hands-on” experience.  They might both know how to cook a great steak, but when a Michelin starred restaurant is hiring, who do you think they pick for the position (and handsome compensation)?

Your blog is on this level if:

You have relevant qualifications within your topic AND you are displaying them on your blog, letting readers know your certified level of expertise.

If your goal is to prove your expertise to your audience, don’t underestimate the value of a sign that says “Approved by the Board Of…” and “Certified Specialist in…”

After that, you’re ready for the fourth stage of expertise.

4: Expert authority (the food critic)

Expert authorities invest time creating more in-depth studies and publishing the results. They may also have a firm stance on issues within their niche (which may or may not be controversial).

This is like a chef who has spent a year travelling to produce a guide to the top seafood restaurants, or written a paper on the effect of global warming on seasonal food production. Others can then access this information as a “shortcut” to answers without having to do the research themselves.

Your blog is on this level if:

You have published an in-depth white paper, ebook or series of articles. You may choose to focus on a recent trend in your industry, or some controversial news, or to simply create a “shortcut” to a more complex matter.

For example:

  • a white paper on why native plants should be encouraged into any garden
  • an ebook about how changes in financial legislation will affect home owners
  • a series of articles explaining a complicated news topic such as the SOPA bill.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, if you do the research others don’t want to (e.g. the top 100 free resources for web designers) you will gain an authoritative status.

From there, we move to the final rung of the expert ladder which is:

5: All of the above, plus celebrity status (Gordon Ramsay)

The highest level of being an expert comes with celebrity status. This is about being the go-to person within that niche.

Millionaire Chef Gordon Ramsay has 13 Michelin Stars, has published 21 books, has a controversial, outspoken style, and is featured in his own TV shows.

An extreme example? Perhaps, but if you’re passionate about your subject, why not strive for the highest level of expertise? Reaching this level takes hard work, but it might be the hard work people in your industry aren’t doing.

Warning: You cannot build celebrity status without having anything to say, or being properly qualified on your subject. You might see many bloggers shoot to fame seemingly overnight, but the ones that stay at the top are the ones who have mastered their art and skills for years.

Your blog is at this level if:

You are consistently producing and promoting content based on your expertise.

Some of the tools bloggers have used to achieve a celebrity status include:

  • “out of the box”  ways of getting online attention
  • offline speaking at conferences
  • guest posting regularly on other blogs
  • writing for trade publications or magazines
  • pitching for interviews on other websites
  • pitching your side of a current news story to media outlets
  • writing regular books or ebooks
  • holding regular events for example webinars, seminars and teleseminars
  • hosting your own online TV show
  • having a regular radio podcast.

Achieving this level as a blogger means you expand your audience and attract people who are willing to pay more to work with you, not just because of what you are trained to do, but because they get access to you.

What do you think? Who do you see as other experts in your industry, and can you see how they’ve used different tools to increase their value to their audience?

Next have a look at where you are and see what you can do get to the next level of blogging expertise!

Amy Harrison is a copywriter and content marketer for Personality Entrepreneurs wanting to connect and sell authentically to their audience. You can now download her free report on how to write sales copy when personality is part of your business at Harrisonamy.com.

Cash In by Paying for Guest Posts

This guest post is by Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing.

If you’re looking for a way to grab attention for your blog and grow your income, I’ve had great success with this one: I pay writers.

Since May 2011, I’ve been paying $50 for guest posts on my blog. I started paying because my mission is to help writers earn more, and I needed to walk my talk. I usually buy two or three posts a month.

I thought it would just be a cost I’d have to cover every month. But paying for guest posts has turned out to be one of the most powerful strategies I’ve found for building my blog into a money-earner. My number of subscribers has doubled in the months since I started to pay.

I know—you’re here to learn how to make money with your blog, not spend it!

Fair enough. But I’ve discovered investing a little money in your content can be an affordable way to draw that big audience you’ve been trying to coax over to your neck of the virtual woods.

Here’s how paying for guest posts helps my blog succeed:

  1. It changes your attitude. When you start shelling out $100 or more a month for content on your site, it constantly reminds you why you have this blog: it’s a business. You’re investing in your business so it can ultimately earn you money. When your business has overhead, you get focused very quickly on how to earn enough to cover your costs.
  2. Quality goes way up. You get a lot of submissions when you wave a few bucks in writers’ faces. This means instead of begging and scraping to find guest posts when you need a writing break, you can pick and choose the posts you accept. You end up with better posts, and that attracts more readers.
  3. You are news. Offering pay in the blogosphere right now can get you some free press and valuable backlinks on popular sites, too. My blog has turned up in several widely read list posts about paying markets, such as this one. These are great traffic drivers whose effects can last for months.
  4. Word spreads like wildfire. In a world jammed with starving, out-of-work writers, the news that you are willing to shell out even $50 for a blog post gets you a lot of attention. Set up your writer’s guidelines to recommend writers subscribe to learn about what your readers like, and it can drive signups and grow your list.
  5. You learn and improve. Instead of just slapping up whatever half-baked ramblings would-be guest posters send you, you start editing and polishing. You ask for rewrites, because you want your money’s worth from the post. It’s an opportunity to help other writers improve their craft and do some giving to your community, as well as a chance to hone your editing skills. Who knows? You could find a gig editing another blog off that experience. You also gain exposure to new ideas and approaches to writing on your niche topic that can help improve your own posts.
  6. It builds your reputation. We all know trustworthiness is a critical factor in whether visitors decide to subscribe. When you pay for content, readers sense you are the real deal. After all, you’re putting money down to bring them valuable content.
  7. It’s a good marketing value. My experience is that paying for posts is more cost-effective than other forms of paid online advertising you might use to promote your blog. You could easily blow $100 on Facebook ad click-throughs and not get as good-quality new subscribers as you do when those paid guest posters tell all their friends to check you out.
  8. You make raving fans. When I look at who retweets everything I post—the people on Twitter and Facebook saying things like “@TiceWrites is a genius! Read her awesome post right now”—they are often writers who have previously guest posted on my blog. Pay a writer, and you earn their undying gratitude. Months after their guester, I see many writers out there, continuing to mention my blog.

Paying writers helps you grow a network of enthusiasts around your work. Then, when you have a paid product to launch, you’ve got a ready-made group of devotees ready to buy it, review it, affiliate-sell it—or just plain spread the word.

What tactics have helped grow sales on your blog? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

Carol Tice writes the Make a Living Writing blog, and serves as Den Mother of the Freelance Writers Den, the learning and support community for freelance writers looking to grow their income.

Why My Blog’s Doing Okay: 3 Unexpected Answers

Yesterday we were talking about how benchmarking your blog and your performance against those of others only goes so far to give ou an idea of “how your blog’s going.” As I said then, looking at others—other people, other blogs—even subconsciously for an indication of where you and your blog sit isn’t usually very helpful.

I said then that today I’d give you some examples of areas where I think my blogging’s doing okay—things that have less to do with stats and revenues than they do with how blogging fits into my life. Here are a few of those things.

Balancing baby

Those who follow me on Twitter or Google Plus know that my wife and I had our third child in 2011. Suddenly, we had three children aged 5 and under in the house, which is also where I work. We bloggers don’t really get nice benefits like paid parental leave, so the arrival of our third son was definitely going to be a challenge.

I had built a close team in the months before my son’s birth, and while that took some of the pressure off, at the same time, it added different responsibilities to the mix. Even though I had a lot of help with my blogs, I couldn’t just drop everything when my new son arrived home.

As you’ll know if you’re a parent, you can never quite tell how a new baby will change the household dynamic. Life is unpredictable, and as bloggers, our incomes rely solely on our motivation and ability to keep pushing, day in, day out. Also I was very fortunate in that my new son is a pretty good sleeper and into a routine quickly, and my two older sons adore him.

But the comparatively smooth addition of a new person to my family was, in part, supported by my blogging. My flexible schedule, and the freedom to plan events so that I could keep the period when the new baby was due clear of product launches and other commitments, allowed me to be fully involved at this really important time for my family. That makes me feel pretty good about my blogging, and the way it works to support the other goals and things I value in my life.

Working with others

Expanding the team I work with has also been a great experience in a number of ways. As I mentioned above, it helped me manage work when my new son arrived, but there are other aspects that are working well too.

Firstly, I enjoy working with my team members. Anyone who’s ever partnered up with someone, or even hired a team member, will know that these things don’t always work out. But in this case, my blogging has necessitated that I team up with some good people who really work well together, and that’s been both enjoyable and satisfying in itself.

By working together, we’ve also been able to create more opportunities for others—other bloggers, photographers, and so on—through events like the ProBlogger Training Day, which was much bigger, and more helpful and valuable this year, as a direct result of team work.

In effect, my blogging has let me do more with, and for, great people—so in that regard, too, I think my blog’s doing okay.

A better understanding

Recently I ran the ProBlogger Census. This project gave me and my team a great insight into where you, our readers, are at with your blogs, where you need help, and what interests you. It sounds simple enough, and running a reader survey isn’t rocket science, but the quality and depth of the responses we received was extremely valuable.

This research really let me get a clearer picture of the people I’m here to serve (that’s you!). It gave me ideas, inspiration, motivation, and energy—four things every blogger needs, and some of the things I live for as a creative type of person. It also highlighted some areas that I could do better which has already allowed me to make some changes (and prepare for and plan others) that are of benefit to my audience. It’s empowering to be able to help others in a productive way, and to engage with them personally about that exchange.

Again, this experience made me feel like my blogging’s going well not just in and of itself, but in terms of its role within my life and the potential it’s giving to me and others.

As I hope you can see, none of these examples relates to any other blog, or involves any sort of “benchmarking.” While comparisons can have their place, when you’re looking at how your blog’s doing, why not focus more heavily on these kinds of personal aspects? After all, they’re the ones that will keep your passion for blogging—and life—alive in the long term.

How to Systematically Build a Mountain of Links

This guest post is by Neil Patel of Quick Sprout.

We’ve all been taught to create high-quality content to attract links. This argument is usually stated in the context of a blog that basically becomes an authority where you start to build a following around consistent, fresh content—think big sites like Problogger or Boing Boing.

This is not the technique I’m talking about.

Today, I’m talking about a link-building technique that’s bigger, better and quite possibly able to put you on the map faster than you would ever imagine. I’m talking about building a linkable asset—something you do by following the steps I’m about to describe.

First, let’s define “linkable asset.”

What is a linkable asset?

A linkable asset is a piece of content that is responsible for driving lots of links to your site. It could be an infographic that you update every year, but it’s usually much bigger and complex.

The Feltron Report is an annual report that’s like an infographic on steroids. It’s more than likely you’ve heard of the Felton Report. Its personal data from the life of Nicholas Felton, a designer and data guy, who’s been cranking out these reports since 2005.

SEOmoz’s Annual Ranking Report is another annual report that is a linkable asset.

Distilled’s SEO Guide to Creating Viral Linkbait and Infographics and Smashing Magazine’s The Death of the Boring Blog Postare also linkable assets.

Sometimes these assets are a simple widget like Bankrate’s millionaire calculator or egobait like the Ad Age Power150.

What’s in a linkable asset?

These assets create a mountain of links back to the site, which means more traffic and jolt of exposure to your brand or blog that never dies. But they aren’t easy to create. They take planning, time and at least four or five of the following elements.

It targets a broad market

The first step in creating a linkable asset is to identify your audience. It must be massive because small, niche markets will cause your asset to fail.

You don’t have to think about your general customers. When I’ve worked on these projects, here’s how I’ve thought through the massive audience I need:

  1. Human beings.
  2. Men and woman.
  3. Men in the United States.
  4. Men in the United States who like movies.

You don’t need to get any narrower than that. In fact, “men in the U.S. who like movies” is probably a little narrow. So I might try a small test on an audience made up of “men and women in the U.S. who like movies.”

Here are other ideas you could target:

  • Special interest groups: Republicans, Australians, gun owners or commuters all share a common pain point that you could address in a linkable asset.
  • One-time events: Think 9/11 or the historic significance of Obama’s election.
  • Holidays: Linkable assets tied into holidays like Easter or Hanukah seem to work pretty well.
  • Basic survival stuff: Anything that impacts water, safety, food, or gas consumption.
  • Predictions: Using data that points to a credible conclusion about a possibly good or bad outcome is good linkable content.

It addresses a pain point in a vacuum

What I mean by “addresses a pain point in a vacuum” is that your linkable asset will truly take off if you hit upon a topic that nobody else is addressing.

Beginner guides in new and emerging fields are good examples of this, as are “ultimate guides” that fill a space that is empty. The Authority Rules guide put up by Copyblogger is a free resource that filled an empty pain point, especially in a way that people weren’t entirely clear they even had.

You can hunt down some great data for linkable asset idea if you monitor these three sites:

Keep in mind that addressing a pain point is not an easy task to pull off because there tends to be a lot of competition in a given field to meet a pain point. That’s why you’ll see rushes to create the ultimate guide when the latest social media tools are released.

Mashable created an infographic called Global Internet Traffic Is Expected to Quadruple by the Year 2015:

This piece addresses an obvious need of companies looking to expand and grow—the infographic gives them they have some ammunition to justify their decisions.

We could learn a lesson from this infographic, since it is prediction-based. Even though that prediction is a few years out, the data is truly what is really important, but that is likely to change over time. The market may actually grow even larger, or shrink for some unexpected reason. You just don’t know with predictions, but in general they make for good social sharing.

It delivers evergreen content

In order to ensure that your linkable asset delivers content day in and day out, every year, make sure you choose a topic that will not go out of fashion in a couple of months.

For example, a prediction-style linkable asset usually doesn’t make the best example, because that content will go out of date eventually. Or they may even backfire if your prediction doesn’t come true. It will work well, however, if your prediction comes true, or if you can continue to update it every year.

Here are some examples for evergreen content:

  • Annual report: The reason the Feltron report works even though it is not evergreen content is that it is updated every year and placed upon the same link as the other reports. The same is true about SEOmoz’s annual ranking reports.
  • Guides: The guides that I mention above by Distilled and Smashing Magazine provide evergreen content in the form of “how-to” guides. Everybody needs this information and will for a long time.
  • Widgets: Pretty much as long as there are human beings there will be a desire to be rich…or at least to know how long it would take you to become a millionaire. That’s why the Bankrate calculator has been around for a while and will continue to generate traffic.
  • Tools: The classic example for a broad tool that is evergreen is Google’s keyword research tool.

It must be branded

At the end of the day, your linkable content must be about your brand. But more than just announcing your brand, it must be done in such a way that promotes adoption after someone reads, watches or uses it.

For example, my company announces that our survey tool is “Powered by KISSinsights.”

That’s the exchange we make for allowing someone to use the tool for free. You’ll also see copy that reads “Get this widget,” which helps promote the adoption and spread of the tool by encouraging people to embed it in their site.

This is what standard infographic branding element looks like:

But as you probably know, branding doesn’t end with a simple tag line that lets the consumer know the linkable asset is from you. You also have to make the design stunning.

Good graphics matter! Here are some simple tips to help your linkable asset great-looking:

  • Create a seductive headline combined with a graphic above the fold that stops the reader cold.
  • Put custom-made graphics throughout the linkable asset that are special to it. This will carry the eye of the reader down the page and further brand it.
  • Use graphics-based headers.
  • Break out of the typical blog template and use a format that is shocking or unexpected. Boston Globe shares pictures that are at 900 pixels wide.

It’s promotable to webmasters

When you create that linkable asset, you have to market it. It’s not true that if you build it they will come. Successful assets are given a big push by their creators, namely through emails asking if you will share the content.

That means that content must have zero commercial value, and a positive upside for you.

I’ve gotten requests from asset creators letting me know that they are about to let a piece of content “go live” and I and a select few have a privilege of leaking it early.

This strategy works because I like the idea of getting in front of the flood, because if you are viewed as one of the original promoters, you are likely to get a lot of the early links to your site via “hat tips.”

By the way, when you are pitching to webmasters, create a headline that is newsworthy. Webmasters love content that carries a feeling of cutting-edge news.

It’s easy to share

Nowadays most everything is pretty easy to share because you can build sharing into the assets—like buttons, for example, that share the content immediately.

What truly creates a linkable asset that’s easy to share is allowing the content to be embedded so people can share it on their own site, rather than just linking to it.

Creating a badge for accomplishing some sort of task is another great example of linkable asset that is spread by embedding the code. For instance, once you “finish” Distilled’s link bait guide, you can grab a badge that shows off your new knowledge:

Monitoring your linkable asset

The wonderful thing with these assets is that you can leverage their appeal throughout the year, or even over years. But you can’t know how they’re doing if you don’t monitor them.

Follow the progress of your asset by using these tools:

With these tools, you can keep tabs on where your asset is traveling across the web, and then make sure it’s linked correctly. If the link is broken, follow up with the webmaster to ask to have it fixed.

At some point you can re-purpose and re-introduce the content to get a fresh boost of eyeballs. But if you are not keeping track of all the mentions and links, then you won’t be able to find fresh places to promote it.

Start today

Can you see now how the linkable asset is a pretty big task? It takes time to create, and you may not succeed on your first try. In fact, the odds are that you will probably fail. But that’s why it’s important to share a prototype to a small audience to help you work out the kinks and see if it will have a wider adoption.

Have you created a linkable asset? Share your tips and advice with us in the comments.

Neil Patel is an online marketing consultant and the co-founder of KISSmetrics. He also blogs at Quick Sprout.

Is Your Blog Doing Okay?

Last week, I told the story of how I achieved my best month ever on DPS.

While I used that post as a case study to present some ideas that I hoped you may be able to use on your own blogs, there’s a hidden hitch with that kind of post: it can give you the impression that you should be aiming to triple your revenue each time you hone a promotion on your site.

We could take that a step or two further—a post like that could give you the expectation that you should be selling products, or even that you should be monetizing your blog. Neither of those ideas is necessarily appropriate for every blog, or every blogger.

The blogosphere is usually a friendly place, but it’s also a place where there’s a lot of comparison. The old idea of keeping up with the Joneses can be a strong, if subtle influence in a space where we’re all learning from each other’s experiences.

Is your blog doing okay?

It’s only natural for most of us to want to know how our blogs are tracking, and to do that we naturally feel the need to compare them to something. I think the best comparison is your own previous performance, as I did with my 12 Days of Christmas promotion. But early in your blogging career, when you may not have a lot of previous results to look at, you’re probably more likely to compare yourself to other bloggers.

You might compare your blog with others in the same niche (competitors and peers), or blogs in different niches that are of a similar size and age to yours. You might compare the results you got from a particular tactic with the results someone else got by using that same tactic, but in a completely different field.

All of these attempts to benchmark are common, and there’s no doubt that they can be helpful at times. But benchmarking your blog against others, or your performance against others, ignores one very important factor: you.

Are you doing okay?

As I said earlier, I tend to benchmark against my own progress, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

True “success” isn’t a matter of graphs and stats, nor is it a “point” that’s “achieved.” When we ask if our blog’s doing okay, what I think most of us are asking is if we’re performing as we should be. But this assumes that there’s one objective standard that we should meet.

Every one of us is different, each blog is unique, our reader audiences are comprised of different people, and our blogging fits into our personal lives in myriad different ways. So how could there be an objective yardstick for “success” or “progress”? The better question, I think, is more personal: are we achieving all that we’re capable of achieving—and all that we want to achieve?

Within the realm of blogging, I try to improve on my past performance. But that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If the way I went about improving that performance were detrimental to some other part of my life, then it wouldn’t matter how well my 2011 12 Days of Christmas promotion went—I wouldn’t be enjoying “success” or possibly even overall “progress.”

I know, for example, that as a part-time blogger, it’s easy to look at full-time bloggers’ “progress” or “success” and try to push yourself to achieve something similar. But unless you have 48 hours in every day, that’s probably not a) possible b) practical or c) enjoyable.

When you’re wondering how your blog’s tracking, my advice is to look at how your blog’s tracking both in its own right, but also, in terms of how it’s fitting in with the other priorities and things of value in your life.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk more specifically about this, and explain a few of the ways I think my blogging’s going well—and they have nothing to do with sales or stats or marketing. In the meantime, how’s your blog tracking? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.