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Weekend Project: Write Posts that Hold Readers to the End, Part 1

This guest post is by Peter Sandeen of Affect Selling.

Do you know why most of your blog’s visitors quickly scroll down your home page, read a couple of headlines, and go back to watching cute kitty videos on YouTube?

Reading

Image courtesy stock.xchng user svenic.

And why those who begin reading a post, only read the first two paragraphs before leaving to read their favorite blogs—blogs which might not even be as good as yours is?

There are two principles behind the solution.

The principles are simple, but not necessarily easy. But when you do get them right, you’re much closer to your goal of having the most popular blog in the world, and getting an email from Darren Rowse asking if you could read his guest post idea for your blog (I’m still waiting for this to happen…).

If you write posts that don’t get read, you’re wasting your time. Your audience can’t grow, AdSense will keep making you $0.08 per month, and your email list’s reach will stay limited to your mom and your dog (for whom you created an email address to have more subscribers).

If and when you start to use these principles in your posts, you’ll see a shift in your audience; they’ll share your posts on social media, they’ll leave comments, and they subscribe to get more of your content.

Here are the principles you must know, to have any chance of making it as a blogger. Just understanding them will get you leaps and bounds ahead of other bloggers in your niche.

The headline captures attention

The headline is the most important part of any post. Why? Because people either read your posts or leave your site based on your headlines.

In other words, publishing a post without a great headline won’t do you any good.

There are three things you need to get right in the headline.

  1. The topic.
  2. The angle.
  3. The placement.

When you get all of these right, your headline will capture your audience’s attention and get them to click it anxiously, waiting to read the post.

1. The topic of the headline

The most obvious topic of your post isn’t nearly always the best topic for the headline.

For example, let’s say you write a post about weight loss—more specifically, about “man boobs.” You have two headlines to choose from:

  1. How to Lose Weight
  2. How to Get Rid of Man Boobs

Which one will attract more attention from the target audience for that post?

Grabbing attention is not just about being specific: it’s about using what your audience wants to know more of. Weight loss is such a general and common topic that most people wouldn’t dream of reading another post about it, even if they’re somewhat interested in it.

“Man boobs” on the other hand (I promise I won’t say, “man boobs” anymore), is specific—it’s probably not something anyone has read 100 posts about previously.

What if your topic is actually something general like “weight loss,” with no more specific focus? Well, you’ll get the answer to that in tomorrow’s post, so remember to check back…

2. The angle of the headline

Did you think it’s enough to just pick the right topic to feature in your headline? Figuring out the topic is just the start: you need to find the right angle for it too.

What is an “angle” in a headline? It’s the way you present a topic. For example: “Basics of landing pages” isn’t really that interesting. What about Stockmann-Syndrome – Don’t Try this (Landing Page) at Home?

The first headline may point to the same content as the latter one. But there’s an important difference: the latter is unlikely to make you think, “I’ve already read that.” Instead, it makes a promise to deliver something new to an old topic, or at least to be entertaining.

There are also really important differences between the words used here, even when they’re basically synonyms. For example, “How to” implies simple and easy-to-use-use content made for non-experts, while you can use “Learn to” with more complicated topics, and when your audience is better educated about the topic. “How to Build a Helicopter” sounds like a joke, but “Learn to Build a Helicopter” sounds like there’s something to it.

And one more mistake you can make is to ask a question people will answer, “No, I’m not interested in that.” Copyblogger did that some months ago, and they wrote an interesting post about the mistake.

3. The placement of the headline

What if you saw the headline, “How to Be a Good News Anchor,” here at ProBlogger?

You might click through to see what the heck it’s about. But you’re not here to learn about building a career as a news anchor. On the other hand, what if it said, “How to Look Authoritative on Video”? You’d be much more interested, right?

The context of your headline changes how people react to it and what expectations it creates. Sure, you won’t write a headline that far off the mark, but smaller details make a huge difference as well.

Can you write a headline that gets clicked?

If you’re up for it, leave a link to your best headline (or just tell us what your headline is) in the comments below.

Keep in mind, this is just the first principle. You’ll get people to start reading your post with a great headline, but getting them to read to the end is a different goal. We’ll look at that in the second post in this series!

101 Headline Formulas is a FREE eBook that’s Not Just a Great Swipe File; it also explains what should come after each headline to keep readers reading to the end. To learn Persuasive Copywriting, how to build High-Conversion Landing Pages, and understand the practical application of the Real Principles of Effective Marketing, check out Affect Selling by Peter Sandeen.

Weekend Project: Write Posts that Hold Readers to the End

I’ve said before that blog posts contain many elements, and we all know that writing a good blog post takes work.

After all, to write a good blog post you need to be a good writer—generally speaking, anyway!

It’s little wonder so many bloggers are focused on being better writers. Among the advice we’ve all seen out there is information on:

But when it all boils down, what every blogger wants is to have people read (or listen or watch).

We want people to engage with our content.

What exactly does that mean? Well, we can measure engagement in terms of statistics or sales or comment counts or … but really, engagement means people paying attention to what we have to say, and the ability of our messages to stay with them.

Every blogger wants to be heard. And this weekend, we’ve got a two-part tutorial I think we’ll probably all benefit from. This detailed miniseries will show you how to write a post that grips readers from the headline to the very end. It’s got some powerful messages that I hope you’ll really get some insight from.

What I want to invite you to do is consider your blog posts—any piece of your content—in light of the advice in these posts. So, right now, go to your site and pull up your best post ever! It doesn’t matter what it is—or what format it’s in—just go and grab it, and bookmark that post.

Then, over the next two days, see whether your post meets the points that are outlined in the Weekend Project posts. If it does, that’s great—maybe have a look at some of your other posts and see if they do the same thing.

If it doesn’t, have a go at seeing if you can tweak the post to better meet the advice of our guest poster. If you can’t, dig out your next post idea, and apply these learnings to it. Then see how the post performs. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

I really hope you’ll enjoy this weekend project. Check out the first post here, and the second post here. But first, share your favorite writing technique with us in the comments.

Use Social Currency Systems to Grow Your Blog

This guest post is by Nathan Kash of Electric Blogging.

Whether you’re new to online business or you consider yourself a seasoned professional, you recognize the fact that a good promotion strategy can go a long way in generating income for your business. Companies across the world spend millions, sometimes billions (in the case of companies like Heineken) on marketing, which shows just how important it is.

Now, in the days of social media, more and more companies are adopting social promotion strategies to reach a wider audience. Some have even gone as far as to launch their businesses wholly through social means, as did Dollar Shave Club, whose YouTube video became a viral sensation and put them on the map.

More recently, social currency systems have been developed that can add to your overall social marketing strategy. These tools have the potential to drive millions of customers to your site in a relatively short period of time.

What are social currency systems?

Social currency systems are online systems that allow readers to pay for products and services (usually ebooks, reports, and digital courses) using the value of their social network.

In other words, these products cost users the price of a social share.

Social currency in action

There are a few social currency systems available. Here are two of the most commonly used.

Pay With a Tweet

Pay With a Tweet is one of the first services to implement social currency, and it was built by Innovative Thunder.

As the name suggests, this system lets you “pay” for a product with a tweet.

For a customer to get access to a product, they click a button that takes them to a Twitter page. There they tweet the required message to their followers. Next, they’re automatically taken to a download page where they can claim the product in question. Pay With a Tweet has added functionality for Facebook, too.

Here’s how the call to action appears:
Pay With a Tweet

Popshop

Popshop is a new service by SYZYGY that claims to be “Pay With a Tweet on steroids.” Rather than just using Twitter as a sharing medium, it has functionality for other social networks like LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook, and Google+.

It’s a free, one-page, customizable WordPress popup shop theme that also features Facebook page integration. Here’s how it looks:

Popshop

If you don’t share the deal before you click the Get This Offer button, you see this message:

Popshop message

This ensures that the content gets shared before the users get access to the product.

Why social currency works

Social currency systems are being used more widely by bloggers and site owners, since they work so well. But why?

They appeal to our inner cheapskate

The majority of people have an inner cheapskate. Whenever you choose to buy something, you always have the urge to go for the cheaper option. That’s just how our brains work.

Social currency systems have the same effect. The desire for a product is further increased by mentioning the price that the product should cost and explaining that, instead, you’re offering it for a far lower price—just a share! It’s a common but effective marketing tactic.

They provide a sense of value

This works hand-in-hand with my first point. People are not as drawn to things that are completely free as they are drawn to things that are “practically” free.

When you give your offer a price, no matter how small, it creates a sense of value. Something completely free seems less attractive because most of the time, it’s perceived as being of low quality.

Excellent promotion benefits

Social currency systems can be used by businesses to successfully promote launches and events.

A good strategy for ebook authors, for example, would be to release a “free” report or mini-ebook as a teaser for their final product. In return, they get shares and are able to create a buzz amongst millions of potential customers.

This tactic can also be used by bloggers to make blog posts and videos go viral, and this also drives traffic to their respective sites.

Other ways to use social currency systems

  • Authors can use them to sell excerpts to promote books.
  • Freelancers and job hunters can use them to sell work samples and access to portfolios or resumes.
  • Internet marketers can use them to sell free reports to create a buzz for upcoming webinars.
  • Speakers can use them to sell mini-courses for the promotion of workshops.
  • Consumer brands can use them to sell commercials to make them go viral.
  • Service providers and use them to sell basic versions of services, as a way to promote premium packages.
  • Musicians can use them to sell music demos and singles for upcoming albums.

All in all, social currency systems are underused but have enormous potential not only for promotion, but also for traffic and income generation.

Is social currency for you?

Social currency is gaining momentum. Have you used it already, perhaps to buy something, if not to sell it? Have you tried other social currency systems? Do you think you could use social currency to build buzz around your blog?

Tell us in the comments. We all love to learn.

Nathan Kash (@electricblogger) is a professional blogger who runs Electric Blogging where you can discover methods of traffic generation, writing excellent content, social media utilization and how to blog effectively. He also gives blogging tips to newbie bloggers and seasoned professionals.

Why Bloggers Should Freelance

This guest post is by Sid from GeeksMakeMoney.

Blogging can be a richly rewarding experience, and bloggers can sometimes get carried away by their success. I personally know bloggers who look down upon freelancing, but unless you are one of the top league bloggers known the world over, you should probably expand and diversify.

Freelancing gives you plenty of ways and opportunities to grow beyond the confines of being “a blogger,” and it can be of great help in your blogging career.

Whether you are new to blogging or have been in your field for long, freelancing on the side can open up opportunities and avenues that are not always available to ordinary bloggers. You can always tie your blogging activities into your freelancing activities—it’s not hard to figure out how one feeds off of the other.

The trick is to be open to trying out something new, taking risks and learning in the process.

Monetary flexibility

Well, straight to the point: freelancing pays. Blogging might or might not pay.

If you are a new blogger, this is a fairly obvious point. You can freelance on the side and earn some additional income while your blog is still growing and yet to produce significant income itself.

If you already have a blog that earns money, remember that earnings for most bloggers can fluctuate a lot, especially for the medium-sized blogs. Can you honestly tell yourself that you would earn as much or more from your blog a couple of years from now as you are earning today? There are so many factors—Google algorithm changes, established competition, shifting preferences of the audience and plenty more can devastate small bloggers (think Shoemoney or John Chow—if such A-list bloggers can lose audience, so can you).

With freelancing, you have the flexibility to scale up or down your activities and thus maintain your current income streams even if your blog’s earnings fluctuate.

Success story; Oni of YoungPrePro ties his blog and his freelance writing together really well. In fact, he’s now at a stage where he earns tens of thousands of dollars a month only through freelancing. Even though his blog is hugely popular, he prefers to earn money through freelancing because it is stable, reliable, and better paying.

Branding and publicity

If you can contribute your work to a more popular medium than your own blog, and people like your work, you are building your brand by investing in yourself. Freelancing is also a good medium for publicity, and I love any method that pays me to publicize myself!

Freelancing gives you the opportunity to produce high quality content under your name that others will like, and appreciate and present yourself and your expertise to the world. This, of course, is going to be of immense help to grow your blog as people recognize your authority.

Success story: Carol of Make A Living Writing is a prolific and well-known writer, and has written for Entrepreneur, Copyblogger, Seattle Times, and plenty of other popular blogs.

Many can instantly recognize her and her top-quality work, so freelancing helps her grow as a writer and helps establish a higher credibility for her blog at the same time.

Testing new waters

As a freelancer, you get to work on different fields within your area of expertise. If you are a writer, you can write on a variety of topics. This is a great way to explore new areas that interest you and learn more about different niches. You can pick up ideas that you think a blog in this niche should cover and then present your own perspective.

Many bloggers work for bigger publications, then branch out to start their own blogs once they understand the business and topic much more intimately.

Success story: Starre of Eco-Chick was a writer for popular fashion magazines before starting her own successful blog, which is in line with what she wrote for magazines, combining fashion and sustainability.

When she started the blog Eco-Chick, everything was already in place—she knew the field better than anyone else. Isn’t that a solid start for your blogging platform?

Tricks of the trade

In addition to these points, you can also learn insider tricks of the trade when you freelance. When you work as a freelancer and are getting paid to do so, chances are, you are working at a company that is at least moderately successful. You can learn why, and they would be more than happy to teach you because they want your work to be put to best use.

This is a great way to learn how things are done and what works for successful businesses. And that knowledge can prove invaluable when you are actually starting your own blog.

Do you freelance and blog at the same time? Why? And what benefits does it give you? Tell us your stories in the comments.

True to his word, Sid is a blogger and freelancer and has written popular freelancing guides including oDesk Review and Elance vs. oDesk. He is starting out a number of different blogging projects, from understanding fashion to using python in finance. His oldest blog is about penny auctions.

How to Make Sure Your Content Marketing Does the Job

Earlier today Darren talked about content marketing as a traffic generation strategy, and he mentioned the content marketing we did for the launch of Blog Wise.

The table he showed in that post, which breaks down the different sites we guest posted at, and the key messages we presented, points to an important fact about content marketing: planning really counts.

Where you’re used to writing for your own blog and readership, when it comes to writing for someone else’s (as in guest posting), planning is critical if you’re to make the most of that opportunity.

But even if you’re simply trying to use an email series or whitepaper to convert more of your site’s current, lurking readers into subscribers, you’ll want to plan the content to meet your needs, and those of the audience you’re targeting with it.

So I wanted to follow up Darren’s post with an explanation of how you can create a content outline that does both those things.

What is an outline?

An outline is not a headline. It’s not a rough explanation of what your post will cover (although this is what I’m usually sent as pitches for guest posts at ProBlogger).

An outline is a clear roadmap for the content that shows how that content will meet the needs of your blog business, and those of the target readers or users of that content.

Why write an outline? Because once you have that, you won’t have to worry about these strategic issues when it comes to creating the content. Instead of writing, freeform, until you’re done and then hoping that the content does what you want it to, this process lets you sit down and think strategically about what you’re doing, then sit down again, separately and in a different headspace, to write productively to meet that strategy.

Also, if you’re offering the content through some offsite location—say, as a guest post on someone else’s blog—once you have a good outline, it’ll be easy to chip off the relevant bits to send to the host blogger so that they can see that your content will meet the needs of their readers.

Creating your outline

Ready? Let’s get to it. First, we’re thinking strategically. So stop thinking like a writer, and start thinking like a marketer.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to look at the guest post I wrote for Goinswriter to promote Blog Wise, and show you how that developed.

Look at your needs

What do you need the content you’re using as a marketing tool to do?

With Blog Wise, we wanted our guest posts to:

  • promote the ebook
  • encourage clickthroughs to the sales page.

Pretty basic, right? Right.

Look at your audience’s needs

What does your audience need the content to do?

To answer this, you need to get to know your audience. In our case, that was pretty easy—we could look at Jeff’s blog and comments, and his social media interactions on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and get a feel for what his readers felt, needed, and wanted.

If you’re creating content—say a whitepaper—that you’ll distribute through someone else’s site, you’ll need to do similar research. Don’t hesitate to ask the site owner for information on their audience, though, as this can be a great help to you.

What did I feel Jeff’s audience needed the content to do? Here were my thoughts:

  • inspire their passion
  • help them write, whether they were bloggers, fiction writers, copywriters, or whatever
  • provide them with something candid and new.

Meet those needs with a concept

By “concept” I mean an idea that you want to communicate. I wanted to talk about Blog Wise in a way that:

  • inspired Jeff’s readers’ passion: so I decided to use Jeff himself (and the interview he did with us for Blog Wise) as the hook
  • helped them write: so I thought about a technique that helped me as a writer, regardless of what I’m writing
  • provided them with something new: the technique I thought about—having a “writer’s mindset”—wasn’t something I’d heard talked about before. I gave it a catchy name, “constant writing,” to give the article more obvious value, a title hook, and some serious punch.

Using this information, I decided I’d write a guest post that showed readers how to become constant writers. This met my needs and those of my readers—easily checked against the bullet points I made above.

Aspects of “concept” you might want to consider here include:

  • catchwords or phrases
  • content format
  • hooks and angles
  • titles.

Extend that concept into a content plan

Obviously your content plan will depend entirely on your concept and the format you’re using. A guest post outline is not an ebook outline, nor is it an email series outline, a video plan, or an infographic storyboard.

But whatever your format, your outline needs to be based around the key messages that communicates your concept to your audience. So you need to develop it with your target readers in mind.

By now, the needs you’re trying to meet should be ingrained and inherent in your thinking, so you can focus entirely on the readers and creating content that meets their needs.

Write down the key points you want to communicate to them, as sentences, subheadings, questions—whatever feels right. For my guest post, those key points were:

  • Jeff’s philosophy: just get started
  • Problem: how do you “just get started”?
  • Identify technique: pro writers are constant writers
  • What is constant writing? (explain the concept)
  • How does it work? (explain how it works in practice)
  • Conclusion.

That’s a good start, but it’s not really detailed enough for me to write the article yet, particularly in those latter sections. So I built it out.

  1. Intro
    • Explain Jeff’s philosophy: just get started.
    • Mention interview, and expand on what Jeff said.
    • Detail the problem: how do you “just get started”?.
    • Identify technique: pro writers are constant writers.
  2. What is constant writing? (explain the concept)
    • Mention writing “addiction” and the importance of loving expression.
    • Explain what constant writing isn’t: writing, completion, skills, becoming a “serious” writer or taking writing “seriously”.
    • Explain the point of constant writing: playing with words.
  3. How does it work? (explain how it works in practice)
    • Pay attention to your expression (with examples: email, text, etc.).
    • Read (examples: signs, t-shirts, books and magazines).
    • Listen (conversations, announcements, songs).
  4. Conclusion: Show readers how they’ll change if they put this philosophy into practice, to become constant, addicted, writers.

Houston, we have an outline

Yes! We have an outline! As you can see, some of those bullet points from my concept have become section subheads. Where I’ve needed to clarify my own thinking, I’ve expanded on those points.

Now I can objectively sit back, read this outline, and make sure that I honestly feel it will meet Jeff’s readers’ needs, as I listed them at the outset.

Next? The pitch.

Pitching your content

I could have sent Jeff this outline, but I expected he probably didn’t need to see the inner machinations of my mind. Instead, I summed it up in an email…

“I wanted to ask if we’d be able to write a guest post for your blog to help promote your inclusion in the ebook. The post I had in mind would take your “just get started” philosophy of productivity and present one idea for making that happen. The idea is creative practice, rather than creative production. So, rather than sitting down to write an article, this post argues, sit down to play with words and ideas.

“Write without a goal; write to experiment; write to get practice working with words—this would be the thrust of this article, which provides practical tips for getting started, and argues that an experimental approach takes the pressure off, allowing the writer the freedom to sit down and write a five-line lyric if they want, or 500 words of prose. The post would advocate this as a good way not just to build the creative muscle, but also, to give yourself the potential to discover new aspects of your writing which could be useful, or easily translate, into better, more resonant professional writing/blogging.

“I expect this piece would come in at around 1000 words, and it would of course include a link back to the productivity ebook on ProBlogger. Let me know if you’d be interested in this post for your blog, because I’m really keen to write it and see how your audience feels about the idea :) Of course, if you don’t feel it’s appropriate, that’s no problem at all.”

As you can see, this summation is a digestible, sensitive version of the nuts-and-bolts outline. I’m trying to tell Jeff what I’ll communicate and why it’s of benefit to his readers, rather than give him a laundry list of subheadings. That said, sometimes, a laundy list of subheadings is a great thing to send through, especially with posts that seem nebulous or unusual. I guess the most important thing to note here is that I didn’t write to Jeff and say something like this:

“I have an idea for a guest post on your site about writing productivity. The article is “Constant Writing: the productivity secret of pro writers”. Do you think it would be of interest?”

This is no way to either build rapport with the person who’s hosting your marketing effort, or inform them of the value of your piece. The outline I sent Jeff explains specifically:

  • what his readers will get out of the content,
  • through what discussions, and
  • how the content will benefit the host blogger himself.

If your content marketing pitch does this, you’re on a winner. From here, it’s likely you’ll be able to navigate any hurdles the host blogger throws up and, when it comes to write your piece, you’ll basically know on a subconscious level what you’re doing and why—which will show clearly in your writing.

Do you plan your content marketing efforts?

if you think having an outline like this would be handy in giving your guest posts the greatest impact, imagine what it can do for your email subscription series, your free ebook, or your whitepaper.

Outlines make content marketing easier. Do you use them? Will you try? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

Traffic Technique 2: Content Marketing

Content marketing is probably the most common traffic tactic these days. It lets us target specific audience segments, in some cases it allows us to get the benefit of some other brand’s or blogger’s authority with a market, and it doesn’t require that out target readers be using particular tools or networks the way social media does.

As I mentioned in a related post earlier this year, content marketing basically involves repackaging your message to meet the needs of different users and would-be users at specific moments in time, and in specific locations. You might repurpose content you’ve already written; you might not. But in all cases, you’re taking your blog’s key message and presenting it, via content, to a new, targeted audience.

Types of content marketing

How many types of content marketing are there? How long’s a piece of string?! There are as many variations of content marketing as there are bloggers, but here are the main types that we seem to be using:

  • Guest posting: creating posts for publication on other sites and blogs. Note here that “creating” doesn’t necessarily mean just writing. You could be creating other content assets, like videos, infographics, comics, photos, and so on.
  • Article marketing: writing posts for distribution through article “spinning” sites like Ezine Articles.
  • Packaged content: working some of your content into a whitepaper, or mini-ebook, or emailed “course” or series, or some other product that you can offer free in exchange for the reader’s email address, and then promoting that offer in various hand-picked offsite locations.
  • Syndication: disseminating your blog’s content to other locations, either through an open reuse policy (like Leo uses at Zenhabits), or offering select outlets reuse of a certain segment of your blog’s content.

Whatever the format, content marketing is really the process of taking your message—perhaps even taking content you’ve already produced and published on your site—and positioning it in a way that meets the needs of off-site audiences. It can be used to promote your blog as a whole, or a special product or offer that you’re running—really, it’s up to you.

The right kind of content marketing traffic

Obviously one of the great things about content marketing is that we can use it to target really specific sub-segments of our readership. So the traffic it brings us is usually primed for the other information we have on our blogs.

You’ll remember that last time, we talked about search engine optimization. Now, where searchers know they have a need, and it’s strong enough for them to search the web for a solution, the people who come into contact with your content marketing efforts may not realise they have a need for your material until they see it.

The purpose of your content marketing efforts is to show these new audiences that they have a need, that you can meet it, and to draw them through to your blog. For that reason, it’s important to shape the repackaging of the content itself to specific reader types, based on the profiles of readers on the outlets where you’ll be promoting or using that content.

So if you’re writing a guest post, you’ll want to make sure it casts your content as responding to the specific needs of the readers on the site where the post will be published. If you’re offering a special report or whitepaper, make sure that it meets a felt need of the audience of the location where it’ll be downloaded.

Obivously, it’s also important to choose your content marketing outlets carefully, to ensure that the readers who do come through to your blog are actually interested in what you have to offer on a broader scale.

Also, make sure it’s effortless for readers to move from the offsite content to your blog. Finally, the landing page may well make or break their response to, and engagement with, your blog, so pay special attention to that, to make sure readers get what they’re after, as preempted in your offsite content.

A content marketing case study

I think one of the keys to content marketing is being able to adapt your message to the needs of the readers in the locations where you’re doing the marketing. So, if you’re guest posting, the success of your post—not just in being accepted by the host blog, but in terms of drawing readers through to your own blog—depends largely on how well you shape your message to those readers.

The more content marketing you do, the easier it gets to adapt your message, but to make it clear I wanted to give you an example of content marketing we’ve done here at ProBlogger.

Earlier this year we launched Blog Wise, our ebook on blogging productivity. To help promote it, my editor Georgina wrote three guest articles for other blogs:  one for Copyblogger, another for Goinswriter, and a final one for Zenhabits (as well as publishing a small series here on ProBlogger).

We all know that ProBlogger’s about pro blogging, and the ebook is about being productive—professional-blogger productive, in fact. But as the table below shows, these other blogs have different purposes. Georgina had to reshape that key message to suit each one.

Content marketing article plan

How did she do that?

Leverage connection

Each blog’s owner had been interviewed for the ebook, so she decided to leverage those interviews in writing her guest posts. Each post was intended to reveal to the blog’s loyal readers something new about a blogger they already know and love.

Combine topics

For each post, Georgina combined the topics of the blog she was writing for with the key topic (productivity) we’d discussed in the ebook. We’ve listed those on the far-right of the table.

Make it relevant

The above two points helped to make sure the guest posts were relevant, but she had a final imperative, which was to make sure that each guest post stood up for itself on the blog where it was published: if readers of that blog saw her post and had no interest in learning more about productivity through the ebook, they would still get something valuable out of her guest post, and be glad that the host blogger had published it.

Georgina repurposed content from the Blog Wise interviews and ebook to make the series she published here on ProBlogger. That was fine, since the ebook, like this blog, is written with our readers in mind! But for the other blogs, she wrote specially prepared content that met the needs outlined above.

The results for these posts were good—and that’s despite the minimalist bio she published alongside them! Each post attracted new users at a strong rate—between 50% and 90%—and each traffic source had lower bounce rates, higher on-site times, and more average pageviews per visit than most other sources for the same time periods, including social media.

The post on Zenhabits, for example, referred more traffic than any other referral source on the day it was published (including social media, Google, and so on), and remained in the top 5 referrers for a few days afterward. That traffic contained more first-time visitors than traffic from the other posts (around 86%). Bounce rates for that traffic were lower than any of the other traffic sources in the top 5—and about 10% lower than the site-wide average—for those few days.

That’s not bad for content marketing on a blog that’s not, at first glance, even closely aligned with the purpose of this one.

Of course, the added benefit of this kind of content marketing is the opportunity to engage with the readers at these other online locations and build your brand’s profile—something that you can do with search traffic. Have a look at the comments each of those posts generated and you’ll see intriguing discussion and more than a few ideas for follow-up guest pieces. If we continued to guest post at these locations, there’d be a strong chance that we’d be able to draw a larger percentage of readers through to problogger.net over time.

How does your content marketing perform?

As you can see, successful content marketing isn’t simply a matter of “spinning” your topic to suit a new audience. To work well, it needs to be done with care and, above all, consideration for the location at which your content will be published or shared.

This can be a particularly challenge when you’re doing things like article marketing, because with those options, you simply can’t get the level of audience insight required to target the content as heavily as this. Syndication can work better, so long as you know the blog where your content will appear, and can get to know its readers, too.

This is just one example of content marketing at work—and the kinds of results you can achieve with it. But let’s face it: guest posting isn’t the most innovative form of content marketing. What are you doing with content marketing at the moment? Share your secrets—and your tips!—in the comments.

How Privacy Breach Notification Law Affects Your Blog

This guest post is by Matt Setter of MaltBlue.com.

Do you run a web-based business and collect data about your customers? If so, do you have professional practices in place to ensure the protection of that information and the privacy of your customers? No? Then ask not for whom the bell tolls, as it tolls for you—Privacy Breach Notification Laws are here.

Before you scramble to fire off an email to your service provider to disable your ecommerce facilities or remove all forms from your blog, don’t. If you’re running a small site or a modest-sized mailing list and don’t collect any information on your visitors, then please don’t be alarmed.

However, irrespective of the scope of your online presence, please take a few minutes to get yourself up to date on what privacy breach notification laws are, and how they impact you.

Despite how much we love all things web, we know that it can be a bit of a wild west out there. We hear reports of security breaches at companies big and small, such as the recent ones at both LinkedIn and eHarmony. But do we stop to think just how much impact these breaches have, and what our legal obligations are?

What happens if the password that the person used for one hacked account was the same one they use for many other accounts, or all of them? What if the attack was particularly malicious and the attackers decided to comb the information and carry out subsequent attacks based on the identified information?

What if, as a result of the attack(s), a civil case was brought against you for the damages caused to one or more of your customers? Are you prepared to deal with the security breach or the consequent legal ramifications?

As I said, we love the web. I sure do. We love its convenience, simplicity and immediateness. But it comes at a price—one most of us haven’t considered in too much depth.

What are the laws?

Lucky for us, some people have. In 2002 the ball started rolling in California, with Senator Joe Simitian, who authored a bill to require that businesses notify customers when a successful breach of their security occurs. This bill was amended in 2011 to become even stronger.

The bill states:

“notification to affected California residents will need to include, at a minimum:

  • The name and contact information of the reporting agency, person or business;
  • A list of the types of personal information that were or are reasonably believed to have been the subject of the breach;
  • The toll-free telephone numbers and addresses of the major credit reporting agencies if the breach exposed a Social Security number or a driver’s license or California identification card number;

and, to the extent it is possible to determine at the time the notice is provided:

  • The date of the notice and any of the following:
    • the date of the breach,
    • the estimated date of the breach or
    • the date range within which the breach occurred;
      • Whether the notification was delayed because of a law enforcement investigation (if applicable); and
      • A general description of the breach incident.

      You may be thinking this is just for California and it doesn’t relate to you because you live in Massachussets or Washington. Or maybe you live outside the US, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

      But you’d be wrong. If you’re outside the US, the situation’s potentially even tougher:

      It’s fair to say that if all these jurisdictions are moving in the same direction, a number of the others will likely follow suit—if they’re not already.

      What can you do?

      While this is all concerning stuff, there are steps that you can take—from simple, right through to complex—to protect your site from security breaches. Perkins Thompson suggest a set of steps that we can use as a basis of what to do to put our blogs in a good position.

      Adopt “commercially reasonable” data security measures

      Be aware of security breaches for bloggers by staying up to date on current events. Look for simple methods, such as using plugins that help protect your user accounts whether on your blog or on your organization’s computer network.

      Secure physical access to mobile computing and mobile storage devices

      Don’t leave your laptops and phones lying around, as you likely have sensitive information on them. We all slip from time to time, so make sure you have a good password protecting access to them. Consider using 1Password which provides secure protection of your passwords, accounts and sensitive information.

      Limit the scope and duration of data retention

      Do you need to keep all the information that you have? How long do you need to keep it for? If it’s no longer required, then consider getting rid of it.

      Develop procedures to monitor and audit data security in your company

      Whether your business is big or small, find a security vendor or consultant who you can talk with to assess your security needs. If necessary, consider a security audit.

      Train and educate your employees, and follow your company’s data security policy or agreement

      Ensure that all of your staff know that security is serious and are following the policies. Security doesn’t need to be draconian, but a normal matter of course.

      Carefully select third-party providers

      Which services do you use as part of your day-to-day operations? Do you use Harvest, FreshBooks, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter? What’s their approach and history of security breaches?

      Consider cyber-insurance policies

      Though insurance can be an “after the fact” type of approach, it can be a good to have in case something goes wrong. UK Insurance broker, Chris Knight, has this to say:

      “Many businesses do not fully understand the risks associated with using the internet, but it is now possible to purchase cover for Cyber Liability and Privacy Breach Notification.

      “These provide cover for legal action taken against the business in the cyber world and the cost of notification of any breach that may occur.”

      Develop procedures to quickly respond to a data security breach

      Even the best companies and organisations can be hacked—it’s a fact and we know it. But users often respond in a positive way despite this if the company responds in both a timely and professional manner. Consider implementing a set of procedures to respond to such a situation occurring on your blog.

      How secure is your blog?

      I appreciate that I may have caused a lot of concern and alarm by addressing this topic, and in part I apologise. But it’s better to be educated and prepared than to be caught off guard and fighting fires.

      Are you prepared for a data breach to your site? Do you have adequate measures in place to respond should a breach occur? Share your thoughts in the comments. And if you’re keen to find out more, have a look at these resources.

      Further reading

      Matthew Setter is a freelance writer, technical editor and proofreader. His mission is to help businesses present their online message in an engaging and compelling way so they’re noticed and remembered.

Build Better Blog SEO with Rich Snippets

This guest post is by Matt Beswick.

Bloggers and webmasters are always looking for an edge when it comes to ranking highly against the giants in their field. It’s a classic David and Goliath story, really.

What made the early web so appealing was the idea that some lone geek in a basement could compete with the media heavyweights and gain a large following. But in an age where “content” outfits like Demand Media are given an unfair advantage over smaller and more worthy adversaries, it’s tough for the underdog to win.

However, a little technology called Rich Snippets has the potential to turn the tables.

Introducing Rich Snippets

If you’re unfamiliar with Rich Snippets, it’s worth your time to take a moment to familiarize yourself with the concept. Essentially, Rich Snippets are the content summaries that accompany Google search results for your webpages when they pop up in the main listings.

Rich Snippets are incredibly important when it comes to ranking your content well in the new era that’s been wrought by Google’s Penguin update. The idea behind Rich Snippets is quite simple. However, implementing them in the real world can be a little trickier unless you know what you’re doing.

If you really want to wrap your head around Rich Snippets and dive in with both feet, Schema.org is the best place to get started. Ultimately, Rich Snippets are based on microdata, microformats, RDFa, and similar standards. All of these schemas are included within the HTML5 specification, which makes them easy to integrate into your websites. Both Google and Bing take these microformats and behind-the-scenes data structures into account when deciding how they’ll rank content.

How Rich Snippets factor in search

All geek talk aside, the entire point of Rich Snippets is to make your content easier to index for the major search engines. In that sense, it’s the same old story as before.

Microdata, microformats and Rich Snippets are roughly analogous to meta tags from the past decade. The reason why they’re becoming such a big deal is that search engines are looking to implement a more semantic approach to delivering web results. Keyword matching isn’t really the name of the game any more. Nowadays, actual meaning is far more important and software has evolved to reflect that.

If you’re a webmaster or site owner, you should relish the opportunities and challenges of Rich Snippets because they can actually favour the little guy in a number of ways. Due to their emphasis on actual content relevance, they can elevate your pages above those that are more reliant on deft niche keyword optimisation. Benefits include increased click-through rates, overall traffic, and conversions.

Let’s cut this Rich Snippet promotional tour short and get to the heart of the matter: implementing techniques that will give your blogs and websites a leg up on the competition.

Using Rich Snippets to stand apart

To make your web properties more appealing to the search engines, the first thing you should do is head over to the Google-sponsored Rich Snippets Testing Tool to do some research. Simply enter the URL of the page you’re focusing on and see the results roll in. The RSTT will analyse your content and suggest ways in which you can improve your pages to rank better using RDFa and microformat techniques.

Once you’ve gotten some feedback, you can start to modify back-end markup to address the problems you find. Tweaking markup is critical, because Google will look at how you semantically structure your layouts when deciding how to present a summation of your website in its results.

The cool thing about Rich Snippets is that they’ll allow Google to throw reviews, overall rankings of your website and more into the quick blurb that appears alongside your results in the SERPs. When people search for any given good or service online, something that has a 4- or 5-star ranking in the SERPs stands out more than a plain text description.

Implementing Snippets in the blog formula

The first thing you’ll probably want to do is get your author markup ready to go. This requires a Google+ account, some patience, and a little bit of coding knowledge (depending on the platform that you’re using).

It actually used to be much more difficult to get this up and running but Google now allows you to push this through a header tag. Instead of going into too much detail here I’ll just point you in the direction of Yoast who, for any WordPress junkies, will be making this nice and easy in the next release of his fantastic SEO plugin.

Real-world examples

As for practical advice when it comes to making Rich Snippets a part of your blogs, there’s no shortage of tutorials and examples online.

Google’s own Rich Snippets FAQ-style page should give you a good idea of how to get started. To begin with, you’ll need to pick a specific markup format for your snippets. Microdata is recommended, but RDFa will also work just fine. Once you’re ready to roll, you can leverage your knowledge of the latest HTML5 markup to get going.

Let’s say your website is heavily dependent on reviews—either from customers or data feeds. Well, Rich Snippets allow you to pull either individual or aggregate reviews into your search results listing. They can also be used to compile information about organisations, events, and products related to your website, to make your search result entries far more full-featured and descriptive.

If you’ve got quality content and a good information product, Rich Snippets can only help in pushing traffic in your direction. The primary consequence of the more highly-targeted traffic achievable via Rich Snippets will generally be a far higher conversion rate regardless of the type of website you happen to be running.

The last word

At the end of the day, Google’s focus on Rich Snippets is comparable to Facebook’s efforts with Open Graph, the relationship mapping tool that allows for better analysis of the connections between people and their interests.

For Google, the end result of Rich Snippet usage is that users waste less time sifting through irrelevant search results to find what they need. For Facebook, the end result of Open Graph usage is that people are better paired with both potential friends and ads.

In any event, both technologies underscore the growing importance of semantics in search. Expect to see more intelligent, AI-like search strategies in the coming years as companies like Google and Facebook learn to better model the relationships between information and meaning.

Matt Beswick is a digital consultant based in the UK, specialising in SEO, and also runs Pet365. Find him on Twitter @mattbeswick.

Is This Blogging?

I was really interested to read this comment from Pinup Style in response to our series on blog business models.

Woman blogging

Image courtesy stock.xchng user arinas74

Pinup Style comments:

“I was wondering what your position is re: another blog post I found on your site stating “As Michael Stelzner said at Blogworld, “You’re not a blogger, you’re a publisher!”

Call me old fashioned, but if one has a blog, why pretend it is something else? I can understand that ‘marketing’ etc., is a driving factor for that decision…

I have also been reading a few articles around the web with people saying that it is better to ‘not’ call a given site a blog at all (even if it actually is in fact a blog).

This might also be a factor (at the very outset) in a blog’s (aka ‘not’ a blog’s) chosen business model to make money?”

This is a very interesting question, and as Pinup Style suggests, different bloggers will have different opinions on this.

Kevin Cullis, who also participated in the blog business model series, responded to the comment with the words “You’re a blogger, you’re a publisher”, for example.

I think the descriptions of “blogger” and “publisher” and “media outlet” are probably a bit arbitrary within this space. As Pinup Style says, in the self-made world of blogging, any of us can call ourselves whatever we like. But Kevin’s point is that the way you perceive what you’re doing here—as reflected in the way you describe yourself—may have quite an impact on the way you operate.

Blogging has well and truly moved into the mainstream—not only are blogs publications in their own right, but the format is also being co-opted by major news media and other publications that need a format that presents readers with a lasting chronological representation of events.

Now, you might say that next to the BBC, your blog covering events in your local art scene doesn’t look much like a “media outlet.” That’s fine. But what if you lined it up next to a business blog?

I’m talking here about the kind of blog that represents merely one part of a corporate or business website, and serves a certain purpose—perhaps taking prospects or customers inside the business with posts by various staff members. This kind of blog might merge thought leadership with corporate games snaps and videos from an industry convention or meetup.

How’s your local art blog looking now? Is it looking at all like a “publication”? Are you looking like a “blogger”? A “publisher”? A “reporter”? A “writer”? A “hyperlocal journalist”?

You might consider what you publish to your blog to be “blog posts”—a definition encompassing what others might call opinion pieces, editorial, reportage, practical guidance, and features.

There are obvious boundaries that bloggers need to consider as they blog—no matter whether they’re doing it from inside an organization or out on their own. But the fact is that at the end of the day, we’re really just people connecting with others through content that we produce or have produced for us.

Beyond that, you can call it whatever you like!