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How Blogging Changed One Woman’s Life (and Mine, Too)

This is a guest post from Jeff Goins from goinswriter.com.

Years ago, I blogged about a woman who was going to be evicted from her apartment. I met her while I was volunteering with a local charity one random Saturday afternoon.

Her name was Pat, and she spoke with a thick Bostonian accent and had a strong smoker’s cough. Her apartment was covered in newspapers, and she had a couple of dogs whom she loved dearly.

Pat told me if she didn’t pay her rent in a week, she’d lose her apartment and end up back on the streets. Apparently, she had been homeless before.

I didn’t know what to do. She needed more money than I had, but I got the sense that she was telling the truth. So I turned to my blog.

I only had about 100 subscribers at the time, but I told Pat’s story in a post, asking friends and strangers to consider chipping in whatever they could.

Within 24 hours, we had the money: something to the tune of $500. By the end of the week, it was closer to $1000. That’s not a ton of money to some people, but it was a matter of survival—of life and death—for Pat.

That was the first time I saw the true power of blogging: not only to get a message out there, but to truly change lives. Looking back years later, I can now see the application to online business.

Here are three important lessons we can learn from this story.

People want to help other people

What does this have to do with you? Well, if you help others, they will want to help you.

This is called “reciprocity” and is an important key to online business and community-building.

If you do good, good will come your way.

It only takes a tribe to make a difference

Do you think you don’t have enough fans or followers to make a real impact? Try again.

There were only bout 20 or 30 people who gave a donation to my “Pat fund,” but it was enough for her.

If you have a message to spread (or a product to sell), you might be surprised by how few it actually takes to get the word out (and to make a living).

As an example, I’ve noticed that a small percentage of my readers actually buy my products, but those that do are dedicated fans. So whether it’s $4.99, or $499, they’re interested.

Tell a story people can participate in

What made this giving opportunity so attractive was that people could take action and see immediate results. They got to be a part of the story.

And this is worth way more than a mere “return on investment.” They were given the gift of significance.

I saw the same thing with a recent book launch where I encouraged people to submit their stories. In a few days, I had upwards of 100 entries. Just think how much more vested in the project those people will be once it releases.

The next time you launch something, consider how you can empower people to tell their stories and be part of a larger one worth telling. Jeremy Statton explained how he uses this technique to create engaging contests in a recent post here on ProBlogger.

So, tell me: how has blogging changed your life? Share your story in the comments.

Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville. You can follow him on his blog or on Twitter @jeffgoins. His new book, Wrecked, just came out. This week only, you can get the eBook on Amazon for only $0.99.

The Power of Personal

This week, we’ve got a couple of intriguing blog posts coming up that deal with bloggers’ personal stories.

Obviously, personal stories tend to do well with blog readers. But look around, and you’ll see that personal stories have become a mainstay of the media more generally.

Personal

Personal stories are big

We have reality t.v.—real stories about real people (admittedly in some pretty outlandish situations!). We have the social media explosion, where anyone and everyone has the opportunity to “go viral” and enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame. We even have a whole generation of people who are reputedly more self-assured—and self—promoting—than ever before.

Personal stories are big—and not just online, or among bloggers. So if you’re yet to experiment with the power of personal on your blog, now’s the time to commit to it across the board.

But blogging is inherently personal, right?

Blogging might have started as online journaling, but I think we’d probably all agree that it’s come a long way since then.

If you’re blogging as an employee for a company, you may not consider what you do to be very personal. If you’re running a news-style blog, you may feel that your job is to report facts objectively, not tell stories.

So, depending on the kind of blog you run, you may find it difficult to inject a personal element into what you do.

Personal isn’t always about you

What if you are writing blog posts for a corporation? Or what if you’re just shy about revealing too much of yourself?

How can you get personal without making it about you?

Simple: put the personal focus onto others:

Personality-rich post formats

Personal posts don’t just have to revolve around topics—certain post formats seem to do a lot to help us create a personal connection.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The personality roundup: A roundup of personalities within your niche—with images and links—is a great way to give a human feel to any blog.
  • The interview: I mentioned this above, but your interview could use video and audio too—and be the better for it.
  • The image post: Images do speak a thousand words. The great thing about them is that a good image will elicit emotions from your readers, so often you can say less about yourself and more about your niche—and still create that personal connection.
  • The irreverent post: Reporting the facts in chatty language is another good way to create a personal feel—provided it fits with the tone and thrust of your blog.

Are you using the power of personal?

Are you confidently creating a sense of personal connection through your blog, or is it something you struggle with? what techniques do you use? Share your tips and advice with us in the comments.

Transfer Your Blog From WordPress.com to WordPress.org Part 2

This guest post is by Ayelet Weisz of All Colores.

Yesterday, I started the convoluted process of swapping my blog from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. As you may remember, I’d finally got to the point where I was ready to import the files of my blog. Everything seemed to be okay, until….

Big Deal #4: The import keeps getting stuck

You see that white screen? That’s how it stayed.

Importing the files

At first, I was happy. The little circle on my browser was turning. I assumed it would take a lot of time. Even though my blog was obviously smaller (2.9 megabytes) than the maximum allowed file (64 megabytes), I figured it would take time to import eight months worth of blogging with almost 2000 photographs.

So I let it be.

When I returned to my computer, I found out that the import process had got stuck. Remember, my blog crashed for almost 48 hours. I was sure that was the reason of my current technical challenge. After my blog returned to life and I was able to work again, I repeated the process explained above. While my blog hasn’t crashed since (and it was in late February), after a short moment of importing, nothing was circling anymore: the white screen of the import remained white.

Big Deal #5: Challenges with the blog file

I decided to open the file I had exported from WordPress.com. This is what it looked like:

Inside the file

I learned that there were two errors in the file:

  1. Error on line 149 at column 32: Namespace prefix atom on link is not defined.
  2. Error on line 150 at column 29: Namespace prefix atom on link is not defined.

I Googled it and found various discussions on the matter. I looked for ways to fix the file, yet found no help in simple language. I tried exporting the file from WordPress.com and importing to WordPress.org various times, and kept hitting the same error, only in different lines and columns each time.

As I kept searching the web, more and more answers seemed to lead to one solution, but one that sounded too simple—and to be honest, too frustrating—to be true.

The advice said, refresh the page.

I exported the file once more. Imported it once more. And then refreshed it an unbelievable number of times.

Each time, more and more files appeared to be added. Sometimes only a few files were added when I hit Refresh; sometimes there were many at a time.

The list of problem files

Either way, the list of files kept growing.

At the end of every file line, it said “already exists”. For example, “Media ‘DSCF1372′ already exists”. Also, I didn’t see all my posts and pages on the list. I was concerned that some aspects of the blog were being imported multiple times and some not at all.

Then I got some good news.

“All Done. Have Fun!” WordPress.Org wrote to me.

All done, have fun

Could it all really be done? Could I now actually stop dealing with technicalities and return to writing?

I logged in to my new URL: www.AllColores.com—no “WordPress” between my blog’s name and the dot-com—and I saw my blog! It was an exciting moment.

Until I noticed something was not okay.

Big Deal #6: My photos weren’t included

All was well with the posts and the comments on my blog, but no photos appeared in the posts. Let me remind you, we are talking about almost 2000 photos, which I made sure to include in the export and import processes.

After some digging in my dashboard, it turned out I’d actually done things well. The photos were indeed imported to the new blog … most of them just weren’t “attached” to any blog post.

Unattached images

The solution? Take a deep breath!

On the left-hand sidebar of your dashboard you will find the word “media”. Click on it. You will reach your media library, where all your photos are listed. I had 1856 media files, all of which were photos, and 1847 of them were unattached. That means that only nine photos were attached.

As you will see in the above photo, in each line beside the media file, you will find a column named “author”. Next to it, there will be a column called “attached to”. If the photo is unattached, an Attach button will be available. Click on that button to attach the picture to the post.

Attaching images

An image will pop up, asking you to search for a post or a page. You can type the beginning of a post title, or choose from a list offered by WordPress by clicking on the right post, then click on Select.

If you, too, have many media files and don’t feel like spending hours “attaching” them to countless posts, you can Google for plugins that might do it for you. From the various message board discussions I read, these actually had helped several people. I tried a couple of options, but they did nothing for me. It was back to manual work.

How do you remember which media file belongs in which post?

That’s where not deleting your WordPress.com blog comes in handy. Keep one window open on your WordPress.org dashboard, and log back in to your WordPress.com dashboard on another. Go to your media library. In your WordPres.com dashboard, files are attached to posts. Follow what it says there as you attach photos on your WordPress.org dashboard.

And, as it turns out, there’s a way to hurry up the process after all.

On any given page, mark all the photos related to a single post and only then click Attach on one of the photos. You will select a post the same way, yet when you click Select, up to twenty photos will be attached at the same time.

Bulk image attachments

Once I was done attaching, I verified that all photos were transferred and attached well.

The end result

Here is a part of my post “More Photos from Bariloche”, which I published while in Argentina in September 2011 to let everyone back home know I’d been doing well and enjoying the snow.

A post

Here is part of that post as it appeared on my new WordPress.org blog in late February 2012:

The old post

At last, I could breathe a sigh of true relief. I would have preferred to start with WordPress.org, yet accomplishing this triumph gave me a new boost of energy as I returned to do what I love most: writing.

Have you encountered any other technical challenges while transferring your blog from WordPress.com to WordPress.org? Share your tips and tricks with us in the comments.

Ayelet Weisz is an enthusiastic writer and translator from Israel. She celebrates the everyday and extraordinaire joys of life through travel on her travel blog, All Colores. Follow her adventures onTwitter and sign up to her RSS Feed.

Transfer Your Blog From WordPress.com to WordPress.org Part 1

 This guest post is by Ayelet Weisz of All Colores.

WordPressIt was finally happening: I was about to embark on the trip of my dreams—and I wanted to write all about it.

I decided that a travel blog, shared initially with family and friends, would be a great experiment to see if I felt comfortable with the format of blogging that I’d wanted to try for quite some time. I did some research and found out that WordPress was a highly recommended platform. I read about the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, yet I wasn’t up for all the technical mumbo-jumbo that I thought comes with launching a site on WordPress.org, even if it allowed me to monetize the blog.

I opted for WordPress.com, thinking I could always transfer later if I decided that was the path for me.

Transferring from WordPress.com to WordPress.org looks easy at first

I read blog posts about it, I read explanations about it on the WordPress website, I watched videos on YouTube. And they all said roughly the same thing: all you have to do is follow these very simple steps, and then your blog is exported from WordPress.com and imported to WordPress.org.

What’s the big deal?

The basic process is supposed to go something like this:

  1. Log in to your WordPress.com dashboard.
  2. Choose “Tools” on your left-hand sidebar.
  3. Under “Tools”, choose “Export”.

There, choose the material you’d like to export. You can choose to export only your posts, for example, and create brand-new pages at your blog’s new home. Or you could choose to transfer the pages, yet start fresh on the posts front. You can also choose to export all the content at once—posts, pages, media files and comments.

Since I wanted to transfer everything in my blog to its new location, I chose All Content and clicked on Download Export File.

Selecting All Content

The file was downloaded pretty quickly. The file—an XML file type—appeared at the bottom of my screen.

The file downloads

My blog’s name is All Colores and the URL I had at WordPress.com was http://allcolores.wordpress.com . That’s why you see it in the image. When the download ended, I clicked on that box to open the file, which contained lots and lots of lines of code. Who knows how to read that?

Later, since I wanted to import this file to my WordPress.org blog, I needed to know where this file was saved. You’ll see soon that I needed to select it from my computer and upload it. But I didn’t know where that code was saved! It looked as weird to me as writing from right to left will probably look to you. What’s a blogger to do?

The solution is simple—at least in this case—so savor it: click on that arrow you see and choose to view the file in a folder. A folder will open up with a list of files, and the file you need will be marked—like magic! This is what you will see at the bottom of your screen:

What appears on screen

(Note: You might not see Hebrew on your computer—unless you have an Israeli computer like I do…)

You can make a note for yourself or memorize the location where this file is saved. I decided to copy it to my desktop, where I don’t have many wandering files and it would be easy for me to pick up during the import process.

Important: Do not delete your site from WordPress.com, at least not yet. You might need it later in the import process.

Big Deal #1: Get a domain and server, and install WordPress.org

You’ve exported the file and you know where it’s saved—congratulations! Now … where do you move it to?

Getting a domain is the easy part. That’s the www.YourSite.com URL. Just Google around for best domain sellers and you’ll find plenty of recommendations. I got mine at NameCheap, as I got a personal recommendation for that store, and it included some free protection with its regular sales price.

Next, Google for recommendations on a web host where you can host your site. If you plan on writing lots of posts and including many media files, it is best to find a host with unlimited space. It won’t necessarily cost you more. Another aspect to consider is that some hosts will allow you to use a large or unlimited number of domains. This is important if you dream of launching a network of blogs. Hosts will sometimes offer a one-click installation of WordPress, which will make your life a bit easier, yet I suggested finding YouTube videos that will guide you until that one click. For me, Hostgator has been the perfect fit these past few months, and I am also satisfied with its customer service.

Big Deal #2: The blog crashes after you’ve finished installing

Note that it’s best to do this process a few days before you actually plan to start working on your blog. While your site will usually go live right away, sometimes it can take up to 72 hours for all the systems of cyberspace to cooperate and recognize your blog. If your blog does crash in the meantime, you will not even have access to write posts.

For me, it took almost 48 hours. Those 48 hours plus all the technical challenges that followed added up to days. Remember, I had no idea what I was doing and therefore researched almost every move as I went along. Those days were days I cleared to write content for my blog before a busy month started, and instead, I found myself dealing with technical mumbo-jumbo. So register and install in advance!

This whole ordeal of domain, server, and installation processes scared me immensely back in July, when I launched my blog. Little did I know that you can find great how-to videos on YouTube. Just doing it would have you done with these challenges in almost no time—rather than taking days off your writing time. If you’re reading this and haven’t launched your blog yet, stop right now. Go get yourself a domain and a host. Trust me, the worst in this post is yet to come.

Once that’s installed, you’re ready to begin importing your blog

You can now access your dashboard from http://yourdomain.com/wp-admin. So access it and log in. Once you do, it’s time to start the importing process!

Follow these steps:

  1. Click on Tools on the left sidebar.
  2. Choose Import.
  3. Your screen will look like the image bellow. Click on “WordPress” at the bottom of this list.

Importing your blog

This is what I saw when I clicked on “WordPress”:

A plugin is needed

My Dashboard was darkened and I was required to install a plugin that would enable the importing of my blog to WordPress.org.

As with any plugin on WordPress.org, after you download it—which usually takes a second—you must activate it before it will work. The screen for activating the plugin will appear right after the download is complete. But if you accidentally closed your browser or clicked on something else, worry not: you can always access your downloaded plugins on the left-hand sidebar of the Dashboard. Each plugin that you activate can later be de-activate and even deleted here.

Downloading the plugin

I decided to follow the advice of WordPress and the YouTube videos I watched: I downloaded the plugin and clicked on Activate Plugin & Run Importer. Within a second, the plugin was activated. That’s right—no installation nightmares! How good is that?

Finally, you get to upload your file (good thing you know where it’s saved). Import it and then start working, right?

Importing your blog file

Wrong. This is where all the trouble begins!

First, I was concerned my blog might be too large, as it contained almost 2000 photos. WordPress asked me to upload a file with the maximum size of 64MB (64 megabytes). I looked at my saved blog file to see how big it was. The number I got was 2989. That’s way bigger than 64! But wait—this figure had different letters next to it: KB. That would be kilobytes.

What does this mean? I asked Google. It turned out 2989 kilobytes equaled 2.9 megabytes. If you scroll back up, you’ll see this information was given to me when it was time to save the file. Paying attention to details is important. What’s 2.9 megabytes compared to 64 megabytes? I was about to find out.

I uploaded my file…

Big Deal #3: My blog’s file version was outdated

This is the message I received when I tried uploading my file: “This WXR file (version 1.2) may not be supported by this version of the importer. Please consider updating”.

The file version warning

Well, I did consider it. However, first, I couldn’t figure out what a WXR file was. I thought it might be the file I just uploaded—that seemed to make sense, yet that file was an XML file. Could a file be both XML and WXR?

Second, I couldn’t figure out how to update the file. I searched on my WordPress.com dashboard and on Google and couldn’t find the answer.

WordPress tip: For any challenge you might be experiencing, type it into Google and you’ll find plenty of message board discussions that were started by people with similar challenges. Many of these discussions take place on WordPress forums, which will start showing up many times once you Google your challenge.

I found message board discussions regarding my file version challenge. I just didn’t find solutions. When I did find message board answers that seemed to be offering a solution, the language they used was too technical for me to understand and know how to implement. I didn’t have the background or experience necessary to do it.

Whether it was the “right” thing to do or not, this is what worked for me. I don’t know if this will work for you too. What made most sense to me was that the above-mentioned comment referred to the file I just uploaded. I mean, it wasn’t there before, it appeared the moment the file finished uploading and it mentioned a file! Unable to discover how to update its version, I decided to go along and use it anyway the way it was. After all, if the file “may not be supported”, it may be supported. WordPress did not obligate me to update—it simply recommended it.

For me, this worked. I had a bunch of technical challenges that you’ll read about tomorrow, and they may or may not have resulted from this decision. Nonetheless, the fact is my blog is up and running on its new domain as you read this. Therefore, this is the place to smile: there is hope!

Before you click Submit…

It’s important to notice two elements on this page before continuing to the next screen.

First, you can assign user roles and positions to posts during this import. If you do this, you might need to handle more settings manually later on. Since I am the only author of my blog, I decided to leave this space blank and avoid dealing with settings. If you have more than one writer, you will likely want to explore it further.

Second, you need to choose whether to download attachments. If you leave the box “download and import file attachments” (right above the Submit button) empty, your photos and videos will not be imported to your WordPress.org file. Do yourself a favor, check that box.

Then click Submit.

At last, you can breathe

WordPress is importing your blog file! Yay! Celebration time, right?

Import problems

Wrong!

That’s right: there were problems with this step too. Don’t worry—I’ll show you what the problem was, and explain how I solved it tomorrow in the second part of this series. In the meantime, if you have any WordPress.com to WordPress.org war stories to share, we’d love to hear them in the comments!

Ayelet Weisz is an enthusiastic writer and translator from Israel. She celebrates the everyday and extraordinaire joys of life through travel on her travel blog, All Colores. Follow her adventures on Twitter and sign up to her RSS Feed.

Weekend Project: Sharing a WordPress War Story

While we love blogging, we all know there are some aspects that really do seem impossible sometimes—none moreso than transferring a WordPress.com blog to the WordPress.org platform.

We’ve discussed the differences between these two platforms before, because more than one blogger has been caught up by the limitations of WordPress.com (usually the limitation that this platform doesn’t allow you to monetize your blog). But it’s well known that swapping to the .org platform from .com can be a challenge.

This weekend’s project explains the WordPress war story of a blogger who chose to start a blog on WordPress.com, because it required so little technical knowledge. But when she wanted to monetize her blog—and switch to the .org platform—that lack of technical skill proved a major hurdle. It’s no wonder the process has gained such a bad reputation!

Actually, I think this is something that blog platform developers probably want to consider as they’re creating their platforms‚ because any help they can give to users who want to upgrade or switch to other versions of their products is always much appreciated.

If you’re one of those bloggers who’s itching to move your blog from .com to .org, but you’ve been too scared, clear some time in your weekend schedule to implement the process that our Weekend Project sets out. I’m giving you plenty of warning for this project—it starts tomorrow!

For now, if you have a WordPress war story of your own that you’d like to get off your chest, feel free to vent in the comments.

3 Strategies that Brought Me 11,710 Subscribers in Six Months [Case Study]

This guest post is by Mary Jaksch of Write to Done.

Imagine boosting your subscriber count by more than 50.7% in under six months.

You’d like that, wouldn’t you?

Okay, so if your blog has only about 200 subscribers, growing by more than 50% in under six months isn’t a big deal. However, it’s harder to achieve neck-snapping growth on an established blog.

Yet a combination of three booster strategies lifted Write to Done from 23,120 to 34,830 subscribers in under six months.

I’m not talking of becoming a guest-posting machine, like Danny Iny, who fired off 119 guest posts in the last nine months, or of becoming a heroic blogger like Leo Babauta. He kickstarted Zen Habits by writing five posts a week, plus five guest posts (whilst holding down a full-time job and raising a family of six kids). You wonder when these guys found time to sleep…

The number one challenge

Ask any blogger, and they’ll tell you that gaining more subscribers is their number one challenge.

My first blog, Goodlife ZEN, had an initial growth rate of … well, near zero. At the end of the second month I was so desperate, I subscribed my cat Sweetie. That made three subscribers: my son, by best friend, and my cat.

Like many newbie bloggers I asked myself: how can I gain more subscribers?

The root of the problem is that in order to grow your blog, you need traffic. But not just any traffic.

You need resonant traffic. You need the people who visit your blog to resonate with your content.

When I decided to rejuvenate Write to Done—the writers’ blog originally started by Leo Babauta—the challenge I faced was to lift this established blog into a new orbit. A combination of  three booster strategies did the trick.

How to put a rocket under your blog

The booster strategies I’m talking about are simple to implement, don’t take much time and effort, and they work—no matter how big or small your blog may be.

Strategy #1: Run an event on your blog

Running an event on your blog can create a buzz and draw resonant traffic—especially if you involve other bloggers.

I experimented with this strategy early on, when I launched the “Blog with Heart” competition on Goodlife ZEN a couple of years ago. The idea behind this competition was to get other blogs to participate in creating competing lending teams for the microlending charity Kiva.

The blog that raised the most money (relative to its subscriber numbers) was declared the winner. We raised over $16,000 during this campaign and subscriber numbers on Goodlife ZEN rose dramatically.

Later on, I created From Fab to Fit: the Great Fitness Challenge, an event that created a host of new followers.

There are many different kinds of events you can run on a blog. For example, you can run charity drives, competitions, challenges, or projects on your blog.

Another great example is Courtney Carver’s Minimalist Fashion Project 303. When Courtney casually mentioned the idea of a minimalist fashion challenge to me over a late-night cup of coffee in San Francisco,  I got so excited I jumped up and swept my cup off the table! Now Courtney’s blog Be More With Less is booming and the movement has spawned a Facebook page with over  3,300 Likes.

On Write to Done, I was able to utilize a ready-made event: our annual contest, the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. As part of the booster combo, we decided to run the Top 10 Blogs for Writers contest in November and December of 2011, integrating it with the two other booster strategies. We received 2,174 nominations, and traffic came pouring in.

But traffic isn’t enough to grow a subscriber base.

Reader habits have changed on the Net. Subscribing used to be a slow courtship where readers returned to a blog repeatedly before deciding to subscribe.

These days it’s more like speed-dating: you only have a few moments to turn an interested glance into a lasting relationship.

Great content, arresting headlines, and an attractive design used to be enough to grow your blog. But now you need something else to turn a first-time visitor into a subscriber.

Which brings me to the next strategy.

Strategy 2: Offer a subscription reward

If you want to turn visitors into subscribers as soon as they visit your blog, offer them a subscription reward. This could be a report, an ebook, a couple of videos, a short course, an app, or anything else that your readers would find extremely useful.

An easy solution is to compile an ebook from your best posts. This is what we did on Write to Done: we created The (nearly) Ultimate Guide to Better Writing.

You can also create a bundle of free ebooks, videos and podcasts. An example is The Blogger’s Toolbox. Another nifty way to create a subscriber reward is to invite other bloggers to contribute to an ebook.

The delivery method depends on how your subscriptions are set up. If you use an email responder service, like Aweber or Mailchimp, the delivery is pretty straightforward: create a follow-up email that goes out automatically as soon as someone confirms their subscription. The follow-up email should contain a link to a delivery page.

If you use Feedburner for subscriptions, use a plugin called RSS Footer. The plugin will put a link to your delivery page at the bottom of every post delivered by Feedburner, whether it’s by email or by RSS. You’ll need to tell your readers that the link to their freebie will be at the bottom of the next post they receive by email or in their RSS reader.

Strategy 3: Launch a product

Whenever you launch a product on your blog, you generate excitement. The excitement is generated in the run-up to the launch. The key is to foreshadow the arrival of the new product so that your readers look forward to it.

I recently asked Jon Morrow when you should start telling readers about a new product. He said, “Tell them about it as soon as you have the idea!”

Here’s an example of how a launch boosted subscriber numbers: Scott Dinsmore used a product launch to revitalize his blog,  Live Your Legend, with great results. Watch the video of an interview with Corbett Barr where Scott explains how he doubled his readership during the launch.

On Write to Done, we decided to create a launch for our ebook, The (nearly) Ultimate Guide to Better Writing in order to drive traffic to the blog.

How the strategy combo works

We combined three booster strategies: creating an ebook as a subscriber reward, launching the ebook, and running an event. This gave Write to Done the momentum to grow by 50.7% in under six months.

If you want to grow your subscriber numbers dramatically, create a booster campaign in five steps:

  1. Produce the product you want to offer as a subscriber reward.
  2. Plan your event and invite other bloggers to join in.
  3. Get your subscriber reward in place with signup forms and delivery page.
  4. Launch your product.
  5. Run your event.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to take advantage of the traffic surge created by your event and the product launch.

Just make sure that your event is in tune with your blog topic so that you generate resonant traffic. This means that  people who swing by your blog will be more likely to turn into subscribers—especially if you offer them a useful product in return for subscribing.

What growth strategies have you tried on your blog? Did they work? Please share them with us in the comments.

Want to improve your writing? Check out Write to Done and enjoy more posts by Mary Jaksch. You’ll also find The Blogger’s Toolbox insanely useful.

Use Forums to Boost Your Blog’s Value

This guest post is by Michael Silverman of Duo Consulting.

As bloggers, we’re constantly obsessing over ways to extend our reach to more people. We hover over every scrap of information about promoting our blogs and expanding our audience. And we use social media channels to get the word out and go viral.

There’s no doubt that these are important parts of maintaining a successful blog. Still, what role do you assign to your existing audience? Most bloggers are appreciative of their readership, but many rarely consider that their existing audience can do more than promote content and keep the comments active.

Why don’t we spend more time inflating the potential of our existing audience?

Tapping the hidden potential

I’ll answer that question with another one: do you think of your blog as a publishing platform with occasional interaction, or a full-blown community?

For successful bloggers, it’s quite probable that your readers have more to say than they post in the comments. Raise the value of your blog by giving audience members the means to connect.

Consider the potential of integrating forums into your website.

It worked for Dooce. Heather Armstrong’s success promoting her unique brand of perspective came over ten years of blogging. Site analytics concluded more than a quarter of Dooce’s traffic was made up of repeat visitors, some of whom visited hundreds of times per new post. They were begging for a home. They craved an identity.

Working with an online community development expert, Heather integrated a Q&A forum into her website. Within the first day, nearly 16,000 loyal readers signed up for the Dooce community—a clear indicator that the community was already present, almost supernaturally, and was hungry for the interaction in which it subsequently engaged.

How forums add value

You can do more with your audience, too.

Maximizing that potential requires a transition in perspective. In addition to positioning your blog as an editorial content machine, consider five ways more user-generated content can strengthen your site’s value.

1. Empower your readers with ownership

Everyone wants to be a part of the experience. When you offer your readers a place to interact, they become a catalyst for content. Elevating your audience from readers to contributors implies a newfound sense of ownership that can greatly increase loyalty to your brand.

2. Keep your audience on your site longer

You’re only one person, and you can only generate so much content. Bloggers with strong followings have found that readers visit multiple times per post. Without new content, you lose a golden opportunity to keep visitors on your site longer. Yet with forums, you gain a source of new content that won’t require much day-to-day commitment on your end.

3. Improve search visibility

In addition to all of the backbreaking promotional labor you perform, consider the continuous stream of new content that a forum can produce. Your site gets constant attention from search engines while gaining traction for new keywords.

4. Simplify how readers connect with each other

Your blog is a valuable source of networking opportunity, but it’s difficult to tap into if you’re only employing the comments for reader interaction.

Forums, on the other hand, create a channel for direct interaction between readers. You already provide your audience with valuable information; expand that value by offering them the means to connect.

5. Find new ways to empathize with readers

Your content is successful because you understand the motivations of your audience and empathize with them. Forums open the conversation up, offering you valuable insights into your audience that you can turn into writing inspiration. You can also leverage these conversations to connect with your audience on a more personal level, in an appropriate venue separate from your blog’s editorial feed.

The right tools for the job

How easy or difficult it is to plug forums in depends on your blogging platform. If you’re on WordPress, you can integrate popular forum software like bbPress. Singletrack Magazine, for instance, couples article content with popular mountain biking forums (powered by bbPress).

Singletrack

If you have a large content library powered by Drupal, you have options. Dooce’s Q&A section was built in Drupal. Among the most popular of the modules available for Drupal websites is the Advanced Forum module.

Sometimes, a strong blog or publication builds itself up on the power of user-generated content. AbsolutePunk, a popular online community for pop-punk enthusiasts, leverages vBulletin to get the job done. The software comes with a strong CMS to help power site and editorial content. Or, like some blogs and sites, you may decide to host the forum on another platform.

AbsolutePunk

No matter what CMS you use, you can build forums that mimic the theme of the website and link back and forth between the website content and forums.

You have an opportunity in front of you to raise the value of your website. If you take advantage of it effectively, the rewards can be great.

Do you have a forum on your blog? Are you a forum member on another blog? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

In addition to founding and leading Chicago-based Duo Consulting, Michael Silverman has headed up a number of online community development projects for 15 years. He just launched the book on online communities, Capturing Community: How to Build, Manage and Market Your Online Community.

Traffic Technique 4: Subscriptions

From the marketers’ point of view, subscriptions are a loyalty mechanism—they’re the first technique we’ve looked at that’s most often used to build repeat traffic from people who have already visited your blog, and like it.

dPS subscription options

If they like it so much, why do they need to be reminded to come back? Well, we’re all forgetful—and we know it! By subscribing, we can make sure we never miss a post from our favorite blogs. We stay up to date on all the news, perhaps even becoming part of a community, making friends, and connecting with people.

Subscriptions can take a number of forms, but the three most common are probably these:

  • email newsletters (which, as I’ve mentioned, have been invaluable to me in growing my blogs and making money from them)
  • email autoresponder sequences (for example, a course broken into instalments and emailed weekly)
  • a forum or membership area of your site
  • RSS feeds.

Of course, subscriptions aren’t just for loyal readers—they can also be used to engage brand new readers, which makes this traffic tactic very versatile.

The one thing that you will need, though, if your subscription call to action is going to work, is that the reader has to see it, and to do that, they’ll need to be on your blog.

Your blog: the proof of your subscription’s value

Whether you attract would-be subscribers to your blog through search, content marketing, advertising, or some other technique, it’s important to remember that your blog is the most common reason those people will subscribe.

Sure, they might like what you have to say on Twitter, or enjoy your pins on Pinterest, but they don’t need to subscribe to your blog to stay up-to-date with your news on those platforms. When you think about it, asking a subscriber to add a new subscription to their list—given the plethora of memberships we all have these days—is a pretty big deal. So we need to treat it as such.

As we’ll see in a moment, a subscription is a great opportunity for bloggers to meet audience’s specific, deep needs. That said, if your site doesn’t already deliver on those needs—or their precursors-in some way, you may have trouble gaining those subscribers.

Your first job is elementary: make sure your site looks professional, trustworthy, and responsive to would-be subscribers. Does it reflect their values, interests, and needs? Does it speak to them clearly and directly? Can they see at a glance the kind of value they’ll get from your blog?

If so, you’re onto something.

Your next step is to get that subscription call to action in front of them, and make sure it touches on those needs you’ve already helped them identify. This comes down to copy lines and subscription boxes—but don’t overlook tactics like providing informational pages about your subscription offering, and sample content from the subscriber material, to further entice users.

Remember: you want to make it a no-brainer for them to subscribe. Don’t leave them guessing the value they’ll get from you. In my experience, your best bet is to show it to them.

My latest project, SnapnDeals, is a really simple example. The home page header tells you the site’s purpose—what it offers you. A little scrolling shows you a sample of the details of that offer. And at the page’s bottom, you see this subscribe box.

SnapnDeals signup box

It’s very simple, but as you can see, when you get to the subscription box, there’s no doubt as to what you’ll get in the subscription. The call to action just drives that home.

On the other hand, the dPS site offers two kinds of email newsletters, and we’ve developed a brief informational lightbox to explain the differences between them.

dPS signup box

Within the context provided by the homepage, this information gives a clear idea of what’s included in the subscription.

dPS homepage

For this reason, in-context signup CTAs tend to do very well on my sites. But if you’re having trouble converting readers to subscribers, see our series on conversion optimization for help.

Beyond the signup

Many bloggers focus heavily on getting the subscription. That’s fine—it makes sense—but to grow your list, you really need to deliver consistently outstanding value through the subscription itself.

Moreover, to generate blog traffic from those subscribers, you need to give them no-brainer reasons to click those links you’ve included in the email or RSS feed and come through to your blog, or spend more time clicking around your forums and engaging with the others they find there.

When we look at subscriptions from the blogger’s point of view, that’s what we see: subscription packages give us the opportunity to deliver content that’s really outstanding. It needs to be outstanding to make the subscription worthwhile and meaningful for your readers in the first place. But a subscription offer gives you the chance to get more deeply into topics that are particularly important, deep, complex, or interesting to your readers.

To take this one step further, if you want your subscribed users to actively use that subscription, your subscription material needs to continually reward them for subscribing. It has to anticipate their questions, preempt their needs, and solve problems they don’t even know they have. That sounds like a big challenge, but if you’re the kind of blogger who loves engaging with readers and knows what they want, this will become almost second-nature to you over time.

The easiest way to fulfil those needs is to encourage your subscribers to look at more of your content—through links, cross-references, and ongoing discussions through your posts and in the comments (if you have those turned on). Subscriptions give us a forum to reformulate and recast our existing content by showing readers how it meets needs they weren’t aware of, or, together with other pieces from our blog, provides insight they seek.

Finally, if the subscription is time-limited (for example, your offer is a series of four emails that teach subscribers how to do something), you should really aim to follow it up with something that’s even more compelling at the end of that timeframe. Don’t just let readers languish after the subscription material ends: you have an engaged audience at your fingertips. You could:

  • send them a survey asking for feedback on the subscription
  • up-sell them to a product or service that relates to what they’ve just learned
  • cross-promote another subscription product or offer that may interest them.

Don’t be satisfied with the fact that you know have this person’s email address on your list—keep rewarding them for subscribing with more and more value, and they’ll keep coming back. In this way, those valuable subscribers can form the bedrock of traffic from which you can build new visitor numbers, and traffic growth, upon.

Do you use subscriptions to grow traffic to your blog? Tell us how in the comments.

SEO in the Fast Lane: Your Legit Shortcut to Readers, Sales, and Search Rank

This guest post is by Mark Cenicola of BannerView.com.

Search engine optimization, in its most basic form, is simply a matter of combining relevant content on a web page with back links to that content. 

If you want to rank high for a particular keyword phrase, that phrase needs to be the focal point of a web page and credible websites (in the eyes of the search engines) need to link to that content.

Developing relevant content is usually the easiest and least time-consuming part of the equation. Good writers can bang out great content like nobody’s business and throw it up on a web page quickly for search engines to see.

The more difficult and time-consuming part is getting other people to link to that content, which is a requirement to make the SEO magic happen. When Google sees quality websites linking to your content for particular keyword phrases, you start moving up the ranks of the search results. The higher the quality of the links you have to your pages, the better you’ll do compared to competitors with similar content, who don’t have as much credibility in the eyes of the search engines.

Convincing others to link to you can take a variety of forms.  If your content is very compelling people will naturally want to link to it, but sometimes it takes a lot of writing to get the right formula for your content to be shared. What else can you do?

  • You can do like I’m doing and try to convince quality publications to run your guest posts, but it takes time to build relationships, write quality content and get it published.
  • You can list your website in directories and submit articles to article banks.  This takes research to find the best websites that rank well and aren’t looked at as spam by the search engines.
  • You can engage in conversation on forums where you have the chance to talk about your business and actively link back to your website with the hope that not all of those forums have “no follow” rules.

If you’re like me and somewhat lazy (though I prefer to use the excuse that my time is valuable and that I’m extremely busy), you could hire someone to do SEO. However, that can get expensive, and requires time to move up through the ranks since someone has to do the work of convincing others to link to your content. Even still, there’s no guarantee of success—especially if you’re playing in a crowded field with many competitors vying for the same keywords.

It would seem that only patience, time, and money will get you to rank well. However, there is another option…

My shortcut to SEO success

Yes, there is actually a shortcut to ranking well for a particular set of keywords and isn’t just theoretical, nor does it require black-hat techniques, or bribing a Google employee.

First, I’ll give you a little background. I run a web development firm called BannerView.com, located in Las Vegas, NV. 

From the beginning, however, we never wanted to be seen as a Las Vegas based company, but a firm servicing clients nationally. Therefore, we didn’t overly promote that we were based in Las Vegas or make that fact prominent in our title tags, keyword phrases, domain name and other onsite content.  We thought that would be seen as a turnoff to clients outside of our locale.

That strategy worked well for us in picking up business outside of Las Vegas and since we had a local sales force, we didn’t see the need to target customers geographically.

However, this strategy didn’t work as well for generating leads from our website for those companies that did see it as an advantage to work with a local firm.  Of course, we still wanted to do well in our market, and the opportunity to work within our community has other benefits.

So we had a dilemma. How could we not sacrifice our brand’s integrity for SEO purposes, but still benefit from local search traffic? 

To complicate things further, the competition for top keyword phrases related to “Las Vegas Web Design” was fierce.  Hundreds of competitors were vying for these keywords and many have spent a lot of time positioning their websites to rank well for them.  They also had the advantage of using this keyphrase at the bottom of websites that they built for clients which linked back to their home pages.

We pretty much neglected our local market in terms of search engine rankings due to these challenges until we made the decision to go for it. Thankfully, we had some luck and good timing on our side. 

I decided that maybe we should just purchase a local competitor that already ranked well, and redirect their domain to a landing page off of the main BannerView.com website. This would allows us to immediately pick up a number of quality backlinks related to Las Vegas Web Design, without forcing us to change the focus of our national brand positioning.

A local competitor that owned a keyword rich domain, LasVegasWebDesign.com, as a matter of fact, had closed their operations. They were ranked high while in business, but one challenge was that they had already shuttered their website. Therefore, they no longer were ranked within the top ten results, as the site wasn’t in operation.

After doing some research, we saw that the domain still had a number of high quality backlinks that were relevant to the search terms we wanted to target. But we had to act fast—that domain could lose these valuable backlinks if the linking websites saw that the site’s owners weren’t in business anymore.

The main question was, how would the major search engines view this website after it was taken offline?  Did the domain still hold credibility, or was all lost due to the site being taken offline?

Fortunately, we were able to get in touch with the person who controlled the domain name and after negotiating an offer, we took the chance and made the purchase. 

Of course, going into the purchase, we had a plan to leverage its previous ranking and high-quality backlinks. We set up a landing page that was highly targeted toward our local geographic area. The messaging was specific to Las Vegas and the content made it obvious. This served two purposes:

  1. to attract the search engines for related keywords
  2. to serve as a lead generation tool for companies looking for a local service provider.

The results blew us away.  After acquiring the domain, setting up the landing page, and 301-redirecting the domain, it took less than two weeks to reach page one of Google, and we were actually the number one result on both Bing and Yahoo! for “Las Vegas Web Design.” 

We couldn’t have been happier and I’m sure we surprised a few of our competitors, because our page-one ranking didn’t even require that the listing be for our home page.

The blogger’s advantage

The strategy we used to jump the ranks for our local geographic search listings can be applied to any subject or geographic location. 

As a blogger, you probably have even greater opportunities, especially if you cover several topics (or even a single topic), since your focus is probably less geographically specific. Your advantage is the ability to purchase a wide range of different domains that may rank high for specific keywords related to your blogging niche.

Ranking high for even one keyword phrase can give your blog an immediate boost in traffic, increase your ad revenue, and give you exposure to a larger audience.

If you want to rank well for a particular keyword phrase or set of keywords, look to your competition.  Fortunately for you, not everyone is able to successfully monetize their website or blog, and that gives you the opportunity to purchase their domains and immediately get a SEO boost.

Just make sure to do your research (quality backlinks still matter) and have a plan in place prior to acquiring the domain to quickly leverage its positioning. For us, purchasing the domain, while not cheap, was worth the cost in both time and opportunity for the return on investment we gained.

Mark Cenicola is the president and CEO of BannerView.com, a full service website development company focusing on helping small to mid-size businesses better use the Internet as a portal for generating business. Mark is also the author of the book “The Banner Brand – Small Business Success Comes from a Banner Brand – Build it on a Budget.”