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My Two-step Social Media Starter Plan

This guest post is by Eric Binnion of Art of Blog.

You can’t deny the power of social media. But, if you’re anything like me, then you also realize that effectively running social media accounts can take up tons of your time.

That is, if you let it. I’d like to show you my streamlined, two-step process of curating great content, posting throughout the day, and keeping in touch with the different accounts I manage.

Step 1. Who else wants to know where to find great content?

After I took over several Twitter accounts earlier this year, I quickly realized that to get interaction on Twitter I needed to do one of two things:

  1. Be interesting.
  2. Share great/interesting content (this is called curating).

For me, I knew that it would be easier to find and share great content than it would be to stay entertaining. Being interesting is a lot of work!

When I first decided to go this route, I followed a lot of people on Twitter and then reposted the same links they had (usually without giving them a mention or anything). Yes, horrible I know. But I wanted to make myself look like the authority, right? And I’m sure I’m not the only one of us here who ever did that…

This seemed very inauthentic to me, though. So, I was very excited when I heard of a tool called Prismatic. Prismatic is a free service that will deliver content to you based on the interests that you select. Below is a screenshot of the interest selection process in Prismatic.

prismatic-interests

Pretty simple, right? After you go through the interest selection process, you are presented with a feed that has tons of content in it! Your Prismatic homepage feed will reflect a mixture of all of your interests. But, if you’re like me, and you post on several blogs with different topics, you may want to narrow down to different topics. You can do that by clicking the More link by Home in the sidebar, as you can see in this image.

prismatic-feed

Once you’ve got your feed all set up, you just need to find a good way to automate the posting.

Step 2. One social posting tool to rule them all

Okay, so that headline is a bit ambitious. But I truly love Buffer, a web app that allows you to drip-feed content to your social accounts over time. With this tool, I am able to go through my Prismatic feed, find great content, click one button in Chrome or Firefox, and then it’s scheduled to go out to my social media followers!

Buffer also includes analytics that let you see how many times a link of yours was clicked, the estimated reach, and the number of mentions and retweets it got. These are fairly simple analytics, but they allow you go back through your tweets and see what resonates with your audience.

buffer-stats

Buffer also helps you build relationships on Twitter by prompting you to follow and/or thank those that retweet your tweets.

Social media made simple

This may not be the best way to manage social media. As my professors say about our programs, “there are always 1,000,000 solutions. Find the best one for you.” This is a good method to use for those that do not have much time to devote to their social media.

Combining Prismatic with Buffer will allow you to curate great content and build relationships with those who follow you. As you build up your reputation for recommending great content, you can then more successfully promote your own content.

Which tools do use to manage and build your social media presence? Share them with us in the comments.

This guest post is written by Eric Binnion of Art of Blog. He loves blogging, programming, and playing with his crazy son.

How to Make Your Vlog Go Viral

This guest post is by Chloe Spencer of NeopetsFanatic.com.

Who said vlogs are the only blogs that should have video blog posts? All blogs should incorporate different types of media in their posts, because not all of your viewers stay interested in a blog that never switches up the way it posts its content.

Rich media blog posts tend to capture a large amount of readers, especially if you post your video using YouTube, which expands your audience from the readers of your blog to your YouTube subscribers, as well as all other YouTube users.

And if your video is good enough, it will spread through other social media sites and blogs, reaching audiences across the Internet; in other words, it will go viral.

So the question is, how do you create a video that’s good enough to go viral? Well, there are a few key ingredients to make a vlog post viral.

1. Make it helpful or interesting

For a video to become viral, it needs to teach something really helpful, or be very interesting.

You could be giving gamers a new tip or cheat for a certain game, you could be showing at-home cooks a handy cooking trick, or your video could be about the craziest extreme sports on the planet, or the most expensive dogs money can buy…

Whatever your topic, the video needs to capture attention, and give the viewer an incentive to share it. Either it was so helpful to them, or it was so interesting or cool that they couldn’t help but share it.

One informational video that went viral was the How To Moon Walk Like Michael Jackson video, which had over 30 million views. It’s a brilliant idea for a how-to video with viral potential.

Another video that was so interesting and entertaining that it became one of the most watched videos on YouTube, with a whopping 203 million views, is Judson Laipply’s amazing Evolution of Dance.

2. Use humor

Humor is key for a video to go viral. But it has to be the right kind of humor.

Think about who your target audience is, and who’s going to be doing the social sharing. Wacky humor is a great tactic for a younger audience, with content that’s original and often a little odd. There are tons of videos like this sweeping the Internet among Digital Natives (a.k.a Gen Ys). For example, a funnily dubbed voiceover of the famous Twilight duo, Edward & Bella—A Bad Lip Reading, garnered almost 11 million views in less than a month.

On the other hand, if your target audience is older, or in a specific niche, be sure to choose a type of humor that suits them. The wrong kind of humor for the wrong audience can take your potential viral status from ten to zero.

3. Go over the line

This brings us to the next factor, which is content that steps over the line—it’s slightly shocking, raunchy, politically incorrect, adult-themed, etc. Now you don’t want to go too far and offend a bunch of people, but if it’s inappropriate in a hilarious way, you may just be on your way to viral success.

People share videos that are funny and out of the ordinary, and what makes a video even more viral is adult humor. Take the Jackass skits for example, which use a great mix of humor, raunchiness, and shock-value to create funny, extremely viral videos.

Another example is this post on funny diamond commercials, some of which are adult-themed and odd. Taking into consideration that their average viewer is not a genius, they target the average to low IQ. Remember, in most cases you are targeting the lowest common denominator. The more people who “get” the joke or find your content humorous, the more sharable your content is.

4. Give it a twist

Videos that have a slight twist—that appear to be ordinary at first and end in a hilariously unpredictable way—really get people’s attention. Even if it starts off weird, getting weirder as it goes makes the video that much better.

For example, in this funny Snickers commercial, a football game is going normally until a player suffers an injury and is convinced he’s become Batman. Another good example is the “That’s Why I Chose Yale” video in this Best College Commercials blog post.

5. Ride on the coattails of a popular trend

There’s nothing more sharable than content that alludes to a popular trend or current fad that people (especially Digital Natives) recognize and relate to. A video that incorporates something like an expression, song, word, dance, or style that is currently sweeping the media can be pure genius. When a Digital Native sees something that caters specifically to their generation and humor, they love it and share it with their friends—and from there it spreads like wildfire.

For example, the expression “YOLO” is currently a huge fad. It means “You only live once.” Yes, it sounds stupid, but it’s popular, and if a video blogpost were to incorporate this expression, it’s almost guaranteed to become viral.

Another example? The once-colossal trend of True Religion jeans. Back a few years ago everyone had a pair; if you didn’t, you weren’t “cool”. It was a gigantic fad.

Along those lines, a current idea might be a video riding on the huge trend of Spanx, brought to fame by the Kardashians and other celebrities. This would get a lot of attention—especially among females, who actually make up the majority of social media users.

Coming up with your own brilliant ideas can be hard, so riding on the coattails of existing trends and popular fads is an alternatively sure way to viral success. Like this spoof iPhone 5 ad, which hilariously and ingeniously rides on the iPhone 5 mania currently sweeping the planet. After two weeks online, the ad had over 7 million views.

What’s your viral vlog idea?

All of these factors can help make a video go viral, and get shared via social media, blogs, articles, and word of mouth.

All it takes is for you to think about who your audience is, who’s going to be sharing the video, where, and what will make that audience want to share the video.

These five key ingredients are a surefire way to help your video blogpost achieve viral success! But if you have other tips, share them with us in the comments.

Chloe Spencer is a 21-year-old entrepreneur, online marketer, web developer, and professional writer and speaker. Chloe created and monetized her first website, NeopetsFanatic.com, when she was just 14 years old, and has since moved onto individual consulting for SEO and web development, as well as working on some upcoming projects such as a men’s fashion website based around how to tie a tie.

Blogging in Brief: Smart Writing Techniques, Swipe Files, and Myths Dispelled

This week, I’m kicking off a new, regular feature here on ProBlogger, called Blogging in Brief.

opinion_page_of_newspaper

Image courtesy stock.xchng user quil

The idea each time is to highlight a few cool, interesting, creative ideas that professional bloggers are implementing as potential inspiration for you.

ProBlogger’s based upon a philosophy of sharing stories and learning from each other, so every couple of weeks, I’ll take a look at some of the trends, ideas, and innovative new techniques various successful bloggers are using, and which you might like to test out for yourself.

Trying a new technique

Tommy Walker’s testing a new approach to writing blog posts at the moment—have a look at this one and you’ll see what I mean.

In the world of blogging, many bloggers tend to be attracted by a particular writing style, and then work to emulate that themselves. It’s great when a blogger really strikes out on their own with a radically different approach. Tommy’s preparing a piece for us to post here on ProBlogger next month, so I’m pretty excited to see where it leads!

More unexpected blogging

Corporate blogging may seem a worthy but potentially dry area. Think again. We recently came across a post on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blogs (tweeted by @kasthomas). The topic? Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.

It’s humorous, entertaining, and does a great job of presenting the CDC’s key message—being that they’re prepared for, and will respond to, any public health emergency—in a way that really opens up their blog’s audience. Great blogging!

Share your story

Chris Guillebeau’s now calling for stories as part of the research he’s doing for his next book. Maybe you have one to share?

The book is on the topic of “quests”—”a project of measurable challenge that you work toward over a long period of time.” If you think you might have a story to contribute, you can find out more here.

Cool idea: swipe file

I love this idea from Lynn Terry of ClickNewz.com. Lynn keeps what she calls a “swipe file” of marketing she sees that works, and calls on this when she needs ideas, tips, and inspiration.

It’s a really simple idea, and a great way to learn from others. You might have a blog post ideas list, or a product ideas file, but do you have an examples file—for marketing, blogging, or something else? Maybe it’s time to start one.

Dispelling blog freelancing myths

Tom Ewer, who’s written for us a few times now, is preparing to launch a new product which I think will be a real eye-opener for a lot of bloggers. This ebook is a practical guide to freelance blogging—something we’ve been talking about quit a lot here on ProBlogger recently.

Many of the posts you’ll see on this topic present freelance blogging as a simple, natural advance from blogging on your own blog, as a way to make money blogging … but that expectation can be a problem. An ability to write for your own blog doesn’t automatically make you a great freelancer. There’s a lot more to it than that.

This book (which our Content Manager Georgina has had a sneak preview of) tells it like it is as far as freelance blogging goes. Should be interesting to see the reaction from bloggers on this one!

Creating a better Internet, people

Finally, I came across this post by Allison Boyer this week and thought I’d share it. It’s got some great, basic advice I think we can all agree on. As Allison says, “Let’s create a better Internet, people.”

The news of Google’s launch of the Disavow Links tool, to help site owners who’ve suffered from bad backlinks claw back search rank, might help support the same cause.

What cool, creative things have you seen other bloggers doing this week? Share your links in the comments.

5 Goals Every Blogger Should Set Up in Google Analytics

This guest post is by Eugen Oprea of EugenOprea.com.

Do you want to build a successful business online?

I bet you do. Now that I have your attention, what is the first and most important step that will help you achieve that?

It’s important to know your audience and to build an awesome website that is fast and secure. It’s also important to have a social media presence and to write engaging articles.

But all of these come after you set up your business objectives and goals.

Setting up your business objectives and goals is the first and most important step towards your success online. Without them, you might as well not start it at all.

Set up goals for your blog

Like business goals, you also need to have goals for your website.

Whether they are simple goals like attracting readers and engaging visitors, or bigger goals, like increasing conversion rate, you need to have them on paper.

Then, once you are aware of what you want to achieve with your website, it’s time to start measuring those goals.

The simplest way to do this is by using Google Analytics. Google Analytics helps you not only see stats about your visitors, but also lets you create and measure your website goals and objectives.

Getting started

If you are just getting started with Google Analytics, you may want to read more about reviewing your offer, revisiting your conversion funnel, and revamping your communications, or get a handle on the basics of Google Analytics.

But, you likely already have a Google Analytics account, so let’s just dive in to creating the first goals for your website.

For starters, I would recommend you measure:

  • Engaged visitors: visitors who stay on your website longer than the average
  • Readers: visitors who read more pages on your website that the average
  • Email subscribers: visitors who sign up for your newsletters or freebies
  • Customers: visitors who purchase a product
  • Ad performance: clicks on ads to see which one is performing best, and who sent the traffic that clicks on your ads.

Before diving into each of these stats, let’s see how you can create a Google Analytics goal.

Log into Google Analytics and from your Account Home select the website for which you want to set up goals.

On the next screen you should see the Visitors Overview—this is a good opportunity to check your Pages/Visit and Avg. Visit Duration stats. You will use them later.

google-analytics-overview

Then, select[Admin from the top-right menu, select your website profile, and click the Goals tab.

google-analytics-goals

Now, here’s how you can create the goals outlined above:

1. Measure your engaged visitors

Start with the Goals set 1, and click on the +1 Goal. You will be directed to a window that will help you set up your first goal.

First, type in a name for your goal and make it active.

The you will see a list of Goal Type options. You will learn about all of them in this article, but select Visit Duration for this goal. This will help you measure how engaged your visitors are, and who is sending you those engaged visitors, among other things.

Next, on Goal Details, select visits with Visit Duration greater than your Avg. Visit Duration. For my websites, I use one minute as the duration.

Additionally, you can add a value for your goal, but if you are not sure about this, add 1.

google-analytics-engaged-visitors

2. Measure your readers

Now, it’s time to set up the next goal and see who are the readers of our website, and which visitors read more articles.

Just like for the first goal, you need to give this one a name and make it active.

Then, select Pages/Visit as a Goal Type, and enter as the Goal Details visits with Pages/Visit greater than your average Pages/Visit.

I use 2 for my websites. Add a value for your goal and you are done with this.

google-analytics-readers

3. Measure your email subscribers

Next, we get to the exciting part: measuring your email subscribers.

Even though it’s fairly easy to set this goal up, it will give you so many insights that can help you increase your conversion rates.

First, though, you will need to have a Thank you page set up to send visitors to after they confirm their email address for you. You are going to use this page when setting up your goal so set it up on your website first. Once that’s done, set up your email marketing provider to direct visitors there after they confirm their email address.

Now, you can create the goal. This time you need to select URL Destination as the goal type and on the Goal Details, you need to set these options:

  • The Goal URL: If your thank you page is http://www.yourwebsite.com/thank-you/ then type in /thank-you/.
  • Match Type: select Exact Match.
  • If your URL is case-sensitive then select the Case Sensitive option.
  • Add a goal value.

Additionally, you can set up a Goal Funnel, which is essentially a series of pages that lead to your conversion or thank you page. You can use this option if, for example, you have a landing page for your newsletter.

In this case you can select / as the URL, name it Index and /your-landing-page/, and add a name for it.

This will let you see where your visitors dropped out on their way to subscribe for your newsletter.

google-analytics-email-subscribers

4. Measure your customers

Setting up a goal to measure your customers is essentially the same as for your subscribers. All you have to do is create a conversion page where you can send people after they purchase your product.

Then, you need to set up a goal for it in Google Analytics in exactly the same way you did for subscribers.

5. Measure your ads’ performance

Before setting up a goal for measuring your ads’ performance, you need to have a good idea about what event tracking means and how you can implement it.

So, first learn about how you can use event tracking and what it means for measuring your ads’ effectiveness.

Now, once you setup event tracking on your website, you can go and create a goal for each event you’ve set up. To do that select Event as the Goal Type and fill in the Category, Action, Label, and Value for your goal. These values are the same ones you used when you set up event tracking for your calls to action.

You can set up goals for all your events, your most important events or none of them. It’s your choice if you want to see them only in the Events section, or get more insights about how different traffic sources are sending you visitors that complete actions differently.

google-analytics-ads-performance

How to measure your Google Analytics goals

Here comes the most interesting part of this article: measuring the outcomes for the goals you set up.

After you se tup these goals, you will be able to see your engaged visitors, your most loyal readers, your subscribers, your customers or how your ads are performing.

But what do you do if you want to discover who is sending you traffic that converts? And by “converts,” I mean simple visitors becoming engaged visitors, loyal readers, subscribers, customers, or people who click on you ads.

To do that, you need to navigate to Standard Reporting > Traffic Sources > Sources > All Traffic. Then click on Goal Set 1, just above the graphic, and you will see conversion data about your traffic sources.

This will tell you which websites are sending you visitors that convert, and you will know where you need to leverage your presence. For example, you can learn:

  • what kind of traffic you receive from a guest post
  • which social media outlet sends you quality traffic
  • if your press release did a good job
  • if the ad you’re paying for is worth it
  • and much more…

Finally, you can apply this technique to check most of the reports in Google Analytics. Go ahead and discover more about how your visitors convert.

Back to you

Now that you finished reading, it’s time to take action. Go and set up the goals you learned about and then come back and share with us:

  1. how much time it took you to complete this
  2. other goals that you want to measure, or already measuring, in Google Analytics
  3. what else you want to learn about this tool.

Eugen Oprea helps people convert more traffic into loyal customers using proven techniques that grow your business. Get his Google Analytics course for free to learn more and check his new WordPress plugin Elevatr.

The Only SEO Your Blog Posts Need

This guest post is by The Blogger.

Okay, I know you’ve read posts about SEO, PageRank, and other things we bloggers should all know about.

This stuff is helpful, but it has come to overshadow some of blogging’s golden rules, like that original content is king. I doubt this fantastic blogger ever focused on “Search Engine Optimization,” yet her fan page is bigger than yours or mine will ever be.

All you really need to know about SEO are three relatively simple things and how they relate to each other. I’m talking about Keywords, PageRank, and backlinks. In this post, I’d like to explain how these three things come into play when you publish a new blog post. If you learn something by the end of this, post a comment and tell me.

1. Find popular keywords

To discuss keywords, we’ll began after your post is written, but before you hit Publish. I’m not here to tell you how to write posts. Everyone writes in their own beautiful way and you may be onto some new way of writing that is totally revolutionary and perfect on its own.

Keywords do two things, they describe your post and they make it popular. By popular I mean people are search these keywords in Google Search.

So here’s an example: You write a blog post on vacation spots in the Caribbean. Potential keyword phrases include “vacation spots Caribbean,” “cheap Caribbean vacations,” “best places to vacation Caribbean,” and anything else you’d imagine people are currently searching in Google. You need a way of knowing which keyword phrase is best and I’ve got just the tool for you.

The best keyword tool

Good news, you don’t need to imagine because Google lets you know for sure. Head over to the free Google Adwords Keyword Tool and try out some searches. Just plug in some short, two- to four-word phrases and see which are popular.

You have to try out a few searches to get the hang of this thing, so don’t get frustrated if your initial searches produce low results.

The Adwords Keywords Tool is totally amazing. It shows search term volumes and competition levels. Ideally, you want keywords phrases with low competition and ridiculously high search volume. This can be tough. Some phrases, like “cheap car insurance” or “purchase blog hosting,” are already totally bought out. Some phrases that aren’t popular at all are bought out. Weird huh? Google makes too much money.

But you’re not paying a cent here. Hooray!

Here’s an example of how I used the Adwords Tool: I just published a blog post on About Me pages and found “About Me page” to be a good keyword phrase for it. 246,000 people were searching that and competition was low—which is good enough for me! Some phrases get searched as much as 151 million times a month though. Impressive, huh?

Notes: Disregard one word phrases, those won’t help you here. Also disregard the website and category fields as you don’t need them for these searches.

Once you’ve found a good phrase, we’ll work on putting those keywords in your post title.

2. Put the keywords inside your post titles

WordPress.com estimates that 500,000 new posts enter their blogosphere each day. That’s just the .com. Factor in other platforms and we’re talking a couple hundred million.

But about 95% of these posts are mistitled. The post authors slap careless titles on their posts that prevent the posts from ever being found. Why would you want a blog post to not be found?

Now I know I talked about titling posts in my previous post—but I’m not some title guru, okay? Just bear with me.

Titles broken down, again

A blog post title consists of two parts: what you see, and what Google sees. What you see is the actual title! What Google sees is the permalink. You want those keywords you just chose inside the permalink. This tells Google crawlers what your post is all about.

One way to accomplish this on a WordPress blog is by going to Settings—Permalinks in your blog’s admin panel then selecting Post Name. You can also download the Custom Permalinks plugin, which gives you a bit more control.

Either way, take that post you wrote on “vacation places in the Caribbean” and put your keywords in the title right after .com/ or .org/ or .net/ or whatever. Separate them with a dash and be as simple as possible. Google loves simple.

Now, your blog post is keyword-specific. Sure, you can also put those keywords in the post body text itself—if you’re doing it right, they should already be in there! Don’t ever try to trick Google by mistitling posts, that’ll surely get your penalized. The point I’m making though is a lot more people will see your post if the permalink is done right.

3. Build PageRank through links

PageRank is your blog’s, or any webpage’s, relative importance on the web. It is measured by incoming links, which Google sees as “votes” for your content. That’s the simple part. It’s the recursive nature of PageRank that makes it so confusing. (Click through that link for a super-techy Wikipedia post.)

Building your rank

You build PageRank by getting links from websites or blogs that have high PageRanks themselves. Ideally this happens because folks just want to mention you!

What PageRank gives you is much, much more complex though. It allows your blog posts to rank well in Google and usually results in a lot more traffic. Perhaps most importantly opens new doors for how you can make money with a blog.

So of course, people manipulate PageRank. In the bad old days of blogging, you could setup a niche site with three articles on it, get some good backlinks from already-established sites, and your traffic would soar. You’d be on Google’s top ten for whatever Keyword phrase you focused on! Not anymore. Yet backlinks are still very important.

Best PR tips I can give you

So you’ve written your post, you’ve found great keywords to describe it and to put in your permalink, and you’ve titled that bad boy. The post is done.

Here’s what you can do with your blog post to build PageRank effectively:

  • Get it linked from a news site: I was fortunate and got my first blog mentioned in the Huffington Post early on in my blogging career. This brought tons of new folks in, and the link itself was a huge Google-vote for my site.
  • Get your post in link round-ups: Lots of blogs do weekly features where they recommend five or ten article links for their fans. Ask a site manager to get on their round-up and offer the same in return.
  • Use link-text wherever you can: A raw link in a blog post is good for SEO but a link on good anchor text is better.( Anchor text just means the words you place a link on.)
  • Focus on one or two posts: A couple of posts can bring massive traffic that will then view other posts. Instead of getting every article linked, try to get your best two posts linked several times.

PageRank is a bit odd. Once you have it, you don’t need to focus as much on it because your articles should already rank well in Google, and chances are people are linking to your organically. But before you reach this point, it’s work, work, work.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think SEO has gone too far? Do you even bother making SEO tweaks anymore? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Blogger is a 25 year old guy from New York who answers about 150 blog questions over his first coffee of the day. Read his full story here. You can find him on Twittersubscribe to the club, or ask him a question at his blog and he will answer right away.

5 Essential Elements of a Successful Self-published Book

This guest post is by Srinivas Rao of BlogcastFM.

Self-publishing is a hot trend.  People’s eyes are lit up by the possibility of actually making money from their content. But there’s more to it than throwing together a PDF, uploading it to Amazon, and waiting for a check to arrive in the mail. The most successful self published authors treat their books as if they’re working with a publisher.

While it’s easier than ever to publish something to Amazon, the low barrier to entry has flooded the Kindle store with less than stellar content. Much like the blogosphere, only the best rise to the top, while the rest get lost in a sea of noise.

After many conversations with several successful self-published authors, we’ve narrowed their advice down to 5 essential elements.

1. Content

It might seem obvious, but good content is the foundation for a good book, much like it is for a successful blog. You could execute the mechanics of self-publishing to perfection, but if the content falls short it doesn’t matter.

2. Editing

The fact that you’ve self-published is already a strike against you in the eyes of the average reader.  Many of the self-published books on Amazon are poorly edited—if they’re edited at all. If you’re serious about the success of your self-published book, you can’t put a price on a good editor. Good editing can make the difference between an average book and a great one.

3. Platform

You could write the greatest book in the world. But if there’s no audience for it, you’re not going to sell many copies.  Building a platform enables you to build an audience prior to the launch of the book. A platform could be any of these:

  • a blog
  • a Twitter presence
  • a Facebook Fan page
  • an email List

4. Promotion

Simply putting your book on Amazon is not enough to make it a big success, especially if you’re not a well-known author. A solid platform is an essential tool for effectively promoting your book. But the platform alone is not going to be enough to promote your book. You’ll need to come up with a killer marketing plan for the launch of your book. For more advice on effective promotion, the following interviews provide invaluable insights.

5. Design

People make snap decisions on the web all day long. In this case, the old mantra “don’t judge a book by its cover” is nonsense. Books are definitely judged by their cover on Amazon. Below I’ve included two examples of self published books (one with a bad cover and one that was professionally designed). As you can see, design makes a big difference.

Goins Writer book cover

Facebook Likes cover

The best advice

The best advice I’ve ever received on how to successfully self-publish a book is to treat it just as if you’re working with a publisher. Sit down and outline every step that would be involved if you were working with a publisher. That means design, editing, and anything else a publisher would help you with are your responsibility. The only difference is that nobody is holding you accountable, so you you’ll have to be highly motivated to create the best possible book yourself.

Have you ever self-published a book? Share your tips for success with us in the comments.

Srinivas Rao is the host and co-founder of BlogcastFM, where he has interviewed close to 300 of the world’s most successful bloggers.  He is also the author of Blog to Book Deal: How They Did It.

How to Work With Designers to Design Your Blog

This guest post is by Rob Cubbon.

Psychologists have long been aware of the halo effect—a situation in which our judgment of a person’s character is influenced by our overall impression of them.

The same is true of websites. Rightly or wrongly, we judge a website first and foremost by the way it looks.

Think of your favorite blog and close your eyes for a second. Can you picture elements of the blog’s design (the logo, the colors) clearly? I bet you can; and I bet you like it!

So now that you know how crucial a blog’s design is to its success, how do you go about getting a great blog design if you’re not a designer?

What type of blog design do you require?

The first thing you need to decide is exactly what sort of blog design you require. Do you need:

  • A small amount of customization of an existing theme: This would be the cheapest and simplest option—you could just have your logo tacked onto the Genesis Generate theme, for example.
  • A fully customized child theme built on top of a solid theme framework: You might use Genesis or Thesis, with more unique features.
  • A completely customized WordPress theme.

Either of the first two options would be sufficient for most blogs. A general rule would be the less you change a chosen theme, the less you’ll spend on design and the simpler the process will be.

I’ve had to “rescue” many blogs where someone has created a completely custom theme that the owner then finds unwieldy and difficult to work with. WordPress is the most ubiquitous CMS on the planet for a reason. The popular WordPress themes and theme frameworks are popular for a reason. Work with them rather than against them!

Working out the brief

Next, you must spend a good deal of time working out your brief. While a good designer will likely have their own questions to ask you, you’ll have trouble finding good designers if you don’t know what you want or need in the first place.

To begin, ask yourself which sites you admire. What is it about them you like? Is it the colors, the look and feel, the functionality? Visit them and answer these questions as specifically as you can.

Then, think about your own site. These are some of the major points you should include in your brief:

  • What should it look like? Do you have any examples of websites you wish to emulate without copying?
  • Who is your target audience? List the target readers’ ages, genders, geographic locationd, what sort of work do they do, etc.
  • Would you like the site to be responsive to phones and tablets?
  • Do you need a logo? What other logos do you like, or would like yours to be on a par with? Specify that you’d like the logo supplied as a small image, a large image, and in the original vector file format.
  • Do you require any other design collateral? For example, business cards, email templates, a Twitter background, a Facebook page design, a YouTube channel background, etc.
  • What functionality do you require? Do you want to be able to change around widgets such as featured posts, signup boxes, featured video, etc., on your home page as well as the sidebar(s)?

Don’t sacrifice user experience for design. Websites first and foremost need to work. So don’t get too complicated with the design brief. Simplicity is key.

Your brief should also include URLs of example websites you like and the specific parts of the sites you want to emulate on your blog.

Choosing a designer

Regardless of your budget, always try to find one person who can competently do all the work you require (design, development, email templates, logo design, etc.) if it is at all possible. You’ll win on two counts: simplicity and cost.

If you don’t know of a good designer, you can try LinkedIn Groups and the freelance sites such as oDesk and Elance, which show potential candidates’ previous work history and client feedback.

Once you start to get responses, you can begin to whittle them down. Some of the replies you get can be easily rejected. Other designers may have excellent portfolios but can be passed over because their skills aren’t appropriate. If a designer doesn’t have a blog design that you like in their portfolio, then it’s not a good idea to choose them.

If you have chosen a child theme on the Genesis theme framework, for example, you can specify this in the job description, and then only consider designers who have experience with Genesis.

Narrow the candidates down to a group of about five to ten, and then contact these designers with your brief. After they’ve reviewed it, they’ll be able to answer your questions about availability, timeframes, and costs. You will be able to remove more of them from consideration once you have this information.

At this point, check the the candidate’s references. Contact anyone who has previously employed their services and ask how the project went, as well as any other specific questions you’d answers to. This not only gives you peace of mind, it can also give you tips for working with particular designers.

Hopefully at the end of that process, you’ll be left with one or two designers who will be a perfect fit for you.

Working with contracts and copyright

Contracts and copyright are huge topics that vary enormously from country to country and from designer to designer.

If you are dealing with a designer through oDesk or other freelancing sites, you’ll use the contractual and payment arrangements there.

If you’ve contacted a designer privately, they’ll likely send through contracts in order to specify payment and work arrangements. Always read these contracts and suggest amendments, if necessary, to ensure the contracts specify exactly the deliverables and the timeframes expected of the designer.

Copyright ownership also needs to be covered. Copyright to designs tends to stay with the creator—the designer. This can be signed over for a fee, but that rarely happens. The work of the designer should only be used for the initially intended purposes, so don’t imagine you can repurpose a design for some other reason down the track.

Communicating with the designer

A good designer will ask you the right questions about the website you envisage, and will prepare and amend visuals of the home page and other pages in the site so you’ll know what you’re getting.

If you have chosen a designer online, there may be language, cultural, and geographical barriers to communication. This makes the initial brief writing and communication even more important. In these cases, you may want to start with the logo design to see how well you work together, and then move on to the website if that goes well.

But in all cases, make sure you and your designer agree on every detail of the brief and contracts, and understand the work involved.

What you can do

There are many elements that go towards creating a great looking blog, but if you can communicate the values of simplicity and clarity to the designer, you’ll be halfway there!

What about your tips? If you’ve ever worked with a designer to design a blog, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Rob Cubbon is a web designer and blogger.

Join Me at the ProBlogger NYC Meetup this Sunday

This week, I’m off to the States, and I’ll be hosting a little blogging meetup in NYC while I’m there.

If you’re in the area, why don’t you join us?

The meetup’s on Sunday 28 October, and it’s sponsored by Zemanta, and will be held at Black Door.

The last two times I’ve been in NYC I’ve held a little meetup for bloggers. They’ve been fun evenings of meeting others in the ProBlogger and Digital Photography School communities.

Register to attend—and get all the event details—here.

I look forward to meeting you in NYC!

Bounce Rates High? Why?

Most bloggers I know want to reduce their bounce rates. Sometimes it can seem as if it doesn’t matter what the bounce rate for a page actually is, we want it to be lower!

Bounce

Image courtesy stock.xchng user ColinBroug

While it’s a stretch to expect we’ll hit a zero bounce rate, for most bloggers, it is worth looking at your bounce rates regularly, and trying to find ways to reduce them where appropriate.

While blogging’s about people—not just numbers—bounce rates can give you hints about the ways individuals are using your blog, and where you can help them out. In this post, I’d like to explain that in a bit more detail.

What is a bounce?

You undoubtedly know what a bounce is—a user who lands on our page from an external source, then leaves our blog without looking at any other pages. It’s a “single pageview” usage of our site.

But what does a bounce mean?

  • Did the reader get what they came for, and leave?
  • Were they disappointed by what they saw on your blog page?
  • Did they arrive at the page expecting to see something else?
  • Is the content current and compelling—and clearly so?
  • Is it clear from a single glance at the page what your blog is, does, and delivers?
  • Are there clear paths from that page to other actions or information that are likely to meet the needs of target users?
  • Are the bouncers regular readers who check out all your posts, so each time they just come to the latest one, read it, and go again>

Understanding the possible reasons for the bounce is an important step in doing something to reduce the bounce rate itself. Let’s look at a case study from ProBlogger to see exactly how the diagnosis of reasons for a high bounce rate can go.

The bounces, and the page

On a usual trawl through the site’s stats one month, I spotted this:

Bounce rate stats

These stats were for a single month. As you can see, this page attracted some good views, and almost 95% of them were from new visitors! But the bounce rate was really high, the time on site low, and the average visit duration? Terrible!

My first thought was to visit the page itself. It didn’t take me long to find a few issues—let’s step through some of the main ones I found (note that I’ve updated the post since, so these items have been addressed on the live page):

  • The opening dated the article. This piece has a publication date of 2008, but even if the new visitors didn’t see that, the opening, which would have been fine at that time, was written when I was a Twitter newbie—not ideal these days!
  • This problem was amplified by the outdated Twitter follower number I’d quoted. I mentioned in the post that I had 5500 followers; now that number’s over 160,000.
  • I’d included a link to Twitip in the opening. This immediately pulled readers through to one of my other sites, which doesn’t generate any income. While the content had been valuable, that site’s a bit dated now, due to a lack of regular updates. It certainly seemed smarter to try to keep these new visitors on problogger.com a bit longer, rather than syphon them off to Twitip.
  • Much of the content in the article itself was dated.
  • The post didn’t provide many links to other great articles we have on topics like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social networks, and social network engagement strategies, here at ProBlogger—simply because that information wasn’t available back in 2008 when I’d written the post.

Yep, this page was pretty outdated! But I bet most sites that have been around for a while will probably have a page or two that are in a similar state.

Sources of bouncing traffic

Okay, so I knew I had a problem with the content of the page—and there were plenty of opportunities to improve it. But in order to make the right improvements—improvements that would give me the best chance of reducing that bounce rate by actually meeting individuals’ expectations—I wanted to know what the users were expecting to see when they came to the page. What needs did they have?

So I took a look at the traffic sources for the page:

Traffic sources

This was interesting. For any blog that gets a lot of its new traffic from search engines, you might expect the main traffic source to be Google. And when I first looked at the page in question, I’d imagined that most of the traffic to this page was coming from search and being pulled to Twitip. In fact, the traffic was coming from Twitip.

Understanding how the page is being used

Now I was getting a pretty clear idea of how this page was being used, and why the bounce rate was so high.

Twitip users were following a link from that site to this article. The second paragraph of the post was directing them right back to Twitip. In that case, would they feel that ProBlogger was more of an authority on Twitter than Twitip? Not likely. No wonder the bounce rate was so high!

But, as expected, Google was also among the top three referrers, and that traffic had a bounce rate of more than 90%.

Beyond content

Knowing that this page was being visited mainly by new users, it was worth looking beyond the content itself, to the page’s layout, branding, and design.

This page is laid out in the same way as the others on my blog, many of which—even if they mainly attract new users—don’t have such high bounce rates. This suggests that the layout probably isn’t the problem.

Now, the major call to action—the main point of engagement and interaction—on my blog’s content pages is to comment. Comments had long since closed on this post, so users may have struggled to find their way to other relevant content on the site at the post’s end. I’d included a Further Reading list there, but the articles were no longer current.

Yet, given how outdated the post was, and the tiny average visit duration, I guessed the visitors I was getting probably weren’t making it that far through the post anyway.

Understanding your bounces

As you can see, a little sleuthing can go a long way in helping you to understand the reasons for high bounce rates.

I try not to be thrown into a panic by the numbers alone. When I look a little deeper, I usually hit on more information that can help you take action on the bounces—if indeed that’s what you want.

In the case of this page, we made some tweaks to bring the content up to date an try to draw search traffic more deeply into the site.

But the reality for the high bounce rate from Twitip users is this: Twitip targets a different audience from ProBlogger. While it’s not unlikely that bloggers will read Twitip, that site is at once far more focused (Twitter tips only!) than this one, and more broad (it targets anyone who wants to use Twitter better—which could include casual, social users of the network, right through to online marketers in corporate environments).

So while ProBlogger contains Twitter tips, to try to convert traffic from Twitip into readers of this blog is probably a bit of a challenge. The two audiences want different things. While it was definitely worthwhile updating the ProBlogger post, the Twitip audience, on the whole, probably isn’t going to be interested in what we’re doing over here.

And that’s an important thing to realise: not all bounces are bad, and not all need addressing. Many do and will, and they’re the ones you’re better to spend your time trying to fix. But you won’t be able to work out which ones they are unless you take a few minutes to dig into the facts behind the bounces in the first place—to think about the individual users behind the numbers.

What do you do about your blog’s bounce rates? Have you been able to lower bounce rates through any specific tactics? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.