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Make Money From a Low-traffic Blog [Case Study]

This guest post is by Nathan Barry of Designing Web Applications.

It seems like every day you read a story about a blogger who released a product to their audience and made a ton of money overnight. But then after you read more details about their story, you learn that they already had a popular blog with a huge audience.

That’s the point in the process where I always used to feel disappointed. While I wanted to replicate their success, I didn’t have an audience.

My story is different. Yes, I managed to pull off a massively successful product launch, but I did it with a tiny audience. I hope this is a story you can relate to and learn from.

The beginnings

In June 2012, I had 100 RSS subscribers for my blog. Not 10,000, just 100. And I’d been working steadily on my blog, pushing everyone to subscribe by RSS, for over a year. Not great results.

But a few months later, on September 4th, I released my first product, an ebook called The App Design Handbook, which went on to make $12,000 on launch day and has passed $35,000 in total sales.

Now are you interested?

Focus on a big goal

What happened in those three months between June and the September launch? The biggest change I made was focus. Since I was working on the book I decided that my blog was going to be almost entirely focused on the topic of designing iPhone and iPad applications. So I started writing posts and tutorials that would be valuable to that audience.

I was hardly the first person to write tutorials about designing apps. In fact, there were many much more popular blogs out there. But I was one of the first to write an ebook on the subject. So when people came to my site and saw that I was working on The App Design Handbook, it gave me instant credibility.

Focusing on a big goal, in my case writing a book, will give you credibility and a reason for visitors to follow your progress.

Give people a way to follow along

At the bottom of each post I wrote from then on, I placed an email signup form for the book. It didn’t provide much information (it would have been better had I provided more), but I did give people a chance to hear about the book when it launched.

This list gradually grew to 795 subscribers by the time I released the book.

Watching this list grow gave me the confidence that my methods were working and encouraged me to keep writing posts on designing iOS apps.

It is really important that you give your readers a way to opt in and let you know they are interested in your work. I’ve found email to be the best way to do this.

Share valuable content

The posts I wrote were all tutorials about designing and coding better products. Nothing super-elaborate, just what I thought would be helpful to someone learning about design. My most popular post was titled “User Experience Lessons from the New Facebook iOS App.”

Facebook’s iOS application had been notorious for its mediocre user experience and slow speeds. So when Facebook released a new version, I took the opportunity to dissect all the design changes they made to see what I could learn. The designers at Facebook didn’t change anything major, but they made a lot of minor improvements that designers everywhere could learn from.

I hoped this post would do well on sites like Reddit and Hacker News, but it didn’t really get any traction. To my surprise, though, it started getting shared on Twitter. After three days, it had been tweeted and retweeted over 100 times, driving a lot of traffic.

More importantly, that drove a lot of email signups to my book list.

Create a good product

It would be a waste to spend months building up to a brilliant product launch, only to have a poor product. So, I spent most of my time in those three months actually working on the book itself.

It’s important to do the marketing and promotion posts (that’s the part most people ignore), but you still need to write the book or meet your larger goal.

Yet, like all things, it’s a balance. If you focus 100% of your attention on the product, you won’t sell any copies. So find the right balance between creating the product and marketing the product. I find my time is split 50/50.

The launch event

Some people say you should let people pre-order the product to test demand. While I really like this idea, I didn’t do it. I decided that the email list was enough validation that there was a demand from the market, and I wanted to create a lot of buzz by focusing everything to the launch day.

While this strategy turned out fine for me, I don’t know enough to make a recommendation one way or the other.

I do know that if you can make a big splash, a single-day launch can help sales.

Guest posts

Speaking of a big splash, I did some guest posting as well. My original goal was to have between 15 and 20 guest posts all go live on launch day. I didn’t even make it close! But five really solid posts went live on some great sites on September 4th, with one more the next day.

It just goes to show that if you set high goals, even your failures are still a small success.

None of these posts drove a lot of traffic, but I think they helped remind people about the book. That’s why I love a single-day launch event. The first time someone mentions a book on Twitter you may not pay any attention. But then if you see an article by the same author on one of your favorite blogs, the two impressions together may be enough to get you to check it out.

So, do guest posts related to your product launches, but don’t expect thousands of visitors from guest posts. Guest posts are more about building relationships and name recognition than they are about driving traffic.

Using the email list

A week before launch I sent out a sample chapter and the table of contents to my pre-launch list. A few people unsubscribed, but they wouldn’t have purchased the book anyway.

It’s important to stay in contact with your email list, rather than trying to sell to them out of the blue months after they signed up. If you’ve been completely silent until asking for the sale, the common response will be, “Who are you, and how did you get my email address?” rather than them remembering who you are, that they opted in to your list, and are interested in your product.

It would have been better if I had delivered valuable content to them for a couple weeks leading up to the launch, but at least I did something. Then on launch day, everyone was expecting the sales email. I sent it out at 6:00 AM Mountain Time and had $1,000 in sales within ten minutes. For me, that was absolutely crazy! I never expected success so quickly.

That’s the power of a good email list.

The total was $12,000 in sales by the end of the first 24 hours, and $35,000 after two months, all from a blog that was visited fewer than 100 times a day a few months prior.

Wrapping it up

I hope it’s helped to you to follow my process and see how your own blog could make money, even if you aren’t popular. You need to focus on a big project, give people a way to opt in and follow along, focus on delivering value, and make a big splash on launch day.

Got it? I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments!

Nathan Barry is the author of Designing Web Applications, a complete guide to designing beautiful, easy-to-use web software. He also writes about design and business at NathanBarry.com.

How to Find an SEO Goldmine for Your Blog

This guest post is by Elena Vakhromova of Freemake.com.

We all know that search engines are a big piece of blog traffic cake. Unlike other traffic sources (subscriptions or social media), search engines bring visitors who are generally unfamiliar with your blog and have one definite goal: to get an answer or solve the problem with the help of your post.

So while your Facebook fans would rather go to check out your recent post on any abstract topic, visitors from Google & Co. are able to discover only the posts which are shown in search results for queries they enter.

Ideally, every new post should bring visitors from Google, Yahoo, Bing, and so on. However, an average blog has only a few pages ranking high in search results and bringing new visitors daily.

When we started the Freemake Blog in May 2012, we never thought that one post (written in 20 minutes, purely for fun) would bring us ~6K pageviews daily. To tell the truth, we did nothing extraordinary to optimize this post. It just appeared when it was high demand for “funny questions to Siri” and there were almost no posts on this topic.

When we realized how fertile search traffic can be, we tried to write every new post aiming at the same result. And some of our initiatives have been successful.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that we write solely SEO-oriented posts, by no means. We understand that there should be a sound balance between SEO goals and common sense. So we never practiced keyword stuffing, but tried to find the topics which would be interesting to our readers and bring us traffic from search engines.

Here I’d like to share with you an approach that may help you find an SEO goldmine for your own blog.

Step 1. Look for standout ideas

Imagine that you’re going to write a potential SEO-boosting post and you face the problem of topic choice. First, you need to make up a list of all possible topics for the blog that you’re able to cover. There are several places where you can find ideas for new posts:

  • Q&A sites: Look for topics on popular Q&A sites (Yahoo! Answers, Quora, Mahalo, etc.). Go through all questions in your category.
  • News and trends: Your readers’ attention revolves around popular events in the world and your niche, so why not take advantage of upcoming releases, holidays, and rumors?
  • Comments & suggestions: Your visitors may suggest great ideas for new posts. If you don’t have a “Tip us off” page or at least a dedicated email address, it’s high time to think about it.
  • Competitors: Have a look at popular posts on competing blogs. If they don’t have such a section, you may check top search queries for that site in Alexa.
  • Social media: Visit your Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts and see what your friends and followers are sharing. Some of their ideas may be worth your attention.

Write down all interesting ideas. Then look though the list and cross out those for which you don’t have enough expertise.

Step 2. Forecast organic traffic

You outlined several ideas for a new post. Now let’s check their potential popularity in search engines.

For each idea write three or four possible keywords and compare them using the Google Keyword Tool. This lets you measure the levels of traffic the keywords would bring to your blog if you optimized a new post for them. Put down the rates of global and local monthly searches for each keyword.

The Keyword Tool will also help you identify more worthy keywords to concentrate on. You may also use:

  • Google Trends to compare the volume of searches between two or more terms
  • Google search suggestions and related searches to get more keyword ideas. Just start typing a query and look at the Google auto-suggestions. Then click Search and look for the related searches at the bottom of results.

google_suggestions

At the end of this process, you should have on your list only the ideas with high keyword traffic potential.

Step 3. Find free SEO niches

Once you’ve decided on the keywords, analyze your possible competitors to find a free niche. This tactic especially makes sense for small and medium-sized blogs that don’t have enough authority to compete with big ones for high search engine rankings.

Enter the keywords you picked up in Step 2 and look at the first page of search results. It’s worth trying to compete if, on the first search results page, you see user-generated content (e.g. forum questions, self-created tutorials, YouTube videos, and so on), or posts from blogs whose PageRank and Alexa Rank are poorer than yours.

On the other hand, if large authoritative blogs like TechCrunch, Mashable, or Engadget have already written on the topic you’ve chosen, and the first search results page has no “ray of light”, you’d better think of a different approach to this topic (e.g. a negative or funny one), look for another vacant query, or quit this idea.

Step 4. Pick the winners

So you have filtered your ideas by keyword popularity and competition. Now it’s time to identify the leaders. You shouldn’t always pick up only one topic—maybe several of them deserve to become a new post, or one idea may lead to several articles with different keywords. So let’s prioritize the ideas on this basis.

First, take the topics which are tied to upcoming events or rising trends, and publish the post at least two weeks prior to the event.

Then, give preference to evergreen topics which you’ll be able to update with new information.

Finally, pick up those which seem best suited to your blog content.

Step 5. Write a quality article

When writing a post on the topic you selected, remember that SEO aims shouldn’t affect the post quality. Don’t overburden the post with keywords. Keep in mind: readers who visit your post and don’t find any worthy content won’t come back to your blog again.

To decide which format better suits your new post, analyze your previous articles that gained high social engagement (tweets, likes, comments). What format, length, and headline peculiarities do they have? Don’t be afraid to repeat your successful experiments.

Consider providing useful calls to action and giving additional materials: links to particular tools, related articles, illustrative charts, images, and videos. Don’t write too floridly. Your readers are simple internet users, like you and me. So make every effort to provide a really interesting article.

Step 6. Reanimate SEO-unfriendly posts

As a bonus, I’d like to suggest reconsidering old posts which should be bringing visitors from search engines, but for whatever reason, aren’t. You may easily find such articles in your blog analytics: their keywords don’t bring much traffic as compared to your SEO-leaders.

No doubt, the reasons for this may differ from post to post—from technical or design oversights to high keyword competition. I’d like to draw your attention to the SEO drawbacks that you may eliminate in shortest time:

  • The keywords you chose are unpopular. In this case, examine Keyword Tool ideas to find better keyword combinations (go to Step 2 above).
    keyword_toolFor example, I see that our blog has a keyword funniest youtube channels which brought us about 150 visitors last month. Our post comes second in search results on this query. We consider the keyword unpopular—it has only 720 global monthly searches. Still the tool suggests to me the related search terms top youtubers, funny youtube channels, and best youtube channels.

    It’s clear that top youtubers isn’t what the post is exactly about, but a simple change from funniest to funny youtube channels might triple the clickthroughs to this post.

    • Your post doesn’t look attractive in search results, so people don’t click it. A skillfully written title and description will improve the situation.
    • The post doesn’t match the keywords for which it’s appearing.Short visit durations and high bounce rates are strong signs of this problem. Therefore, think thoroughly about what people expect to see when they enter a particular search query. What is their aim?For instance, imagine that you look for a good youtube converter and instead of a direct link to some converter, you see the analysis of how to choose a good YouTube converter. You may scroll the tips and even follow them one day, but your goal isn’t achieved, you haven’t received what you were looking for. So the post needs re-writing (keep in mind Step 5).

    Find your SEO goldmine

    Whether new or old, as long as it’s optimized for “right” search queries and written primarily for readers, your post has all chances to become a traffic goldmine.

    However, search engines are unpredictable mechanisms, so who knows how another algorithm update will impact on your search traffic?

    What steps do you work through to make sure your posts are optimized for the right search terms? Tell us your tips in the comments.

    Elena Vakhromova is a full-time PR manager and blogger at Freemake.com, developer of free Windows software for audio/video conversion and YouTube MP3 download.

The 3 Step Guide to Creating Pinterest-friendly Graphics for Your Blog

It´s well established that Pinterest can be a strong driver of traffic. We´ve been having a lot of success at our Digital Photography School account and have seen other blogs, like Hair Romance, experiencing similar success.

In my experience, most bloggers focus on curating boards to build their expertise and drive traffic back to their blogs. They regularly include their blog posts among the images they pin. This is great for attracting new visitors.

There is, however, an easier way.

You can save time and test whether your content will be shared on Pinterest by creating specific graphics for your blog posts. This simple method allows you to know if your blog and images resonate with users.

The most basic form is a title and a graphic. In this post, I´ll walk you through my three-step process for creating images that are Pinterest-bait. Also, I´ll be doing a follow-up post highlighting bloggers using Pinterest successfully, so let me know if you have any suggestions for that in the comments.

Step 1. Choose the size of your graphic

Sizing is an important issue. You want the graphic to be clear when it’s viewed as a small image. Additionally, you want the graphic to match the design of your blog. From a visual perspective, I prefer it when the graphic is the same width as the blog post. A great example is the image at the end of this post on Expert Photography.

The best shape is either a square or tall image. Dan Zarella´s research shows that taller images get repinned more often. I agree with this, but mostly because you can fit more text in a longer graphic. The size of the graphic will depend on a lot of variables such as your blog design and how much attention you want to give to branding or calls to action.

I recommend that you look at relevant images and take note of the sizes that appeal to you. Visit the original blog posts and see whether the graphics fit with the theme. Here are some example images on the original blog posts:

Tip: List posts and series do really well on Pinterest.

Step 2. Choose the design elements and fonts

The best graphics are ones that have a similar template. I can look at pins from Elizabeth Halford and instantly know when one is from her blog.

You want this kind of recognition and consistency. It means that people are more likely to trust you and repin the image without reading the associated article.

I love it when the image matches contains similar elements from the blog design. Examples include:

  • colours
  • font
  • logo
  • background

The goal is for you, or a designer, to create a template that you can use for all of your graphics. You want to be able to make minor tweaks and get a new, pinnable image in just a couple of minutes.

Additionally, you need to consider the following:

  • Do you want to use photos in your pin? This often increases the likelihood of the image getting repinned.
  • Will you incude a call to action asking for people to repin the image? This will take up extra room and can clash with your branding.
  • How long are your post titles? Will you have to change them for the Pinterest graphic?

This is the hardest part of creating Pinterest-friendly graphics.

Step 3. Add images and title

This is the easiest step, and the one that you will be repeating every time you write a new blog post. You simply have to add the title and, if necessary, an additional image in Photoshop.

If all of this sounds too complex, I recommend reading How To Create Pinterest Friendly Images. It contains a simply tutorial to create basic images.

Extra ideas

Create graphics for your Resources page

A Resources page is an easy way for many bloggers to highlight their curation skills and potentially increase their affiliate income. You can attract new readers to this page by creating a graphic specifically targeted towards Pinterest browsers.

To really excel at this, the page needs to have a title that is more catchy than Recommended or Resources. Look at what Bree, from Blog Stylist, has done. She created a graphic for her page titled A-Z of blogging resources. This title is much more likely to be shared.

Posts that have numbers in them—especially list posts—do extremely well. However, that approach may not work if you are regularly updating you Resources page.

Add pinnable graphics to older posts

This is an idea that isn´t used by many bloggers. People will create graphics for their newer posts but will rarely revisit their archives. There is a lot of potential for Pinterest traffic here. Tutorials are extremely popular.

Check out this example from BlogcastFM. It´s really simple—just a couple of nice fonts over a photo. It takes a good eye to get the elements working together like this but it is something that anybody could achieve with a bit of practice.

Do you have any pillar content sitting in your achives? Revisit it and check to see if it has already been pinned. Also check to see if people have pinned similar articles from other blogs. This will let you know whether the topic will resonate with Pinterest users.

I´d focus on creating graphics for the posts that have the most demand. This will give users the tools they need to share the post, and image, further.

Use quotes

People love pinning motivational quotes and images. This is also one of the easiest ways to find material for graphics.

Go through your previous posts—especially the more popular, thought-provoking posts. Look for feedback on the sentences and phrases that people resonated with. Some people have even identified these and highlighted them so that people can tweet them easily.

Colin Wright, from Exile, has created a page featuring images of his most popular quotes. He added an extra income stream by making these images available on T-shirts.

Create infographics based on blog posts

An infographic is a graphic, eye-catching visual representation of information, data or knowledge. Consider investing in having an infographic designed to provide information useful to your core audience—it makes for a highly “repinnable” image.—Donna Moritz via Amy Porterfield

Occasionally, you will have a post that would be perfect for an infographic. This if often a list post. It can take a bit of work to create the infographic, and for many bloggers, it may be beyond their budget or technical expertise. It does, however, give the post a chance to go incredibly viral.

Check out the post that I referred to in that quote.  The 10 Commandments of Using Pinterest for Business went viral on many networks because it was a comprehensive, well-written post. It went absolutely crazy on Pinterest: it felt like that graphic was haunting me for weeks! That´s how powerful it can be.

Over to you

Are you thinking about using any of these techniques? Do you know of any bloggers who are doing this to builds their visibility on Pinterest? Let me know in the comments.

The Blogger’s Guide to Cutting Your Losses

I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence, but as we near the end of the year, there seem to be a few bloggers talking about what you should do if a past passion no longer inspires you, or your next big idea’s already been done.

Making cuts

Image courtesy stock.xchng user mmagallan

Now is a good time to take stock—I know I’m not the only one who has a look back over the year in December, and makes new plans in January. So I thought it might be valuable to talk today about cutting your losses.

What are losses?

You might be tempted to think of losses in terms of passion (things you no longer have an interest in) or lost opportunities (ideas you want to pursue but can’t, because of other commitments).

But there are other losses. One is dollars. If you’ve monetized your blog, and you are making money from blogging, you might find it difficult to work out the monetary value of lost opportunities, or money you’ve left on the table through poor execution or planning.

The other big consideration is lost opportunities around and beyond your blog. These can play into the question of income—perhaps a project you’re busy working on caused you to forfeit another opportunity that could have stepped up your income this year.

The question we, as bloggers, need to ask ourselves is whether that other thing we were working on is worth that lost opportunity. Are the gains we’re making with that other project worth it?

If not, it might be time to consider cutting your losses.

What should we cut?

Only you will know the parts of your life as blogger that feel like chores, that are overwhelming, or that don’t seem to add to your life no matter what you try.

Importantly, as Yaro’s story points out, sometimes cutting your losses has to be done in advance. You have a great idea, but then you find out the competition is really very tough, or someone’s already done what you’d planned to. That may mean that developing the idea isn’t worth the effort.

But only you can tell if that’s true.

I tend to cut the things that don’t give me energy to keep doing what I’m doing. I always have a lot on the go, so that makes it pretty easy to tell what’s gaining momentum, and what’s not. It’s easy to look at reader stats, or income statements, or even just how I feel about tackling a project, and know if I think it’s worth doing.

But sometimes, ideas that have been very popular can actually be difficult to convert into money-makers. For a pro blogger who’s relying on income to keep a roof over her or his head, those ideas can be the hardest—and the most necessary—to let go of.

If you’ve given everything you have to making a project a success, yet you just can’t make that traffic convert, you might need to think of cutting that project from your schedule and focusing on the areas of your work that are helping to support you.

Is now the time?

It seems obvious that once you’ve worked out that you need to cut a project, you should just do it. But I don’t know that this is always the right approach.

Think about selling a house. You might decide you’d like to move somewhere else, but you might also know that houses in your area sell better in Spring. So perhaps you decide to wait until then before you list and sell your home.

The same goes for blogging. I was in touch with a blogger recently who’s decided to sell a blog, so he’s spending three months building it up to be the strongest he can make it, to maximize his sale price.

So the on-the-spot cut isn’t always the best idea.

That said, there are times when it will be. If it’s an ongoing project (rather than a bright idea you wanted to pursue), it’s important to work out an exit strategy for that project. Simply dropping it might not be the answer.

Abandoning projects you’ve been working on means writing off the time you’ve put into them. By carefully reviewing what you’ve developed, you might be able to find ways to reuse some of that work in a way that gives you the greatest possible benefit.

That might mean backing up a cool WordPress theme you had specially developed before you take a blog offline, or asking contacts you’ve met through an ultimately unproductive project to help you with something else you’re working on.

Whatever you do, try not to just cut something and run. The best endings are the ones where we learn and gain from our experiences.

Looking back over the year, have you got losses you need to cut from your blogging work? I’d love to hear what you’ve been thinking in the comments.

Blogging on the Bleeding Edge: Create Content that Gets Liked, Shared, and Talked About

This guest post is by Glen Andrews of Glen-Andrews.com.

There are two types of content…

Regurgitated content. This is content, or information, that’s been shared throughout a niche for years. It doesn’t really excite anyone anymore. It’s considered useful, but it’s “old hat.”

As an example, in the blogging niche (my niche) regurgitated content would be writing an article about hashtags, setting up a Facebook page, or discussing the importance of creating videos.

These are all worthwhile strategies to write about, especially if your blog is about social media. We all need to paint the full picture for those entering social media (our niche) for the first time. So discussing old strategies is always a smart thing to do.

However, regurgitated content won’t thrust you to the forefront of your market. Which brings me to our second type of content.

What’s happening now content. This is “bleeding edge” content that’s new to your market.

When Google rolled out its new algorithm (Panda/Penguin) the people aware of these “insider” updates were seen as the experts. Then, these so-called “insiders” created some of the first articles, posts, and videos about Google’s new algorithms.

These insiders are also the ones who receive masses of likes, shares, and tweets from their fan base. Which in turn, helps them build an even bigger fan base.

When you share breaking news, people want to be on your newsletter list, they want to read your blog, and they want to follow you on social media sites.

Here’s the good news. Anyone can become an insider, as I’m about to explain.

But first, here are four things that occur when we produce “what’s happening now” content.

The benefits of bleeding-edge content

  1. We have the ability to help and inspire others.
  2. We’re viewed as experts on the “cutting edge” of our niche.
  3. Our content gets shared, liked, and talked about more often.
  4. We get an opportunity to earn an exceptional income online.

You might be saying, “Don’t most blogs get these benefits?”

No! Most blogs have good content, but not “what’s happening now” content, blogged from the bleeding edge.

Becoming an insider

Here’s how you can become an insider in your niche, and publish the best bleeding-edge content.

Finding other insiders

First, find out who the top three leaders are in your niche and follow their every move. Get their newsletters and RSS feeds sent to your email, and follow them on Twitter. This will immediately tip you off when something new is about to unfold in your niche.

When you find some killer bleeding-edge content, create an article, post, or video, and discuss the affects this news may have on your niche. Then of course, you’ll share it with your base.

Finding policy makers

So you’re probably wondering—where do I find these niche leaders?

You want to locate the people who make the rules. For example, in my niche, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are just a few of the “policy makers” I follow. These are the people who make the policies that affect everyone online.

It helps to get your information straight from the decision makers themselves. However, I could also follow Searchengineland.com for SEO. I could follow SocialMediaExaminer.com for all things social media.

You want your finger on the pulse of what’s happening next, and the only way to do that is to know the decision-makers in your market.

Blogging on the bleeding edge

Have you identified the decision-makers in your market? Are you able to respond quickly when they report critical news? What are your strategies for creating great content that gets liked, shared and re-tweeted? Share your ideas in the comments.

Glen Andrews has created niche sites, ebooks, and info products that produce a steady reliable income. Glen is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs create and market a blog online that makes them money.

Blog Design for ROI Rule #5: Engage Readers On Archive Pages—Fast!

This guest post is by Gab Goldenberg, author of The Advanced SEO Book.

The purpose of a blog archive page, such as a category page or even the blog homepage, is to maximize the average number of blog posts read by any visitor. The more visitors read on each visit, the likelier they are to become loyal readers and stay loyal.

To maximize the amount of our archive that visitors read, we need to know what content will best engage them and how best to display that content.

That’s what we’re going to cover in today’s post, the latest in our series on blog design for ROI.

First, let’s look at the assumptions inherent in the classic debate about how to display posts on an archive page.

Full posts or excerpts?

This question assumes certain things, and it’s important to point them out.

Assumption 1. You can have one, but not the other

First, the question assumes that we can use either full posts or excerpts, but not both.

This is the case in traditional archive page layouts (typically single-column layouts), where every post is shown the same way, i.e. full posts or excerpts.

That doesn’t have to be the case, though.

Eurogamer offers a great example of a twin-column layout. Here’s what their 3DS archive page looks like:

Eurogamer layout

One easy-ish way of showing both full posts and excerpts is to imitate Eurogamer’s twin-column layout. You then program one column to offer full posts and the other to just show excerpts.

(From a technical perspective, I realize that two columns could be styled by the same CSS, as with Thesis theme. What I mean by two columns is that the layout uses separate code blocks that will be styled differently and given different functionality.)

Assumption 2. All visitors want the same thing

Another assumption of the “full posts or excerpts” debate is that all visitors to an archive page want the same thing.

I can tell you from my own experience that this isn’t the case.

When I was starting in SEO, I spent untold hours and visits poring through SEOBook.com’s blog archives, looking for useful tricks and ideas. I obviously didn’t go back to read the same thing every time—I kept digging around the archives for different material.

Similarly, other bloggers may be searching for the link to a post they liked so that they can link to you. Make this easy for them!

What content should you feature on a blog archive?

First, make a strong first impression on new visitors by displaying your top hits.

If your site is new, you can call them Editor’s Recommended Reads or use language like, “New to {BlogName}? Start here.”

This is an increasingly popular practice because of its utility to new visitors. As we saw above, Eurogamer lists recently popular posts on their archives page.

37Signals’ blog Signal vs Noise also feature popular posts in a category, but theirs come from across the entire timespan of their archive:

37signals

The flip side is that you can’t just show your hits in the archives, because some people may be there to find other content, as I explained above.

In addition to popular content, also show your recent posts, but make navigating the archives fast and easy.

Help returning visitors get the most out of your archive with these tips:

  • Give visitors control over how many posts are shown on your archive pages, and if possible, save their preference for next time. Don’t limit people who are navigating deep into your archives to viewing ten posts at a time.
  • Offer paginated navigation (i.e. numbered links like “1, 2, 3, 4…”) to your deeper archive pages even at the top of your Recent posts column for returning visitors.
  • Use AJAX to load posts or further archive pages in the same category (e.g. links to pages “1, 2, 3, 4…” ). This will speed archives’ load times.

(For those who don’t know, AJAX is a programming technology that lets you load additional content on the page you’re viewing, without requiring a new page load. AJAX stands for Asynchronous Javascript And XML. Regarding SEO, since Googlebot is only learning to read Javascript, you’ll want the code for those with Javascript disabled to be a regular link to the URL of the post or archive page.)

Now that we’ve covered what content to show on an archive page, let’s go back to our discussion about full posts and excerpts to understand why the archives are a great place to use AJAX.

Which display style gets more content read: excerpts or full posts?

Pros and cons of post excerpts

The primary advantage of displaying post excerpts over full posts is that you can make more posts visible at once. If the first or second post isn’t enticing, you might still get a click on the fourth or fifth post, without forcing the visitor to scroll.

At the same time, post excerpts clarify the post’s subject. This compensates for vague or ambiguous titles, which will draw fewer clicks if displayed without the excerpt, or clicks from visitors who misunderstood the title and click the Back button. Potential readers can make more informed choices whether or not to read the post, thanks to intro text.

The disadvantage with post excerpts is that they require extra page loads, slowing visitors actions down and making them leave your blog faster.

Pros and cons of full posts

Full posts help visitors avoid extra page loads. If we use full posts, and visitors like the first thing they see, then we’ve got an advantage over post excerpts, since the visitor saves a page load.

If visitors aren’t interested in reading the above-the-fold-content, though, they need to scroll. And the more they need to scroll (e.g. due to long posts, obscure titles, a lack of clear beginning- and end-points for posts, etc.), the likelier they are to lose interest and leave.

The longer it takes a user to read something interesting (not only to find it), the more likely they are to leave. We need to help them find something fast and load it fast.

The solution

Use long excerpts for popular content and short excerpts for recent content.

Full posts

Let’s assume that we know from traffic stats which posts are the most popular posts. This means there’s low risk of a visitor not being immediately engaged by these hit posts, so there’s a good argument for using full posts. Scrolling isn’t likely to be a problem, since the first or second post has a good chance of engaging them.

However, we haven’t eradicated the risk that someone won’t want to read the first one or two posts. This is especially so for returning visitors who may have liked our top hits last time and are now back for more.

Therefore, it’s best to use longer-than-normal excerpts for top hits. The excerpt aspect limits scrolling for people who don’t want to read the first posts, while leaving less to load via AJAX for those who do chose to read them. Full posts are not ideal but they’re still okay, especially for short posts.

Post excerpts

In contrast to popular posts, there’s relatively higher risk in displaying the full text of recent posts. Sometimes, recent posts include great material, but sometimes, it’s ordinary material.

So your display of recent posts should definitely be limited to excerpts that are shorter than your top content.

Once someone clicks on a post…

Once someone indicates they want to read a given post, we need to serve them the post as fast as possible. That’s why using AJAX to load post content is great, because we can just load the body of the post, without wasting time by reloading everything else (the header, sidebar, footer etc).

Facebook makes use of AJAX for these reasons, when you get to the end of the content that was initially loaded. This is what some people call the “scroll forever” presentation.

Scroll forever on Facebook

Boost ROI by engaging readers in your archives

Your blog will receive returning visitors and new visitors, and your archive page layouts need to accommodate both. Here’s how to help with that.

  1. Use two content columns on your archive pages, one for popular posts (or editor’s picks if your site is new) and one for recent content.
  2. Use longer excerpts for the popular content and shorter excerpts for the recent material.
  3. Make the archives’ navigation fast and easy, by:
    • loading posts and “next” archive pages (i.e. pages linked to as ’1, 2, 3, 4′) with AJAX
    • offering navigation deeper into the archive right at the top of your archive pages
    • giving visitors control over how many posts they see on archive pages.

As a post-script, I’d encourage you to show authors’ pictures on archive pages, as well as on individual posts. If a reader enjoys works by a particular author, seeing their picture will increase the likelihood of them clicking through from the archive page (or stick around and read if they’re coming right to the individual post).

If you liked this post, check out the others in the series: Rule #1: Prioritize The Opt-In Form, Rule #2: Highlight Your Key Content, Rule #3: Show Your Community Love, and Rule #4: Make Posts Easy to Read.

Gab Goldenberg wrote The Advanced SEO Book—and you can get a free chapter here. Gab and Internet Marketing Ninjas, the folks behind the Blog Design for ROI series here on Problogger, are offering to mail you a free print copy of the Blog Design for ROI guide as a small book. Get your free copy from seoroi.com/blog-design-for-roi/ .

Celebrate Your Marketing?!

This guest post is by Karl Staib of Domino Connection.

Have you ever planned out your day and put marketing as the last thing on your list because you just can’t stomach another rejection?

I know I did. I have a popular blog named Work Happy Now that gets 15,000 visits a month. That’s due to backlinks, Google search, and social love. This happened because of my desire to build relationships with people. I didn’t force myself onto anyone. I connected with them via interview, guest post or Twitter. It was this kind of outreach that I enjoyed.

The marketing that I avoided was cold calling, cold emailing, and buying ads on websites. I just didn’t want to build connections with people who weren’t interesting to me.

You marketing should be a celebration instead of some stodgy task that you have to do to get a few sales. If you hate the kind of marketing you’re doing, your business won’t grow.

Think about it this way: everything you do is marketing, from a blog post to a conversation with another blogger. You are creating something. You can create something beautiful and memorable, or you can create something forgettable. It’s up to you.

In this post, I’ve put together a few concepts that you can use to delight and encourage people to talk about your blog.

Give away surprise gifts

Studies have proven when people receive an unexpected gift their dopamine levels skyrocket. Knowing this you can give someone an extra boost to your visitors. You may even want to include a little blurb about it on your blog.

I would suggest keeping track of everyone that leaves a comment on your blog for one month. The person with the most comments for that month wins a free ebook, ecourse, or something along those lines.

The idea is to keep it a surprise. I guarantee that person will keep coming back to your blog and leaving comments for a long time.

Throw an online party

Throwing an online event is a great way to get people talking about you. The technology is so good today that you can do almost any kind virtual event. You can create a webinar, tele-seminar, Twitter party, Facebook giveaway, or a contest that engages people.

The idea is to build authority and friendships with your tribe.

Throw a physical party

An online event is cool because it’s not as stressful as a real-life event, but a live event has a few benefits.

I still remember my first tweetup with Robert Scoble. I’m not really a tech guy, but I wanted to see what a tweetup was all about. Robert was visiting Austin and put together a group of people to meet at the restaurant. He was a cool enough guy, but the best part of the party was the people I met. I still keep in contact with someone I met that night over five years ago.

By creating an event for people that allows them to bond, you are creating something worth sharing. Since Robert threw that Twitter party over five years ago, he gets a link from Problogger.net. That’s priceless.

Help out a charity

My friend Colleen Wainwright created the 50 for 50 event. She promised to shave her head if she was able to raise $50,000 by her 50th birthday.

You should check out her link. She has an image of her shaved head on the page. She was able to raise over $50,000 for WriteGirl, a charity that helps young girls improve their writing skills.

Colleen gets the benefit of raising money for a super-cool charity, but also building her network. I know that’s not why she created the event, but it’s a nice bonus to have a new network of people to help you with your business.

Your story

It’s all about creating a story. If you can get people on board with your story, you are able to create an event that tugs at their hearts.

Chris Guillebeau created The Empire Building Kit to help people who wanted to create a lifestyle business that fits their needs. He wasn’t sure how to get people excited about it, so he went on a trip. His return trip stopped in Chicago and he wasn’t able to get a flight to Portland. His wife suggested that he take the train. At first he balked, but then he found out the train was called Empire Builder.

He then got a bag from Tom Ben called the Empire Builder. Chris realized that he needed to launch the Empire Building Kit while riding on the train back to Portland. He invited his friend J.D. of Get Rich Slowly and it kept building from there. He blogged about the whole trip, turning the story into his launch. A very successful launch.

Can you see how this story sucks you in? This is great marketing that can be a lot of fun. When you are planning on releasing something to the world, you need to have a plan that grabs people’s attention and makes them take notice of who you are and what you created. It’s a little more work than a standard launch, but very much worth your time and energy.

These are just a few ideas, but each of us has a different approach. What have you done to celebrate your marketing and turn it into a fun event?

Check out Karl Staib of Domino Connection and his free e-course “How to Create an Amazing Product Launch,” You can also check out Domino Connection on Facebook because he shares all kinds of great content and tips.

Get Creative About Your Content … Consistently

This guest post is by Pratik Dholakiya of E2M Solutions.

You’ve heard it a thousand times. “You need great, original content.” And it’s becoming increasingly obvious that “original” isn’t the same thing as “not plagiarized.”

There’s just one problem. Doing something truly original is hard.

How can you make original ideas happen? The answer comes from an unexpected source: psychological research.

Writer’s block is only half the battle

The solution to writer’s block is simple: keep writing. It doesn’t matter what. Just publish. Just ship.

This is where most bloggers give up. They get stuck on the belief that everything they publish needs to be gold. It won’t be. You need to make writing a habit. That’s all it takes to conquer writer’s block.

But it’s only half the battle.

If your content isn’t new and exciting to your visitors, most of them will leave. And since it’s very difficult for an individual blogger to come across a breaking news story before anybody else, most bloggers end up publishing well written and completely redundant material.

Creativity is the spice you need to keep your blog fresh.

Here’s where you can get it.

Are you afraid of creativity?

Consciously, no. But studies suggest that when we do have a fear of creative ideas, it’s subconscious, and we’re completely blind to the results.

One of these studies, led by researchers from Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina, suggests that when we’re uncertain about the future, we reject creative ideas, even though we want them.

They discovered that if they paid participants by a random lottery, instead of a set fee, they would subconsciously associate creative words with negative words like, “hell,” and “vomit.”

In a second experiment, they found out that if the participants wrote an essay about how “there is only one way to solve a problem,” this also created a sense of uncertainty. Worse still, this caused them to rate ideas as less creative, rather than recognize their fear.

The implications are clear:

  • Take actions that make you feel more secure about your future.
  • Embrace the mindset that there is more than one solution to every problem.
  • Write down all of your ideas when you brainstorm, and be open minded. You might be rejecting creative ideas because they scare you, not because they are actually uncreative.

Are you being too closed … or too open?

A study led by Ella Miron-Spektor of Israel, along with researchers from Harvard and Carnegie, suggests that paradoxical thinking plays a part in creativity.

In one of their experiments, they asked participants to read an article about an experimental new toy, and then they read comments made by “judges” of the product. The judges said one of four things:

  • The toy was creative or cheap.
  • The toy was creative and cheap.
  • The toy was creative but too expensive, because cheap is the opposite of creative.
  • The toy was creative and cheap, and those are usually opposites.

Out of the four groups in the experiment, only one group stood out on a creativity test: the last one.

In other words, it wasn’t enough to be open to the idea that something could be creative and cheap at the same time. It also wasn’t enough to realize that creativity and low price were opposites. Creativity was only boosted by recognizing that two things could be somehow different and complimentary at the same time.

What does this mean for you?

  • Be open to ideas and concepts that don’t seem directly related to the subject of your blog.
  • But don’t be so open that you fall back on “everything is related,” without being able to see the differences at the same time.

Again, you have to be able to see how things can be different and complimentary at the same time, not just one or the other, in order to get a boost in creative thinking. The “idea mashups” that result from this are some of the best blog posts on the web.

I like to think of it like this:

  • If you’re too closed, you won’t see interesting connections that result in new ideas.
  • If you’re too open, no connection stands out as interesting or new, because “everything is already connected,” so who cares?

Are you in the right mindset?

There is a belief among many intellectuals that in order to be creative, you need to be a tortured soul. But a meta-analysis of studies on the subject revealed that out of 29 experiments, only nine suggested there was any truth to this, and those studies had a flawed design.

In one example demonstrating just the opposite, Alice Isen and others tested the impact of mood on people’s ability to solve a creative problem, called the candle problem. They asked one group of students to watch a funny video before solving the problem, and the other group to watch a math video. Only one in five of the people who watched the math video solved it, but an amazing three out of four solved it if they watched the funny video.

Was this because of laughter, or just a positive mood in general? In another experiment, they gave the participants a decorated bag of candy. The results were similar, but not as dramatic.

It turns out maybe you don’t have to be depressed and self-loathing in order to be creative after all.

Vincent Van Gogh may have cut his ear off, and history does seem to favor the tragic stories about creative people, but the psychology is clear. At least when it comes to everyday creativity, positivity is the answer.

Are you too focused?

This is a weird one, so bear with me. I want to be absolutely clear here. It takes focus and dedication to complete anything you start. If you don’t stay focused on your goals, you’re likely to wander aimlessly for a long time before you get anywhere near where you want to be.

But when it comes to creating the ideas in the first place? In that case, focus may actually be working against you.

In one experiment, participants were asked questions like this:

Two people are born on the same day of the month, on the same year, to the same mother and father, but they are not twins. How is this possible?

The experiment was led by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks, and it was based on people’s sleep schedules. Your sleep schedule determines which time of day you are most and least focused (which is not necessarily the same thing as being alert and sleepy).

People who were brought in during their least focused time of day actually did best on these types of creative solving problems.

(If you couldn’t think of it, the answer is that they’re triplets.)

And this isn’t the only experiment to suggest this. Another experiment demonstrated that people who have frontal lobe damage do better on these kinds of problems, and still another suggested that alcohol had the same effect.

Now, I’m not advocating drinking on the job or taking a hammer to your forehead, but we can’t ignore the implications. So here are a few ideas to take advantage of this knowledge:

  • The best time to brainstorm is during those “off” times of day when you can’t seem to focus on anything and everything is distracting.
  • If you’re struggling with brainstorming, this is probably the best time of day to work on something that requires focus or something more routine, such as reading and research.
  • Consider brainstorming during times when you are sleepy.

As a simple example:

  • When you can’t read: brainstorm.
  • When you can’t brainstorm: read.
  • When you have the right combination of knowledge and original ideas: write.

Putting it all together

Here is a sample creativity “plan” that you can borrow from and adjust as you see fit, based on what we’ve learned.

  • When you brainstorm, don’t reject any ideas that come to mind. Write them down. You can sift through them later.
  • Define the problems you are trying to solve with each blog post, and write at least two different solutions to those problems.
  • For each article, pick a “parent” subject, and write down several other subjects, almost at random. Pick the other subjects you find most interesting, and write down how each is similar to and different from your parent subject.
  • Research a few different things at the same time, and write a list of reasons why they are the same and why they are different.
  • Get yourself in a positive mindset, and make the creative process as fun as possible. Use humor and stick to the subjects that you will enjoy learning and writing about.
  • If you simply can’t brainstorm, you’re probably doing it at the wrong time of day. Try reading instead. It’s when you find yourself reading the same sentence over again five times that you should probably get back to brainstorming.

So there you have it: a plan for creating original material, based on solid science. You’ll find that when you have an unlimited number of ideas to work with, the whole writing process gets easier, and your quality levels will start to improve.

Have you tried using methods like these? What else has helped you come up with original content ideas? Tell us in the comments.

Pratik Dholakiya is a Lead SEO Strategist at E2M Solutions, a full service internet marketing company specializing in Organic SEO, PPC, Local Search, Social Media, Reputation Management, Content Marketing and more. He recently started an Interview platform TalkWithLeaders.com where he’ll be interviewing various industry leaders. You can contact him on twitter @DholakiyaPratik or by email.

15 Social Media Mistakes that are Strangling Your Success

While it’s not new, I’m often surprised by the way bloggers use—and mis-use—social media.

Each of us has our own blogging journey, and we use different tools in our own unique ways. Yet there are still quite a few very common errors that I continue to see bloggers making as they work with social media.

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Image by stock.xchng user

These mistakes have the potential to make your social media experience a struggle—if not put you off it completely. But if you persist with them over time, they have the potential to do significant harm to your brand and your blog.

Think about it: social media is a very public space, perhaps even more public than your blog. Although we might not be conscious of it, every time we make a status update on a social network, we have the potential to reach a huge audience of people we don’t know through others sharing our messages.

That can happen whether the messages are good or bad, for better or for worse.

Take a look at these 15 mistakes, which definitely send the wrong message. Then, let me know in the comments if you’re making any of these errors.

1. Using social media as broadcast media

We all know that social media is an engagement tool, but how many of us treat it that way?

What’s your ratio of “broadcast” updates to direct, personal updates that address other users individually? And who are those direct updates to—friends and family and people you feel “safe” with, or are you reaching out to new contacts, readers, and others in your niche?

2. Not responding to contacts

While you may not want to connect with everyone on every social network, the blogger looking to build an online presence should focus on responding to contacts from others on social media.

Avoiding one-word responses is ideal—look for ways to connect naturally and easily with every person who approaches you, and you’ll see real benefits from social media.

3. Not joining your readers on the networks they use

Where are your users congregating online? Which networks do they use? Are you on those networks, or are you holding off because you think you don’t have enough time or energy to tackle a new network?

Not long ago, I started developing the dPS presence on Pinterest, and I’ve never looked back. While there’s no perfect time for anything, leaving yourself out of a social network where your audience is active could mean you’re leaving money on the tqble—or readers out of the loop!

4. Not offering follow and share buttons on your content

On your post pages, do you offer readers the option to share the post on social networks and the opportunity to follow you on those networks?

Offering one or the other is better than nothing, but it’s important to offer both. Of course, your follow buttons might appear in a location that’s globally available throughout your blog—like in the header or sidebar. But do make sure users have both options.

5. Not following or friending your readers

If a reader contacts you on social media, do you follow them?

While following massive numbers of people can be overwhelming, if you’re just starting out on a new network, connecting with those who contact you is a great way to make the most of the medium and get a feel for what your readers are doing on that network.

6. Not following or friending industry contacts

Connecting with people from your broader niche is an excellent way to stay abreast of news and get on the radars of others you haven’t met, but whose work you admire.

Who knows? They might follow you back—and share your updates with their followers. But even if they don’t, you have the potential to get a sound perspective of the players in your niche, and their work, on social media.

7. Not presenting your brand consistently on a network

Every blogger and blog brand has a range of facets, but these need to be carefully managed—even curated—if you want to give your followers a clear idea of who you are and what you’re about.

Chop and change in the way you approach a given network or your followers, or present your brand, and you might do more harm than good.

8. Not presenting your brand consistently across different networks

Following on from the previous point, you will have readers who follow you on multiple networks, so it’s important to present yourself and behave consistently in all your dealings, whatever the network.

Your blog’s Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts should share brand characteristics, even if you target the information you share with each network individually.

9. Only doing the basics on each network

Social networks have come a long way since they were first launched. Even the more recent arrivals to this industry are evolving new features all the time. Yet many of us ignore these developments, and just keep posting the same stuff, day in, day out.

Are you aware of the features of each of the networks you’re using? Are you up-to-date with what each network offers your blog? If you’re not, you could be missing valuable opportunities to promote your blog, to meet potential readers, and eventually, to make sales.

10. Not tracking social media traffic

At the most basic level, it’s worth knowing what portion of your blog’s traffic comes from social media, and from which networks.

This knowledge can help you focus your efforts, prioritize your work, and manage your time to best effect. It can also help you to respond to one-off traffic events arising from particular networks.

11. Not tracking how much your content is shared

On the other side of the coin, it’s also important to keep an eye on how much your content is shared. I’ve found this particularly useful when I’ve joined a new network, as it helps me to understand what works in that space and what doesn’t.

Looking at what’s shared—in terms of blog content and my own social media updates—is an essential step in making the most of a social network.

12. Not listening to discussions about your brand and niche

Similarly, it’s important to track not just what people on a given social network are saying about your blog and brand, but also about your niche itself. Social listening is the answer.

This can give you post ideas, opportunities to connect with readers on topical issues that they care about—even ideas for updating your blog’s layout or post categorisation. Social media listening is a great way to get to know what your audience is thinking and feeling.

13. Not listening to your main competitors

The listening doesn’t stop there, though. you can also set up searches for social media discussions of your main competitors, or key players in your niche, and find out what the audience has to say about them.

This can help you find gaps in your market for information and commentary, give you prodict ideas, and a lot more.

14. Not posting at high-sharing, high-visibility times of day

This is a big one. Even if your social media followers are in your timezone, there are going to be better and worse times to share on social media.

If you’re listening to find out the way your niche works on social media, you should have an idea of when its players—organizations and audience members—are most active. By tying that information to the traffic and sharing tracking mentioned above, you should be able to piece together a picture of the best times to get traction from social media among your target readership.

15. Not realising that promotion doesn’t stop with social media

Social media has its place, but it’s only one way to reach the people you want to read your blog. It’s one piece in a big promotional puzzle, and it’s one that’s actually independent of a digital presence that you own.

That presence is on your blog itself. But if you only ever use social media to try to get people to your site, you’ll soon kill off any goodwill you’d established. This is why social media really should be used as part of a broader promotional toolkit that lets you attract some of the other kinds of readers we mentioned late last week.

Are you making any of these 15 mistakes? They could be slowly strangling your blog’s authority, brand, and ability to attract new readers! Share your thoughts—and tips for social media success—with us in the comments.