Close
Close

A Tale of Two Ebooks

This guest post is by Alexis Grant of The Traveling Writer.

During the last six months, I’ve published two ebooks: one that’s selling wonderfully, and another that flopped.

Why did one succeed, while the other—at least in sales terms—didn’t? What was the difference?

It wasn’t a beautiful cover, nor a pre-launch sale, nor an impressive newsletter list. The differentiator was a factor you have to consider before you even begin writing your ebook.

But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, some background on the products, so you can avoid making the mistake I made:

EBook No. 1: How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business

I released this guide to the world without much of a strategy. It was my first time writing and launching an ebook, so it had a DYI cover, no affiliate program and no guests posts at launch. At the time, I didn’t realize promotion—or getting eyes on my product—was just as essential as writing an awesome guide, so I simply created a product I was proud of and put it out there.

I cobbled together a sales page on my website, used ejunkie to sell it and spread the word through my networks, sharing the link to the sales page on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Immediately, the guide began to sell. Not at a ridiculous pace, but steadily, enough copies to make this first-time-product-creator happy. After three weeks, I reported selling 32 copies at $24 a pop.

Then Mashable ran a post I wrote about how to use your social media skills to make money, and copies flew off the digital shelves. Word began to spread among the social media community, and within two months of launch, I’d sold my first 100 copies.

I’d been bitten by the ebook bug! I began studying how to launch a product—homework I should’ve done weeks before—reading resources and guides on the topic and asking launch experts for advice. Soon I’d slapped a more professional-looking cover on the social media consulting guide and created an affiliate program.

Each morning, I woke up to see a guide or two had sold while I was sleeping. So this was what passive income was all about! I loved the instant gratification, and I smiled every time I got an email from someone who had used my guide to land their first client.

Then an idea hit me. I’d been scheming to write a traditional book about how to take a career break to travel, having left my job as a newspaper reporter several years ago to backpack through Africa. What if I turned that into an ebook instead? That would allow me to bypass the traditional publishing process, sell the product on my own site and keep all the profits. Genius, right?

So I toiled away on the guide. This time, I wrote nearly twice as long as I had for the first ebook, packing the guide with practical tips for anyone who was thinking about long-term travel, plus interviews with travelers who’d actually taken their own trips.

The result? Ebook No. 2: How to Take a Career Break to Travel

Now that I knew what it took to sell an ebook, I hired a designer to create a flashy cover and arranged the details for an affiliate program. I pitched guest posts to more than a dozen popular blogs and spend hours writing the pieces. I offered a pre-launch discount to my (lean but growing) newsletter list, plus a bonus for anyone who bought the guide.

In terms of launch strategy, I did everything right.

Except I’d overlooked a crucial detail: people didn’t think they needed my career break guide.

As guest posts for the guide went live around the Web, something funny happened: sales for the social media consulting guide spiked. What?! A few sales for the career break guide came through, but the first ebook sold far faster. I was getting eyes to my site, but they were buying the first guide instead.

For the record, both guides were priced around the same: the social media consulting guide went for $24, the career break guide for $29. And yet people felt compelled to learn about how to make money off their social media skills, not how to take a career break to travel.

The Lesson

In retrospect, I’d made the biggest of mistakes, creating a resource people didn’t think they needed.

To be honest, I knew when I began writing the career break guide that it was a risk; I wasn’t sure how big of a market was out there for that type of book. But I wrote it anyway because finding time in your life to travel is a topic that’s important to me personally. I wrote it because it was a guide I couldn’t not write.

Yet at the other end of the spectrum, the market for the social media consulting guide is even bigger than I realized. Which is great not only for me, but also for the reader. Because there’s a huge need for those skills, there’s also huge opportunity for each of my readers to make money, often on the side of their day job.

And that’s the other differentiator: the first ebook helps readers make money. I think people are more willing to shell out a few bucks if it means they’re going to make money in return. Often, we’re willing to invest if it means financial gain on the other end.

So do I regret writing the second ebook? No, and not just because I care about the topic. A big part of my transition into entrepreneurship is allowing myself to experiment. Sometimes I’ll make mistakes, but sometimes—like with ebook No. 1—I’ll strike a chord, one that helps fund my next project. In many ways, experimenting—and as a result, learning—is what this is all about.

Alexis Grant is a journalist, social media strategist and entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her Solopreneur Secrets newsletter.

Is Perfectionism Stalling Your Productivity?

We’ve all been there … You sit down to write a post. You get the opening line down, but half-way through the second sentence, you go back to tweak the first. A bit further on, you decide to chop up the paragraphs you’ve done so far and rearrange them … but on second thought, is that really the better option?

In two minds, you “finish” the post, then spend a half-hour writing and rewriting the “ideal” headline.

Finally, happy(ish!) your cursor hovers over the Publish button … but you just can’t press it. You decide to give it some time, and come back tomorrow, when you know you’ll end up rewriting the whole thing from scratch using the same “process.”

Meanwhile, your blog’s getting more dated by the minute. Your regular publishing schedule has gone out the window, and you’re miles behind on your blogging goals.

Perfectionism: the ultimate time drain?

Back in the days of print, things had to be perfect before they were published. There are certainly plenty of great reasons for making sure your content is as good as it can be before you publish it. Yet die-hard perfectionism holds many a blogger back from achieving their full potential.

I’ve seen it many times online—and discussed it with plenty of bloggers, from all walks of life and areas of the blogosphere, over the years.

In How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Your Blog, Jennifer Blanchard lists perfectionism as one of the main reasons why people procrastinate.

As someone who’s started more than 20 blogs in my time—and wound up quite a few too!—it’s safe to say I’ve got a pretty good handle on perfectionism now. Here’s how I managed to overcome it.

  • Realize that the web is flexible: The web isn’t print. You can very easily add to, update, and tweak a published post later, either based on feedback from readers or on additional information that’s come your way since you wrote the post.
  • Understand that your readers know you’re human: Your readers don’t know just know it—they respect it. Bloggers like Jon Morrow and Leo Babauta work closely with their readers, and are happy to show their human sides. And their readers are all the more loyal for it.
  • Recognize the value you can get from using reader feedback to improve your posts: Reader feedback can add depth and perspective to your posts, and boost their usability for other readers. But the process of working with readers on your posts—crowdsourcing the icing for your blog post “cake”—can also boost the sense of community, collaboration, and engagement around your blog.
  • Respect the importance of your publishing schedule: Your posting schedule isn’t just about content—it’s about meeting reader needs. Showing up—publishing great content—is square one for bloggers. That’s where blogging starts. No content, no blog. So by using your publishing schedule as a guide—and sticking to it—you respect your readers and you’re ticking the first box on the checklist for achieving your blogging goals.
  • Realize that an incomplete post will probably attract more comments: By “incomplete,” I’m not suggesting that you stop writing before you get to the end of the post and publish it as-is! But the Blog Tyrant makes the very good point that a post that exhausts its topic “leaves readers with nowhere to go.” You don’t need to cover off every aspect of the post’s topic in order for that post to be “good.” A post that doesn’t exhaust the topic may receive more comments—and shares if the conversation becomes particularly interesting or illuminating.

Of course, we all want our posts to be factually accurate and typo-free—that’s a given. But there are also considerable advantages to letting go and seeing where a less polished post might lead…

Do you struggle with perfectionism? How is it holding your blog back? And how have you overcome it (if you’ve managed to do that!)?

6 Powerful Guest Post Tactics that No One’s Talking About

This guest post is by Tom Ewer of Leaving Work Behind.

Guest posting is a hot topic amongst startup bloggers. It is one of the most widely-adopted blog promotion strategies in existence, and has been made perhaps even more popular by the success of “serial” guest posters such as Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.

His “blitzkrieg” strategy may come across to some as a triumph of quantity over strategy, but nothing could be further from the truth. He understands the key concepts that we will be exploring in this post, and executes them in a highly effective manner. Whilst I am by no means as prolific as Danny, I have done my fair share of guest posting (those ten posts only being selection).

guest posting secrets

Image courtesy guigo.eu, licensed under Creative Commons

If you care to read any of the numerous guest posting guides available across the blogosphere, you will typically read about advice relating to the same two topics:

  • how to find guest posting opportunities
  • how to get your post approved.

That is what beginner bloggers want to know, as they assume that a successfully published blog post is a job well done. However, attracting a visitor to your site only represents a job half done. The ultimate success of guest posting is determined by a key fundamental cherished by marketers worldwide: the conversion.

What is a conversion?

Contrary to what some people seem to think, attracting a visitor to your site via a guest post does not represent a successful conversion. When I talk of conversions, I am talking along the lines of email subscribers, social media followers, and/or  sales. A conversion (1) increases your income, (2) results in the acquisition of an asset, or (3) achieves both. Whilst a sale offers you immediate income, an email address has intrinsic value too (it is an asset to your blog).

Don’t believe me? You only have to read the news. A lawsuit was recently filed by a company seeking damages against a previous employee relating to a Twitter account. The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article:

[The company is] seeking damages of $2.50 a month per follower for eight months, for a total of $340,000.

Now it will be interesting to see what precedent (if any) is set by this case, but the key thing to bear in mind is the concept that a social media account has an intrinsic value. Even more specifically, a value has been placed upon each and every follower. A social media account is an asset in the right hands, as is an email list. And the investment you place in guest posting can offer you a direct return in terms of asset growth.

I don’t want to get too deep into marketing fundamentals here, but this post is written with the understanding that you know what you want from your guest posting strategy. And that is to get more conversions. So with that said, let’s take a look at the six steps that lead to conversion-heavy guest posts.

1. Relevance

People get hung up on the size of blogs that they plan to guest post on. It is not unusual to hear “I’ll only write for a blog if it has more than 3,000 subscribers,” along with similar statements, based upon arbitrary numbers. But the size of the blog is not nearly as important as its relevance.

When targeting blogs for which you can write a guest post that converts, you need to find common ground. There needs to be a point at which the majority of the combined readership intersects. This is far more of an art than a science, but there is a sliding scale when it comes to selecting the right blog to guest post on.

You could argue that it is better to write on a huge blog with less relevance than a small blog with high relevance, but I don’t think that debate can be resolved one way or the other. You may as well ask how long a piece of string is. Having said that, I am personally far more comfortable writing for a blog where the subject matter aligns closely.

There is in fact a whole other side to relevance that I have not yet covered. More on that later.

2. Quality

You may never have considered this, but the quality of the blog upon which you guest post can make all the difference. I once wrote a guest post for a particular blog that was highly relevant to my niche. I felt very confident about its ability to offer me a solid number of conversions.

Unfortunately, the blog was somewhat unloved (I’m being kind here), with a completely inconsistent posting schedule. Not in a Social Triggers, “the post will come when it will come, and it will be awesome” kind of way, but in a “I have no idea when the next post is coming, and I don’t really care” kind of way. The blog author was clearly too preoccupied to put any effort into the post, and threw it up at completely the wrong time of day with little to no active promotion whatsoever.

That guest post offered little traffic, and by extension, few conversions. Just to give you a bit of context, the blog in question has an Alexa traffic rank of around 50,000, and its Twitter account has over 10,000 followers.

The lesson is clear: only post on blogs that are well-loved. If a blogger doesn’t love their blog, its subscribers certainly won’t. And by extension, you will receive little to no traffic.

3. Engagement

This point takes me back to the typical argument that states you should only post on high-traffic blogs, and reminds me that as an absolute statement, it offers no value. A big, defining factor in how successful your guest post will be is how active the blog’s community is. Blogs with a relatively high comment count usually indicate a high level of engagement. If a blog’s community is highly engaged with the owners’ posts, they are far more likely to take interest in a guest post.

On a blog with a readership that respects its author, your post will carry a level of preordained value. The reader likes what the author does, the author likes what you do, therefore the reader should also like what you do.

I was taught this lesson in a big way with one of my more recent guest posts. I wrote a post that was highly relevant to both audiences, submitted it and waited to see the results of my labor. The results were a six-fold increase in visits over my average guest post and an elevated conversion rate. This blog was in fact of a similar size in terms of readership to the one mentioned above. The difference was in the quality, and in the engagement. Each of the author’s posts attracts numerous comments, and you can see that his readers hung off every morsel of advice handed out. That passion transferred nicely to my post.

But that post wasn’t successful solely because of high engagement levels. As I already mentioned, the quality of the blog was high, but there was another beneficial factor at play. Which was…

4. Volume

Generally speaking, a high volume of posts is beneficial to a blog. The more posts, the higher the exposure. However, that does not prove to be the case when it comes to guest posting.

If your guest post gets lost below the fold within a few hours or just a day, its exposure will be highly limited. And even a high-quality post can’t fight against a lack of exposure. Content may be king, but marketing is its overbearing queen.

There are of course clear exceptions, but the relative lack of exposure must be married with a high readership (which is of course the case with ProBlogger).

You can suffer from a lack of exposure even when volume is relatively low. If you come across a poor-quality blog, you may well find that a blogger has no problem with publishing your guest post literally hours before publishing a post of his own, almost as an afterthought (yes, this happened to me).

Part of a guest post’s success relies upon its exposure, so make sure that the post you have put a great deal of work into actually appears above the fold for a reasonable amount of time.

5. Type

Now we get into the tactics regarding the actual makeup of your post. I am not talking about the importance of spelling and grammar (although they are of course key considerations). I am talking about writing posts that stand out from the crowd.

Let’s be honest: most posts you see are a dime a dozen. But that actually works to your advantage—you just need to work that little bit longer to set yourself apart. Let’s take a look at the factor you need to consider.

Surprise with size

There is this strange misconception floating around the web that you must write short blog posts. As you might have gathered from the length of this post, I do not subscribe to that belief. If you are writing interesting and engaging content, people will find the time to read it.

Make it pretty

Since your post is going to be long, you don’t want to intimidate readers with long blocks of text. Regardless of how fascinating your insights are, you’re writing a blog post—not a book. Don’t try to fight the system!

So take some time to make your post pretty. Break your writing down into short paragraphs, and allow the reader to scan your text by highlighting important words and sentences with bold and italics (if permitted by the blog owner). Include plenty of sub-headers, and insert colorful and interesting images.

Write for engagement

There are two post styles that consistently perform well, regardless of how fed up you are with them as a writer. If you are going to guest post, you will get the most traction from stories and list posts.

We all know why list posts are so successful—they are highly scannable, great for sharing, and appeal to our natural desire for actionable elements. The exact same content presented in paragraph format would tank when compared to a list post format. People want to know what they are getting from reading your article—a list post appeals to that desire.

Stories are good for two reasons when it comes to guest posting. First of all, everyone loves a good story. When Darren Rowse spoke at Blog World Expo 2011, he remarked that story-driven posts are the ones that people seem to remember the most.

The introduction of a story to a post achieves two key things:

  1. It creates a connection. With a story, you are no longer simply words on a screen—you are a human being.
  2. They arouse our natural desire for closure. If you leave someone hanging, they are going to be far more likely to head over to your blog to find out more.

6. Byline

Now we are getting down to the nuts and bolts of what will attract visitors to your blog. The purpose of your post is to prime the reader; the purpose of the byline is to sell them on their time investment in visiting your blog. If you write a generic byline, expect a generic amount of traffic to hit your blog.

You need to appeal to what the reader wants in your byline. They don’t care that you are the writer of so-and-so blog and that you have a Facebook page. They want to know what clicking on your link is worth to them. What do you have to offer them?

This ties in closely with relevance. If the two blogs share a common topic, the byline should write itself to a extent.

Take what you’re reading right now as an example. ProBlogger “helps bloggers to add income streams to their blogs” (I’ve taken that from the About page). My blog is all about how to quit your job and work for yourself—and one of the main focuses is on professional blogging. This post is about guest posting, which ties in closely with the topic of professional blogging.

When everything aligns in such a way, the byline serves to simply make that alignment clear and leave the rest up to the reader.

7. Entry

Despite it being the last entry on the list, this is easily one of most important factors to bear in mind. You can do a great job on all the other points, but if you’re not ready for your visitor when they arrive, it could all be for naught.

When a visitors chooses to click on your link, they want more of what they have just seen. If the link leads them to your blog’s front page, where you recently posted about unrelated topics, they will quickly lose interest. You absolutely must direct the visitor to exactly what they are looking for.

So with that in mind, I am a big fan of landing pages. If you have a related product and/or mailing list, let it be the first thing they see when they arrive on your site. Remove all distractions and have them focus on the relevant piece of information, which is arguably precisely what they are looking for.

In terms of targeted visitors, you can’t do much better than guest post traffic. By virtue of the fact that they have clicked through to your site, they want to read more of the same—all you need to do is facilitate that for them.

You have two choices, depending on how hard you want to work. The first option is to direct them to the relevant part of your site. For instance, say your blog was divided up into five categories, and you wrote a guest post relating to one of those categories. Instead of sending your guest post readers to the homepage, you would direct them straight to the category page (which would of course be customized with some introductory text and a breakdown of the most popular posts).

Whilst that is an effective tactic for “hooking” the visitor, its conversion rate will not be too impressive. Such a reader may choose to bookmark you and come back at later date, or they may sign up to your RSS feed. They may even sign up to your email list. But it is all incidental—not designed.

The really high conversion rates can be found in producing a targeted landing page that incentivizes the reader to sign up to your list. Such an incentive would typically be in the form of a product—like a free guide or resource. For instance, say you wrote an article on blue widgets. Your byline would link back to a landing page offering a free guide on blue widgets in return for an email address.

Obviously, it will not be practical for you to write a new product for every guest post you write. But you can usually produce something that aligns well with multiple guest posts, and it can also be used elsewhere (say as a incentive for your standard mailing list forms).

If you follow this tactic along with the other six I have covered in this post, I am highly confident that you will see dramatically improved conversion rates from your guest posting efforts.

The key is in the testing

I have covered a lot of ground here, and have hopefully given you a lot to take away and experiment with. But remember this: there is no proven formula when it comes to guest posting. Your success will be determined by how well you implement the above advice, how often you guest post, and how quickly you learn from your experiences.

Tom Ewer is an avid blogger and internet marketer who quit his job at the end of last year to pursue his passions full-time. He recently released a free eBook: The Complete Guide To Guest Posting, which, if this post is anything to judge by, is pretty darned comprehensive. Download it now!

How to Succinctly Report a Blog Issue to Tech Support

This guest post is by Matthew Setter of Malt Blue.

How often do you find it happening to you? You discover an issue with your site, or one of your community members emails you to tell you about it, and soon you start to see tweets about it too.

Maybe it’s as simple as an error message that detracts from the professional appearance of your site. Perhaps the contact form doesn’t send messages to your contact email address. Or is it that the whole site just displays as a blank page, otherwise known as the white page of death?

You’re not a programmer, a software engineer or a seasoned professional systems administrator who’s responsible for the U.S. Google Data centers. You’re an accountant, an au pair, or a globe trotter who loves surfing and seeing fantastic sites around the world. Now this isn’t to diminish any of these honorable professions and ways we bloggers spend our lives; it’s just that your strong suit likely isn’t website architecture and code debugging.

What’s more, every break in your site affects your professional image and ultimately, your bottom line. So it’s important that you get the issues rectified as soon as possible, and get the show back on the road. But what do you do? What’s the best approach to take?

It’s important to report technical problems to your tech support (whether that’s one person or a dedicated support company) clearly and unambiguously, and to provide them with as much information as they need to get you up and running again, quickly.

Technical people have a bit of a reputation for being dry, blunt, impersonal, and brusque. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Like everyone else, they have their priorities and ways of approaching the work that they do, as do plumbers, dentists, lawyers, and politicians.

And, as with all people, to get the most out of them—especially when you need them—you need to talk in a way that they’re responsive to and understand. It’s a lot like writing: when you’re reporting technical issues, you need to write for your audience.

Unless your technical support person’s completely lacking in all forms of social and inter-personal skills, which is highly unlikely, here’s a set of tips to get a quick and effective solution to your problem.

Can you replicate the issue?

To be sure that the issue exists, you need to be sure that the issue is replicable, quickly and simply. Then, you need to write down the steps that you took to replicate the issue, clearly and unambiguously, so that your tech can repeat the issue themselves.

Let’s say that a page on your blog that displays a series of images about one of your products crashes when people try to view it.

Here’s how I’d report it.

  1. Open up the browser to <insert your domain name here>
  2. From the main navigation, click Products, then Books, then New York Times best-seller, then click Gallery.
  3. On that page, you will see a product image gallery with buttons to navigate through the images at the bottom-center of the page.
  4. Click through the pages, starting at one using the numbers, not the forward arrow at the end (think: Google search results navigation).
  5. When you get to page 6, the page shows nothing except what appears to be an error message, which is as follows: “Error 5000. PHP could not connect to MySQL with username <username> and password <password>.”
  6. The url of the page is: http://www.superbooks.com/products/books/nyt-best-seller/gallery/6

From this description, it’s simple for your tech support person to start at the home page of the site and, step by step, move from there to the point at which the error occurs. In addition to this, you’ve provided the URL so they can go straight to the error, as well as a copy of the error message. This provides comprehensive information to get the issue resolved.

Browser(s) and operating systems

Now whilst this information is pretty good, it’s not all that’s available. As is so common for TV salesmen to say, “but wait, there’s more!” In addition to this information, you should also provide details of the browser, browser version and the operating system that you’re using.

Whether you’re using Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Opera, or another of the multitude of browsers out there, put that information, along with details about your operating system, into a table similar to the one below. Include it with the information you send to tech support.

I’ve quickly prepared this one based on the technology I’m using right now.

Name

Version

Browser

Google Chrome 16.0.912.77

Operating System

Mac OS X 10.7.2, Build 11C74

Finding this information

This is all well and good you say, but how can you find this information?

Windows

To find out which windows operating system you’re using, right click on your desktop and select Properties from the menu that appears.

A dialog will display, showing your operating system under the default tab, named General.

Apple Mac

To find out the version of Mac OS X you’re running, click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of your screen, then click About This Mac.


In the window that pops up, under Mac OS X, you’ll see text that reads something like, “Version 10.7.2”. As it says, that’s the version number of the operating system. If you click on that text, it will give you a “build” number.


Browser: Google Chrome

If you’re using Google Chrome, click About (on Windows) or Chrome (on Mac) and then click About Google Chrome. In the window that appears you’ll see the full version number under Google Chrome.

Browser: Mozilla Firefox

If you’re using Firefox, click About (on Windows) or Firefox (on Mac) and then click About Firefox. In the window that appears you’ll see the full version number under Firefox.

Browser: Apple Safari

If you’re using Safari, click About (on Windows) or Safari (on Mac) and then click About Safari. In the window that appears you’ll see the full version number under Safari, similar to: Version 5.1.2 (7534.52.7).

Why is this important?

This information is important is because, despite appearances, not all of the modern web browsers are created equal. Though Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari all render web pages pretty closely, and more recent versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer are rapidly getting better, they each have quirks and differences between such things as their Javascript engines, and the support they provide for different aspects of web standards, such as HTML and CSS.

If you can provide this information along with the process the tech support can use to repeat the error, it really helps isolate the issue. One further thing to remember is that some specific versions of software have particular quirks or bugs that don’t exist in any others. So the operating system or browser version can be crucial in some cases.

When did it happen?

Now while all of this information is great, it’s not always enough to isolate the issue. Please don’t be despondent, though. Sometimes it’s not a browser issue as such—maybe it’s an issue relating to the web server. Maybe your site’s particularly popular and has traffic spikes which cause problems, for example.

So as well as the information you’ve already provided, let the tech know:

  • the time of day and
  • the day of the week and
  • the month when you or your readers first noticed this issue.

If the tech support is on their game and also has access to your site’s analytics, they may be able to make a correlation between the times that you report the issue occurs with the traffic loads on your site.

Maybe the error is not an error, but an indicator that you blog’s gaining in popularity, and that your audience is really starting to grow. This “error” may be an indication that you need to upgrade your hosting plan and infrastructure to cope with it.

Anything else?

What about a screenshot? Images of the issue can be very helpful for tech support.

Don’t get carried away: just capture the moments at which the error occurred and what you saw. In either Mac or Windows (and on Linux too of course) you can capture what the screen looks like in a screenshot and, using such tools as Microsoft Paint, Gimp, Paint.net, Paintshop Pro, or Adobe Photoshop, crop the image so that it’s not enormous, and to highlight the

Better support

This list isn’t everything, but it’s a good start. By providing this information as quickly as possible, you’re going to give your tech support a lot to work with, and a good head-start to help you out and resolve your issues. These details aren’t a guarantee of success, but they are much better than nothing.

So the next time you hit a problem on your site, go grab that information, put it together, and send it over to your tech support. I’m sure that they’ll appreciate you putting in such a lot of effort on their behalf. If not, I can hook you up with someone who will be!

Matthew Setter is a passionate writer, educator and software developer. He’s also the founder of Malt Blue, dedicated to helping people become better at web development.You can connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn or Google+ anytime.

Make Your Blog Load Faster than ProBlogger: Part 2

This guest post is by Devesh of WP Kube.

A few months ago, I wrote a guest post here called How to Make Your Blog Load Faster than ProBlogger. Today, I’ll go into some more detailed advice to help you speed up your site even more.

If you’re a blogger, you already know about the importance of blog loading speed, and the role it plays in search engine rank and marketing your blog. But if this is new territory for you, here are three quick reasons why you need to speed up your blog:

  1. Google includes website loading speed as an important metric in their ranking algorithm. If you want your blog to rank high in the search results, you need to make sure your blog loads faster than others.
  2. It can increase the quality of your blog’s user experience and engagement. Having a good-looking blog won’t make your readers’ experience better if it takes ages to load. You need a theme that loads fast and is well coded.
  3. It can help you decrease your bounce rate, and we all know that the lower your bounce rate, the better your chance of driving engagement and generating leads.

Before we get started, check out these five tools you can use to measure your WordPress blog’s loading speed.

1. Optimize your database

One of the very first things that a blogger needs to do is optimize your blog database and delete the post revisions. You can use phpmyadmin to clean up the database, but if you don’t want to play with phpmyadmin, you can set up WP-Optimize instead.

Make sure to remove all the unnecessary tables, old post revisions, and spam comments from your blog’s database. You can use the Better Delete Revision plugin to remove those post revisions, too.

2. Use CloudFare

CloudFlare is a (free) service that makes your blog faster, safer, and smarter. In other words, CloudFlare supercharges websites. It is a CDN service that will protect and accelerate your website, and doesn’t interfere with the WordPress Caching system (W3 Total Cache).

This plugin keeps your blog safe from the Hacking attacks, spammers, and bots by challenging them with a CAPTCHA system whenever it doubts a user’s authenticity. With this tool, you’re easily able to block the spammers’ IPs and websites with just few clicks.

3. Use the P3 plugin

P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) is one of the best plugins for those wanting to see a performance report of their blog. It comes with a lot of great features, but primarily, it can show you what plugins are slowing down your blog.

It creates a profile of your WordPress site’s plugins’ performance by measuring their impact on your site’s load time. Often, WordPress sites load slowly because your plugins are pooly configured, or because you’re using so many of them. By using the P3 plugin, you can home in on anything that’s causing your site’s load time to slow.

Note that this plugin uses the canvas element for drawing charts and requires Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, or IE9 or later. This plugin will not work in IE8 or lower.

4. Disable hotlinking

Hotlinking is when other sites link directly to the images hosted on your blog from their blog posts or pages. This makes your server load high and decreases the loading speed of your blog.

It is very important to disable hotlinking. To do so, add the following code to your blog’s .htaccess file. Make sure to back up your .htaccess file before you begin to make any changes.

#disable hotlinking of images with forbidden or custom image option
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?yourdomain.com/.*$ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?yourdomain.com [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?feeds2.feedburner.com/yourdomain [NC]
#RewriteRule \.(gif|jpg)$ ñ [F]
#RewriteRule \.(gif|jpg)$ http://www.yourdomain.com/stealing.gif [R,L]

Make sure to allow your feeds to display the images, however.

5. Limit front page posts

Limit the posts that are shown on your home page. Never show the full posts on the home page, because this will make your site very slow to load. Imagine you have more than eight posts on your home page, and all of them are of 600 words or more—it will likely take a significant amount of time to load the home page.

You should use the excerpts on the homepage and most other pages, instead of showing full posts. To use the excerpts, find the below code in your index.php and other pages that list posts, like archives.php, category.php, and so on.

<?php the_content();?>

Replace that code with this:

<?php the_excerpt();?>

More resources

For more ideas on speeding up your blog, see:

These are simple tips that can help you to make your blog load faster than ProBlogger. What others can you share to increase blog speed?

Dev is a part time blogger and blogs about WordPress Marketing at WPKube. Hit him up on Twitter if you need anything, Dev will be quick in responding and helping you out.

How I Beat my Best Month Ever by Doing Something Good, Better [Case Study]

Mid-December 2010: on my photography site, we launched a new campaign—our first ever 12 Days of Christmas promotion.

The result was my biggest month of earnings ever up to that point.

The idea was simple: offer discounts on 12 products over the 12 days leading up to Christmas. I used a mix of my own ebooks and products from other photography sites with affiliate commissions.

landing-pages.png

The result was massive. Not only did we see some great revenue generated, it created some lovely buzz on the site.

Due to the success of the 2010 campaign, in mid-December 2011 we launched our second 12 Days of Christmas promotion. This time around we made some changes and evolved things a little. The result? It was big. I’ll tell you more about just how big below.

A number of my Twitter followers have been asking how it went and how we changed things this time, so here’s a quick snapshot of the changes and lessons we learned.

The Web Marketing Ninja helps out

Last year, I ran the promotion completely alone. I’d seen similar promotions on other sites and thought it’d work well on dPS. But never having done such a promotion, I made numerous mistakes and spotted many ways I knew it could be improved. So I brought the Web Marketing Ninja (regular guest poster here on dPS who recently revealed his identify) on to manage it for me.

The Ninja worked hard on adding some of the new strategic elements mentioned below into this year’s promotion. Plus, his work took a massive load off my shoulders in terms of the day-to-day running of the campaign. 12 Deals in 12 days is a big task—that’s 12 sales emails, numerous blog posts, loads of tweets, liaising with partners, and more.

Using MailChimp

I decided this year to take the opportunity of sending out 12 emails to our list in 12 days to test out a new email newsletter provider: MailChimp. I’ve wanted to test out this service for a long time based upon the amazing feedback it constantly gets from other bloggers.

I’m very glad that I have tested it, because so far, using MailChimp has been a real pleasure. Their interface is really intuitive and their technology is innovative. Deliverability rates were high, support staff were really helpful, and there are loads and loads of add-ons and extras that you can plug in to make the service even more powerful.

If you’re in the market for an email newsletter provider, I can certainly recommend you check MailChimp out (yes, that’s an affiliate link).

A new landing page

Probably the biggest change we’ve made this year is to create a central landing page for the promotion. You can see it in full here (although all the deals are now over, so it’s not active). This is the work of the Ninja at his finest.

landing-pages.png

Last time, the promotion largely happened around a series of sales pages, but there was no central place to tie it all together and build buzz. This year, having the central landing page worked really nicely.

Offering better deals

Having run this promotion once before, we were in a better position to make smart decisions about what deals to run this year on a number of levels.

  • Firstly, we know what types of products converted last year, and could focus on those. For example, last year we ran a couple of days on Photoshop actions which didn’t perform as well as teaching resource, so we swapped out the actions in favor of some new courses and ebooks.
  • We learned last year that the bigger discounts converted better than the smaller ones—we were able to offer bigger discounts on our own products easily, but also feed that back to the product owners we promote with the affiliate deals, and in most cases they came to the party to give bigger discounts.
  • We saw last year that bundles of products converted particularly well, so this year’s deals were more centred on bundles (around half of the the days’ deals) rather than single products.
  • We were also in a better position this year to negotiate better commissions with some of our partners, having shown them what we could do last year. Interestingly, word had gotten out about 2010 and this time around I had potential partners pitching us to be involved months out from December.

Other lessons learned

  • Use clear calls to unsubscribe: One thing that I’ve done in both campaigns is to give our newsletter subscribers a very clear way to unsubscribe right up front. Our first email explained the next 12 days’ program (and the fact that we were about to send 12 emails), and acknowledged it wouldn’t be for everyone, with a clear call to unsubscribe if it wasn’t of interest. Of course in each email we sent there was a similar call to unsubscribe. Note: we set up a separate email list for this campaign so that subscription cancellations wouldn’t stop people from getting our weekly newsletter. Feedback on this from readers was excellent.
  • Super deals: We suspected that some of our deals would perform better than others, based largely upon last years results. As a result, we placed these on mid-week days (Tuesdays) to give them the most exposure possible. I also gave them extra promotion with blog posts on those days (I didn’t post on the blog for every deal).
  • Diversity of deals: One thing that we were very aware of and tried to balance was mixing deals up so that readers didn’t get 12 invitations for fairly similar products. We did deals on physical products, software, ebooks, courses, and other teaching formats.
  • Give some “space” in the lead-up to your campaign: We purposely didn’t promote anything to our readers for a good month before this campaign. While we could easily have launched a product or promoted an affiliate campaign late November or early December, I didn’t want to push our readership too hard. In fact, I sent an extra email or two in that period that was simply free good content. The same goes for afterward—we had a great new ebook on post-processing ready to launch mid-January, but pushed it back a week to give a little more space for our readers to “recover” from December.
  • Be organized: The biggest tip I can give is to be organized. Work on partnerships for a month or two ahead of time, start working on sales emails as early as possible, and so on. The more you do ahead of time, the better, as there are always last-minute things to take care of.

The results

In 2010, this campaign contributed to December being our biggest month ever, up to that point. This last 2011 campaign saw us almost triple revenue from 2010. We have a new record-breaking month!

Revenue Comparison between 2010 and 2011 Campaigns

I did invest more into the 2011 campaign—paying the Ninja, investing some money into the design of landing page development and design, and beefing up our web hosting—so profit wasn’t tripled, but it wasn’t far off.

While this was a highly profitable way to end 2011, I can’t emphasize enough just how much work goes into a campaign like this. The 12 days itself were intense, with a lot of late nights and quite a bit of juggling.

For example, on one of our last nights we were preparing to go live when we realized the coupon code a partner had given us didn’t work. We had to quickly switch deals over, as it was a weekend and we couldn’t contact the partner.

Of course, along with the work comes a lot of fun. I’m coming to realize that there is a real rush that comes with launching products. Devising strategy, implementing it, and then waiting to see how things convert is a lot of fun (for me and the Ninja, at least). Doing 12 launches in 12 days just multiplies that!

Another big benefit—beyond profit and fun—of this type of campaign is that you learn a lot about your readership. In running 12 deals in 12 days, you get to test out a lot of different things. For example, this year our products included physical products, single ebooks, ebook bundles, courses, and software. Price points were also interesting to watch—products ranged from $17 right up to $180! While dPS has traditionally just published ebooks at a pretty similar price point, we now have some great information on what other types of products and price points our readers are interested in.

Onward to 2012

So with the 2011 12 Deals of Christmas behind us, we’re already thinking about how we can make the 2012 campaign even bigger!

Six Steps to Make Sure Your Site Is Ready to Go Viral

This guest post is by Nancy Sathre-Vogel of Family on Bikes.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Surely Google Analytics was confusing my site with another, way more popular site. There was no way my visitor numbers could be so high!

And yet they were. One of my posts had taken off and was spreading like wildfire. Those viral post phenomena that happen to others were now happening to me.

The first day, 17,000 visitors came to my website. The next day we topped out at 56,000. Readers were coming in droves.

It was exciting. It was exhilarating. My site, viral! Wow!

And then I took a moment to see what they were seeing. Oh my.

I, like so many other bloggers, had figured people would come to my site in the way I had designed it. They would enter via my homepage, then click on to individual posts. Everything was ready for that kind of traffic.

But the viral post, 50 Lessons I wish I had learned earlier, wasn’t following that pattern. Hundreds of thousands of visitors were pouring into my site directly to an individual post. When I took time to evaluate that post, I realized just how unprepared I was.

For the next few days, my husband and I scrambled to get our site up to snuff. We evaluated and planned and created images and installed widgets. Had we done all that before the spike hit, we could have captured more of that traffic.

Maybe it’s not too late for you. Here are six steps you can take to make sure your site is ready to capture new readers when one of your posts starts spreading like wildfire.

1. Create a new page with no text at all

You don’t want to be distracted by a post; you want to look at everything else on the page. Study your title, your sidebars, your footer. Look at the layout with no post there at all and see what kind of message it sends. Is it consistent with your goals?

2. What do you want your readers to know about you and/or about your site?

That one viral post may or may not be typical of your other posts, so make sure you’re crystal clear in terms of communicating what you’re about on every page.

Our site is about the lessons we learned as we bicycled from Alaska to Argentina, but nowhere on the viral post was that information to be found. Had the new readers entered through the home page, they would have read all about it, but they didn’t. So they didn’t! They had no idea what we’d done or what we were about. We quickly put together a brief bio to add to our sidebar.

3. What do you want your readers to do?

Do you want them to be inspired to take further action? Buy your book? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure that action is spelled out on every page. Maybe you’ll take care of it with a widget on your sidebar, or maybe a popup. However you want to get the message to them, make sure readers know what you want them to do when they enter your site.

We had written some books, and wanted to direct attention to them. But that information was on the home page, not on individual posts. We scrambled to get that up on the sidebar too.

4. Can they easily share your post?

If your Twitter and Facebook share buttons are hidden away down in the gobbledygook at the bottom of the post, how likely is it that your readers will find them? Likewise, if the buttons appear only at the top of the post, what’s the likelihood that they’ll scroll back up after reading?

Don’t clutter your site with share buttons everywhere, but make it easy for readers to find and access them.

5. Are your RSS feed, signup, Twitter, and Facebook buttons easy to find?

If your reader likes what he sees, you want to make it easy for him to follow you.

6. Are your categories self-explanatory and detailed enough?

Put yourself in the shoes of someone coming to your blog for the very first time. Will they be able to find the info you’ve just encouraged them to look for?

Remember that you’ve got only a few seconds to capture a new reader. Whichever page they use to enter your site, that’s the page that needs to be prepared. Which means, of course, that every page needs to be prepared. If you’ve done everything you can to get key information in your sidebar, header, and footer, then you’re ready to go. Let it fly!

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is chief blogger at Family on Bikes. Together with her family, she spent three years cycling from Alaska to Argentina. Now, she back at home writing books and blog posts about their adventures.

How to Handle Criticism: a Practical Guide

Image by Stuart Richards

As bloggers, each of us has to deal with criticism. Blogging is a very public activity—almost all of us has the goal of gaining readers to our blogs—and the more people you reach, the more likely it is that you’ll hear criticisms.

“You’re wrong…”

“How can you say that? You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I couldn’t disagree more…”

“This is the last time I read this blog!”

These are just some of the criticisms bloggers regularly face—I’ve received versions of all of these many times over the years, and if you’ve been blogging for any length of time, they’re probably fairly familiar to you, too.

Criticism can be deeply painful. As I explained here, the difficulty in dealing with criticism caused Elizabeth Taylor to ignore everything the press said about her. The discomfort of being criticised has led more than one blogger to shut down their blog, so it’s an issue that bloggers really do need to think about.

How can we manage criticism, not get dragged down by it, and maybe even benefit from it?

Embrace criticism?!

That probably sounds a little odd, but the first thing you need to do is accept—even embrace—the fact that your blog has attracted criticism.

I know that can be difficult to do, but think of it this way: you’re a blogger, and you’re tackling the tough job of putting yourself, your work, and your opinions on the line every week.

Not everyone will agree with you all of the time, but negative feedback is a sign that you’re making people think. After all, that’s one of the most common reasons why many start blogging in the first place.

Certainly, few bloggers are ever going to gleefully greet negative emails and comments the way we do positive feedback, but the first step in using that information positively is to accept it as a natural part of blogging.

Don’t take it personally—everyone gets criticisms—from the longest-standing A-list bloggers to the newest blogger on the block. It’s not pretty, but it’s part of the job.

Consider the criticism

Some criticisms are better than others. Some negative commenters just want you to know that they feel this post’s no good, or they don’t like your logo. Others are more considerate—they’ll give you reasons for their negative feedback.

There are trolls out there—people who are just negative for the sake of it—but if you cultivate the right culture of comments on your site, you’ll likely receive more valuable criticisms than trolling. If your site is the victim of trolls, you might find this post, which explains a Buddhist monk’s philosophy of dealing with “haters”, helpful.

Be careful, too, not to discount a brief criticism that lacks detail as “just trolling.” Sometimes what appears to be a thoughtless negative comment from a troll can turn out to reflect an undercurrent that’s taken up later by more constructive commenters—and that can be extremely valuable to you and your blog.

Making use of criticism

I find it’s best, wherever possible, to take the emotion out of the criticism. So if you have more than one negative comment on a post, look first for those that are written reasonably and respectfully. These kinds of readers are advancing ideas for you to consider so you can better meet their needs. Have a read, but don’t take the feedback personally, or even on board, just yet.

Now look at the remaining criticism—the angry or otherwise emotional feedback. Think as objectively as possible about how that supports the other feedback. If you could boil down the feedback to one thing, what would it be? What was it that readers didn’t like about this post or product?

Criticism often falls into one of a few categories:

  • a difference of opinion
  • a lack of perceived value
  • a sense of frustration linked to an underlying problem the reader is struggling with.

If you can work out which of these problems is at the root of the criticism you’ve received, you can do something about it.

A difference of opinion may cause you to re-check your facts, do a little research, and respond to the criticism with evidence that supports your case—perhaps in a follow-up post.

A lack of perceived value may encourage you to tweak the way you present value through your blog. It might also prompt you to post on different topics or try different approaches to the topic in question. This may even open up your blog to a broader audience over time.

A sense of frustration among readers can give you real insight into deep audience needs, and what you can do to meet them.

Take it on board

Now’s the time to take the criticism on board—but not emotionally so much as practically.

Now you know what the real issue is, you can undoubtedly think of a few ways to try to tweak your work to try to cater to the needs your readers have flagged.

“Tweak” is usually the right word here. If you take the criticism personally, you’ll be more likely to make drastic changes that can end up undermining your blog and possibly disappointing the majority of readers who like what you do and how you do it. So act with caution—but do act.

On the other hand, if the negative feedback is overwhelming, you might do well to respond (not react!) with corresponding passion, showing your audience that you’re listening, and that their feedback is important to you.

After all, they took the time to tell you what they didn’t like, which means they do care about you and your blog. A criticism says, “I want your blog to be what I want.” It’s up to us as bloggers to decide if, and how, we want our blogs to be what those readers want.

How do you handle criticism on your blog? Share your tips with us in the comments—we could all use some help handling negative feedback.

An Easy Way to Decrease Your Unsubscribe Rate

This guest post is by Michael Alexis of WriterViews.

Frustrated with unsubscribes on your newsletter?

You aren’t alone. Most of the metrics associated with our newsletters are fun to watch.

  • Subscribe rate going up? Cool.
  • Open rate rising? Awesome.
  • Clickthrough rate skyrocketing? Yahoo!

Decrease your unsubscribes

Image by Bruce Berrien, licensed under Creative Commons

So, what is it about unsubscribe rates that is so darn frustrating? Maybe it’s the feeling of rejection that the reader no longer finds enough value in our work. Perhaps it’s the wondering whether they only ever signed up to get our download-bait. Or it could even just be the dissatisfaction of not knowing why all these people are unsubscribing.

Whatever the reason, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just put a stop to unsubscribes for good?

Ana Hoffman of Traffic Generation Cafe is pretty transparent about her blogging strategies. So, when earlier this year, I interviewed Ana, I wanted to find out how she builds and maintains her email list. This post is about the specific tactic Ana uses to drastically cut unsubscribe rates to her newsletter.

The problem isn’t what you are doing

Since you’re active in the world of blogging about blogging, you already know:

So you know all about how to get subscribers and engage your readers. And it’s a lot of work, right? But you are doing it. That’s why we have to look elsewhere for the underlying cause of email unsubscribes.

The problem isn’t what you are doing.

Read that again.

No. The problem is what you aren’t doing.

The problem is what you aren’t doing

The underlying cause of newsletter unsubscribes is that you aren’t building relationships with your readers. Sure, you’re writing content that is useful for them. Sure, you write with the voice you speak in. Sure, you share your strong opinions. Sure, you drop little snippets about your personal life. All of those things can help build relationships, but in the end they suffer from one fatal flaw: you’re broadcasting a message from one to many.

So, how often do you reach out to your subscribers, one by one?

Cut your unsubscribe rate

Hey, wow! Nobody ever did that, you are actually real and respond to your emails.
—Ana Hoffman

You will cut your newsletter unsubscribe rate by building relationships with your subscribers. You do that be reaching out to them one by one. By engaging subscribers in personal dialog, you show them you are a real person sitting behind a computer writing live emails. You show them that you aren’t just looking to flood their inbox with a series of canned autoresponses. And you show them that you actually care and appreciate having them around.

The key here is to change the perception of a one-to-many broadcast into a one-to-one conversation.

Sounds like the right approach doesn’t it?

How Ana does it

Ana uses a simple strategy to engage one-on-one with every subscriber to her newsletter.

She writes them an email.

Here’s her process. First, she sets aside 15 minutes at the end of the day to email her new subscribers.

Second, she opens up each of the “new subscriber notification” emails she gets from Aweber.

Third, she responds to that email (which goes to the subscriber) and changes the subject line to something like “good morning!” or “good afternoon!” Ana says this step gets her a lot of feedback like “Wow, either your responder is so good it knows the time, or you are actually there!”

Fourth, she writes the content of the email. Something like “Hello. Thanks for joining my list. Welcome. I’m here if you need help.”

Fifth, she customizes the email. If she notices someone’s email ends with “.au”, she’ll say “It’s evening my time, but afternoon in Australia, so good afternoon!” There is a free add-on to Gmail called Rapportive that shows you details of the person you are emailing, including their location.

Sixth, she presses send. And bam! With just a little bit of daily effort like this, you’ve built a relationship with every subscriber on your list!

How do you build relationships with your email subscribers?

Photo Credit: Bruce Berrien

Michael Alexis posts video interviews with the world’s top bloggers at WriterViews. The interviews cover strategy, tips and tactics for becoming a ProBlogger.