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Blog Design for ROI Rule 2: Highlight Your Key Content

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

Previously in the Blog Design for ROI series, I discussed the importance of prioritizing your email optin form within your page layout.

The next best use of space in your design is to highlight your key content.

Why does highlighting your key content matter?

There are a few reasons why this is important.

  • It helps convert one-off visitors into repeat visitors: If someone browses a few posts and realizes that they really enjoy the content, they’ll keep coming back for more. This is one reason why many blogs struggle to build a loyal following—they leave it to more-or-less random chance whether someone sees their best posts.
  • It helps repeat readers keep digging into your archives: This way, they deepen their knowledge of the subject, and associate that education with you.
  • This highlighting is also an easy, practical way to give visitors an idea of what you blog about.

When I say you should highlight key content, I don’t just mean posts, I mean your key posts and key blog categories. You can pick key categories either by popularity of the category’s posts and/or frequency of posting on that topic.

In the main content area

In this regard, I think ProBlogger’s design circa end of 2005 was a brilliant, successful approach to the problem:

Problogger header highlights key posts, categories and news/resources

Beneath the logo and banner ad, there are three visually dominant content blocks. The prominent position is one part of the story.

Another part of the success story here was the specific content featured.

  • The first block, aptly entitled Introduction – Key Articles, featured core posts. It did something quite clever that went beyond that, though—after five specific posts, it offered a single link to drive people further into other posts—the Top 20 Posts at Problogger. And it offered a broad review of past experience—a summary of the best content, if you will—in the seventh link, Lessons I’ve Learnt.
  • The second block, Tips and Hints – Toolbox, listed core categories on Problogger that still represent the blog’s topics accurately to this day—advice on publishing ads, blog design, writing and marketing.
  • The third block, for miscellaneous items, provided valuable resources like interviews, case studies and tools, as well as miscellaneous info about ProBlogger like ProBlogger News, ProBlogger In The News and a Disclaimer.

I don’t know if it was deliberate at the time, but to me the content in those blocks is arranged in increasing order of expertise. Beginners can read, “What is a blog?” Intermediate bloggers can dig through the archives to satisfy their curiosity and deepen their knowledge. Experts can see interviews and case studies with particular details, as well as tools for for implementation.

In the sidebar

Another popular place—though probably less effective—to highlight a blog’s top content is the sidebar.

Here’s how Copyblogger did it back in the day.

Copyblogger in 2006

And you’ll see that this is still where CopyBlogger highlights his top content today:

Copyblogger 2012

While CopyBlogger didn’t also link to category pages in 2006, you’ll see the design comes around and does this later, with the categories linked to above the Popular Articles section. Again, he enables people to go deeper into his subject matter and deepen their knowledge.

Email form + top content = win?

Another aspect which I like about Copyblogger’s positioning of the top content in the sidebar is that it’s right next to his email optin form.

One best practice for optin forms is to provide a [lightbox / popover] link to a sample email so people can preview what they’re signing up to. This advice comes from those well-known conversion experts, the Eisenberg brothers, founders of FutureNow. Here’s a look at their optin form.

FutureNow Optin Email form

Caveat: I said that I like this association of the email form with links to key content, because I think it’s similar to providing a sample newsletter as advocated by conversion rate gurus like the Eisenberg brothers. I haven’t tested it myself, though, so I don’t know if the analogy (sample newsletter link = top blog post links) holds true.

Raise ROI by highlighting your key content

After your email optin form, the most important element of your blog that you need to devote space to is your key content. It shows what you blog about, builds your loyal and subscribed audience, and helps people explore your archives.

Your key content is not just articles, but also categories and additional resources like tools and case studies.

Organizing the key content call-out by the intended audience’s degree of expertise is a practical way to make multiple audiences happy.

Placing the key content near your email optin form gives people a preview of what they’ll get in the newsletter, and may increase subscriptions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these tips in the comments. Have you tried these approaches? How did they work?

Next time, we’ll look at integrating the community you’ve built around your blog into the design of the blog itself. See you then!

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/ .

Are You Defining Your Niche Properly?

This guest post is by Charles Manfre of CodeConquest.com.

When I started my blog, I made the mistake of not defining my niche well enough.

In fact, I defined it with one word: “coding.”

Defining the niche my blog targeted with one word was never going to be enough. Perhaps for the pioneers of the internet it was okay, but in this day and age, with millions of websites in the competition, you need more than a one-word topic name for a niche.

I can’t emphasize how important it is to define your niche. You need to be able to know the focus of your blog inside out, what makes it so great and how it’s different from every other blog. A one word simply isn’t enough.

I didn’t know this when starting my blog. But when it did dawn on me, I knew I needed to change. I overhauled my About page, I changed my tagline, and I generally wasted a lot of time deciding on what the heck my site was about.

Luckily for me, the site was still new and unknown, and I doubt a single person noticed my change of focus, but this was time I could have spent building great content and promoting my blog.

I hope that you can learn from my mistakes. So here are the main things you need to think about when defining your niche.

Choose an audience, not a topic

This was the first mistake I made. When you decided what your blog was going to be about, did you choose a topic like business, blogging, or photography? Or in my case, coding?

I did. And it wasn’t long before I realized it wasn’t going to work. Coding is a hugely broad topic, and I had no idea who I was writing for. Beginners? Experienced coders? What kind of coding were they interested in? What needs did they have that I could address?

I didn’t even know my own blog! My blog posts were lacking purpose. They weren’t targeting anyone, they weren’t addressing any needs. No wonder no one was reading them!

Think of all the successful blogs you know. ProBlogger, Digital Photography School, Zen Habits. They don’t just blog about a topic, they’re aimed at a specific audience.

Coding was a weak topic. But those who are learning to write code and want to apply their skills to real projects—now that’s a very clearly defined audience.

Lessons

  • Don’t write about something, write for someone.
  • Know the focus of your blog, inside out.
  • With every blog post you write, ask yourself: what’s the purpose of this blog post and how does it address my audience’s needs?

Differentiate your blog from every other

When I was deciding on my clearly defined audience, there was one big thing I had in mind. How was my blog going to be different from all the rest?

If you’re blogging about blogging, you’re competing with ProBlogger. If you’re blogging about photography, you’re competing with Digital Photography School. If you’re blogging about coding like I am, you’re competing with Tuts+ and SitePoint.

How do you expect to stand out from the pack? You simply don’t stand a chance. Unless you differentiate your blog.

Here’s a little exercise Derek Halpern taught me. Identify the top ten blogs in your niche and for each one, explain how it is unique from all the others. Now decide how your blog can fit in amongst that top ten, with its own unique spin.

In my case, I decided that my blog was going to be focused on coding in the “real world”—guiding people along their learn to code journey, while also helping them apply their skills to real projects.

Lessons

  • Identify how your blog is different from all the others in your niche and how it can compete.
  • Ideally, choose a unique spin that no other blog shares.

Where do you want your blog to be in a year?

Knowing how you want your blog to grow is something that’s extremely helpful for defining your niche. It’s not as important as the previous two points, but it really does help.

Think about what kind of things you’ll be selling, what components there will be on your website, even how you want your site to look and be designed.

For me, I decided that in a year’s time I wanted to be selling WordPress themes and plugins on my website. So, to prepare for this, I now have a WordPress category in my blog which I add to regularly.

I also know that I want my website to be known as a supportive community for coders. Just knowing this gives me a better idea of what kind of content to add to my blog today.

Lessons

  • Have an idea in your head of what your blog will be when it’s fully mature.
  • Think about how it will make money, what it will be known for, and how it will look.
  • Use this insight to gain a better idea of what to focus your blog on today.

Strengthen your blog’s foundation

It doesn’t matter whether your blog is already established or not. Websites are dynamic—you can change them at any time. So take this advice: laser define your niche and strengthen your blog’s foundation.

What niche does your blog focus on? Tell us in the comments—and no one-word answers please!

Charles Manfre is the owner of CodeConquest.com, a website and blog that helps beginners learn to write code and apply their web coding skills in the real world. Visit the website or subscribe to the blog.

Become a Guest-post Ninja in 5 Steps

This guest post is by Timo Kiander ofProductive Superdad.

There you are with a big smile, after slapping together another 400-word post. It took you 30 minutes to write, and now you are ready to submit it to some random blog.

Although you didn’t really put your mind to the post, it got published anyway. Quite soon after this you start to wonder why you aren’t getting any great results in return: no visits, no subscribers, no nothing.

You make the conclusion that guest posting is just a waste of time. You also decide to move to other, more compelling traffic methods that have the potential to drive massive amounts of visitors to your site.

In fact, a certain marketer just published a course that shows you how to get floods of traffic to your blog—by spending just ten minutes per day with his technique.

You figure that’s a much better use of your time than the overhyped guest posting thing, which isn’t working for you anyway.

I’m sorry to hear that you feel this way about guest posting. However, if you let me, I can at least try to change your mind.

Guest posting is more than a simple list post

Too many times people think that a great-performing article is just a simple list post that, after being submitted to a blog, will bring a lot of traffic and subscribers. Then they become frustrated when they fail to get the results they wished for.

This frustration is caused by a lack of persistence. Guest posting is a long-term strategy that requires commitment—not just doing a random post here or there.

You’ll also need the focus properly when you’re doing the actual writing. Your goal should always be to produce as valuable and meaningful stuff for your readers as possible.

Unfortunately, if you are not focused enough, you end up offering some superficial advice that has been said elsewhere many times over.

The more time you spend on guest posting, the more certain you can be that you’ll get the big rock rolling—and you’ll get great rewards in return.

On the other hand, if you expect the results fast or you are not willing to put enough hours in, then you should definitely start figuring out some other promotional strategy that suits your better.

Mindset and success are connected

The lack of success is traceable—to your mind. In other words, you might lack the proper mindset to succeed at guest posting.

To succeed, you’ll need to be consistent and persistent with your efforts. You also have to be ready to test and tweak different things related to guest posting: headlines, landing pages, and the blogs you submit your posts to.

Unfortunately, guest posting is not for the person who wants to reach the big figures in this very moment: the traffic, the subscribers now, and the sales. Sure, you’ll get those, but only with enough commitment and intense work.

If you don’t own the right mindset, guest posting is just another way to get some random traffic to your site. A lack of focus is going to give you a lack of results.

Becoming a guest-post ninja

Do you want to become a guest-post ninja? Well, I have good news for you—it’s totally doable!

Instead of jumping around like a real ninja warrior, I want you to develop a proper guest posting mindset. You can do this using the steps I’m about to tell you.

First, don’t hold back on anything!

I remember the time (when I started writing guest posts) when I was always thinking, “Is this post too good to be given away, or should I publish it on my own blog?”

If you are feeling like this, then stop. Don’t hesitate to give your best stuff for other blogs.

My blog doesn’t have tens of thousands of readers (at least, not yet!), so it’s useless for me to publish all my best content over there.

Instead, I try to get my content published on those blogs which already have those tens of thousands of readers and who will (at least partly) come back to my blog for more.

Second, writing is just one part of guest-posting.

Guest posting is also about interacting with the readers of the guest blog’s audience. If you think that your job is done after getting your post published, you are wrong.

The worst thing to do is to stay quiet during the conversation. This just proves to the blog’s author that your posts are not worth publishing in the future.

Third, the biggest fear in guest posting is about rejection.

I can totally understand this—especially if you are just starting out. However, the more posts your write, the less you’ll experience this feeling.

You can always offer the rejected post to another blog and, unless it’s badly written, it’ll be published elsewhere.

Fourth, systematize your work.

When you start writing posts on a regular basis, a good system will help you a lot. This means that you have certain guidelines to follow whenever your write a guest post, and you’ll be able to produce great posts easier and faster.

Finally, plan ahead.

Never start writing your posts without outlining or planning them in advance. This becomes especially important if you are building your blog while you have a day job and a family.

Every minute counts! The more effective you are, the more you get done with your available time, and the better the results you are going to get.

Put that black mask on, and become a guest-post ninja!

Now that you understand the guest posting mindset, and how to become a guest-post ninja, it’s time to look at the action steps that you can take next.

1. Give away your best stuff

Don’t save the “good stuff” for your own blog—give it away, especially if you are just starting out. Your blog gets more exposure that way, and so do you.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be writing awesome stuff on your own blog—of course you should! But you should publish your great content where the people are, rather than posting it only to your blog.

2. Reply to comments

There are really two parts to this piece of advice.

First, I batch process all post comments at once, on a daily basis. This way all the comments get a reply. This is also what the author of the blog you’ve been a guest on expects.

As soon as I know that the post is live, I’ll let the author know that my comment policy is to reply to all the comments once a day. I also let the blogger know if I’m travelling and I can’t reply to comments right away. This way the blogger is informed and knows that eventually the comments are going to be replied to.

3. Kill your fear of rejection

To feed your fear of rejection, write your first guest post and try to get it published on a big blog.

A much better way to kill that fear is to get your stuff published on smaller blogs first, and then, once you’re more confident, to go after the big fishes.

This is exactly what my strategy was in the beginning, and the fear of rejection is nowadays pretty much non-existent.

You should use this strategy too: start on the lowest steps of the ladder and then proceed upwards, one step at a time.

4. Create your system

You can create your ownguest-post system from scratch, or borrow a system from someone else.

I have a certain way of writing posts and this system works for me. On the other hand, you’ll definitely want to put your own tweaks to existing systems, so that they suit you better. It’s the best way to create quality guest posts that get results on a consistent basis.

5. Plan and execute

Finally, there is the planning part, which shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, the planning is critical part of my system, but I wanted to bring it up as a separate step.

Every Sunday, I outline my posts for the coming week. This ensures that I’m ready to start writing as soon as I wake up.

Mornings are technically the only part of the day when my home is quiet enough for writing. Besides, writing stuff after getting back home from work is not practical for me as I want to spend time with my family or with my hobbies.

Like me, you’ll have to find the optimum time for you to write. Then, plan and write around that schedule.

Are you a guest-post ninja?

Guest posting works, but you have to concentrate on it properly if you want to get good results. To get that concentration, build a strategy and a system for your guest posting efforts. Take these steps as a starting point or implement your own system if you want.

Have you done any guest posting? What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?

Timo Kiander, a.k.a. Productive Superdad, teaches WAHD superdad productivity for work at home dads. If you want to improve your blogging productivity, grab his free e-book, 61 Ways for Supercharging Blogging Productivity.

5 Fatal Mistakes Your Paid Content Marketers *Are* Making (and How Much it’s Costing You)

Businesses wanting to reach users in more subtle ways are jumping on the blogging bandwagon. Well and truly.

In a recent Australian study, 62% of respondents said “blogs are the most appealing medium for business to promote a brand.”

If you’re in a business that’s paying an agency to create content on your behalf and place it on niche- and audience-appropriate sites around the web, you might be surprised to learn how far short your chosen agency is falling.

As Content manager at Problogger.net, I see agency pitches all the time, from marketing shops large and small. Just this week, I turned down content submitted by a global digital marketing agency. Why? Because it managed to achieve four of these five fatal mistakes.

How much do I think this probably cost their client? Between pitching, concepting and writing the posts (let’s say a total of four hours), keyword research (an hour?), and client and legal approvals (two hours), at $300 an hour (global agency rates!) we’re looking at $2,100, at a minimum. That’s without any back-and-forth revisions. I really hope that client had these guys on retainer…

If you pay an agency to create and post content to promote your business, now’s the time to ask yourself: how many of these mistakes are they making?

1. They hit sites with spam pitches

ProBlogger has a pretty unambiguous name, and if you’ve ever visited the blog, you’ll see immediately that it has a clear mandate.

Yet every day I receive pitches for “relevant”, “unique” posts on topics like:

  • insurance
  • furniture
  • mattresses and bedding
  • home decorating
  • mortgages
  • and so on.

Sure, this is a complete waste of my time, and bad news for your brand in the relationship-focused blogosphere.

But if you’re paying your agency to make these pitches, automated or not, you’re throwing money out the window.

2. They don’t read the submission guidelines

If your well-paid content marketing “expert” is pitching a post on bedding to ProBlogger, they obviously haven’t read the guidelines. But that’s not the only way their wasting their time and your money, nor the only way they’re swiftly undermining blog-industry respect for your brand.

Many agencies pitch us topics that appear relevant to our readership, then send us vaguely relevant articles containing backlinks to businesses that are completely unrelated to either the topic or our readers.

Our guidelines clearly state that we only include relevant links in posts. So if you’ve paid an agency to carefully research your keywords, and craft the posts, and maybe even had your lawyer approve the posts themselves (which many businesses do), and the host blog has rejected those posts, you’ve wasted some serious money.

If only your agency took a more thorough approach to targeting content. Oh wait, that’s what you’re paying them for, isn’t it?

3. They target host sites on the basis of PageRank, not audience or topic

Of course, most of these mistargeting issues arise because content agencies assess potential host sites primarily on the basis of PageRank, traffic levels, and similar factors.

What should they assess host sites on? Their appropriateness to your product, and relevance to your audience.

If your content marketing strategy is positioned as an SEO tool, you’re doing it wrong.

4. They’re unwilling, or unable, to make editorial changes

Let’s be honest. There are plenty of people in the world who can string a few sentences together and call it a guest blog post. Only a small (or, looking at the agency submission we receive, I’d say miniscule) percentage of them have ever written to a brief, or know how to work with an editor.

Writing to a brief—even one you’ve set yourself—is an art.

So is taking in feedback on that draft to make it better suit the readers of the site you’ve pitched it to.

To say that not all people who present themselves as pro writers can do this is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. This stuff is hard. It takes practice.

And if your paid content marketer can’t do it, you’ve blown your dough.

5. They’re unable to write for the medium

I know: blogging looks so easy. Most people in this industry haven’t had professional training in either writing or marketing. The people in your shiny marketing agency have been to grad school, for crying out loud! They know how to put a pen to paper! And really, how hard can it be anyway, right?

Well, pretty darn hard, judging by the paid-agency drafts I receive every day of the live-long week. An ability to write a media release, radio script, print ad, ebook, whitepaper, or essay does not naturally translate to skill in writing for blogs.

For example, your agency might be submitting “blog posts” that look like this:

"Blog post"

What’s wrong here? Ask your content marketing agency. If they can’t tell you, find one that can.

Finding good help

How can you find a good agency? First up, I’d say: stop looking for an agency.

You know who wouldn’t make any of these fatal mistakes? Any actual blogger worth his or her salt. If you want to make an impact using blogs as a medium, it seems that right now, you should hire a blogger.

It’ll be interesting to see how this situation evolves as the industry matures—I have a feeling agencies are eventually going to have to hire actual bloggers before too long, but from what I’m seeing, that’s not happening yet.

That’s the whole problem.

Whoever you’re considering, ask to see these things:

  1. Their blog. If they don’t have a current, engaging one, run.
  2. Five guest posts they’ve had published on other relevant blogs, as well as:
    • the comments and sharing stats for those posts on the host sites
    • evidence of the impact of the guest post publications on the blogger’s own traffic levels
    • the search positioning of those posts for the relevant topic keywords.
  3. The details of, say, three independent bloggers or blog editors they’ve worked with, so you can contact these people and find out how well the blogger’s writing is received by “peers.” Blogging is a relationship-based industry. The better your blogger’s relationship-building skills, the more successful your content marketing efforts are likely to be.

Your chosen blogger doesn’t need to be a big name with a massive following. Far from it. All they need to be able to do is write blog posts that have an impact on the target readers, and work effectively within this rather unique industry.

Too few agencies can manage that.

Use Word-of-Mouth Promotion to Boost Blog Traffic

This guest post is by Jeszlene Zhou of First Communication Job.

I love the idea of using a blog as your personal hub, and how it creates a centralised space for all your social media sites, your portfolio, and more.

Most bloggers and social media professionals promote a link to their blog or website, and shamelessly direct traffic towards their personal hub. Yet interestingly, they do not promote their personal hub via word-of-mouth in the “real world.”

Here’s a true story. Over the past few months, I’ve attended a few social media conferences, and met dozens of social media professionals. However, in all that time only one person invited me to view her blog.

What a pity, as the events were filled with bloggers and social media practitioners with great online influence—perfect for the community engagements we spend hours seeking to build behind our little screens. Great opportunities to increase blog traffic were wasted. In fact, paying hundreds of dollars to attend industry conferences without telling the people you meet about your blog is like having a trade show booth that doesn’t display its marketing materials.

Word-of-mouth promotion, despite its bad reputation, does not have to be shameless and annoying. There are many soft-sell methods to bring your message across. Here’s a basic Who, What, Where, When and How for using word-of-mouth promotion to increase your blog traffic.

Who?

You—and everyone! If blogging is the home of your core business, your blog should be shared with as many people as you can possibly reach—even if they are not heavy internet users.

You’ll never know who might visit out of mere curiosity, or if they will share your site with others.

What?

What is your blog about and why it is different from others? Communicate your blog’s URL and unique selling point to create interest in those your speak to and eventually drive traffic there.

Sometimes it is wiser to connect first in your target audiences’ preferred social media platform—in certain contexts, communicating your LinkedIn, FaceBook or Twitter profile might be more appropriate than giving out your blog URL.

Just make sure that all your social media profiles have links back to your blog, so that these new connections can flow through when they’re ready to find out more.

Where?

Everywhere appropriate! I would list industry conferences and networking events as the top venues for word-of-mouth promotion. But as long as you’re having a conversation with someone, why not bring up your blog?

When?

When people ask “what do you do?”

Instead of listing your day job, which you might be dragging your feet to on a daily basis, why not mention your blog? It makes you sound more interesting and can be a fantastic chance for you to generate interest and traffic to your online presence.

However while being opportunistic is important, be patient and wait for an appropriate opening so you don’t appear pushy—which can have the reverse effect on your sales and promotion efforts.

How?

The elevator pitch is a great tool many sales people use on a daily basis, and Harvard University has created The Harvard Elevator Pitch Builder for novices to use.

You can also bring up an interview request or a guest blog invitation when appropriate, instead of limiting those queries to email engagements. And if a sales pitch isn’t your style, why not let your business card do the talking? While many consider cards to be increasingly obsolete in today’s digital world, a physical piece of information still serves to reinforce that first contact. Furthermore, if everyone else is stopping using traditional cards, carrying one will definitely help you stand out!

Improving your word-of-mouth promotion

There are many great sales books that will help to improve both your face-to-face communication techniques and online engagement skills, one of them being Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

I highly recommend this book to get a better understanding of successful networking through building mutually beneficial relationships—lessons that are applicable in both off and online interactions.

However, the best word-of-mouth promoters are people who practice, practice, and practice some more. So the next time you meet someone face-to-face, give this a go!

What are some of your experiences at networking events? Do many of the people you meet tell you about their blogs? What are some offline methods you use to encourage friends, family members and others to visit your site? Have you visited a blog through word-of-mouth?

Please share your thoughts, ideas and stories in the comments section below!

Jeszlene Zhou is a communications practitioner. Her blog, First Communication Job discusses tactics for entering the fields of media and communications, including professional blogging and social media. Be friendly, say hi to her on twitter too!

Forget Everything You Think You Know About SEO

This guest post is by Mark Collier of www.DropMining.com.

For the last year I’ve been spending my free time after school conducting Red Bull-fuelled coding sessions in the pursuit of one single goal: to bring more science to the SEO industry.

As an industry we are still only taking our first few baby steps into the world of maths, stats, and data-driven decisions. For a seemingly data-dependent industry, SEO professionals are influenced to a surprising degree by rumour, anecdotal evidence, and unscientific tests.

SEOMoz were the true visionaries in conducting correlation studies to analyse search engine algorithms. With my project, I hoped to take it that little bit further and analyse more factors on a larger dataset.

After analysing the top 100 search results for over 10,000 keywords I had gathered 180,000,000 (one hundred and eighty million) data points on 186 potential factors in the Google algorithm. This has lead to the most comprehensive published research into Google’s algorithm, and some pretty incredible findings.

With so much data and so many findings it would be impossible to go through them all here on Problogger.net, so in this post, I have hand-picked all the most important findings for bloggers.

Background: correlations explained

Correlations are a useful but imperfect indicator of the relationship between two pieces of data, in this case search engine ranking and the factor being tested. They range from -1 to 1, a minus number meaning the factor correlates with a negative impact on ranking, and a positive number meaning ranking and the magnitude of the factor move in the same direction.

How close the correlation is to either of the 1′s is an indicator of its importance/strength. A 0.7 correlation is very strong whereas a 0.05 correlation implies almost no relationship between the two variables.

For example, correlation studies have been used to link income to education. As we all know the more education we have, on average the more income we earn, but where did that statistic come from and why do most people believe it?

Correlations are used to prove relationships between two pieces of data, in this case amount of education and income, and to figure out how important that relationship is, by putting numbers behind the logic.

Here’s a little example (these are made up figures [credit]):

Correlation table

In this sample, the correlation is + 0.79. Just from looking at the data, you can see that the more time the study’s participants spent in education, the more income they earned.

This is verified by the correlation which is a positive number (when education increases, income increases) and is very close to 1.0. This demonstrates that the relationship between education and income is a strong one.

My research findings

Now that you understand correlations, let’s look at what my research revealed about SEO.

Finding 1. SEO plugins are not the answer

I’m sure you are aware there are a whole host of WordPress SEO plugins available for your blog. These plugins tend to deal primarily with on-page SEO, for example, placing keywords in the URL, title, meta description, etc.

While some plugins deal with the indexing side of SEO, which may provide some small SEO benefit, the majority tend to focus their efforts on these on-page factors.

The truth is that contrary to all the rhetoric of SEOs and industry “experts” over the last ten years, according to my research these simplistic have almost no bearing on a page’s rank in Google.

That’s not to say that Google hasn’t developed more advanced algorithms to analyse content on a page, but certainly the traditional factors such as keywords being in title tags, h1/h2/h3 tags, etc. can be ignored when writing blog posts.

The main learning here for bloggers is that instead of worrying about search engines when you write your next blog post, you should focus 100% on the user.

Here’s the proof. Each ranking factor below is correlated to search engine ranking.

on page correlations

Check out all these articles in Darren’s resource on how to write a great post. Guess what? None of them talk about how users love a title tag stuffed with keywords or headings tags that are meaningless space-fillers designed solely for search engine spiders.

Finding 2. You gotta love link building

The only set of factors to have all the signals tested show a significant positive correlation was links.

Without a doubt, the single most important factor in gaining search engine ranking is building links to your blog.

Page Authority, an SEOMoz metric that models the PageRank for a given URL, was by far the most influential factor in the study. What this means is that it is not only important to build links to your homepage, but also to the posts you want to get rank well in Google.

When was the last time you wrote a guest post or created a viral infographic? How much time do you spend doing keyword research or doing repetitive, mundane tasks like manually optimizing posts for keyword density?

If there is one piece of action everybody who reads this post should take, it is without a doubt to create a link-building strategy for your blog.

The proof:

link related correlations

Finding 3. Domains still matter

There’s been a lot of scaremongering about exact match domains of late, but the fact is that Google still highly values EMDs that have high quality content on them.

That’s the key. If you have a blog and you plan to publish great content that users will love then a EMD can be a massive help in getting you to #1 for that big keyword.

After seeing this significant positive correlation between EMDs and ranking #1 in Google, I looked a little deeper at the domain name market and learnt that there were over 200,000 domains expiring every day.

Bloggers can catch dropping domains before they go back onto the market and create incredible sites with them, which will have a natural advantage over the competition. Matt Green wrote a great post about this tactic right here on Problogger.net.

The proof:

exact match domain correlations

Research in summary

I think the key learnings from all this data for bloggers can be summarised into one sentence: “write for your audience not the search engines, build links to your great content, and develop your blog on a great domain with incredible domain authority.”

Do you focus on SEO? What works to push your site up the search rankings? Share your thoughts on my research in the comments.

This guest post is by Mark Collier from www.DropMining.com and www.TheOpenAlgorithm.com

The Well-rounded Blogger: How to Become the Best at Your Craft

This guest post is by Brandon Yawa of Brandonyawa.com.

It goes without saying that every writer who has excelled has his or her niche.

A “niche” gives writers a focal point, a demographic, a particular place in the world where his or her voice resonates. But niches without proper attention kill great writers.

The problem with specifications

You are walking down a busy street and fall. Unfortunately, you break your leg and the ambulance rushes you to the nearest Orthopedist. You meet Dr. Niche in his blue scrubs with his head held slightly higher than everyone else’s, suggesting overwhelming confidence in the subject at hand.

He looks at your leg, and in what seems like a millisecond, your leg is in place and the cast is fully set. Baffled by the expertise of Dr. Niche, you ask, “Is there anything I can do nutritionally to speed up the healing process?” Dr. Niche’s skyscraper deposition lowers as he almost incoherently mumbles, “That’s outside of my niche . . .”

Dr. Niche is absurd.

Great writers do not become so specific that they lose sight of the body in writing. Whether your niche is creative writing, blogging, non-fiction, or poetry, it is equally important you understand the mechanics of all the above. Great writers use the knowledge of writing to excel in their niche. Okay writers use the knowledge of their niche to excel in their niche.

How to be well-rounded

  1. If your specialty is blogging, expose yourself to other areas—poetry, literature, creative writing—and familiarize yourself with the mechanics of all of them. You’re not exiting your specialty; instead, you are arming yourself with more tools to excel in your niche.
  2. Don’t limit yourself to only writing about your niche. Live a little outside of your comfort zone. If you’re a poet, write what you know about blogging. If you’re a blogger, write a poem. Don’t just familiarize yourself with the mechanics; actually contribute your voice in other realms.
  3. Look at your voice like you would Dr. Niche. Dr. Niche is a genius if the world and the human body were limited to just bones, but it’s not. If you want to be a real world genius, don’t limit your voice to one particular thing.
  4. Separate the content your readers want from what you have to do as a professional to evolve. Continue to produce the content your readers look forward to, but practice new ways of delivering your content in privacy.
  5. Start today, not tomorrow. Don’t get into the habit of putting off what will make your voice special today. It’s a really bad habit that needs an entirely different blog.

The blogging world has shown that one person’s success can be countless people’s success when we share our experiences. Go out, try these new methods, then comeback here and share your insights. We look forward to hearing from you in the comments.

Brandon Yawa is a retired pro athlete turned blogger. His motivational blogs combine lessons learned from surpassing the limits in his life, with a deep-seated passion to help people transcend the limits in their lives.

Revealed: The Super Powers James Clear Used to Become a Full Time Blogger in 6-Months

This guest post is by TT Fong of SpikingStrengths.com.

James Clear runs the blog PassivePanda.com, which generates a full-time income. It took him only six-months to reach that point.

After studying his site, listening to several interviews he’s done, and talking with him live, I uncovered one of the secrets to his success.

This secret? He taps into his strengths or “super powers” while building and growing his blog. Here are three key lessons I learned from him about Super Powers, and how to use them for successful blogging.

First, what are his super powers and why should you care?

I gave James an assessment which identified his top five strengths (out of the known universe of thirty-four). I refer to these strengths as Super Powers, interchangeably.

In a nutshell, Super Powers are those latent gifts everyone has which allow them to be energized, learn quickly, and develop certain expertise in less time and effort than others.

Most focus on understanding the right tactics to building a blog. James certainly uses those that worked well for him.

But without leveraging your Super Powers, even the right tactics may not give you the desired results.

Why not?

Because it is your specific strengths that shape the tactics and strategies that work best for you.

In other words, an approach may work best for someone with strength A. But those same steps may not be right for someone with strength B.

If you have similar strengths to James, you could learn his specific tactics. And, if those tactics indeed played to your strengths, you’d likely see similar results.

But if your Super Powers were different from James’s, following in his exact footsteps may not lead you to where you want to go.

In other words, the foundation to your blogging success depends upon understanding and using your Super Powers.

Let’s use what I learned about James to illustrate this idea. Here are the top five Super Powers we came up with, based on the assessment:

  • futuristic
  • strategic
  • focused
  • a learner
  • significant.

I’ll explain in more detail how these can be applied to understand his business, and also how you can apply your own strengths to build up yours.

Here are three lessons you can learn from Passive Panda’s success.

1: Create energy and motivation

Building a blog or a venture that matters takes time. We’ve all heard this advice: “It doesn’t happen overnight.” “It takes longer than you think.” “You have to pay your dues.”

Even if it doesn’t take quite that long (and it doesn’t have to—James hit his stride in six months), what’s missing from this common advice is that it takes energy to sustain effort over time.

Willpower alone isn’t enough. Relying on brute force is a recipe for dissatisfaction at best and burn-out at worst. The answer? Doing the work that, itself, gives you energy.

And the best way to do that is to align your work with your strengths.

James’s Super Power of “Significance” gives him the energy to start, build, and sustain his blog and business. For him, this means always driving towards a way to impact as many people as possible.

When he hits the inevitable areas where the going gets tough, he can keep going by tapping into this strength.

So what can you do?

Understand which of your Super Powers motivates you. If it’s also Significance, then you want to have impact just like James. But if it’s something else, understand and link you blog and activities to that. While Significance, a desire to impact large numbers of people in a visible and tangible way, can be a powerful motivator, so can Belief, Achievement, and Harmony.

What’s important is that you find the thing that gives you energy. Then tap into it from the beginning of your blogging journey.

2: Stand out from the noise

Passive Panda is in what James calls the “make money” niche—perhaps one of the most crowded on the Internet. Yet, in a short period of time, he grew his audience and now stands out in his field, attracting the attention of entities like US News and World Report and American Express.

In fact, his “space” is actually a conflation of several competitive markets—personal finance, freelancing, entrepreneurship, and career development. On the surface, this could make it even more difficult, yet he still manages to stand out. How?

One way was through the unique application of his strength as a Learner. Because of this strength, he’s able to, for example, interview 70+ people for a single post. As a result, his posts have the kind of uniqueness that separates his blog from the pack.

Here’s an important note: while the tactic is successful and makes sense, it wouldn’t necessarily work for others, such as myself, with a different strength profile.

My reaction to learning the amount of research he did was, “No way could I do that. Just thinking about it exhausts me!” The many others who have a similar reaction would probably not take this approach (or if they did, wouldn’t do so for long). As a result, he clears the field and emerges as a unique voice.

So what can you do?

Figure out one—actually, I recommend two strengths that, when applied to the way you develop your content, give you “energy,” but also help you stand out in your space.

3: Deliver value to customers

In the end, for your blog to become a full-time gig, you’ll need paying customers—ideally, the same people who read your blog.

To do this, you’ll need to find a way to not only stand out but deliver value.

One of James’s other strengths is Focus. While he’s certainly able to apply this to the actual building of his business, what’s interesting to me is how his customers value this Super Power.

His popular course, “The Remora Method,” helps people to increase their own focus on the immediate next step to build their freelancing or “side gig.” The course structures behavior around getting clients to focus. His direct, 1:1 interactions over email all focus on helping someone take that specific next action.

Especially for someone who realizes that they need focus, or want the step-by-step progress that focus generates, this Super Power provides great value that people are willing to pay for.

So what can you do?

Think about how your strength can be the vehicle for delivering a product or service that your customers will want. This will help you to lay the groundwork so your blog can ultimately support you as it does James.

Let your blog leap tall buildings in a single bound

Your strengths (aka Super Powers) are a valuable source of the basic building blocks to building a blog. Upon them, you can then layer the great tips and tactics out there (such as those on ProBlogger!).

This foundation includes:

  • having the energy to pour into the blog, so you can
  • stand out in the way you develop content, so you can
  • deliver value to readers who become customers.

James shows how it can be done. And when you listen to the interview, you’ll get a peek into something even bigger he has in the works (as a result of the Super Power of Significance). I believe it is by understanding how his Super Powers enabled all the moving parts to work, that you can discover the deeper drivers of these tactics and, more importantly, better see your own, unique path to entrepreneurship.

TT Fong uses his strengths to help people discover and apply their “Super Powers” to do remarkable things with greater ease and less strain at SpikingStrengths.com. He uncovers how successful people build businesses, careers, and teams by spending time in their “spikes” — check out the cinematic trailer of the interview series.

Reusing Freelance Writing Online: the Pros and Pitfalls

This guest post is by Emma Merkas of $30 Date Night.

It was my blog that landed me my weekly newspaper column.

I’m a huge advocate of self-publishing, If you know you’re talented at something, and if you have an opinion you want to express, a song you want to sing, or a specific skill you want to teach, go right ahead and do it.

The Internet has more than levelled the publishing playing field—judging by the state of traditional media outlets right now, it’s all but demolished it.

I’d been thanklessly blogging for about 18 months—five posts a week, very little to show for it in the way of traffic, and regular comments … all was going steadily, but not gangbusters—when I received a call from the editor of mX newspaper here in Melbourne.

She’d been reading my blogs and since her relationship and dating columnist had left for another publication, she wondered if I could do for the paper what I’d been doing online.

Yes, I could! Of course I could. I remember jumping around the loungeroom like a complete idiot while trying to keep my voice steady on the phone. My husband wondered what the heck was going on.

Readership of 700,000 across the Eastern seaboard of Australia. My photo and byline printed alongside it every week. My website plugged at the bottom. And an opportunity for a legit writing job…

Suddenly, I was a real writer. A proper, paid, professional writer.

But the column also gives me great new content for my blog.

I have my newspaper deadline every week. Even on my off days, even through my uninspired weeks, and even when I just can’t be bothered writing (every blogger battles it), it gets done. Because it has to.

Which is amazing, because then I get to post it to my blog, giving me steady and quality content for my site and ensuring I’m not burnt out by constantly writing the same stuff over and over again. If I had to rewrite every article on the same topic just so I could publish something, I doubt I’d last very long.

So here are some key points on reusing your freelance content for your own website, based on my experience.

1. Remember: your copyright is your livelihood

If it’s at all possible, retain the copyright on the works you produce for paying publications.

This should generally be standard if you are freelancing for a publication, rather than being employed as staff by the company, in which case they may have legal rights to the content.

The only way you can transfer your copyright is by signing a document. So be careful of what you’re signing!

If you don’t understand the agreement, wave it under the nose of a friend with some legal background (lawyers are a dime a dozen, right?).

2. Understand exclusive and non-exclusive rights

While I do own the copyright to my content, the paper has exclusive rights to my work for a period of time, meaning that I can’t resell or licence the content to any other third party in that time.

However, I am entitled to use my own work on my own website. If you’re not sure about this, clear it with your editor first, or do it as a courtesy anyway.

Always, always credit the publication when you publish on your own site. This creates goodwill and they’ll welcome the cross-promotion.

In my case, after the paper’s exclusivity period runs out, it still owns perpetual rights to my work that the editors can use as they see fit in their standard publications. As my agreement includes a clause that my work should always run with a byline, I’m not too fussed by this arrangement. The more promotion and publicity, the better for me and my website.

3. Give them first jump

Of course, the publication you’re writing for always has the right to publish the works first. In my case, I leave it at least a few days before I go live with my articles on my blog.

As mX newspaper is one of the rare beasts that doesn’t have an online portion, my columns are gone and forgotten—with no digital footprint—along with yesterday’s news. My blog ensures they live on.

Chances are, if a publication has taken you on to contribute work, they’re impressed already with your blog, your work, and your brand. Use that to your advantage when negotiating your contract and get as much access to reuse your own works as possible.

If you want to learn more about your rights as a content creator, the US Copyright Office or the Australian Copyright Council is a great resource for FAQs and legal advice.

Are you a freelance writer? Do you reuse your articles on your own blog? Share your negotiating tips and advice with us in the comments.

Emma Merkas is the author of the weekly ‘How Was It For You?’ relationships and dating column in Australian newspaper, mX. She is also the co-creator of the $30 Date Night date ideas website and blog. Find her on Twitter @30dollardate.