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How—and Why—to Make Your Blog Print-friendly

This guest post is by Dunya Carter.

When crafting your blog, it is easy to neglect how it might look to someone who wants to print your articles and posts.

After all, with huge monitors, smart phones, tablets, and the bevy of other ways people can access your content, who’d want to print it out on a piece of paper like it’s 2004?

Well, it’s the hallmark of a good designer to not assume how someone will want to digest what you have to offer, and it’s so easy to make your blog print-friendly that there is really no reason not to.

You’d be surprised by how many people will choose to print useful articles, especially if they contain some useful information that they would like to refer to when they’re not near a computer.

Printing from scratch

For the code-skittish, there are some special tools and plugins you can use to help get your print-ready blog set up, and we’ll get to those shortly. If you want to customize it exactly how you want—for example, adding a print-only message to the bottom of the page—the best way to do it is coding it yourself with CSS.

Start in the file called header.php in your theme, and look for the line below:

<link rel=”stylesheet” href=”<?php bloginfo(‘stylesheet_url’); ?>” type=”text/css” media=”screen” />

That line tells the browser what style it should use based on the way the user is viewing the page. Most of the time, it will be viewed on a screen. Below that line, add this one:

<link rel=”stylesheet” href=”<?php bloginfo(‘template_directory’)<; ?>/print.css” type=”text/css” media=”print” />

This directs the browser to use a different stylesheet, called print.css, if the content is being printed. Of course, print.css does not exist yet, so open up your favorite text editor and save a new file called print.css, dropping it into your theme’s directory (the same place you can find your theme’s main stylesheet).

If someone is printing your article, they want just the content of the article. Excessive images that don’t add real value to the content usually wreak havoc on printers and ink supplies, so you’ll want to remove your site’s header, menus, and advertisements (you won’t be making any cash from printed out Internet ads, anyway).

How can you do this? Take a look at your page code, and find the div id of the section you would like to remove (e.g. <div id=”comments”>). Then, simply add the following rule to your print.css file:

#comments {display:none;}

If the code begins with div class (e.g. <div class=”comments”>, the rule should be .comments {display:none;}, not #comments {display:none;}.

The reader wants the article formatted to fit the piece of paper it is being printed on, so scrap any sidebars and footers that might cause unnecessary white space and extra pages.

Finally, remove anything that a reader of a printed sheet cannot use. This includes comment sections (as we’ve just seen), navigation bars, and anything else that requires some sort of user action, like related articles links.

You can test your stylesheet as you modify it using your browser’s print preview function. Just keep removing stuff until it looks like something you’d want to come out of the printer!

Using tools and plugins

WordPress and Blogger are the two most popular blogging platforms, and for those who are not comfortable digging into code and writing a stylesheet themselves, both platforms have plugins that can quickly get you a serviceable print-ready page for every article on your blog.

For WordPress, the easiest option is WP-Print.

A very simple plugin, it gives you a few basic options about how your print page should look, including which links to include, what images should stay in the page, how to handle videos, and an option for a disclaimer.

Your user will simply see a Print button next to your articles exactly where they expect it to. Some other, more complicated tools might offer other functionality, such as printing a page to a PDF, emailing it to friends, or integration with social media like Twitter and Facebook.

If you run a Blogger site, the website printfriendly.com asks you to make a few simple choices, such as the appearance of your Print button and the inclusion or exclusion of features like email and PDF printing. It then gives you a link to download a Blogger widget you can install directly on your site, as well as code you can copy and paste directly where you want the button to show up.

Looking good … in print!

In the end, whatever method you choose, you will have an attractive print-friendly version of every page on your site with only a few minutes’ work.

It might not be the most used feature you ever offer, but for the occasions when a visitor does want to print out something you wrote, they will undoubtedly appreciate that you spent the time to accommodate them.

This article was written by Dunya Carter. Dunya is a marketing consultant from Brisbane, Australia who works for Ink Station, an Australian online ink toner shop. She also writes articles on tech and business for several websites and blogs.

Clean Out Your List of Blog Post Ideas in a Blog Content Workshop

This post is by Steve of Do Something Cool. 

One of the first things I learned when I started blogging was to create a Word document to write down all my blog post ideas.  That way I could always find something to write about. 

After a few months, I had dozens of ideas and titles to work from.  Three years on, and that list has grown into the hundreds.

This seems to be common for bloggers.  We all have a long list of blog post topics.  Some bloggers I’ve talked to have over five hundred.  At some point though, you have to question the benefit behind having a list that long.

The overwhelming list

A few months ago I sat down to write a post, just like any other day.  I opened up my list to choose an idea and was struck by how long I’d let the list get.

I realized that most of those ideas were just being wasted.  I generally write about 400-500 words a day.  My blog posts are roughly 800-1000 words.  It would take me over a year to get through this list, and that doesn’t even include other ideas I would add throughout the year.

There are so many potential ideas I’m not using.

I decided to go through my list of blog post ideas and clear them out.  Think of it as a kind of spring cleaning.

Instead of writing 400-500 words, I sat down and typed 5000.  That’s ten times my normal amount for a day of writing.

As a result, I wrote enough to create six or seven blog posts.  All in one day!

Now I clean out my list of blog post ideas about once a month.  Usually, I block off about four or five hours of solid writing.  Often that means about 5000-6000 words in a day.  The last time I did this I wrote 10,000 words in one day, which was very challenging.

The number of posts you can get done this way is amazing.

Here’s what to do

It only takes a little preparation to clean out your list.  Set your date to write a couple of days in advance.  Make sure you can spend at least three hours writing.  It works best if you can write continuously; I’ve noticed my most productive time writing happens in the third hour.

A few days before you write, go through your blog post list and pull out about a dozen of those ideas.  For each of those posts, create a Word document.  Write the title at the top and create a general outline.  This should take about five minutes per post.  Also, as you go through your list, delete any ideas you have no interest in writing any more.

Create two folders on your desktop.  Put your unwritten posts with their outlines in the first one.  The second one is for all the ones you’ll finish as you write.  I named the first folder “Start Here” and the second one “Finished Posts”, but you can name them whatever you want.

When the day arrives to start writing, make sure to start right away so you have enough time to get as much writing done as possible.

It’s important to track your progress, so as soon as you start writing set a timer to go off in sixty minutes.  When it goes off, stop writing and count up all the words you’ve written to make sure you’re on the right track.  Then take a five-minute break to walk around a bit before getting back to writing.

Keep writing in sixty-minute chunks until you reach your word goal.  In my opinion, it’s best to set a high word goal.  The focus is to get as many words down as possible, so don’t spend too much time editing.  This day is about getting as many words down as you can so that you clear out your list. Edit later.

Also, keep in mind you don’t have to completely finish a post before moving on to the next one.  It’s about keeping the pace of your writing high to get through a lot of posts.  If one post isn’t working, move on to the next one.  It might just be an indication that the idea isn’t all that good.

Once you’ve written all you can on a post, save and move it from the first folder to the “Finished Posts” folder.  By the end of the day, this folder will be full of posts you’ve crossed off your list.

Your blog posts in the finished folder will be rough drafts so you’ll still need to edit and polish them later.  But now you’ll have a bunch of posts mostly ready to publish.  Plus, you’ll have several you can get ready to send off as guest posts.

You might be surprised what you can come up with when you clear out your list.  The last time I did some spring cleaning, I wrote about an idea I’d been sitting on for months.  After I finished it, I realized the potential behind it: that post turned out to be one of my more popular.  You just never know what will happen when you clean out that list once in a while!

Steve is the writer behind Do Something Cool where he blogs about travel, motivation, personal growth and adventure.  He’s always looking for ways to make life more interesting.  Get tips on living life to the fullest through his Facebook fan page and Twitter.

A New Theme, Part 2: When Your New Theme Crashes Your Blog

This guest post is by Ayelet Weisz of All Colores.

Yesterday, we talked about preparing your blog for a theme upgrade. You read it, worked through all the steps, and now you’re ready to go.

So you get up on Saturday morning and sit down to work, a breeze coming through the window. You turn on some music as you browse through potential new themes for your blog. You find one and click Install.

Excited that you’ve found the perfect match for your blog, you click Activate.

Then you see this message:

Fatal error: Call to undefined function wp_get_theme() in /home/colores/public_html/allcolores.com/wp-content/themes/path/library/functions/utility.php on line 119

You think to yourself, “Fatal error?! I better refresh the page!”

Then you discover that fatal means fatal. Not only do visitors have no ability to access your blog—you have no ability to access your dashboard!

Not even if you left an additional tab of it open. Moving backward in your browser might work, yet any other function you attempt takes you right back to the fatal error message. Is your blog lost for good?

Why would a site crash on theme installation?

Like houses, some themes are built better than others. Files in the theme might have been tempered with or coded incorrectly, or the theme might require a more updated WordPress version than you’re using.

As you browse through themes online and explore their demo sites, there is no way for you to guess which theme would cause your blog to crash. In fact, the tech support agent in the hosting company I use said there’s some chance that the same theme that crashed one site would work fine on another one.

Either way, unless you’re the one who created the theme, it’s likely not your fault that this happened.

The best times to crash your site

Let’s face it—there is never a good time to crash your site.

However, if it must happen, the least harmful times are:

1. When your largest audience is asleep

If you can experiment with your blog when it is night time or very early in the morning in the time zone of your largest audience, that would be best. This way, the majority of your visitors won’t be bothered by bizarre, constant changes to your blog, and the quality of their stay won’t be ruined. Moreover, these visitors might never know something had ever gone wrong with your theme upgrade.

2. When your second-largest audience is enjoying a weekend

A weekend in one country might not fall at the same time as a weekend in another country. Weekend days in the United States, for example, are Saturday and Sunday. In Israel, on the other hand, the weekend starts on Friday evening and ends on Saturday evening. Folks get up early and go to work on Sundays.

If you plan to do any kind of work on your site and you can’t work on everyone’s night time—or anyone’s night time, for that matter—make sure you do your blog changes on a weekend. Some people, though not all, spend less time on their computer on weekends. Instead, they hang out with other people who have the day or two off … leaving you to take care of your blog.

Now that you’ve picked a good time to flip the switch, let’s see what you can do to minimize downtime that arises if your installation goes wrong.

If it all goes wrong

If your site crashes after you installed or activated a theme, there are a few things you can do.

Option #1. Put on the tech hat

Since the theme caused your website to crash, you need to erase the theme from your dashboard.

However, if you’ve lost access to your dashboard, you need to log in to your control panel on the hosting company’s website and erase it there.

Following that, reactivate WordPress’s basic theme—the one that showed up when you first installed WordPress. It’s either Twenty Ten or Twenty Eleven.

You data is usually safe in this case—the fatal error turns out not to be so fatal after all. Once you switch back to the basic theme, you’ll be able to log in both to your blog and your dashboard. Switch back to the theme you had earlier, before you tried changing it, and everything will be back to normal.

This process will undoubtedly require you to delve into technical tasks. If you are not tech-oriented and fear you might cause a truly fatal error, check out option #2.

Option #2. Contact your hosting company’s tech support team

The challenge you’re facing was caused due to a WordPress theme. Therefore, it might make sense to contact the theme’s creator or WordPress.org. It might—but contact your hosting company’s tech support anyway.

It took only ten minutes for my theme issue to be resolved once I started an online chat with a representative from my web host.

Note that you might need to provide your billing email address and password for security verification purposes. Then, the agent will do what was specified in the previous section—she or he will remove the malfunctioning theme from your system and reactivate the basic WordPress theme that came with your blog when you first launched it.

Make sure to ask the person assisting you to stay on the line while you verify that returning to your previously-regular theme causes no issues, and then go off on your merry way.

Fatal doesn’t always mean fatal

The most important part of this process is, of course, to breathe. Remember that there are plenty of sources to get information and support. Blogs like ProBlogger, WordPress message boards, Facebook and LinkedIn groups for bloggers, good ol’ Google and your hosting company are just a few examples.

Mishaps happen. Hopefully, a little quick research and asking for help will help you resolve them in no time—and you might even gain new knowledge and tools along the way.

And once the issue at hand is resolved, don’t forget to do a happy dance.

Has a theme ever crashed your blog? What did you do to fix the problem? Share your tips with us in the comments.

Ayelet Weisz is an enthusiastic freelance writer, blogger and screenwriter. She celebrates the everyday and extraordinaire joys of life on her travel blog, All Colores. Get her free report, 48 Must-Live Israeli Experiences, and connect with her on Twitter.

The ProBlogger Evolution: Our Halt on Guest Post Submissions

This week, I had a day-long blog strategy workshop with my team. We covered a lot of ground in that time and we have an exciting year ahead!

Among the decisions we made was one to shift the way we handle content here on the blog at ProBlogger.

Some years ago I opened up Problogger.net to guest posts as a means to give the blogging community a stronger voice, and help us gain from each others’ experience. I think that approach worked well, especially in the days before social media, when it could be difficult to find and connect with other bloggers.

Today, though, we’re in a different world. It’s much easier to find, connect with, and even meet other bloggers in and beyond your niche. There’s a plethora of information available on all types of topics related to blogging, and here at Problogger, we want to meet your needs as they evolve.

And that means a few changes in the way we present our content.

Guest Post Submissions Closed

Our strategy for 2013 means that we can no longer accept unsolicited guest posts on the blog. Our submission guidelines page  has been updated to reflect this change.

If you’ve been given a publication date for a guest post submission, don’t worry: that date stands. We’ll be publishing those guest posts over the next month or so.

If you’ve already sent us a guest post submission, but you haven’t heard back about it, Georgina will be in touch with you. We may be able to accept some already-submitted posts, but probably only a handful.

The reason for that is that we’re very excited to shift into a new gear for 2013, and while it’ll take some work, we’re keen to do it a.s.a.p. And of course there are plenty of excellent blogs where guest posts are well and truly welcome.

Looking Ahead

This change won’t meant that I’ll be the only person you’ll ever hear from on Problogger.net—far from it. But where we need content, we’ll be getting in touch with bloggers we’d like to feature on the blog and inviting them to participate.

If you’re already working with us, we may well be in touch with you soon! But of course, we’ll also be looking beyond our existing pool of contacts to bring you fresh voices and unique ideas every week.

Watch this space…

Will our new approach work? Only time will tell. We may find once we put it into practice that our new strategy has room for more posts from guest bloggers, and reopen submissions.

We’ll be keeping to our regular publishing schedule for the next few weeks, but after that, you can expect some changes to the blog!

I can say that my team and I are very excited about our plans for the blog this year, and I look forward to sharing more of those ideas with you as they’re ready.

A New Theme, Part 1: 11 Ways to Prepare for Your Blog Theme Upgrade

This guest post is by Ayelet Weisz of All Colores.

You’ve been reading all about the importance of a good blog design while struggling with your basic WordPress theme.

You’ve been frustrated with the limitations of this basic theme, yet you don’t have enough tech knowledge to create a new theme—or the budget to hire someone to create your dream design for you.

You drool over other blogs’ themes, and you search online for alternatives. Are you even ready for a change?

You are?

Well, maybe it’s time to tackle a theme upgrade! Today and tomorrow, I’ll share some tips from my own experience doing this to help you avoid the pitfalls—and the panic when something goes wrong.

First up, it’s important to get prepared. Once you find a premium theme you love at an affordable price, follow these guidelines before upgrading your blog’s design.

1. Verify the theme you’re purchasing is blog-friendly

Not every spectacular premium theme you fall in love with will be a good fit for your blog. Some themes are created specifically with online stores or static websites in mind. While those can sometimes be adjusted to blog format, the end result could be very different than the vision for which you pulled out your credit card or PayPal account.

Check to make sure that the theme is blog-friendly, perhaps by looking at implementations of it on other blogs before you buy.

2. Make sure it has a full refund policy

Some premium theme purchases can be canceled within 30 days (or more), and their makers offer a full refund—no questions asked.

If you’ve never upgraded your blog to a premium theme before, or even if you have, it’s a great idea to make sure you can change your mind later on. The fact that the purchase is almost risk-free might just give you the courage to finally take this step.

3. Read the terms and conditions

Some companies offer premium themes that you pay for once and keep for a lifetime. Some let you use that same theme on as many websites as you like.

Others offer premiums themes that you pay for once and can only use on one website, or you pay for once a year and can use on one or limitless number of websites. Some offer multiple themes for the same price as a single theme in a different company.

These are some of the considerations you’ll face when you’re upgrading a to a premium blog theme. Read what the deal includes and what it doesn’t, and life will be easier after you type in your credit card information and make the purchase.

4. Know what you want in advance—or at least have an idea

Build a list of features you love on other blogs’ designs. Brainstorm colors. Read blog design tutorials.

All this will help you choose your premium design, and make tweaking the theme after installation faster and easier.

5. Know when to switch themes

Traffic to many blogs decreases on weekends, holidays, and at night. If you’re willing to work when others are asleep or vacationing, you can make sure as small a number of readers as possible will be annoyed from the constant changes that take place while you’re working on improving your blog’s design.

If you need to take a long break and you’re not done tweaking, sometimes it’s best to save your changes and temporarily switch back to your previous theme. You’re upgrading your blog to a premium theme so that readers’ experience will be improved—make sure not to bug them on the way to that improvement.

6. Make time

Blog themes, especially premium ones, are made to suit different types of blogs and bloggers. They offer all kinds of options, and it will take you time to tweak the theme you choose so that it looks exactly as you want it to. It might also take time to adjust to the interface or respond to any surprises that might come up. You may even want to make changes you never imagined before.

Make sure you set aside time for this process in your calendar, and make sure you allow a bit more time than you think you need.

7. Take tech support into consideration

Before making your purchase, realize that you may need to use the blog theme company’s tech support team. Learn in advance how you can access this team and when, as well whether tech support is included in the price you pay for the theme.

Will the team be available 24/7, or does it only work during office hours? Is its time zone completely different than yours? Will you have to skip sleep to talk to them? Will the call be expensive? Does the company offer tech support via chat, email, or message boards? How fast can you expect a reply in these forms? If the tech support is given on a message board, can you stay anonymous if you want to, and still get help?

Make sure you know what you can expect in the way of support before you start switching themes.

8. Be willing to play with code—or get help

Some tech support teams prefer to guide you through the process; others take your information, log in and make the changes themselves. At times, it will be a combination of both, with a tech representative taking over only when guiding you through the process isn’t helping.

This, of course, can be an opportunity. Usually, tech representatives won’t ask you to do something too complex, and you’ll have good reason to acknowledge yourself for overcoming your fear of technology.

If you are not willing to play with code, or if you want to make sure there’ll be someone who’ll take over and help you out if you get in tech trouble, find out the company’s policies in advance by sending it an email or calling their customer service department.

9. Be willing to ask questions

The only way to get answers and to eliminate some of the unknowns is to ask questions. Don’t worry about looking silly or as if you have no clue. Tech support representatives get hundreds of strange and silly questions a day, and it’s very unlikely they’ll remember yours as the strangest or silliest one of all.

Remember, this isn’t about what they think, anyway. It’s about you giving your blog the best you’ve got—and expanding your comfort zone at the same time.

10. Get a recommendation

If you can find blogs that use your desired premium theme, email their owners and ask about their experiences with that theme. Some will give you the pros and cons of their experience, others will simply reassure you that the theme creation company exists and maybe even fulfills its promises of service or refunds.

If you don’t know anyone who’s purchased a premium theme where you want to buy one, look up reviews online or find Facebook groups dedicated to blogging, either in your niche or in general. Surely someone there will be able to share her or his experience with you, or refer you to someone who can.

11. Know that things will go wrong

Tweaking your blog’s new theme will take longer than you expect, or will take more work than you expect. You might find yourself dealing with tech challenges, or with a frustrated reader or two. The end result might not be as you pleased. Mostly, you might miss your writing and want to get this tech stuff done with already.

Take a deep breath and remind yourself why you started this part of your journey. Remind yourself of the benefits. Let go of perfectionism. Embrace your time in the uncomfortable zone. You’ll have a better blog once you’re finished.

Do you have additional suggestions for surviving a blog theme upgrade? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to check back tomorrow, when we’ll look at what you can do if something goes wrong with your theme upgrade.

Ayelet Weisz is an enthusiastic freelance writer, blogger and screenwriter. She celebrates the everyday and extraordinaire joys of life on her travel blog, All Colores. Get her free report, 48 Must-Live Israeli Experiences, and connect with her on Twitter.

Use These 5 Design Elements to Create the Optimum Blog User Experience

This post is by Mark Acsay III of Webby Thoughts.

One of the main unacknowledged problems with today’s websites is that many just follow the favorite design of the month. When Flash was born, we got bombarded by Flash-based sites that took forever to load. When sliding banners came along, almost everybody wanted to have one too.

Many bloggers and business websites today only focus on search engine optimization, trying to make their way to top rankings just to get a chunk of traffic. Yet when they do, they waste a lot of that traffic and lose the confidence of their potential audience through of bad user experience.

Websites must not only be optimized for designs and for search engines but also for “visitors’ thought sequences.”

We need to understand that every time there’s a visitor on our website, we must answer the thought conversations that they have while navigating our sites. Take this thought sequence as an example:

  1. Where am I?
  2. Where should I begin?
  3. Where did they put the ___?
  4. What is the most important thing on this page?
  5. Why did they call it that?

If your site does not answer most of those questions, then you are not giving the best experience for your users. It means that you are not guiding them to accomplish their objectives on your blog.  Fortunately, there are five primary web design elements, and we can use them with the intention of guiding the visitors through a clear sequence of thoughts.

What are the five primary web design elements?

  1. Size: Size does matter. We use size to emphasize something. Whether it’s the font, image, or shape, we instinctively understand that the bigger it is, the more important it is, and vice versa. Just like when we speak, the louder the sound, the more we emphasize.
  2. Shape: Shapes are among the first things we learn as toddlers and they have an innate connection to all of us. Shapes direct and communicate. They have a big appeal to our emotions and thoughts. Just seeing a heart shape gives many of us an impression of love. It is said that shapes are processed by the brain many times faster than words.
  3. Color: We all know the suggestive power of colors. This is one of the most powerful elements of design. Red is known to induce appetite, which is why it’s used by many restaurants.  By using colors to guide the thought sequences of a visitor to accomplish your main objective, you get to increase your conversions and give your users a better experience.
  4. Position: This element is one of the trickiest if it’s not carefully implemented. It is obvious that when you put something above the fold of the website, it’s important—but not all the time. Since we usually skim web content instead of reading it, positioning should be based on the eye movement patterns of your visitors. So position your most important messages and navigational cues where the eyes are scanning the page.
  5. Motion: The effective combination of shape, color, size and position to create motion in directing the focus of visitor’s attention dramatically impacts the user behavior. A simple .gif arrow moving back and forth and pointing to the “Subscribe Now” form can impact sign ups.

Now that we have an overview of the design elements, let’s put them into practice and see how we can use them to, firstly, guide visitors’ thought sequences; and secondly, focus the attention of visitors to achieve their—and your—objectives, while giving them the best user experience they could ask for.

As a note, I cherry-picked these example sites from different niches so we can learn how they applied the elements of design to serve a better user experience.

The design elements in practice

1. Emphasize the most important objective

Let’s take a look at what UPrinting.com did for their Black Friday campaign. UPrinting is one of the top printing companies in the US.

Uprinting

Let’s see how they used the design elements here.

Size

Since it was Black Friday, the designers put the biggest banner in front of the site’s visitors. Look at the size of the word “sale”; they also used the number 20% to emphasize their main objective.

Shape

They used a rectangle to identify the banner ad. Notice also the green button, which led visitors to a page where the offers were, and where interested people can learn more about the sale.

Color

I really like the way they used color contrast here. A black background was aligned with the theme, Black Friday. Then they used the contrasting color of white to emphasize the word “sale”. Finally, the use of red behind the words “20% off everything” automatically drives our eyes to this message, and eventually to the green Learn more button.

Why use green instead of the usual red or orange? This might signal to users that clicking the button is safe to do, and that there’s more on the next page. Green is also the color of their logo at the upper left hand corner. The subliminal message here—that when I click on that button, I will find things that are about printing and learn more about the promo—is very clever.

Position

Obviously, this ad is above the fold. But the position of the green button does not distract from the other messages in the banner. It’s at a spot where, after your eyes have scanned the whole message about the sale, you will naturally end up.

So here’s how the thought sequences are answered in this page:

  1. Where am I? The logo at the top-left says you’re at UPrinting’s site.
  2. Where should I begin? Begin with this large banner that says SALE, 20% off everything.
  3. Where did they put the button? Right beneath the 20% off message.
  4. What is the most important thing in this page? The Black Friday discount sale.
  5. What printing services are discounted by 20%? Click the button to learn more about the offer.

2. Use just the right number of design elements

Let’s take a look at what Amazon did for their Cyber Monday promotion. Amazon is the largest online retail store in the world—they could really give us some great lessons in design.

Amazon

  • The business emphasized their Kindle Fire sale because it was Cyber Monday.
  • Despite the volume of products they sell, they limit the elements above the fold to reduce the noise and to focus visitors’ attention on what’s important.
  • By reducing the clutter and highlighting their own product—Kindle Fire—in the top position, they leave you no other option but to first consider it. When you leave your visitors on their own to try to work out what’s most important, it slows down the buying thought sequence, because they have to stop to make meaning of the options.
  • Giving a lot of options to the potential buyer can actually reduce conversions. If you have to give more than one option, be sure to guide users’ thought patterns to decide on the best one for them.

3. Make effective use of balance

SEOMoz is one of the most prominent organizations in the SEO and inbound marketing community. Let’s look at what they do with balance.

Seomoz

  1. SEOMoz’s design uses the right contrast and a color combination that’s easy on the eyes.
  2. There is symmetry between the text on the left and the image on the right, except for the hiring ad banner that temporarily interrupts that flow, and grabs the attention.
  3. A strong emphasis was also given to the Free trial button.

4. Communicate the right messages effectively

Let’s analyze the how ThinkTraffic.net communicates its key messages about attracting traffic.

thinktraffic

  1. Think Traffic presents a consistent brand message: think about your traffic. Obviously, they want to attract users who need more traffic for their sites.
  2. To display the brand’s unique selling proposition, the designers used a box to highlight relevant questions for users. They used shapes and colors in the background to show an upward trend, which reflects the fact that users want to have an upward trend in their traffic.
  3. In the third box, the designers used an arrow to communicate that the solution to the traffic problem is to fill out the form. Users just have to enter their email addresses to get a traffic toolkit.
  4. Then, they used the right color combination, with just right to contrast, to present the call to action, “Let’s do it”—a message that conveys, “We can help you. Let’s work together.”

5. Use the right flow

Recently I updated Adobe Flash Player and after everything was done, I was redirected to an installation success page that contains a banner for Adobe‘s newest Photoshop Elements packages. Let’s take a look.

Flash

  1. Color: The designers used color saturation to guide my eyes to the button at the right-hand side. My attention was drawn seamlessly right to the button.
  2. Size: They used font size to emphasize the availability of their new Photoshop Elements product.
  3. Balance and the right combination of design elements were carefully mixed to guide visitors’ thought sequences, from the moment they see the “Now available” message. This leads them to the Adobe Photoshop Elements II message, then to the leftmost box, then back to the leaping person, which points to the “Learn more” button.

Are you using the design elements on your blog?

When you work on your blog’s design, don’t just optimize it for search engines or for a fashionable design. Think of how you can best serve your visitors by giving them the best user experience.

You can do this by guiding them through the sequence of their own thoughts. This approach builds trust in your site and helps you communicate your message clearly, which supports higher conversions.

People buy from people. Talk to your users through these design elements.

Do you have other ideas you can share based on the examples I’ve mentioned here?

+Mark Acsay III is an online marketing consultant, the owner of Webby Thoughts blog that talks about inbound marketing topics.

My 10-in-1 Content Creation Strategy [Case Study]

This guest post is by Wayne Turner of MurrayKilgour.Com.

Content creation calendars and schedules are the bane of most serious bloggers’ and content managers’ lives, depending on which side of the creative block you’re on.

I straddled this fine line on many occasions until my Eureka moment. Having amalgamated my home radio and video studios I realised that I could double up on content creation with my business-consultant partner, a content reservoir of genius proportions.

Soon we had discovered a 3-in-1, then a 6-in-1, and finally a 10-in-1 content creation strategy.

When I say “radio and video studio” (actually my third bedroom), be assured it’s not exactly state of the art, although I have slowly acquired suitable equipment and created a workable dual studio.

In saying this, anyone with a computer, some sort of USB audio interface/mixer, a reasonable microphone and digital video camera or DSLR can achieve the same results. In this article I assume you are familiar with your gear so I’m not going to go into any detail on how to use each piece of equipment in the process.

Time costs!

One of the most valuable, and rarest assets of a successful business consultant is time. To maximise the genius of my partner, when time is in such short supply, is a hectic operation usually resulting in a minimal flow of great content. This is where my Eureka moment has paid incredible dividends and saved many hours in the generation of multiple pieces of content at once.

Because we use a joint audio and video, green-screen studio, when we sit down and record a session, we create both an audio and a video recording simultaneously. The following ten points outline the quality content that we create from each five-minute recording session.

We now have this down to such a fine art that we can do six, five-minute recordings in 40 minutes. For me as the content creator, this is heaven, as it enables me to work in my genius. (A little side note here: your genius is simply working in your passion and talent, and I believe you need to be doing this for 80% of your working time.)

How it works

So, it all starts with one content creation session—just one!—where we have learned to maximise both time and genius. Of course there is preparation required to make the session go smoothly, and a good knowledge of your field of expertise is essential, but once we’re in studio, this is how the magic happens.

  1. The primary piece of content is a video for uploading to our YouTube channel and if we choose, we upload it to iTunes as a video podcast. We also embed the same video on our blog at MurrayKilgour.com. A well-prepared, quality video is the basis for this whole process. We use either a script or a series of bullet points to make the recording. I personally enjoy using a script with a DIY teleprompter, because of my radio background. Cheesycam.com is an awesome resource for DIY ideas and equipment—a lot of it DIY or reasonably priced new gear.
  2. The recorded audio track becomes a podcast which is embedded on our blog, and most often is uploaded to our Living on Purpose iTunes podcast channel as well. There are many other podcast sites to upload to, but we choose just iTunes. If you are unable to create video, the podcast can become the audio for a Slideshare video presentation, so give the audio the same good preparation as you would a video.
  3. We send the mp3 audio recording to a transcription contractor hired through eLance.com for transcription at $2 per recording. From this transcript, we create a blog post for our site, a guest post for another website, or an article for a site like ezinearticles.com. This invaluable piece of text is also used as a caption or transcript with our videos on Youtube for SEO purposes. Because it’s accurate, we gain the additional traction of having hearing-disabled people able to enjoy your video using the Youtube subtitles feature.
  4. The video we have created, if it’s not placed on our YouTube channel, can now form part of a multi-part video ecourse. We use an Aweber autoresponder to give this away for free and gain subscribers to our blog, but it can be monetized in the form of a paid video ecourse. You can determine the value or purpose of the content here.
  5. We again take the transcribed text and repurpose it into a ten-part ecourse delivered in the same way as the video ecourse: as a bonus for signing up as a subscriber to the blog. This method has been extremely successful—we’ve signed up thousands of subscribers to our blog this way.
  6. The transcribed text now adds real value when it is compiled into a section or chapter of an ebook to be used as a giveaway or sold on the blog as a free download. This is where the value of the method comes in, because many bloggers battle to get into writing an ebook. We edited, added and modified a lot of the text to create an ebook, but what this method did was give us a great quantity of raw material to work with. We had created more than 140 podcasts by the time we woke to the fact that we could compile a quality ebook using that material.
  7. I am in the fortunate position of being a breakfast show producer for a local radio station, so the podcast becomes a regular slot on our community radio station, Radio CCFm, which has 250 000 listeners. But before you say this is a privileged position, I can assure you that, as a producer, I can say most local radio stations are always looking for quality content, especially if it is free. So short podcasts with a good intro and outro may become a regular feature on radio stations and give good traffic to a website.
  8. With the advent of HD video DSLRs it is possible to produce high-quality video footage for TV programs. We repurpose our five-minute content creation session again in the form of a short TV program for a local community TV station, Cape Town Television. If it’s quality content and free, TV stations will take your show—especially if it’s relevant to their viewers.
  9. When we repurpose the transcribed text into an ebook, the audio becomes part of an audio book. You might say that this is pushing it, but I use the audio as a companion free audio book to the photography ebook I sell on my website. It’s a bonus for the buyer and for me, because I didn’t have to do anything extra to create it.
  10. Finally, blog posts, audio, and video make an amazing weekly or monthly newsletter. I do this using Aweber templates, which are free with the subscription. We try to do it on a two-weekly basis, as we don’t always have enough content for weekly mailings. It works perfectly for a monthly newsletter and I would advise this when you’re starting out. The amount of content you generate will determine the frequency.

Ten points sounds good, and I thought that adding an eleventh point might be a bit much, but here’s a bonus idea. What we’ve done is created a boxed DVD set for offline and online sales as training modules. Not all people are excited about online, and some like a physical product in their hands. In our business we use all of the above content in its different forms as part of a DVD boxed series for sale to our coaching clients. They love it and we love it—especially the time it takes to create!

Unlimited content

There are no limits to how you can use your content if you begin with the end in mind, but the emphasis must be on quality content. When you sit down in front of the camera and microphone, think “end product,” and design your process to get the most out of the content creation session. I’m sure that most people can easily create seven of these ten pieces of content out of just one five-, ten-, or even 30-minute recording session.

So, think big in your content creation, begin with the end in mind, and maximize your time and effort to produce content that will attract the best traffic and convert those people into buyers. Your success will result from the quality of content you produce. So give it your best!

Wayne Turner is a multimedia strategist specialising in photography, radio and video at MurrayKilgour.Com. If you’d like to go to your next level in life and business by working in your genius you can sign up for our free ebook, Living on Purpose.

Double Your Blog Profits in 2013?!

Recently, I asked a blogger what his goals were for 2013. He told me he wanted to double his blog’s income.

Piggy bank

Image courtesy 401(K)2013, licensed under Creative Commons

When I asked how he was going to do that he stared at me blankly and said, “That’s where I may need a little help. It seems such a big goal!”

We began to brainstorm some possibilities for creating that kind of increase in profit. We came up with quite a few ideas, but the main recurring themes seemed to be around three things:

  1. Increase traffic to his blog.
  2. Increase conversions of first-time visitors into subscribers of his email list.
  3. Increase sales conversions (he sells ebooks).

Now, these areas will vary from blog to blog. For example, those who monetize with advertising rather than with products might replace #3 in that list with increasing the performance of AdSense ads or landing extra sponsors.

But at the time, it struck me that to double his income, he could double any single one of the above areas—although 100% increases in any of these areas is a big ask.

However, smaller increases in each of them adds up—and it’s a lot more achievable. For example, a 30% increase in each of the above areas takes him well past a 100% income increase overall.

Of course even 30% increases in these areas can be daunting—but it’s a lot more achievable than 100% in any one!

As we talked this through, he became really energized and began to devise strategies for each of the three areas. In each, he came up with four or five small but important things he could do that would contribute to a 30% increase in that area.

Much of what he came up with was stuff he knew he should be doing but hadn’t gotten around to, or had put on the “one day” list. Most of it was low-hanging fruit that had potential to lead to significant rewards.

Let’s look at some examples.

Increase traffic

He decided to:

  • increase his posting rate from twice a week to three times a week
  • expand his use of social media—he had been focusing soley upon Twitter and decided to start engaging more on Facebook and to experiment with Pinterest
  • write and pitch two guest posts per month to other blogs in his niche
  • install an SEO plugin to help him optimize his blog for search engines.

Increase conversions in subscribers

In this case, the blogger came up with a series of tests that he wanted to run. These included split-testing his subscriber forms on his blog to see if he could increase the percentage of visitors who signed up.

He also wanted to test offering a free report for subscribers.

Increase sales conversions

In this case, the blogger:

  • realized that his sales pages could do with some updating and testing—some A/B testing to optimize them would almost certainly see an increase in the percentage of people buying his ebooks
  • recognized that he wasn’t doing any kind of upselling when a person bought an ebook—as a result he was probably missing out on some sales from people who would buy a second or third if they had opportunity to do so
  • admitted he hadn’t developed any kind of autoresponder sequence for his subscribers that offered them deals on his ebooks.

I’m pretty confident that if he did actually implement all of the above tactics, he’d see small but significant increases in profit over the year ahead—in fact there’s potential there for him to more than double his profit!

How could you double your profit in 2013?

All of us probably have items on our “one day” list. Could any of these help you move toward doubling your profit in 2013? Let us know your plans in the comments.

The Experts’ Views on Content Marketing

This guest post is by John Abrena of As the Ghost Speaks.

There have been a lot of discussions about what works in the realm of online marketing. Many say that massive link building and the quantity of links still matter, while others focus on optimizing their website to its fullest.

But after Google’s Panda update, there seems to be a talk of a “new” type of marketing which focuses on content.

Content marketing has boomed since Panda rolled out. Website owners looked for ways to build links, to promote their business, and to gain traction and traffic by having great content. But what baffles me is that it isn’t new. This type of marketing has been here longer than most online marketers realize. However, the belief that it’s a “new” system is ingrained in their heads only because, I believe, a lot of site owners haven’t really paid attention to their content until now.

A few weeks back, I asked a couple of online marketing experts about content marketing, and got some really interesting answers. My question? How do you see content marketing as the new face of online marketing?

Rand Fishkin

CEO of SEOMoz
RandContent marketing can accomplish much of what advertising attempts to do—earn the familiarity, trust, and positive sentiment of an audience toward your brand—and it does so without having the huge associated costs. Content requires and rewards creativity, effort and execution more so than strict dollars, but it also overcomes much of the natural bias modern consumers form against advertising’s motivations and “ad blindness.”

As online marketing evolves, more and more attention and awareness goes to the web’s content—to blogs, to social media, to search results, to videos, to news publications. But, only a fraction of this attention spreads to the paid advertising on these channels. Thus, it only makes sense that as ads become ubiquitous but low ROI, marketing efforts will spread to inbound channels.

Don Rhoades

Owner of The Gonzo SEO

DonContent marketing is a hell of a lot better word than “inbound marketing”. I would argue that content marketing has always been the face of online marketing. I know some people are tired of hearing the phrase, but it does best describe the intent of the campaign. It also supports the necessity for shareable content, and not just writing.

John Doherty

SEO Consultant at Distilled

John I don’t think it’s the new face of online marketing. It may be the new thing that SEOs have not thought about before, but it’s always been the most effective form of online marketing in ethical ways, ways that build businesses for the long term. As someone recently said, “Content marketing is not a shiny new toy.” It has always been around. We are just now realizing that old ways of gaming the system don’t work well anymore, and we need to find ways that will last.

Michael King

Owner of iPullRank and Director of Inbound Marketing at iAcquire.

MichaelIt’s not the new face of online marketing, content has always been what people are looking for. It’s trendy in online marketing right now at least to talk about. Not enough brands have embraced it as a more viable method than interruption marketing. The concept of Earned Media is definitely not new, and most brands only consider it a small part of what they do. They will continue to funnel the biggest dollars into advertising and the like, but I think as more big brands like Coca Cola and Red Bull see results more people will adopt it.

Jon Cooper

Consultant reachable via his blog, Pointblank SEO

Jon Content is giving someone a reason to link to you. In the past, you didn’t need much of a reason, just a website. But as time goes on, and like with any market that deals with an increase in competition, you have to set yourself apart in someway, and outside of the obvious ones like pricing, community, and product quality, content is becoming the main (if not only) way to do so.

James Agate

Founder of Skyrocket SEO, the content-driven link building agency

Content marketing isn’t a new concept. Joe Pullizi was recently talking about a form of content marketing which dates back to 1895; obviously it has moved online since then but the fundamental principles remain the same.

JamesContent marketing has and always will be an integral and vital part of online marketing. The name might change and the way we do it might evolve but fundamentally nothing has changed for over 100 years. It’s about “creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers.”

Content touches and drives every aspect of online marketing so if a business isn’t investing in content then they will be falling behind. As many businesses (and agencies in fact) have found out recently, link building for example without the production of solid content will really only get you so far and in some cases may end up pushing you backwards.

Tom Demers

Co-founder and managing partner with Measured SEM, a search engine marketing firm that offers paid and organic search marketing consulting services

TomContent marketing is really a great example of a new kind of marketing that a lot of people are talking about by a number of different names (inbound marketing, permission marketing, etc.) I think the reason content marketing is being adopted so quickly is that it has a cross-over set of benefits where it’s delivering a lot of the things direct advertising has (direct, measurable traffic and conversions) while simultaneously providing a lot of the same benefits traditional brand advertising has (thought leadership, brand building, etc.)

Cyrus Shepard

Former SEO at SEOmoz, owner of Above The Fold, his own blog

CyrusIt’s ironic that content marketing is finally seeing it’s day in the sun. In reality, good content marketing has been the primary tools of many good SEOs and online marketers for years. If you look at what some of the industry leaders were doing back in 2005, it was content marketing mixed with technical SEO—really no different than today.

The difference is that many of the “tricks” SEOs have relied on for so long have finally been devalued, too many companies have been burned by Penguin and Panda, and so marketers with an eye towards the long term are waking up to the benefits of producing content with actual value. Take it for what you will, but the shift towards content marketing is a direct result of Google’s war against low quality websites.

Neil Patel

Marketing Guru at Quick Sprout

NeilI don’t see it as the new face. I just see it as a piece of the bigger picture. I don’t think there will be one thing that is the “face” of online marketing as what works for one company won’t work for another.

Ryan Clark

Head Strategist (and all around awesome guy) at Linkbuildr

Content marketing is the “old but new face” of online marketing perhaps, and it basically means lazy marketers are going to have to become creative in their efforts. Being creative will do the one thing I love the most, making your brand stand out from the rest. If everyone likes what they see those coveted links will come in naturally … and yes, that actually does happen. Being creative with your content will also bring in more social followers who will help spread your next masterpiece so keep that snowball rolling.

The other huge benefit of content marketing is also putting a face to your brand, not just a funky logo. Your customers will appreciate experiencing your brand with someone they can relate to and content marketing is the perfect weapon. This is advice myself and our team actually needs to get better at which is why I’m getting forced into doing more videos in the near future.

What do I love the most out of all of it? The fact that you’re not trying to trick any search engines or really care about them at all. It’s all about the user experience here and if you start by pleasing their needs and wants first, the search traffic will soon follow.

Hugo Guzman

Owner of his own title site, HugoGuzman.com

HugoI actually don’t see content marketing as the new face of online marketing. It’s been one of the foundations of my approach—and that of many colleagues—for many years. What I do think is that its popularity is rising, especially among SEOs, because Google has done a good job of muting other techniques like reciprocal linking, article submission, and paid linking.

Wayne Barker

Online Marketing Consultant at Boom Online

WayneTo be honest, content marketing isn’t that new but there is always a buzz when something starts to getter wider recognition. The more people ‘get’ it the more it spreads. I think people are definitely getter smarter at measuring it’s worth and defining real strategies – and that is where the success lies.

Bonus!

So there you have it. Now, you ask, how will you shape your content marketing efforts? Which types of content should you focus on? If you are a small business and plan to scale your content marketing efforts, read my previous post about truths in content marketing scaling for small businesses, answered by the same people I mentioned above.

But here’s what you need to know if you want to get started on content marketing:

  1. Focus on being a brand: whether your business is a small one, or if you are aiming to be a large enterprise, always (and I can’t express how important this is) focus on your branding efforts first. You want to be known as “that awesome company that provides great content,” not just “some random source of good content.”
  2. Develop a unique value proposition for your business: know what makes your business sell, and what makes it unique. From there, you can build additional content that will be bought by your market. For instance, the other day I was searching for car rental comparison websites and I stumbled upon CarRentals.co.uk. As a would-be customer, I really liked how the home page was set up, and for me, it’s the business’s unique value proposition. Have a look:

    Car rentals home page

    Note the following elements:

    1. They already know what I’m looking for, and make finding it straightforward. They make it easy to choose the date, pick up location, drop off location, etc. They don’t bother with asking your name, address, and other essentials yet. You came to their website to find something, and they help you do it.
    2. You can choose which currency you will be using.
    3. Country of residence can be chosen as well.
    4. You can get a free quote!
    5. A list of the best suppliers of car rental services to choose from is also provided.

    I took the bait. That’s how good the service is (for me). Learn which part of your business/blog is your most valuable asset, and harness it. From there, and with tons of creativity, other forms of content can easily be produced.

  3. Know your audience: after you identify your unique selling proposition, another very important factor is to know what type of content your audience and would-be customers want. Assess your website assets (current articles, videos, presentations, etc.), then from there work out what content types your audience would enjoy. Some people do not like reading long posts, while others enjoy interacting with you directly. Study your audiences’ demographics to help you decide which content to build.
  4. Businesses should know how the conversion funnel works: this is important if you wish to really convert your content marketing efforts into something profitable.
    1. Top-of-the-funnel content should be for promoting your site/business, which works well in forms of guest posting.
    2. Middle-of-the-funnel content can either be blog posts on your own site or a solid and interactive page with good call to actions.
    3. Bottom-of-the-funnel content can be your product pages, etc.

Content marketing isn’t new, but as we know, it works. Add your content marketing advice in the comment section below.

+John Abrena writes on his own blog, As the Ghost Speaks about search marketing, blogging, and all the random things on his mind. He is also a marketing consultant for UPrinting.com, a top of the line offline peripherals printing company.