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Why No One Wants Your Free Download (And 5 Steps to Make It a Must-Have)

This guest post is by Sophie Lizard of Beafreelanceblogger.com.

You finally released your free download. It took a lot of work to prepare, but you believed it would all be worthwhile.

Because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Give something away to get something in return, like email addresses or questionnaire responses. Or the undying love of a vast tribe of readers.

So … why isn’t it working?

Hardly anyone’s downloading it. You’re not floating high on a tide of reader engagement. If anything, it’s the opposite: you’re getting kinda depressed with the whole situation.

It’s okay. Know why? Because hardly anyone’s downloaded it. And that means the problem isn’t necessarily with your content. All those people who chose not to download it haven’t seen the content yet. They’re doing the online equivalent of reading the box and then putting it back on the shelf.

People judge your free download on expectation and reputation, before they make the decision to either download it or leave. That means you can massively increase your download numbers just by improving the audience’s perception of your freebie. Here’s how to do that in just five steps.

Step 1: Angle your topic to make people care

Even if your business is something as mundane as cleaning mattresses, your download doesn’t have to be on that exact topic. You could offer mattress buying advice, interior decoration tips, or information about dust mites.

Research your audience’s most pressing needs and concerns, then choose a topic they’ll find immediately interesting. If you’ve already chosen a topic and created your download, don’t panic! You can re-angle what you’ve got.

Your topic may be something that many people would find dull. Like dust mites, for example. But your angle gives it the all-important connection to your audience’s real life needs. Here are three example angles you could take on the dust mite topic:

  • How dust mites in the home affect children’s health
  • How to reduce dust mites without using harmful chemicals
  • The biology of dust mites and why they live in soft furnishings.

Each of these angles appeals to a certain audience by giving them a specific expectation. Your download might cover all three of those pieces of information, plus more. But by focusing on one particular angle, you help your chosen audience understand the value of your download to them.

Step 2: Format your download to suit your audience

Has this ever happened to you? You find a free resource that sounds amazing, but it’s only available as an mp3 and you prefer to read. Or you can download it as a PDF, but then there are worksheets inside that you can’t fill in unless you print them out first.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Your audience will be put off by a poor choice of format for your download, too. How did you decide what format to offer? If you asked your target audience what they’d prefer and then gave it to them, you officially aced this part already.

If you guessed, or gave them the format you like best, you’ve missed a trick. Let’s rethink.

Remember, some people are still bewildered by zip files. Some want to print hard copies; others work from a smartphone and don’t even own a printer anymore. You need to find out what format your target audience wants. If you don’t have an audience of your own to ask, go online and listen to what people on other sites similar to yours are saying about the free resources available.

And if they say there’s more than one popular format, consider offering more than one option. You can provide transcripts of your audio and video resources, create a slideshow presentation of your manifesto, or offer a Word copy of your PDF worksheet.

The easier you make it for people to consume your download, the more they’ll decide it’s worth downloading. If they ever notice it, that is. To make sure they do…

Step 3: Give it a name that grabs attention

The title is the only part of your download that most people read. I’m not being mean; I’m being practical.

Your download’s title can be read on your landing page, shared on social media, and displayed on search engine results pages. It’s one of the first things people will see about your download, before they make a decision about whether they want it. If the title doesn’t get more than a split-second glance, then your download sinks without a trace.

To create an attention-grabbing title for your download, check out the headlines competing for attention on magazine shelves or on Twitter, then try adapting them to your own topic.

You might see a headline like, “Warning: Single Women Think Your Man’s Available.” All you need to do is take that title and switch it to suit your download: “Warning: Dust Mites Think Your Bed is Their Playground.” For more headline templates to work with, check out Jon Morrow’s free Headline Hacks report.

Your title needs to create a hook of concern, pleasure or curiosity in your readers and keep them interested long enough to read further. You want visitors to your landing page to read beyond the title to the rest of the copy, and keep reading until they decide to download. So, on to the next step!

Step 4: Demonstrate high value with your copy

Your audience only needs to know one thing from your download’s landing page copy: how will this download make their lives better?

The features of your download—“30 pages with full-colour diagrams!”—are important, but your reader wants to know what it will do for them and how it will make them feel. So focus on the benefits of your download, like “Learn to reduce dust mites in your bedding so you can breathe easier at night.”

Once you’ve made the benefits clear, it’s time for a call to action. Keep it simple and clear, and only ask your reader for one thing: to download your free product. (We can tell them about all your other awesome stuff another time, I promise.)

After the call to action, feel free to add more information about the download format, those full-colour diagrams, and other details. Put another call to action after this extra info, so that anyone who reads this far can get your freebie without scrolling back up to find the download link.

Now, you just need to do one more thing to convince your audience:

Step 5: Prove yourself!

Everyone likes to try things risk-free. That’s part of the reason blogs and websites offer free downloadable products: sampling the free product makes your audience feel they’ve judged the quality of your products or services without the risk of losing money.

But here’s the thing: your average audience member isn’t only worried about money. They’re worried about losing time, too. You need to reassure them that your free download won’t waste their time, but will reward their investment.

One of the best ways to do this is with social proof.

Simply put, social proof is anything that suggests that other people have already tried something and liked it. That might include:

  • people sharing the link to your landing page via social media
  • testimonials from downloaders, customers, industry experts, or reputable celebrities
  • a case study explaining exactly how your freebie has benefited a particular user.

Most of the time, you can get social proof simply by asking for it. So, ask for social shares or testimonials when you deliver your free download, and ask again at the end of the freebie when people have finished checking it out.

Get to know some influential people, and ask them to share a link or testimonial if they think their followers will appreciate your freebie. Add a few of the best testimonials to your landing page, with another call to action at the end.

Send out copies of your free download to anyone whose opinion matters to your target audience, because…

You’re not alone

You’d be surprised how many successful blogs and online businesses have created a free downloadable product only to have it left on the digital shelf, friendless and unnoticed.

Many of the people you reach out to for social proof will have been through this experience at some point in their lives, and that makes them empathise with you. If your download’s relevant to them, they’ll want to help it find its audience!

So, don’t give up and watch your free download die—run through these five steps and give it the boost it deserves. After your download numbers increase, you’ll be in a position to judge how much people like the content. After you’re getting more downloads of your freebie, you’ll find that people start to offer their opinions on it before you’ve even asked.

For now, all you need to do is put your best foot forward, one step at a time.

Sophie Lizard is a blogger on a mission to help you increase your income and authority. To give your blogging career a boost, get free access to the “How to Make A Living Blogging” expert interview sessions and download your free copy of The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs: 45 Blogs That Will Pay You $50 or More!

Blogging in Brief: Goal-Setting … and Reaching!

It’s that time of year: we’re all setting goals and making plans for the next twelve months (if we haven’t already!). And the blogosphere is a great place to get inspiration for setting and meeting those goals…

Image courtesy Moyan_Brenn, licensed under Creative Commons


That time of year…

Many of our favorite blogs have published posts that either look back on the last year, or look forward to this one. Some are personal, while others provides hints and tips specifically for readers. I’ve found these ones, in particular, have provided great food for thought:

Of course, earlier this week we published our Top 20 from 2012, as well as the annual Bloggers to Watch list for the year ahead too. Did you publish a post that looked back on 2012, or forward to 2013 in some way? How did you make sure it stood out from the crowd? Let us know about it in the comments.

Time for a new (or updated) social media strategy?

Getting serious about social media in 2013? Alexis Grant has just released a short, sharp social media checklist that’s a great tool for helping you get a handle on all the aspects you’ll need to consider.

This checklist is a really handy download for anyone who’s trying to juggle improved social media among their other blogging tasks—and it’s free.

Get better at online marketing

If one of your goals for the year ahead is to improve your online marketing skills, you’re not alone. The realm of digital marketing is always changing, and while the basics might remain constant, the nuances of this space are always evolving.

So whether you’re a seasoned marketer, or in the early phases of your online marketing career, the new freebie from Copyblogger will help you brush up your skills.

Called The Best of Copyblogger, it’s a 20-part email series that encompasses the top advice from the blog, hand-picked and curated into a really worthwhile subscription. Why not subscribe? You know you can’t go wrong with Copyblogger.

Blog branding in 2013

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember that we talked about blog branding a bit in this column late last year. And earlier this week, Gab discussed the idea of keeping blog headers simple, to drive readers to your content instead.

I’ve been thinking about blog branding in light of these discussions and one thing that I keep coming back to is content. While I do think a blog needs a strong visual brand—not just a logo, but a strong visual identity (which you can probably tell from this blog!)—I don’t think branding ends there.

As bloggers, our brands are interwoven through our content, too. Look at really strongly branded blogs, like Brainpickings or The Onion, and you can see how strongly content itself communicates the brand—if it’s done well.

This is often a concern for bloggers who want to accept guest posts. I often hear bloggers asking if they should try to pick content that’s written in a voice that’s close to their own. Of course, voice is the only way to brand your content, but it is something that’s worth considering if you take this step.

One way to get ideas for how to do it well is to look at big blogs that have multiple writers—and which communicate brand really strongly through content. Try Gawker, Fast Company, or Wired, for example. Sites that have offline magazine counterparts are usually good bets for strongly branded content.

What trends do you think will influence blog branding this year? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Dear Bloggers, I Apologise. Regards, the SEO Industry

This guest post is by Daylan Pearce of Next Digital.

There are three common reactions I get from people when I tell them what it is I do for a job.

  1. “What is that?”
  2. “Oh that’s cool, how does that work?”
  3. *Rolls eyes* “Oh riiiight, you’re one of those guys!”

So what is it that I do for a job? I’m an SEO. Each day, I work with businesses and websites to make sure their sites and Internet presences are in the best shape possible to be found in search engines.

A big part of my role is to respond to the first two of the reactions, which is something I actually enjoy doing. These two responses open up a door for me to explain something I really love doing. It’s the perfect opportunity to educate someone on how I can help make a website, author or idea as visible as possible online.

Yet it’s the third response I mentioned that I, and many others, am finding is becoming more common lately. SEO has become a bit of a dirty word (okay, it’s an acronym, not a word) lately. And one of the most vocal groups of this negativity is from you guys—the blogging community.

There is a growing perception that SEO is full of tricks and cheats. That it is an industry full of scammers who are trying to use your site for nefarious and dastardly reasons.

And why wouldn’t you think that? If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, then you’re probably someone who receives daily emails from SEO companies looking for a guest post or link on your site. You know the ones—those poorly written and often templated emails asking if you’ll publish their awesome, relevant, and completely unique blog content on your site. The ones that remind you to “please ensure you use followed links, oh and please use these specific keywords.”

It’s insulting to you and your readers and they always seem to come from people who are doing it for SEO purposes. After cleaning out your inbox each day with the same rubbish guest post outreach emails, I don’t blame bloggers for not trusting SEO and those who claim to do it. We look like lazy, condescending jerks.

But we’re not all like that, I promise. I believe you can divide up SEO today into three categories. Every single person within the SEO industry will fit into one of these no matter who they are.

The scammer SEO

These people understand SEO, no doubt. They understand what algorithmically makes words and sites rank well and they will use any trick or tactic necessary to get those rankings.

Black-hat SEOs and companies want wins at any cost, and unfortunately the people who do partake in these tactics do often get results at the expense of those trying to do it by the Google/Bing/Yahoo etc guidelines and rules. However, these wins are often short-lived as search engines target these methods constantly, penalizing those who use them.

How to spot them

A lot of the time these tactics are obvious—we all know what spam comments and emails look like.  Sometimes, though, the tactics can get a little trickier.

Domain cloaking and redirects from approved links already on your site are two common tricks. Perhaps check your analytics now and again for any abnormalities within your referrer data or link profile:

  • keyword stuffing
  • redirects
  • linking to doorway pages
  • comment spamming.

The lazy SEO

These are the people within the SEO industry which blogging communities are probably exposed to most.

They are the ones that fill up your blog comment threads with seemingly obscure and irrelevant content trying to get an easy link on your site. They are the ones who send you those poorly written emails exclaiming their undying love of your blog to get a link. They are the ones who keep those companies who sell 1000 links for $49.95 in business.

How to spot them

These guys often have a shotgun approach to blog outreach: send many emails and hope at least one gets a response. They:

  • follow a generic (template) format
  • perpetrate spelling errors
  • have no personality
  • wish to write about topics not relevant to your site
  • offer money
  • have specific technical link requests.

The genuine SEO

This group of people know that SEO is more than just about title tags, directory submissions, and spamming blogs in the hopes of getting one response that agrees to a guest post.

Genuine SEOs will and probably have contacted you because they believe that they have something that could be of interest to your audience and their client/site. They are first and foremost online marketers who are looking to effectively convey a message to a relevant and engaged audience. The link is a nice by-product, but forming the relationship and reaching an audience is the real goal.

How to spot them

These SEOs can be trickier to identify due to the sheer volume of rubbish emails that often surround them. But typical features of a good marketer is someone who is offering:

  • relevant content to your audience
  • personalised contact and information
  • an understanding of your blog
  • a knowledge of the topic they are talking about
  • enthusiastic and personable interaction
  • a genuine tone of voice.

The shape of SEO

Unfortunately, we are all lumped under the one banner of SEO, a title that as an industry is having its reputations run into the ground because of quick wins and lazy tactics.

The ironic (and tragic) part is that SEO is all about building brand awareness and boosting reputation, yet the tactics that a huge number in the industry use to try and achieve this goal are destroying our very own brand and reputation. SEOs are hurting SEO.

Ultimately, it’s up to us as SEOs to help make the Internet and search results better. That may seem corny as hell, but we know how this search stuff works. We need to stop turning the Internet against us.

There is a reason that 19 of your 20 blog out reach emails don’t get a reply. Instead of coming up with tactics to get a link, we need to come up with and promote tactics to build an audience.  Otherwise it’s kind of like Superman using his powers to become the world’s biggest super-villain instead of helping those in need.

So, on behalf of all people within the SEO industry who do search marketing and optimization with the view to benefit users and readers a like, I apologise for those who don’t.

Daylan Pearce is search lead for Australian Digital Agency Next Digital. You can find him via his blog at DaylanDoes.com where he writes about all things search & social or on Google Plus.

3 No-nonsense Strategies for Profitable Part-time Blogging

This is a guest post by Matt Alden S. of DividendMonk.com.

If you’re blogging as a part-time income stream rather than a full-time profession, then your priorities can be substantially different from the fill-time blogger’s.

A full-time problogger will likely focus on maximizing overall revenue, whereas a part-time problogger will focus on maximizing revenue per hour.

One of the largest problems I see with some underperforming smaller blogs is that they’re not focused on that key difference. Part-time bloggers often do not have advice given to them that is specialized to their part-time situation, and instead they end up following what full-time bloggers are doing, with mixed results.

Darren wrote a great post on part-time blogging over three years ago, but that post missed these three strategies that I’ve found invaluable for achieving part-time blogging success.

1. Be selective with social media

Full-time bloggers have hours every day where they can try new things, and can afford to spend time in areas that don’t yet give them a great ROI. Part-time bloggers, however, need to have a higher ROI on most of their activities.

In other words, don’t be on every social network just because you feel you ought to be. Don’t worry about doing every thing that every blogger is doing.

For example, I’m on Twitter, but Twitter is not where I spend any real time and it’s not where any real traffic is going to come from for me. Why? Because I write about long-term value investing, which is like watching paint dry. Not exactly enthralling Twitter material.

And yet, I have received over 50,000 visitors and over 130,000 pageviews from a single social media platform: Seeking Alpha. It’s a large site that brings investors and readers together. Moreover, the traffic statistics show that in terms of pages per visit and time per visit, it’s my single highest quality source of traffic.

The point here is to follow the 80/20 rule: focus 80% of your time on the stuff that gives you an excellent ROI, and use the other 20% for experimentation.

2. Stand out with ridiculously high-quality posts

Large blogs and websites can afford to publish mediocre content. That’s not to say that all large sites do so (in fact they generally got to their size by being well above average in the first place); it’s just to say that they can do it if they want to, and some of them do.

Very large sites that have years of full-time focus or multiple writers have strong enough domain authority to get mediocre content to rank well in search engines. Plus, their intangible brand authority can make fair content appear to be superior content.

Part-time bloggers don’t have this luxury. You’re not going to be able to write mediocre content and get it to rank well, and your brand is not yet strong enough to carry its own weight.

The emphasis on the part-timer should be to maximize individual post value. Spending 12 hours a week writing two or three extraordinarily high-quality articles will usually get you further than spending the same amount of time publishing every single day with less unique and compelling content.

When you’re setting out to write an awesome post, there are small things you can do to give yourself a huge advantage. If you’re preparing to write about something, first stop and do a Google search for it. Check out the main articles on that subject that are on the first page of the search results. Read or skim through them, and gauge their quality.

Your goal now is to write a post that is far superior to any of the posts on the first page of Google for this subject. Your post will not be a “me too” post, but will instead be the new high-water mark of quality and authority for this subject. You’ll write it in a more personal, more complete, more concise, and more original way.

3. Having a product helps greatly

Successfully selling a product or service online revolves around content marketing these days. That is, you get an audience by providing excellent free content that solves their problems, and then you use this content platform to present products or services to your readers that further solve their problems or help them in some way.

Your revenue per visitor, and therefore usually your revenue per hour, generally goes up substantially if you offer a high-quality product that fits your audience, compared to relying strictly on advertising or affiliate sales. Consider spending some time to create an outstanding product that requires little maintenance when it’s finished, and then offer it up on your blog.

When I did this, and published a $16 ebook and spreadsheet tool that stood out in the niche, the revenue from the ebook outpaced my advertising revenue and brought in thousands of extra dollars in profit. Higher-priced offerings will generally do even better than this. A good product or service genuinely solves problems or creates opportunities, improves your authority in your niche, and can bring in some solid income for your invested time.

A key advantage of having your own product or service is that you can get access to other bloggers’ platforms. When you rely on advertising, you’re limited to the size of your own platform, which generally isn’t going to be huge if you’re working part time. Similarly, when you sell affiliate products on your platform, you’re still limited to the size of your own platform.

But when you produce your own, high-quality product, then you now have something that can be sold on other writers’ platforms as well as your own. You can tap into other peoples’ email lists, social media accounts, and blog articles, if you’re the source of the product and they’re the marketer.

Use these strategies if you’re focusing on part-time blogging. Maximize your revenue per hour by being selective about what digital real estate you spend time on, by focusing on quality over quantity, and by leveraging your expertise onto platforms that are larger than your own.

What other advice can you add from your own experience? I’d love to hear it in the comments below.

Matt Alden S. publishes the free Dividend Insights Newsletter, and helps readers build wealth through investing for the long term in dividend stocks and other assets.

The ProBlogger Top 20 of 2012: What YOU Read Most This Year

Welcome to 2013! Are you ready for the year ahead? If you’re like me, and you’re just getting back into the swing of things (or still on break!), you might be scratching your head trying to remember all the important lessons you learned last year.

20

Image courtesy Lore & Guille, licensed under Creative Commons

So to help you out, I’ve compiled this list of our 20 most popular articles from 2012. If you’re a die-hard ProBlogger reader, you might already have read them all—but this might be a good time to refresh your memory.

If not, I hope you’ll find some gems in this list. We do try to cover a range of topics on the blog, and meet the needs of bloggers at all stages of the blogging journey. So if, once you’ve had a look through this list, there’s something you’d like to see more of in the year ahead, be sure to mention it in the comments.

Now, without further ado, here are our top 20 articles from 2012!

20. Quality Vs. Volume: The Traffic Spectrum, and How You as Bloggers Can Harness It

If you’re looking at your blog stats this morning and wondering how you can ramp them up this year, read this post before you start. It might give you the insight you need to work smarter, rather than harder, to attract quality traffic to your blog.

Definitely check out the discussion on that post, too—some really interesting learnings are to be found there.

19. Blogging in Brief: Looking Good, Saving Face, Tags and Lags

My Blogging In Brief column was a bit of a hit last year with readers, and the next instalment comes out later this week.

In the meantime, this post from last year highlights a few interesting trends that readers were particularly interested in: how big blogs save face when they make mistakes, graphical blog headers, letting customers set the price for your next product, how promotions could be slowing your site, and the relevance (or otherwise!) of tag clouds.

18. The Diamond in the Rough System for Gaining Influence

We’ve all heard social media advisors tell us to target the influencers if we want to have an impact on social media. But how can you find the true influencers in your niche?

In this post, Jonathan Goodman shows you how—and his tips and experience are good for all aspects of blog promotion, not just social networking. Have a read!

17. Looking to 2013: A Commitment to Blogging Smarter … With a Little Help

In this post, I included a roundup of a series of posts on contracting out aspects of your blog. From maintenance and development to design and writing, the range of tasks you can outsource—if they’re not your strong suit, or you need to free up time to focus on other blogging jobs—is endless.

While this post is a starting point, I hope it’ll put you in a good position to blog smarter this year.

16. URL Be Sorry: Google Cuts Back on Top-ranking Exact-match Domains

While once, exact-match domains made a big difference to a blog’s search positioning, as Rob Henry explained here, Google’s changed its algorithm so that exact-match domains now carry much less weight.

As Rob reveals, this creates great opportunities for those with quality content hosted on a normal domain (i.e. one that’s not a domain that’s an exact match with a niche keyword).

15. Grow Your Blog Business: The Earn Millions in Your Flipflops Framework [Case Study]

This case study by Stephan Spencer really excited our readers, and it was great to hear from the case study’s subject, Susan Lassiter-Lyons, in the comments.

The post really sets out a solid framework for starting a profit-making blog. It’s a must-read if this is something you’re working on at the moment.

14. 3 Ways Cartoons Can Improve Your Blog

A picture tells a thousand words, as this post by Mark Anderson shows.

If you’re thinking that there’s no way you can possibly communicate your message in under 1,000 words or so, have a look at this thought-provoking, actionable post. You might just rethink your approach to blog content afterward!

13. WordPress Feature Review: New Features You Missed in 2012

If you’re a WP user, you’ll find this two-part series very helpful. In it, Michael Scott steps us through a raft of new features that, bloggers being as busy as we are, we may have missed in 2012 (I know I missed a few!).

Even a quick skim of this series is sure to turn up a few handy enhancements that will make your blogging easier and more enjoyable in 2012.

12. How to Find an SEO Goldmine for Your Blog

In this popular post, Elena Vakhromova presents a simple, clear, effective way to write keyword-relevant, quality blog posts to raise your search rankings.

Bloggers who have been scared to tackle keyword research were very pleased to find this guide, so if your keyword research could do with an overhaul, take a look at this post.

11. The 3 step Guide to Creating Pinterest-friendly Graphics for Your Blog

There’s a lot of heat and light around Pinterest right now, but few know how to harness the platform as well as Jade Craven, who’s helped me develop a strong audience there for dPS.

This post exposes her top advice for creating the types of graphics people love to pin on Pinterest. If you didn’t realise that was part of the battle of getting Pnterest traction, this article is definitely for you!

10. 6 Warning Signs That Your Blog is Deflating

Again, another handy post that provides invaluable pointers that help bloggers recognize a downturn and do something about it before it’s too late!

Ashkan’s advice here is clear and straightforward, and the suggestions offered by readers in the comments make a great addition to this post. Why not make it a monthly checklist for your blog in 2013?

9. WordPress Backups: Don’t Make These 9 Mistakes on Your Blog

We all need backups, but few of us know if we’re doing all we should to protect our online assets.

As Anders Vinther reveals, backups aren’t something that we should be leaving to our blog hosts, or our developers. This is a topic every blogger needs to be on top of, so if you’re not in that camp, check this post out now.

8. 4 WordPress Alternatives: The What, Where, and Why

You’ll have noticed a prevalence of WordPress-related posts on this list. But not everyone is on, or wants to use, that platform. Here, Matt Setter steps us through four handy, functional alternatives, explaining who they’re for, and what they do.

If you’re starting a new blog, or looking to move an existing blog, in 2013, maybe you’ll also look for different functionality and flexibility than WordPress offers. If so, this post is for you!

7. How to Write Emails that Get an Immediate Response

This is one of those topics that many would think is too obvious to get so much attention—but they’d be wrong.

Robert D. Smith shows even the most experienced email writer how to improve their technique in this short, sharp post that combines psychology, etiquette, and good old common sense. Are your emails getting the responses you want? Make sure they do in 2013!

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

Nathan Barry’s no-holds-barred story of how he build a product, and sold it strongly, from a blog with low traffic is nothing short of inspirational. One of the great things about it is how honest he is, and how clear he makes the path to success.

This is a must-read for anyone who’s put off by the traditional make-money-blogging stories and wants to get a head-start on generating income.

5. 15 Social Media Mistakes That Are Strangling Your Success

This post provides a full tour of social media mistakes that, surprisingly, we’re still making today.

In it, Georgina takes us back to basics in this post, which, again, would make a good checklist for bloggers to assess their social media efforts every so often.

4. Can you REALLY Make Money Blogging? [7 Things I Know About Making Money from Blogging]

Last year marked my tenth anniversary of blogging, and this post encapsulates the key learnings I’ve gained about making money over that time.

As you’ll see in the comments, the post resonated strongly with a broad cross-section of our readers, and provided much-needed inspiration for many. If you want the truth about making money blogging, look no further.

3. How to Set Up an Email Account that Uses Your Domain Name

Kashish hit a nerve with many readers with this post.

As you’ll know if you read post 7 above, having a legitimate email address is critical to being taken seriously online. This post—and the comments that follow—will help you set one up quickly and easily.

2. 10 Popular Affiliate Programs for Small and Medium-sized Blogs

Charles Dearing’s list of his favorite affiliate programs is supplemented in the comments by those of our experienced users.

Any blogger looking to add or ramp up affiliate income in the coming year would do well to look at this list and the advice Charles gives.

1. 40 Cool Things to Do With Your Posts *After* You Hit Publish

Our most popular post this year is one of our most recent! But it seems we all want to find innovative ways to use our quality content to expand our readership and online presence.

Steff Green’s list of 40 cool things isn’t just about promotion—in it, she provides tips for finding new content ideas, researching your audience, and more. Is it another checklist you could print and use in the coming year?

What were your top posts of 2012?

These were the top posts on ProBlogger—but what about elsewhere online? Link us to your favorite post in the comments below, and don’t forget to tell us why you loved it!

Make an Offer they Can’t Refuse: 5 Tactics for Stronger Calls to Action

This guest post is by Christopher Jan Benitez of PrintRunner.com.

For site owners to increase their profit, they need to strengthen their calls to action (CTA).

Websites earn from visitors who click on a button or banner. This leads them down the conversation funnel until they reach the end of the funnel where they become a lead, if not a customer.

Getting people to perform a click of a mouse button—or any desired action—however, is never easy. It takes careful planning and strategizing to get people to heed your CTA, let alone act on it.

ProBlogger has said much about calls to action here and here. But a call to action needs to weave some factors left out of these posts together into an eye-catching and attention-grabbing banner or button.

This post discusses other essential points to help site owners maximize their earnings.

1. Color

The colors you use on your calls to action trigger different emotions in users. Whether it’s the copy or button itself, you need to use the appropriate color choices that best connect with your audience to increase the chances of people acting on your CTA.

This color wheel shows how each color is perceived by users:

Color wheel

The color you will use on your landing page will depend on the site’s theme. For the copy and button to pop out from the screen, you will have to choose a color that is complementary to the site’s theme.

If there are elements of your call to action that stick out like a sore thumb, redesign it with a color that is analogous to the theme.

2. Size

Make your calls to action appear in large buttons or fonts. If you have different calls to action set up on your page, make the priority ones larger and the lesser ones smaller, so that users can distinguish which are more important.

Don’t design the entire page with a call to action graphic design—observe subtlety at all times.

3. Placement

Theoretically, the best places for your calls to action to appear are above the fold and below the post.

When positioned above the fold, users will immediately see your call to action as the page is done loading. They won’t have to scroll down the page to see what’s in store for them.

On the other hand, placing your call to action below the post has the potential to produce more leads. Users who scroll down the page are engaged with the content of your post. Therefore, once your call to action appears on their screen, they will be more likely to heed your call.

The placement of your CTA ultimately depends on your site design. Since each site is unique, some best practices may not necessarily apply to your blog. You need to determine how your site is viewed by users by looking at a heat map. This helps you figure out which parts of your pages receive the most attention from visitors.

Slodive has a post of heat mapping tools that you can use for your site to learn the best places where you can post your call to action.

By placing your CTA on “hotspot” areas in your layout, you increase the chances of users heeding your call to action.

4. Uniqueness

It is advisable to follow the suggested practices of a particular task, but you can’t let yourself be restricted by those practices. Eventually, everybody will start using those tactics. until every other call to action ends up looking exactly the same.

Although there’s essentially nothing wrong with having a fundamentally sound CTA, a really good call to action operates away from convention.

Writer Dan Kennedy shares his insane advertising ideas for pain relievers, financial services, and skin cream product in the market in this post. “Truly groundbreaking” are words that perfectly capture the essence of Dan’s advertising ideas.

The idea here is that your CTA stands out even more from those of your competitors. When everyone else is following the best practices for their CTA, you can do ever better by going against the flow and following your gut.

Be distinct from the competition, but don’t overdo the weirdness—you may end up alienating your target audience. Let your creative side show while still being in touch with your core values and mission.

5. The “What’s in it for me?”

To effectively get people to perform your desired action, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your potential clients.

Think of your experiences purchasing goods from a store. You will find yourself buying something that gives you the most satisfaction at reasonable prices.

As a service provider, it is your responsibility to provide high-quality products and services that fill a need. Start by listening to people and knowing what makes them tick. Then develop your CTA based on the findings.

The higher the demand, the greater the possibility that your CTA will be answered. Whether you’re offering free ebooks, email subscriptions, or products for sale, ensure that there is genuine interest among users, and craft your CTA accordingly.

There’s a lot more about calls to action that needs to be discussed to help site improve their lead generation tactics and increase sales. If you have tips and tricks on how to boost your CTA that weren’t mentioned in this post, let us know by commenting below!

Christopher Jan Benitez writes helpful articles about social media, small business, and print marketing, in particular full color brochure printing. He is currently a writer for the PrintRunner Blog.

Blog Design for ROI Rule #6: KISS Headers, Navigation, and Sidebars

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

This post is the sixth in a series on blog design for ROI. Previous posts in the series were:

  1. Prioritize the Optin Form
  2. Highlight Your Key Content
  3. Show Love To Your Community
  4. Make Posts Easy To Read
  5. Engage Readers on Archive Pages Fast.

One area that blog designers regularly get wrong is the design of secondary elements, and I should know, since I made the error myself.

In this 2008 screenshot of my blog, the header, sidebar, and navigation are roughly as loud as a drunk protesting he shouldn’t be thrown out of the bar. Maybe louder!

SEOROI in 2008

The sidebar was screaming for attention, distracting people from reading the post content

Not only was my sidebar loud, but the ample whitespace in the header drew attention to my slogan. At the same time, the dark contrasting background I’d used for my main navigation and breadcrumb trail drew eyes there.

There was no clear focus to the design at all.

You might think that this was an accident, that I wouldn’t have made such a loud sidebar if I’d known better … I wish. Really, my idea was that having a prominent sidebar would allow me to periodically try different marketing messages there in order to gain more business. Similarly, I wanted people looking at and clicking on the navigation since the pages listed there were sales-oriented.

Considering the popularity of widgets (typically styled sidebar boxes like the one above) in the world of WordPress blog design, I’m probably not the only one prioritizing the sidebar over the main content.

So today’s rule really just has a simple message for myself and my fellow business bloggers.

Keep It Simple, Sam: the KISS rule applied to blog headers, navigation and sidebars

Simpler headers

Takeaway #1: Don’t distract visitors with big logos and branding. Either offer an opt-in form in that space or just tone down the branding and move your content up vertically.

Surprise! People’s top priority in visiting your blog is not to admire your logo and branding, nor the sidebar and your awards. It’s not even to click around your navigation.

Your visitors’ number one priority is to read your content.

What do many of us do? We load up large header graphics and massive logos, which not only push our content further down the page, but also distract the eye and brain from their goal:

Peter Shallard's blog

Peter Shallard’s blog features a very large header

MogulMom

A mega-sized logo takes pride of place at MogulMom – but she’d be even more successful than she is by scaling down her logo

Of course, this delaying and distracting of readers with large branding graphics is counter-productive. Why?

It’s a waste of space to use XXL branding, because we could instead prioritize the email signup form, which definitely feeds our long-term audience growth.

Another reason is that we want visitors to start reading fast, so we can maximize repeat visits and build our audience.

Simpler sidebars

Takeaway #2: Don’t distract visitors with long blogrolls, loads of award badges and other unruly sidebar features.

Keep the sidebar’s visual weight secondary, and minimize the clutter.

Chances are that your awards and reads you enjoy are not directly relevant to the specific post somebody has loaded or to the given archive page, let alone the About Us or Contact pages. So why not move the blogroll, category and tag links to their own separate pages?

Have a page with links to your favourite blogs. Add another page to serve as a general archive clearinghouse with links to each category and tag page.

What should you feature in your sidebar instead?

  1. Earlier in this series I discussed the importance of showing attention to your community. The sidebar is a good place to do that.
  2. You can have widgets that highlight related content (e.g. tag-based) as well as popular content from the same category the post is in. This personalizes or contextualizes the content suggestions, which most readers appreciate.
  3. 3. Write an About page summary in the sidebar.

And what about subscription calls to action?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s best to place these in visually prominent areas above and below the main column rather than in the sidebar. If that’s not possible, then the sidebar is the next best place.

Think of your sidebar as a complement to your post, and you’ll be more successful than if you see the sidebar and post as competing for attention.

Simpler navigation

Takeaway #3: Your primary menu has a place on every page … but a secondary place.

Remember how my blog’s menu drew attention to itself with rich colours, instead of helping eyes rest on my content?

Learn from my mistake and keep your navigation’s visual weight secondary. A light grey or white background will do, and the breadcrumb navigation really does not deserve to be at the center of things, much less to have a highlighted background.

For more on visual hierarchy, see this great post on Search Engine Land and this one on the 4 degrees of visual hierarchy in wireframing.

Keep it simple!

The massive header branding does far less for you than either getting the visitor to join your newsletter or read some content—so use your space accordingly.

To the same effect, reading post content is more important than clicking links in the main navigation, blogroll, or discovering the admiration some other group has for your blog. Making the sidebar visually loud makes it harder for people’s eyes to read the post normally.

Keep it simple and watch your readership grow!

Gab Goldenberg and Internet Marketing Ninjas are developing a book based on this series – get your free copy at http://seoroi.com/blog-design-for-roi/ . You can also get a free chapter of Goldenberg’s The Advanced SEO Book.

10 Essential WordPress Security Plugins For 2013

This guest post is by of The WordPress Security Checklist.

Now that we have left 2012 behind, we can start planning 2013. And there is no better time to review the security plugins you use on your WordPress site.

Last year important new security plugins were released, and some of the existing plugins were updated.

The great challenge when it comes to WordPress Security Plugins is to find the magic combination which gives you optimal cover without conflicts or overlapping functionality.

Here we bring you the winning combination for a prosperous (and safe) 2013.

Let the party begin!

Make sure only invited guests pop in

When you throw a big party, you’d best think about who you let in. Otherwise the party might get out of hand.

These clever little plugins are your broad-shouldered bouncers. And they mean business!

WP Login Security 2

This is a personal favorite of mine. It’s very clever.

If an unknown guest arrives at your party your bouncer will ask for ID, but you can walk straight in.

Similarly, the plugin will send a verification email to the registered email address of the user if he tries to log in from an unknown IP address. Only if he validates the IP address by clicking on a link in the email will he be allowed in.

This is a very effective way of stopping brute force attacks. Even if someone does guess your userid and password, they still can’t get in.

If, on the other hand, you log in from a known IP address, you are let in straight away.

Resources:

Semisecure Login Reimagined

At your party, the bouncer will make sure no one eavesdrops when you whisper the secret password in his ear.

Ideally you would want to send your login information over SSL when you access your WordPress administration panel. However, there is a cost involved in obtaining a SSL certificate and if you are on a shared server you would also need a dedicated IP address.

This plugin is the next best thing for those of us who’d rather spend our money on party hats.

It will automatically encrypt your login information so it is much more difficult for an outsider to steal your credentials.

Resources:

Login Security Solution

This is the mother of all bouncers. He will only accept photo ID, he can check the expiry date and you can tell him that library cards are no longer accepted. He can even throw out people who fall asleep on the premises.

Or, in technical terms: with this plugin, password strength is enforced, password aging is an option, and password resets for all users can be forced. And you can even log out idle sessions automatically.

Another clever feature of this plugin: instead of locking out IP addresses of brute force attackers it will slow down the response times gradually. This means that you can get your own password wrong without being locked out, and it will still make brute force attacks almost impossible.

Resources:

WordPress Firewall 2

This is the wall around your house that makes sure no one sneaks in through your backdoor or a window, bypassing your bouncers. It’s very important.

Windows Firewall 2 inspects all incoming traffic to identify if anyone sends you malicious requests or tries to inject data into your database.

Resources:

Block Bad Queries

This plugin is like the barbed wire or the broken glass on top of the wall. Yes, the internet is really a bad neighborhood!

BBQ extends your firewall and helps filter incoming traffic to stop known bad guys.

Resources:

Keeping tabs on what goes on in your house

Once your party is going you want to keep an eye on what is happening. If someone breaks your TV you’d like to know who’s responsible and how much damage was caused.

These plugins are your eyes and your ears. And they are awake!

WordPress File Monitor Plus

This is like having surveillance cameras in every room of your house and taping all the action. If anything goes down you can see exactly what happened.

WordPress File Monitor Plus tracks changes to your file system. If any files are added, removed, or changed you will be notified by email. Neat. Could be an invaluable help in cleaning up after you have had visitors!

Resources:

WP Security Scan

Although you love opening up your house for the big party, there are still some rooms you do want to keep away from your guests. Locking a few doors will make sure the cats can only play where you want them to.

WP Security Scan checks your file and folder permissions and a few other things to make sure everything that should be locked down is locked down.

Resources:

Curing the hangover

Depending on the success of your party you might end up with a bit of a hangover the day after. But we’ve got the cure for you.

Update Notifications

This good old trick could save you from getting a hangover in the first place: take a couple of headache tablets before you go to bed.

By using Update Notifications you’re stopping the headaches before they begin. Keep your WordPress site updated at all times and you won’t see the bulk part of the threats circulating the net. This plugin automatically sends you an email when there is an update for your plugins, themes, or core WordPress files.

Resources:

Wordfence

If you are not feeling well, knowing why can make the difference between recovering quickly or suffering for a long time. If you know you are dehydrated you can drink some water. If you know you have got an infection, penicillin might be the remedy you need.

Wordfence is one of the newer security plugins. However it has matured very quickly. One of the great features of Wordfence is that it will compare the plugin, theme, and WordPress core files on your installation with the official version in the WordPress repository. If there are any discrepancies, the plugin will send you an email.

It will also scan your site for known malware, phishing, backdoors, and virus infections.

Resources:

Sucuri WordPress Security Plugin

If you are really out of luck, you might pick up some kind of disease at your party. This is the risk of mingling with many people. In this case, you might have to go to the doctor.

Sucuri is more than just a security plugin. In fact, their WordPress plugin is probably one of their least-known products.

Sucuri is a company that specializes in cleaning up infected websites. If your luck is out and your site is infected, they will clean it for less than it would cost you in coffee if you wanted to figure it out on your own—provided you know what you are doing. And they will keep your site clean for a year after that.

The WordPress plugin adds a web application firewall and malware file scanning. The web application firewall will communicate with Sucuri servers, so if one site is under attack from certain IP addresses they can be blocked across the network immediately.

Resources:

Enjoy 2013!

With a little bit of preparation, you will be able to throw fantastic parties in 2013, and you and your guests can amuse themselves without worrying about accidents or bad guys ruining everything.

Make sure your WordPress site is in good shape and ready to bring you a very prosperous 2013!

Check out ’s free WordPress Security Checklist, which is all about protecting your WordPress assets properly and sleeping well at night.

15 Bloggers to Watch in 2013

Welcome to the 2013 edition of Bloggers to Watch. My work has changed a lot over the past year—I’ve been focused a lot on the Australian blogger community, and on curators—so this post is very centered on those communities. This is the last time I’ll be writing this yearly round-up. It has been a blast exploring this project over the past four years.

So! Here are the 15 people that I’ll be keeping an eye on this year.

Tina Roth Eisenberg

Tina started swissmiss in 2005 as her “personal visual archive.” It eventually grew into a popular design journal with an average of 1 million unique visitors a month. I love that she was experimenting with visual curation before such a term even existed.

Many of you will argue that Tina shouldn´t be on such a list. She has been around for years and most of her projects don´t concern the blogging industry. Well, I disagree. I believe her archives have a lot to offer beginner bloggers. She is extremely talented at curation, and combines her community-building skills with a keen sense of strategy. She shows what you can achieve with your blog, and your life, if you step outside of the echo-chamber and pursue creative projects.

I also recommend that you check out Creative Mornings.

Jenny Lawson

This is the fourth year I have written this post. Every time, multiple people tell me that I should have included The Bloggess. I had read and devoured her blog, but didn´t know whether posts about taxidermied mice necessarily made someone worth watching. You guys would rather read about a hidden gem, right?

This year, after reading her book, I was able to realize why it is important that her blog gets acknowledged in this list. She helps normalize some of the icky stuff associated with mental illness. I have an anxiety disorder and, at times, it can consume my life. Jenny shows that brilliance can shine through, despite you feeling at your lowest. She shows that you can still leverage your power to amuse or help others despite feeling powerless.

We bloggers have a lot more power then we give ourselves credit for. Especially when convincing actors to post pictures of themselves holding cutlery and/or twine.

Gavin Aung Than

In early 2012, Gavin decided that he wanted to give cartooning a real chance. He quit his job, sold his house, and started “working on Zen Pencils to try to inspire myself and others.” (Source: The Viewspaper.)

Since then, he’s been able to attract the attention of many key influencers and mainstream media. I think he is really talented and that his story shows what you can achieve if you combine quality content with social media outreach.

I was at the ProBlogger Event when he told that story and I swear the room when silent. After six months, he reported that he was getting around 400,000 unique visitors a month, and had nearly 15,000 Facebook fans. I know so many people who would love those statistics. But few would sacrifice as much as Gavin has to achieve them.

Christina Butcher

Christina Butcher started Hair Romance as a side project but, in only 18 months, has turned her blog into her full-time job. She gets over 120, 000 visitors monthly and is very intuitive when it comes to trends. She has had a lot of success with the “31 days” ebook concept, tapping into the trend for her second ebook, too.

She is awesome because she serves as a guide to those who don´t understand the world of hairstyles. She is like a translator. She makes a complicated topic incredibly easy to understand and, frankly, is one of the nicest bloggers I´ve had the pleasure of talking to.

She has recently launched two new sites: Nail romance and Mr and Mrs Romance.

Jennifer Schmidt

Jennifer is another person whose blog started out as a personal project and has grown into a popular resource in her community. She is the blogger behind Beauty and Bedlam, which she describes as an authentic look at intentional living through strengthening family ties,  encouraging meal time memories,  food/meal planning, couponing, personal finance, home decor and frugal fashion. Late in 2012, she launched her food blog 10 Minute Dinners.

I believe that both sites have a lot of potential, and that her profile will be growing a lot in 2013.

Emily Winters

I discovered Emily thanks to a recommendation by Pete Fazio on the 2012 list. He said:

She is a DIY blogger who started a blog a year ago for family and friends, was discovered by DIYNetwork, and is now their featured blogger. Amazing stuff.

I thought it was an awesome suggestion and immediately decided that she would go on this year’s list.

Her blog, Merrypad, started as a personal project that evolved into a source of inspiration for those wanting to embrace a DIY lifestyle. It is another example of someone acting as a translator for a topic that could seem overwhelming. In this case, however, she is differentiating her site by targeting a gender that may not necessarily consider DIY projects.

It´s a really solid case study about how to make it easy for people to connect with your blog. Her before and after page is a really user-friendly way of taking the reader through her DIY journey without manually going through her archives.

If you want to learn more about Emily, I recommend you check out her BlogStar Interview.

Ramit Sethi

Ramit Sethi is one of my favourite people to learn from. He runs the site I Will Teach You To Be Rich and has written a bestselling book of the same name. He is incredibly strategic and practical. I´ve spent hours going through his archives and consistently return for inspiration. I love how usable his site is—look at how his blog headings lead to landing pages instead of categories.

Ramit shows what you can achieve as a result of in-depth research. He doesn´t write posts with the aim to go viral. He researches the heck out of his target audience and writes posts that answer their problems.

Rachel MacDonald

In Spaces Between is a shiny online space for bright sparks seeking inspiration and words on living a big, beautiful life. In little over a year, In Spaces Between has become the go-to blog for juicy inspiration, confidence building, fear fighting, and mindset shifting.

I think Rachel’s blog is pretty cool. What really intrigues me, though, is her attention to detail. Look at this custom graphic that was created for her interview with Nikki Parkinson. Her free ebook,
20 Ways to Create Your Best Life Ever

Antonia Murphy

I’d read anything she writes. She’s hilarious and very, very honest. She has a son who may have global developmental delay. She refers to him as a “tard” and an “alien,” which sounds harsh, but she does it in a way that works. I believe she’s taking the taboo away from these words; she’s making them powerless. She’s what I’d call a fearless writer.

I’ve fallen in love with her writing. She blogged about her sailing adventures at s/v Sereia and now writes about her land-based adventures in New Zealand at AntoniaMurphy.com. Hopefully we’ll see more writing from her in 2013.

Eden Riley

Eden is one of the coolest bloggers that I´ve had the pleasure of reading. She is tenacious and brilliant. Best of all, her logo is based on the mural in her office. She writes at Edenland.com

I admire her because she is a person that has gone through a lot of negative stuff—especially in the past year.  Despite her personal challenges, she continues to try and leverage her blog for good. This has included two overseas trips where she blogged about the food crisis in Niger and the slums of India. She also tries to challenge our perceptions—check out Ladies, It’s Time We Got Real About Being Beautiful.

Jen Gresham

Jen writes about career design at Everyday Bright. She encourages her readers to dare to shine:

…to define success on your own terms, to muster the courage to pursue your happiness, to create a life you love.

I love her blog because she sees career design as a process rather then something that can be solved with a quick fix. She follows the A-listers but doesn’t use the “trendy” techniques unless they are right for her blog. She is incredibly strategic and someone I think will be around for a long time in this community.

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer got a lot of attention in early 2012 with his article, The 100 Blogs You Need In Your Life. He was able to leverage the momentum to grow Leaving Work Behind to the point where he was making a decent income from freelance writing and ebook sales.

Now, I´m not putting Tom on here because of his list post efforts. I try not to focus on the blogging/marketing niche anymore as it can be incredibly formulaic. I think Tom is worth watching purely because of his networking and outreach efforts. He is incredibly skilled, and I’d love to see what he could accomplish in a different niche or platform.

Alex Beadon

 I discovered Alex Beadon Photography when pinning images for the Digital Photography School Pinterest account. I fell in love with the Pinterest-friendly graphics she had created to promote her post and lost myself for hours checking out her archives.

I love the attention she has put into the branding and design of her blog. Look at the images she created to promote her FAQ page. It´s a great example of how you can infuse your personality into what might otherwise be a boring subject.

Tip: Look at the graphics in the sidebar that link to the categories of her blog. Could you create something like that to spice up your design?

Cheryl Lin

Cheryl runs Business Chic, a fashion blog featuring photos of professionals and their workwear style in Melbourne, Australia. She is a great example of how you can create a quality local niche blog.

I´ve been watching Cheryl grow Business Chic over the past three years. It has been in the past 12 months that she has really hit her stride. She strives to go beyond a fashion/streetstyle blog. In 2012, she experimented with a year-long little black dress project. This year, she´ll be turning that project into a book and an exhibition at a popular fashion festival.

She is an extremely hard worker and attends a lot of events, despite her day job. I know that her dedication will really pay off this year and that it will be an enjoyable journey to watch.  I think that she´ll be enjoying a lot of momentum in 2013.

Sarah Von Bargen

Sarah runs the lifestyle blog Yes and Yes. She couldn’t find a blog “that addressed the many, many aspects of modern life and didn’t pigeon-hole women into different camps” so she created one herself. It’s a really fun blog and one that I enjoy reading.

I’ve become captivated by her recently launched small business blog and I believe that she will make a real impact in her community.

Over to you

I’ve had a lot of fun with this blogging series and always enjoy reading about who you guys are watching. Who do you think is worth watching over the coming you? Who knows—the people you recommend just may get featured on here in the future!