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20 Quick Tips on Writing Great Blog Posts

In preparation for an interview on writing great blog content, I jotted down some ‘quick tips’. While they are all short I hope that they might spark some ideas – enjoy!

    1. Tell your story – it is what makes your content unique
    2. Share how you feel – it will take your readers to a deeper place
    3. You’ll never please everyone – the sooner you come to peace with this, the better
    4. Write about things that matter to you – passion is infectious
    5. Inform, Inspire and Interact – aim to do these things every week!
    6. Experiment with different styles of writing – it will help you find your voice
    7. Mix up the length of your posts – short can be sweet but long can be epic!
    8. When an idea strikes – drop everything and capture it!
    9. Do everything you can to understand who is reading your blog – it will make you more useful to them
    10. Before you publish – ask what you want your reader to do after reading your post – and edit accordingly
    11. Become hyper aware of problems – and obsess over writing posts that solve them
    12. Put aside time to create quality content – it doesn’t just appear
    13. Put aside time to edit and polish your posts – it will take them to the next level
    14. Get a life – you’ll be a much more interesting writer if you’ve lived a little
    15. Ask your readers questions – it will make them feel like they belong and you’ll learn a lot too!
    16. Take your readers on a journey – posts that build from one to another can be powerful
    17. Brainstorm regularly – generating ideas for future posts now can save a lot of pain later
    18. Not every post needs to go viral – shareable content will help you grow but it may not serve your current readers best
    19. Write, Write Write – the more you write, the better you will get
    20. Publish selectively – you don’t need to publish everything you write

    What quick blog writing would you add?

The Why and How of Split Testing for Bloggers

This is a guest contribution from  Michael Johnston, co-founder of MonetizePros.com.

Split testing has become an absolute must for anyone running an e-commerce site or driving PPC traffic to a landing page. The benefits of disciplined experimentation have been well documented, and any serious e-commerce company has embraced split testing as a surefire way to grow revenue and improve ROI.

But split testing isn’t just for e-commerce sites. It can be a tremendously valuable exercise for websites that don’t have a product to sell or even a landing page to optimize. Bloggers and other publishers are often afterthoughts in split testing discussions and tutorials, but there’s a huge opportunity for this audience to utilize both the user-friendly and more sophisticated split testing apps out there.

If you’re a blogger or publisher looking to improve your website monetization and user experience, we’ll assume that your primary goals look something like this:

  1. Increase newsletter signups
  2. Increase pageviews per visit (i.e., decrease bounce rate)
  3. Increase social shares (Facebook Likes, Tweets, +1s, etc.)

If you have any interest in accomplishing some or all of those goals, there are a number of experiments that you can start running now. Here are 25 of them to get you started:

Nav Bar Testing

Your nav bar is some of the most valuable real estate on your site; it represents an opportunity to steer visitors to the pages you most want them to visit. There are several tests that can be run on the navigation bar to determine the layout that will maximize your conversion rates:

Test #1: Nav Bar Text

Try testing the text you use to describe each of the destinations featured in your nav bar. If you’re featuring a link to your newsletter, try several variations on that concept and see which get the highest and lowest click rates. For example you might try:

  • Newsletter
  • Free Newsletter
  • E-Newsletter
  • Subscribe

This experiment can be run for each section / link included in the nav bar; try different phrasings of each until you come up with the top converters.

Test #2: Nav Bar Colors

Changing the colors of the links in your nav bar is another easy-to-run test. This can be especially productive if there’s one nav bar link that you value above all others–a primary section of the site to which you’d like to drive traffic. Try contrasting that link in a number of different colors, and see which results in the highest click rate.

Test #3: Number of Nav Bar Links

Sometimes in a nav bar, less is more. Try experiments that remove some of the sections of your nav bar and leave only the sections of your site to which you most want to drive traffic. It’s possible that by removing some options you’ll get more total clicks (a result of eliminating the “analysis paralysis”).

Search Engine Land stands out as an example of a site that has a crowded nav bar:

 

Conversely, the blog at Ritholtz.com features only a few sections of the nav bar:

 

Newsletter Signups

For most bloggers and publishers, building an email distribution list is one of the most important parts of the audience development process. More email addresses means more recurring traffic, more regular readers, and more visibility for your content.

Converting a visitor who lands on your site to a newsletter subscriber is a huge win, and many websites devote prime real estate to an email capture mechanism. Here are some tests you can run to figure out the optimal layout for converting visitors from search or referring domains to newsletter subscribers:

Test #4: Signup Box Placement

Many publishers drive newsletter subscriptions through a widget in the sidebar of their sites. In most cases, a significant percentage of all signups comes from this placement.

Experiment with where this box goes on your site, or for an advanced implementation make it “follow” your readers as they scroll down the page.

Newsletter-Signup-Box

Test #5: Newsletter Signup Box Copy

The copy that accompanies your newsletter signup widget can impact your conversion rate. Try different calls to action to see what grabs readers’ attention and prompts them to enter their email address. Variations can be plain vanilla (“Sign up today for our free email newsletter”) or more bold (“Get the best [niche] content delivered to your inbox”). Come up with 3-5 different variations and see which performs best.

Here’s an example from MissyWard.com:

MissyWard newsletter sign up box

And here’s one from the KISSmetrics blog:

KissMetrics newsletter sign up box

Test #6: Subscribe Button Color

The color of the button that seals the deal for newsletter signups is probably an afterthought for most bloggers. This is one of the easiest tests to run; pick a few different color patterns for the “Subscribe” button and see if any stand out at attracting attention from visitors.

You’ll notice that a lot of newsletter signups feature an orange Subscribe button; that color is known to generate positive feelings:

Orange Subscribe Button

In their e-book on Conversion Centered Design, Unbounce notes the emotions associated with certain colors:

  • Red: danger, stop, negative, excitement, hot
  • Dark blue: stable, calming, trustworthy, mature
  • Light blue: youthful, masculine, cool
  • Green: growth, positive, organic, go, comforting
  • White: pure, clean, honest
  • Black: serious, heavy, death
  • Gray: integrity, neutral, cool, mature
  • Brown: wholesome, organic, unpretentious
  • Yellow: emotional, positive, caution
  • Gold: conservative, stable, elegant
  • Orange: emotional, positive, organic
  • Purple: youthful, contemporary, royal
  • Pink: youthful, feminine, warm
  • Pastels: youthful, soft, feminine, sensitive
  • Metallics: elegant, lasting, wealthy

Test #7: In-Content Newsletter Plugs

One of the best places to create new newsletter subscribers is within your content. While readers are digesting your content, they’re ripe for the suggestion of joining a mailing list that will provide them with more of the same. Here’s an example of one of our in-content plugs for our mailing list:

In Content Plug

Test out different implementations of this to see what combination delivers. Items to vary include the copy, position within content, and even the color / font.

Test #8: Newsletter Page Copy

In addition to a sidebar widget to capture emails, most blogs include a page dedicated to the newsletter sign up process. Try different copy on your newsletter signup page above the fields that will actually be filled out to subscribe. Variations to test may include:

  • Bullet points highlighting the benefits of signing up (the number and content of each can vary)
  • One sentence call to action (“Enter your email address below to sign up for our free e-newsletter”)
  • Pledge to not spam
  • No copy at all (simply a signup box)

Smitten-Kitchen-Subscribe-Page

There is a ton to test here, including location of subscribe box, color of the button, number of bullet points, copy of the bullet points, etc.

Test #9: Newsletter Page Ads

The screenshot above highlights another testing opportunity: try removing all ads from your newsletter signup page, and measure the impact on your conversion rate. In all likelihood, you’ll see an increase in signups; the page will load more quickly, and there will be fewer distractions for potential subscribers.

You’ll forego some revenue from deleting ad units, but may make up for it with increased newsletter conversions. So the variation might look something like this:

Smitten-Kitchen-Subscribe-Page-No-Ads

Test #10: Required Fields

If your site requires multiple fields to be completed in order to complete a newsletter signup or other registration (such as a free membership), there’s an opportunity to test the impact of changing the number of inputs required.

Here’s a site that requires first name and email address in order to get a copy of an e-book:

An obvious test to run here would be to remove the “First Name” field and measure the change in conversion rate with only one required input.

Test #11: Thank You / Confirmation Page

Once a visitor has completed the newsletter signup process, there’s still more you can prompt them to do. The “thank you” page that confirms a newsletter signup is often overlooked, but is a great place to test strategies to funnel new subscribers back into your content (i.e., lower the exit rate from that page).

To demonstrate, we’ll stick with the Smitten Kitchen example from above. Here’s where I land after signing up for the newsletter:

Smitten Kitten Thank-You-Page

I would guess that the exit rate from this page is pretty high; there is no clear call to action, and the link that directs you back to the site is hidden near the bottom of the page. There’s a great opportunity to do some testing here to pull new subscribers back to the site–a section with popular posts (including images) could be a place to start.

Joseph Kerschbaum put together a great article on this concept that includes some specific examples.

Test #12: Social Proof / Testimonials

In order to convince visitors to sign up for your newsletter or create an account, it may be helpful to use the testimonials of others. There are two primary ways to reflect your site in a positive light: volume and quality. Volume simply means using numbers to show how popular your newsletter is.

Here’s an example from ShoeMoney.com:

Earlier we showed the newsletter signup at MissyWard.com, which includes a testimonial to enhance the perceived value of signing up for the free newsletter:

MissyWard Testimonial

Test both of these methods for boosting the perception of your newsletter, and evaluate the impact it has on conversion rates.

Social Sharing

Increasing the social sharing of your site will lead to more pageviews, incoming links, and overall recognition of your brand and content. Here are some tests to run to determine the set-up that leads to maximum Tweets, Likes, and +1s:

Test #13: Social Share Positioning

Where on the site are readers able to share your content socially? The share buttons can live just about anywhere on the page, and you should be sure to know the impact that each position has. For example, here’s a site that positions them at the beginning of an article:

Here’s one (SEOmoz.org) that has them at the end:

 

And here’s one that uses an increasingly popular floating left sidebar implementation:

Floating-Side-Social

If you want to increase social sharing of your content, test different positions of your sharing widgets to see which locations result in the highest level of visitor engagement.

Test #14 Social Share Implementation

In addition to testing where social share buttons should appear, publishers can experiment with the look and feel. Here are three different examples to try:

Example #1:

Example #2:

Example #3:

Content-Related Tests

The way you lay out your articles or blog posts will have a big impact on how many pages the average visitor to your site views. By testing various implementations around your content, you can uncover the settings that will make your site “sticky” and generate more pageviews per visit.

Test #15: Featured Content

Many sites highlight their best content in a “Featured Articles” or “Most Popular” section. ReelSEO has a slick widget for highlighting different types of content:

Example of Featured Content

Driving higher engagement with Featured Content boosts time on site, pageviews per visit, and ultimately revenue. This is another great testing opportunity: rotate in different features, images, and positioning to this section and see which settings result in the most clicks.

Test #16: Images For Featured Content

When trying to draw your visitors’ attention to certain parts of your site, images can be a powerful tool to capture and guide the eye. Text is easily overlooked and ignored, whereas pictures tend to prompt an immediate response and may be more likely to generate clicks. Note the bottom of articles at the Crazy Egg blog:

Test #17: Sidebar Ordering

The sidebar–either left or right of content–is often used by publishers and bloggers to promote different services (such as newsletters or social media accounts) and sections of the site (such as specific pieces of content or content categories). Here’s an example that includes 1) newsletter signup 2) advertisements 3) popular stories 4) e-book 5) another e-book 6) more articles 7) upcoming events.

Example of side bar ordering

There’s a big opportunity to test the order of these offerings.

Test #18: Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are often used to orient your visitors on your site, and can also be tools for helping them discover additional content and features on your site.

Several aspects of breadcrumbs can be tested to drive engagement, from the structure to the font and colors. The Crazy Egg Blog uses a unique color scheme to draw attention:

Here’s the more detailed breadcrumb we use on our site:

And here’s one more example:

Best of the Rest

There are a number of other areas that can be used to steer visitors to the parts of your site that you particularly want them to visit (e.g., newsletter or membership signups, or your best content). Here are a handful more tests bloggers and publishers can run to get their funnels optimized.

Test #19: Footer

Not a lot of thought goes into the footer of a website, but this section represents another opportunity to funnel visitors to the stickiest and best parts of your site. There are lots of opportunities to test here, but perhaps a good starting point involves two very different strategies.

Here’s a footer that effectively functions as a sitemap, featuring links to just about every section of the site: 

Example of a footer

Here’s a much slimmer implementation that includes only a small number of pages:

There are some obvious extensions of this testing; you can try different layouts, copy, and color schemes as well.

Test #20: Search Box

Search boxes can help your visitors find exactly what they’re looking for, which makes your site stickier and more useful to them. If you want to drive higher engagement here, try changing the color of the search button and the location of the search box. Move it within the sidebar or try re-positioning above the fold and integrating it into the leaderboard:

Test #21: Wide Stripe

We’ve seen some cool implementations of a page wide stripe to promote newsletter subscriptions, free trials, or other actions. Here’s an example from the Crazy Egg blog:

This can be a great way to funnel visitors towards a specific objective, and there are obviously plenty of testing opportunities here as well. Try changing the call to action and color for starters, and monitor the impact on click rates.

Test #22: Pop-Ups

The pop-up offer is one of the most effective tools available for boosting newsletter subscription rates, They’re annoying, but they work. There are all sorts of variables that can be tested within the pop-up itself, from the color scheme to the offer to the copy used to capture email addresses:

Test #23: Post-Article Membership Offer

The real estate at the end of articles / blog posts can be a great opportunity to drive your readers deeper into your funnel. For example, here’s the call to action we include after the conclusion of each article that prompts readers to sign up for a free membership:

Obviously, there’s lots to test here; the copy used, number of lines of copy, color of the e-book cover, color scheme, etc.. If you have a call to action below your content, test out different combinations to see hat drives conversions.

Test #24: Arrows

In a recent e-book on conversion centered design, Oli Gardner from Unbounce sums up the effectiveness of arrows as tools to help drive visitors to the desired sections of your site:

As directional cues, arrows are about as subtle as a punch in the face, which is why they work so well. With so little time on your page, visually guiding the user to the checkout is a smart move.

Here’s an example from AffiliateTip.com, a popular affiliate marketing blog:

We’ve also experimented with arrows on pages that drive signups to our free memberships (with pretty good results):

Try incorporating arrows into pages or sections of your site where visitors are able to sign up for your newsletter or create a membership. Evaluate the impact this visual cue has on conversions, and test variations of the implementation (e.g., style, colors) if the results are encouraging.

Test #25: Author Bios

Once visitors have read an article or blog post on your site, there’s a great opportunity to present them with an offer to engage with or follow the author. This is especially true if you reinforce the authority of the writer with an impressive biography–and then serve up an easy opportunity to follow on Twitter (or other social platforms).

Here’s an example from Unbounce. Notice the prompt to follow the author on Twitter:

Here’s another example from ReelSEO:

And one from ESPN.com:

Try implementing an author bio section at the end of your posts (even if there’s just one author) and include an option for readers to follow you on Twitter and/or get your posts via email (i.e., sign up for your newsletter). Throw together a headshot, brief bio, and call to action and measure the impact on conversion rate through this placement. Once implemented, there are obvious opportunities to test effectiveness through tweaks to image, headline font, color scheme, etc.

Bottom Line

While most cases for split testing are geared toward e-commerce companies, this exercise can be a tremendously valuable one for bloggers and publishers as well. Conducting split tests across your site can help you boost newsletter conversion rates, increase social sharing and pageviews per visit, and generally make more money from your existing traffic.

Take advantage of the numerous resources out there for split testing, and start optimizing your site today.

Michael Johnston is a co-founder of MonetizePros.com, a resource devoted to helping publishers and bloggers make more money from their existing Web traffic.

Jeremy Schoemaker’s Ninja Tricks for Long Form Sales Pages

This is a guest contribution from  Stephan Spencer.

Web entrepreneur and founder of hugely successful ShoeMoney Media Group and the Shoemoney blog, Jeremy Schoemaker has found incredible success in the use of long form sales pages. Although at an early point in his web-marketing career he questioned the effectiveness of such approaches, once he actually started using long form sales pages to market his online products, he was amazed by their success.

Surprisingly, they work.

People actually take the time to read the page and become familiar with the product you are offering. And if you’re still hesitant to believe this, consider that Jeremy uses these pages to generate well over a million dollars in annual infoproduct revenue.

The long form sales page alone won’t necessarily make you millions, but the use of Jeremy Schoemaker’s personal Ninja tricks to optimize your page will take you well on your way to online riches.

Ninja Trick #1

Pre-populate fields on your sales page 

Pre-populate your sales page using information you have already gathered from people visiting the site. This will shorten the time it will take to fill out the form and decrease the amount of effort visitors to your site will have to put forth.

Some information you can gather from affiliates, like the visitor’s email. The affiliate will encode it, you can decode it, and then on the actual form when people submit it, you can pre-populate their name and their email. You can do that for all sorts of information based on whether the user sends that information.

You rarely see pre-population in action, but it helps conversion incredibly because of the amount of people that type in their email or name wrong or make an error filling out the form for whatever reason.

In addition, you can use geo-targeting data to help you pre-populate location-based data. You can fill in the state they live in and the city for the most part. By the time you are done pre-populating fields for the visitor on the form there are only a small number of boxes they will have to do themselves. It makes signing up convenient and simple, thus increasing the likelihood of conversion.

Ninja Trick #2

Take actions based on the merchant response code

In addition to information you can gather from affiliates, be sure to take advantage of the information you can gather from your merchants. When you’re logging this stuff in real time, you can see that some of the merchant response codes give you valuable information. For example, a 201 code means “insufficient funds” and a 202 code means their “credit card is over the limit”.

This is interesting in that you can pitch that potential customer instantly at a lower price point if they qualify, offering them a special deal, knowing that they would be unlikely to purchase at full price. A message like “Congratulations! You’ve been randomly selected to receive 50% off!” would help to legitimize your offer.

In addition, if you see a number of visitors fail to sign up due to language difficulties or for whatever reason, it may be beneficial to automatically take them to a PayPal checkout or to show them a PayPal icon on the page. These consumers may not have a credit card readily available, but they tend to have a PayPal account.

It is important to use the merchant codes to your advantage, so you can take advantage of otherwise lost sales.

Ninja Trick #3

Include international traffic first

If you are going to do an offer like this and you’re going to optimize it, Jeremy highly recommends including international traffic first. This is because you can get it for around 12-13 cents CPM and it will actually help you to optimize, using very cheap traffic.

You could look at this like a “cart before the horse” scenario: you can’t really optimize until you have traffic, but you don’t want to buy traffic until it’s optimized. International traffic helps you solve this conundrum.

Ninja Trick #4

Make use of Visual Website Optimizer 

Visual Website Optimizer is Google Analytics Content Experiments (formerly known as Google Website Optimizer) on steroids. You can tell it which URLs you want people to go to and assign goals to it just like you would do with Google. However, while Google’s tool has problems with delay and cross-domain tracking, Visual Website Optimizer excels at those things.

The best thing about Visual Website Optimizer is that it is amazingly simple to set up.  It offers a simple interface to continually edit and optimize your pages through real time multivariate testing. Changes are made as soon as you save, so it eliminates the painful delay you can have with other testing tools.

Once you load in everything you want to test, Visual Website Optimizer will try out all your variables in varying combinations and then hone in on the very best performing combinations and only run those, cancelling out the poor performers.

This is really what Google Analytics Content Experiments should be, and it will help your optimization efforts incredibly.

Ninja Trick #5

Make use of ClickTale

ClickTale tells the story of what your visitors are doing. It records the sessions of each visitor to your site so you can see exactly how they interact with its elements and its sales form. You are also able to create funnels and perform form analytics that identify the stumbling blocks on your form (where people are constantly having trouble) and demonstrate how your form converts.

ClickTale records each person that visits your site, allowing you to watch their session and see in real time how they interact with your page.  It also combines all of those sessions into heatmaps so you can see where people are moving their mouse on your site.

In addition it shows JavaScript errors that your sales pages may exhibit. It will show you the error, what page it was on, and offer you a chance to replay that and see the popup box the visitor received. This will help you build a bulletproof sales page that works on every browser.

The online world is very competitive, so every little advantage helps. Whatever gives you that extra edge, use it, because the competition doesn’t play by the rules. Jeremy’s aforementioned Ninja techniques will help you gain this advantage and thrive online.

Stephan Spencer is co-author of The Art of SEO, now in its second edition, and author of Google Power Search. He is the founder of SEO agency Netconcepts, acquired by Covario in 2010, and inventor of automated pay-for-performance SEO technology platform GravityStream. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post, Multichannel Merchant, Search Engine Land, Practical Ecommerce, and MarketingProfs.

6 Tips for Managing Multi-Author Blogs Without Losing Your Mind

This is a guest contribution from  Alexis Grant, an entrepreneurial writer and digital strategist.

Managing multi-author blogs can be a lot of work; you’re juggling contributors, an editing funnel, your calendar and maybe even promotion on social channels. But if you put certain systems in place, stay organized and know where to focus your efforts, you can decrease your time spent on the project while significantly increasing your blog traffic.

Because my company, Socialexis, manages several large blogs, we’ve discovered a few handy tips for being both efficient and effective. Here are six ideas for handling posts from a variety of contributors in a way that will help you grow your traffic and your community:

1. Create contributor guidelines.

Putting some work into this up front will make your life much easier later. Rather than explain again and again what you’re looking for and how to submit, create guidelines and post them on your site, so you can refer potential contributors to that page.

But don’t stop there. Over time, make note of questions potential contributors ask, and add the answers to that web page. My team also likes to create bit.ly links for contributor guidelines, so we can easily remember and share the links.

For solid examples of contributor guidelines, check out guidelines for Muck Rack and Get Rich Slowly. If you can let your publication’s voice and personality shine in those guidelines, even better.

2. Take advantage of free tools.

There’s a huge range of blog management tools out there, but you can usually get by with free tools, especially if you’re not running a high-volume site. We use Google Calendar as an editorial calendar and share it with anyone within the organization who needs to know when certain posts will run.

We also use WordPress’s Editorial Calendar plug-in, which lets you drag and drop drafts if you need to change your schedule. And Google Docs — also free — is a great tool for collaborative editing, so the author can see what changes we’ve made.

3. Use Canned Responses.

This Gmail Lab is brilliant when it comes to emails you send again and again.

Keep receiving requests to write for your blog? Create a Canned Response that says you’d love to consider a post, with a link to your guidelines. Get a lot of pitches that aren’t a good fit? A Canned Response that says something along the lines of “Thanks, but this isn’t right for our audience” will do the trick.

To add Canned Responses to your Gmail, navigate to Settings, then Labs, then search for Canned Responses.

4. Create a database of writers.

To avoid finding yourself without solid blog posts, keep track of quality writers, and encourage one-time contributors to submit again. We ask writers to add themselves to our database of freelance writers, but you could also keep track via a simple Google spreadsheet. (If you’re a writer who wants to add yourself to our database, go ahead.)

This works whether you’ve got a particular topic you want someone to blog about (you can ask a blogger to write that post) or if your pitch well has gone dry (you can email the list letting them know you need submissions).

5. Optimize your headlines for SEO.

This is one of the best things you can do to help new readers find your site, and once you get the hang of it, it only takes a minute or two per post — putting it smack in the middle of the big-bang-for-your-buck category.

Sometimes, your SEO efforts will only send a trickle of traffic to the site until… BAM! One day, a post catches on in Google, and you land hundreds or thousands of new subscribers. Be consistent about tweaking your headlines so readers can find you via search, and your efforts will pay off in the long run. The increase in traffic will bring more potential contributors to your site, which makes your job as editor easier.

6. Work ahead.

When we respond to writers and let them know their post will run in three or four weeks, they’re often surprised to hear we schedule content that far in advance. But working ahead is the best way to minimize stress, increase quality and, yes, maintain your sanity.

When you schedule blog posts in advance, you’re far less likely to fall into the trap of publishing sub-par content just to get something on the blog by your deadline. This also gives you time to put posts aside and look at them with fresh eyes, which is one of the best ways to catch grammatical errors. Working ahead sounds simple, but it’s a great strategy for reaching your goals.

Follow these tips — along with offering valuable, relevant content — and you’ll be on your way to an awesome multi-author blog.

 Alexis Grant is an entrepreneurial writer and digital strategist. She and her team manage several large blogs, including a new site for writers, The Write Life.

How to Get Dreams Out of Your Head [And a Video of Me Wearing Tights]

Watch it with your Tweeple: Tweet that you’re watching this video

Last month I had the honour of speaking at the World Domination Summit in Portland.

Conference founder, Chris Guillebeau, gave me the brief of sharing my story and to share some tips and ideas for helping people to lead remarkable lives in a conventional world. He also said he didn’t want me to just talk about blogging – a task I found very refreshing!

I spoke on the topic of ‘Getting Dreams out of Your Head‘ and covered quite a bit of ground. In this video you’ll see my full keynote and hear about:
[Read more...]

Optin Skin Plugin Review

In June, Darren shared 3 Ways to Get More Subscribers for Your Blog. In that post, he identified the area under the blog post as being one of the ‘hot zones’ for calls to subscribe.

This area is a solid location to place a call to action, but it can require some effort to style a subscribe form that fits with your theme. In this post, I will be reviewing a plugin that helps you easily create appealing opt-in forms and social share boxes to your blog.

It’s called Optin Skin (aff) and it’s pretty swanky.

I bought this product in 2011 and definitely believe that it’s worth the money. It was really easy to figure out and use. I have no statistics about whether or not it increased the size of my list as I stopped blogging shortly after I installed it. This review is primarily based on ease of use.

The features

Skin Design:

Creating a skin is simple. You simply click ‘Add New’ after hovering over the text for Optin Skin in the sidebar. This will take you to a page where you get to customize the design and skin placement.

You have the choice of about 18 skins, which may be limiting if you don’t like any of the existing options. Customizing the design elements – font, text, size – are easy. You may need to consult design palettes to find colours that complement your theme. The designs are split between being perfect for the sidebar and perfect for below a post.

There are four options for skin placement:

  • Below a post
  • Below the first paragraph
  • At the top of posts
  • Floated right of second paragraph

Once the skin is created, a widget with the skin will be available for sidebar use. You will also receive a shortcode to insert the skin. This makes it so easy for you to put the form (or forms) wherever you like.

You also have the option to redirect people to another page after they sign up, which is perfect for a thank you page.

Split Testing

Split testing is one of the features that really excited me. I’m not technical at all, so will often resort to the default opt in form. I don’t have the resources to get two forms designed to do testing and am not comfortable with the HTML.

This plugin makes split testing easy but you are limited to testing designs rather then locations. You have the options to split test a plugin in the sidebar, or within content, but the optin form has to be in the same area.

I recommend that you test this out. It is so much easier then other form of split testing and can give you lots of useful information.

Statistics

The interface allows you to easily visualize data about sign up, impressions and conversion rates. This is a really nice touch as it gives you more data points to base decisions on and means you don’t have to leave your blog.

Usability

It was pretty easy to figure out what to do – it was really user friendly. I’ve purchased a lot of products that are promoted as being easy to customize, but require a lot of HTML knowledge. The only HTML knowledge you really need is knowing where to put the shortcode if you choose custom positioning.

I really appreciated how easy it was to set up.

My recommendation:

I believe Optin Skin is great value for money. It has given me the incentive to actually test things with my mailing list rather then relying on “hope marketing”.

It removes a lot of the scary-factor that prevents people, like me, getting off their butt to implement new designs and split testing. I just don’t have the time or mental energy to add something else to my to-do list. This takes about half an hour to set up and then you can tweak as required based on the data.

Editorial Note: ProBlogger is an affiliate for this product but this review is a genuine recommendation by someone who uses the product.

5 Tips for Launching a Product On Your Blog Without Annoying Your Readers

“Darren, I have written an eBook but am struggling with how ‘pushy’ to be with my readers in my marketing of it. I want to sell some but don’t want to annoy my readers. Any tips?”

This question hit my inbox today and I thought I’d share some of my reply here.

Great question – I remember these feelings vividly when I launched the first eBooks on ProBlogger and dPS.

On one hand, you want to sell as many copies as possible to make the long writing process worthwhile. You know that to sell those copies you need to let your readers know you’ve got something to sell….

But on the other hand, you don’t want your readers to all disappear because you never talk about anything else than what you’ve got to sell.

The answer is annoyingly… ‘it’s a balancing act’. There is no right or wrong answer but here’s what I’ve learned:

1. If you don’t promote it – nobody else will (at least in the beginning)

Most of us have the fantasy that we’ll release our eBook and that before we know it, word of mouth will make it viral across the internet and we haven’t had to much more than tweet that it’s available.

The harsh reality is that unless you’re Oprah (or you have access to Oprah’s Twitter account) – this is highly unlikely! While things do go viral and word of mouth can be an important factor online, the sooner you face the reality that you are going to be the one who will be needing to spread word of your new product … at least initially (and probably longer than that).

Down the track you might find that the people who buy your product begin to tell others about it but you need to be the one to seed that and to do so you’ll almost certainly need to promote it to the readers you’ve already got.

2. Make it an Event

When I first launched ‘31 Days to Build a Better Blog‘ I remember being really concerned about a reader rebellion taking place. Not so much because I was going to annoy readers by promoting the eBook but because I was selling them something for the first time – after years of providing free content.

What amazed me was the good will of my readership. The first time I mentioned I was developing something to sell on my blog (about a month before I launched it) the news was actually celebrated by some of my readers.

There were many congratulations and lots of requests for more information about when it would launch – how much it would be, what would it include etc.

There was no real strategy in mentioning it, except perhaps softening the blow with my readership. However, by doing so I inadvertently created some anticipation among my readers about the launch of the product.

As I got closer to launching the eBook, I began to talk about it more and more and in doing so the anticipation of the launch grew. I realised that I was not only not annoying my readers – they were actually enjoying the process.

The launch of the eBook became something of an event on ProBlogger. It was celebrated by my readership rather than something I had to convince my readers to put up with as a necessary evil.

I realised the eBook was something my readers be part of. That fact that it was very practical and useful helped in this but for me, I learned the power of bringing readers along on a journey of releasing your product.

3. Develop a Multi-pronged Launch Campaign

When we release an eBook on Digital Photography School we generally launch over a 3-4 week period and take a fairly multi-pronged approach.

During that period we map out a series of communications that will go out.

For example, we’re currently launching our brand new Landscape Photography eBook (as I write this we’re about to enter week #2 of our launch) and the launch will probably play out like this:

Prelaunch: we use social media to build a little buzz before launch by showing the cover, running some competitions to get readers guessing the topic etc. We send a few key affiliates advanced copies of the eBook for them to review.

Launch Day: on launch day we email our full list with a sales email, post an announcement on the blog and do a series of status updates on social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest). We also typically email our affiliates about the eBook and our eBook author promotes it to their own network. The strong message in the email, blog post etc is about an Early Bird special.

Week 1: Over the first week we promote the eBook a number of times on social media but don’t write about it again on the blog unless it is a ‘by the way’ type mention when we touch on a relevant topic. We also mention the eBook in our weekly newsletter.

Also during week 1 (and sometimes each week during the launch) I’ll run a ‘challenge’ with readers to get them taking photos on a theme related to the eBook and showing those photos (here’s an example from this last week).

7 Days After Launch: We typically email our list again and post on the blog with a 2nd communication about the blog. This week we’re launching a competition for buyers of the eBook but other times we’ve emailed other messaging.

Week 2: we try to post some posts on the blog during week 2 that are guest posts on the same topic as the eBook, often by the same authors. It is important to me that these posts don’t just promote the eBook but they also deliver value whether people buy the eBook or not.

We also again mention the eBook in the weekly newsletter.

14/21 Days After Launch: Depending how the launch goes we may send a ’1 week to go’ email at this point to let readers know that the Early Bird Special is coming to an end. We might also include some testimonials from readers at this point and might also link to the posts that the author has done on the blog.

Week 3: often we’ll post more guest posts on the blog this week and will continue to pepper social media with occasional messages.

Last Chance Email: with 48-24 hours to go until the early bird offers end we send a very short ‘last chance’ reminder email. This is usually just a few lines.

Every launch is different and we’ve done a variety of other things for different launches like posting interviews with authors, running webinars, giving away excerpts from the eBooks, running competitions in the lead up to launches and much more.

The key here is to think about what messaging you’ll do through out the launch and not just to send the same message out each day over and over.

You’ll see in the above that each week has its own theme that helps take readers on a journey.

We also make sure that a fair few of the blog posts that mention the eBook during the campaign are actually valuable to readers whether they buy the eBook or not. My goal is not just to sell readers eBooks but also to equip ALL of my readers in the topic we’re exploring during the launch.

4. Keep Delivering Value Outside of the Launch Communications

A key objective for me during all our launches is to continue to deliver high value to readers during the launch period that is outside of the launch. So while we’re certainly promoting the eBook during the above launch there’s also the normal level of blog posts going up on the blog about other topics.

On a typical week on dPS I publish 14 tutorials – during a launch week it remains at this level. The same thing is true on social media – we continue to share great content on social that is not related to the launch.

So anyone who doesn’t want to buy the eBook still is getting other value out of the site during the launch.

This takes concerted effort as you get excited about the launch and tired from creating all the messaging for the launch – but it is very important. I’ve seen many bloggers fall into the trap of only ever talking about their products on their blog for a month while they launch something and in doing so the momentum of their actual blog stops.

Don’t let this happen or you might just find that after your product launch you have no readers left!

5. Listen to Your Readers

During your launch sequence, pay a lot of attention to any feedback you are getting from readers.

If they begin to complain about the launch, this might be a signal to take the foot off the pedal slightly. If they’re excited it’s a signal that you’re hitting the mark.

Also watch your sales numbers. Generally, there comes a point during a launch when your communication starts to be less effective. This is a signal that you might want to draw the campaign to a close.

When we launch an eBook we never quite know how long the launch will go. We may put aside 4 weeks but if things slow we might cut it back to 3. If there is momentum we can always extend it.

Over time as you release more products you can also compare one launch to another to help identify whether you are onto a big launch or one that might be worth calling to an end sooner than later.

What Would You Add?

The above process does involve promoting your eBook and the reality is that any promotion will annoy some of your readers. You are likely to get some pushback every time.

But I’ve found if you make your launches relevant to readers in terms of topic, you promote something of high value and you work hard to deliver value during a launch that most readers will not only put up with your launch – but many will celebrate it and participate in it with you!

I’d love to hear your tips and experiences with launching products. What have you done to launch without annoying your readers?

What Advertisers Want: 6 steps to Attract Advertisers to Your Blog

This is a guest contribution from Brianne Bauer.

How do advertisers determine whether a blog is worth their marketing dollars? Promising blogs start out with must-have elements — interesting content, loyal readership, eye-catching design and regular updates.

But what’s missing? Here are six ways bloggers can become more attractive to advertisers.

money jumping from Laptop like blog advertising

Cross-Media Integration

Advertisers looks at many metrics when considering advertising on a blog — page views, daily visitors, average time on site, CPM, among others.

One of the growing metrics on an advertiser’s radar is a blog’s social media page. Advertisers not only look at how many followers a blog has but, more importantly, also look at the conversations being held on the blog’s page and social media channels. Can advertisers see themselves being a topic of conversation? Are open-ended questions being asked around a certain product?

When advertisers see a blog’s large following on Twitter, they see their ROI increasing. Incorporating sponsored social media posts (i.e. sponsored tweets) into your offerings will make a blog’s brand more lucrative. Outside of social media, consider other media. During the past five years, I’ve made more than 50 TV appearances that focused on blog content. As a lifestyle blogger this was a natural fit, and this is an attractive option to heighten exposure for your advertisers.

Get Advertisers Involved

Offer a variety of sponsorship opportunities other than banner ads. Polls, product spotlights and giveaways are great ways to help a blog’s aesthetic and give advertisers options to showcase their brand.

Some advertisers want to only participate in giveaways while others may only want to guest post. Guest posts are among the most common ways advertisers get involved with blogs. Guest posts are typically used by brands to build web traffic and to put readers in a purchasing frame of mind. Along with their content, guest posts typically have a byline and a link to the respective blog or website increasing their web stats.

Note that it is imperative to remain up front with readers and disclose that a special section is paid for.

Get Readers Interacting with Advertisers

This is arguably one of the most important components of a campaign. If, for example, a blogger reviews a storage product like Backup Genie review and then asks readers to weigh in with their opinions, ask them if they are already using it, plan on buying it or how it would make their lives better. Getting readers to interact with a brand is what advertisers are truly searching.

Know Your Blog Rank and How to Improve It

There are two leading ways advertisers use to measure a site’s performance: Google Page Rank and Alexa ranking. These ranking systems allow website owners to benchmark their websites and give advertisers metrics for evaluation.

Google Page Rank is an algorithm that ranks a site from 0 to 10 with a major emphasis on quality backlinks. It’s no surprise that if the Google bots don’t like something, like a broken backlink, a blog’s Page Rank score could be in jeopardy. As Page Rank (PR) is slow to update (PR is only updated every 3-4 months), it’s difficult to better your PR in a short amount of time.

If a blog is stagnating at a PR3 for a while, it could mean there are on-page issues that should be checked using Xenu. Alexa ranking is a free online directory that measures how many daily visitors a site receives, along with other traffic metrics and search analytics. Both are important to advertisers, but Page Rank is measured on your website reputation and Alexa is measured on website traffic.

Let Numbers Speak for Themselves

A media kit gives advertisers a quick glance of what they need to know. It should be updated regularly (and honestly) with the blog’s positioning, like this:

  • Google Page Rank: 4
  • MozRank: 5.25
  • July 2013 Visitors: 13,485
  • Pageview: 72,856
  • Average Time on Site: 2:02
  • Bounce Rate: 72.42

Bloggers should be forthcoming if certain stats don’t scream success. Share additional facts such as:

  • Strong niche following for Topic XYZ
  • Active in social circles (only share follower number if blog’s social media has more than 5,000 followers)
  • Blogs for two group blogs
  • Contributing blogger for major Topic XYZ website

Know Your Advertising Options

What better way to help build your brand than to hit the pavement and meet advertisers, share your inspiration for the blog and why you think they would benefit from advertising? But if being in the field isn’t your thing, let those who specialize in blog advertising help win new advertisers. Adsense and Amazon Affiliates are among the leaders but research to find a good fit for your blog.

It’s getting easier than ever to garner interest from new advertisers, but harder to weed out scammers.

The longevity of a blog is on based consistent, quality content (and ranking!) but bloggers monetize best when they deliver results to advertisers.

Brianne Bauer has garnered publicity for lifestyle brands like Paramount Pictures, and personalities such as Mariel Hemingway and Cheryl Tiegs. With a background in magazine publishing and corporate PR, she is now a freelance publicist and writer based in Minneapolis.

Gmail Trying to ‘Fix’ Our Inbox and What it Means for You.

If capturing and sending email is a part of your blog – it might be your newsletter, affiliate programs, sales email or even just reader comment notifications – there are some changes (that have been looming for some time) that will impact the way you create and send emails …

Email services providers are taking matters into their own hands to “fix” our inbox’s.  

… and when Google start leading the charge with this, we all better pay attention.

The reality is that our own inbox is a never ending stream of important stuff mixed with the boring but essential stuff, mixed with the junk mail and spam. Sorting and organising it all takes time and if your not on top of it, important emails get lost in the noise.

It’s a problem we’ve been trying to solve since the dawn of email:

  • We were given functionality to use such as folders, and auto-filter rules
  • We were given blocking tools such as spam filters and junk folders
  • We were given techniques to try such as inbox zero

All of these things were created for users to help themselves — if they wanted to.

I realised this was all about to change when providers started to play with the idea of proactively helping us manage legitimate emails by trying to figure out the important emails over the less important ones. Google’s priority inbox is a great example of this.

However, now Google have taken another step and are organising our emails into groups — based on their own rules.

If you’re a Gmail user (not everyone seems to have this yet) at some point you’ll see the primary inbox, social inbox, and promotions inbox magically appear.

Google will, using it’s own wisdom, sort all your email into these groups.

You will be able to ‘train’ google by dragging emails from one inbox to another and hidden nicely away in the settings you can turn it off. But if history is anything to go by only a small percentage will actually do either of those actions.

So what will this mean for sending emails right now?

Time will only tell what the open and click-through rate implications will be as more users realise there are now three inboxes instead of one.  But I’m fairly confident in saying that we’ll all be aiming for the priority inbox.

Mailchimp have already release some preliminary findings, with a noticeable impact.

Now, not only will you have to be thinking about spam filters, trash folders and how your email looks on mobile, you’ll also need to be mindful of how Google will categorise your email.

Oh, and that’s of course after you come up with some great copy!

You can go on the front foot and ask your reader to tell Google to shift you to the priority inbox, but that’s difficult right now as not all Gmail users have the service.

Your best action, right now, is to track your open rates and click-through rates closely and start testing different approaches. Just like SEO and spam, Google won’t share it’s rules for classification, so we’re going to have to figure them out on our own. You might want to play with text emails, you might want to play with different from addresses and service providers.

It’s time to re-test some of the assumptions we’ve made when it comes to email.

What have we seen with our own emails

We’ve noticed on dPS that both our launch emails from new product (this week) as well as our weekly newsletter were put in the ‘promotional’ tab. What was probably more concerning what that the confirmation (opt-in) email from our newsletter also ended up in promotions tab.

Open rates were slightly down for both. So we’re keeping an eye on things – but it’s still too early to tell. I have received direct emails from a few people I subscribe requesting to be moved across to the priority inbox, but without knowing exactly who has the change it feels too early to ask that.

But that’s just the beginning

When spam filters first arrived there was period where they needed to earn our trust.  We needed to believe that they would do a good job of keeping out only spam and not the stuff we wanted to receive.  Over time they succeeded and the performance of spam filters are hardly given a second thought.  Once that same trust is given to the automatic organisation of our legitimate emails the complexities of this will skyrocket.   More venders will get involved, more rules will be put into play.

What I Like about this

For those creating quality email content that people want to read, these sorts of systems are designed to work for you. If your emails are a priority for your recipients you should benefit from this. There will be some slight adjustments to make, I’m sure. The people trying to push their way into peoples inbox’s will feel the impact more than those who’ve earned it.

What worries me about this change

Even as a bit of a nerd, I struggled to ‘train’ my inbox. It was even harder do it via my phone. So that has really drawn me to the conclusion that our challenge is not going to be in educating our subscribers, the challenge will be working within the rules that Google won’t share with us. We can’t forget that Google have a commercial interest in this, and the idea of paying for the priory inbox isn’t without question. Nor is the idea of 3rd party messages appearing in the promotions tab either.

Fun times ahead.