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Affiliate Marketing: Cult or Cash Cow?

This is a guest post from communications and marketing consultant Brook McCarthy.

Image courtesy of Federico Stevanin / FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

When I was a young hippie, I accidentally joined a cult. I was a student of religious studies at the time and believed I was merely observing, until one morning, when I found myself at 5am, chanting to a giant image of the guru in a group. Normally, nobody gets me up at 5am. As cults go, they were lovely people. There was the small matter of the group being accused of the 1978 Sydney Hilton bombing but, when all is said and done, I have very fond memories of my time in the cult.For some years now, I’ve been following a particular woman online. I wasn’t a committed devotee, just an observer. Last year, I considered doing her online business course but was overawed by the price. I moved on.

The buzz begins

A year later, the buzz began again. Three different online personalities, of whom I consider myself a card-carrying devotee, all began spruiking this course. They offered gifts of their own e-books and courses, one-to-one consultations and the promise of being ‘in the know’ to further encourage purchase. The price was the same, but a year had passed so I’d had time to get used to it.

Each affiliate promised this course would bring clarity, a well-trod path to business success, and digital kinship which, as an online marketing professional, is sacrosanct. All the video tutorials on the web cannot add up to the loving support of a well-informed, well-connected community eager to help a member out.

Digital kinship

And so deciding to take the course came down to choosing which affiliate offered the best bunch of incentive gifts. I chose to give my affiliate money to the person who offered more community – a small, private Facebook group with additional weekly teleseminars where my questions would have a chance of being answered.

I’m not a natural joiner. Apart from my brief cult phrase, I struggle to fit in with a sports team or mother’s group, a church group or political affiliation. But I am swayed by the opinions of those I respect.

And therein lies the power of affiliate marketing, the smartest evolution of marketing since Seth Godin coined ‘permission marketing’.

As businesses develop tribes whose leader they respect, these leaders introduce others to their tribe. The tribe gains another resource to learn from, the leader gains respect for having introduced another valuable leader, and the tribe of the introduced leader grows.

Watching their bank account swell, the business leader finally sees how their endless blog posts, emails, tweets, updates and promotions have paid off, the joiner taps into curated information, education and online kinship, and the affiliate needs only market to the networkers, not the network.

Power to the people

We need word-of-mouth to make sense of the world. Curating and interpreting information begins in infancy with our parents, and continues throughout school and college.

For all its algorithmic updates, Google cannot deliver quality information curated especially for us. Increasingly, we rely on tribe leaders to present, curate and interpret information for us. We no longer seek open access to more information, but leaders whose opinions we respect and closed, exclusive communities with a limited amount of quality information that is relevant, useful and valuable.

Hitching your reputation

Becoming involved in affiliate marketing means hitching our professional reputation to another’s. As a business owner with a tribe, our value is our relevance and usefulness to our tribe. Reputation is both our key asset and tradable commodity, should we choose it.

Reputation is slow to build and easy to destroy. A leader’s reputation and earning ability diminishes with each poorly-thought out email campaign or dodgy affiliate program they promote and they must rely on aggressive list-building strategies to keep growing their tribe as people demonstrate distrust by unsubscribing.

Cults with money

Crowd

Image by unknown photographer, licensed under Creative Commons

Whatever reservations you have against cults, you may transfer to affiliate marketing. Whether you deem the financial incentive of affiliate marketing clearer and cleaner or murky and self-interested depends on you.

Crowds have power. There’s no lonelier position than when you feel you’re the only person who doesn’t believe someone is wonderful. You begin to doubt your judgment when you’re the lone wolf apart from the pack.

But we have eyes, ears and wallets. We are all active participants in online cults when we subscribe to a business’s updates and eagerly read what they have to say. So keep your eyes and ears open and consider the following:

1.    Reputation is slow to build and quick to destroy

You’ve spent years carefully cultivating a tribe, forging relationships with other bloggers and business owners and growing your social media following, so don’t throw it away with one poorly-researched, hasty affiliate promotion.

2.    Personality is important

As bloggers whose success relies heavily on interacting with our followers, you know personality is important so always consider whether the personality you’ll be promoting will resonate with your tribe. Sometimes people’s personalities grow on you, something they grate you into shreds.

3.    Be wary if don’t need to buy or try beforehand

 You have integrity, right? So demand the same from the business owner who wants you to sell their stuff. You cannot recommend something if you haven’t tried it. You may point to others’ recommendations and testimonials, but be wary of whether these are paid for in cash or kind. Don’t gamble on this – you need to know what you’re recommending.

 4.    Expect resources 

Even those who write for a living need a boost from time to time in how they articulate the benefits of others. We coach clients in how to refer others to us and ask specific questions in order to secure a good testimonial, so you can expect that the business you’re an affiliate of gives you lots of copy you can use to send to your list. This should be well written. And no, exclamation marks don’t equal fabulousness.

5.    Keep it small

When we overwhelm people with resources, information and directives, they become overwhelmed and confused. And confused people don’t buy. Hopefully, you are working on your own products and so you want to pace your affiliate promotions so that they don’t conflict. Don’t become ‘that guy’ who only emails with affiliate links. Become known as the leader who only promotes a choice selection of quality products that sing to your tribe, while reinforcing your status for discernment.

6.    Consider upping the community ante

People don’t purchase e-courses and e-programs because they are looking for information. They purchase because they are looking for guidance, handholding, feedback and support from a community. Consider whether you can add extra value to your affiliate promotions by creating your own community to support people through the program. You don’t need to be a rah-rah cheer squad, but you do need to show you have your tribe’s best interests at heart.

How do you choose the right affiliate program for your reputation?

 

Brook McCarthy is a writer and online marketing strategist specialising in the health and wellbeing sector. Download her ‘Authentic Marketing Manifesto’ for us poor souls concerned with being natural, ethical, and inspirational, as well as effective.

Final ProBlogger Training Event Tickets Go On Sale Now

The final round of tickets for the Annual ProBlogger Training Event go on sale later today at 1.30pm Australian Eastern time. UPDATE: a limited number of these tickets are now on sale here.

Over the last few years we’ve held 3 training events and have seen things grow each time.

  • Year 1 saw Chris Garrett, myself and a handful of other speakers speak to a packed room of 100 bloggers in a small, cheap suburban hotel.
  • Year 2 saw 200 bloggers turn out to the Novatel to see our first event with 3 ‘streamed’ sessions running simultaneously. Timothy Ferris even popped in for a surprise interview
  • Year 3 saw 300 bloggers come to Etihad Stadium (or rooms at the stadium) with Chris Guillebeau and Aussie Sarah Wilson keynoting

This year is going to be bigger and better than ever and there are lots of changes! Here’s just a few of the developments:

  • For starters we’re moving things up to Queensland on the Gold Coast with the help of Tourism and Events Queensland.
  • This year we are flying in 4 international speakers – Trey Ratcliff, Jonathan Fields, Amy Porterhouse and Tsh Oxenreider will each speak.
  • This year we have our first Logie nominated speaker – yep, Clare Bowditch will be one of our keynotes this year – we might even convince her to sing something!
  • This year Tourism and Events Queensland are offering attendees the chance to be involved in some great ‘pop-up events‘ on the day before and the day after our event (they are free and will be a load of fun)
  • This year of the 20 speakers that we’ve announced so far (and there will be a few more) we’ve got 13 new speakers that have not appeared at the event – lots of fresh voices and teaching!
  • We’re holding the event at one of the most instagramable venues on the Gold Coast – the QT Hotel. It’s going to be a lot of fun…. did I mention they have a spa!
  • This year will be be bigger – we’re not sure how many tickets we’ll sell but 200 Early Bird Tickets sold out in just on 2 hours and we’ll be releasing 240 more today – it’ll be our biggest event yet!

There’s still more exciting (and new) stuff to announce in the coming weeks but I wanted to post today because we’re getting ready to put the final round of tickets on sale later today.

Attendees have largely been from Australia in the past but already we’ve got a few international guests signing up from around the region (New Zealand, Asia and I think even one flying in from the US). If you’re thinking about coming from overseas – please do. Queensland is a fantastic place to see and would be ideal to stay for a few extra days to explore!

Details

The price of tickets going on sale later today is $349.99 (that’s Aussie dollars). This ticket price includes:

  • 2 full days of training (20+ sessions to choose from)
  • Digital Pass – audio recordings and PDFs of presenters presentations – so if you miss a session you’ll get to hear it later
  • a standup networking breakfast on the first morning
  • lunch on both days
  • morning and afternoon tea on both days
  • networking event in the evening of Day 1 (including drinks and some food)
  • an opportunity to network with hundreds of other Aussie bloggers

The Dates of the event are 13-14 September (Aussie, you’ll need to arrange a postal vote for our election that day so as not to miss a minute).

We will be selling a virtual/digital ticket as we get closer to the event that will include recordings/slides for most sessions – but of course you’ll miss out on a lot of the face to face fun – so we’d much prefer to have you there in person if you can make it!!!

Tickets go on sale at 1.30pm – but the best way to get reminded/notified the moment that they become available is to simply add your name and email address to the form below and we’ll shoot you a quick email when they’re on sale.

Otherwise – head to our Eventbrite page at 1.30pm Australian Eastern time and you’ll be able to pick up tickets there.

How to Get Your First 1,000 Email Subscribers When Nobody Knows You

This is a guest contribution by Marya Jan, blogging coach from Writing Happiness.

What’s the biggest excuse you hear from people who are not getting the results they want from their blogging?

“I don’t know anyone online.”

Not ‘my content might not be good’. Not ‘I don’t a clear idea of what I am doing’. Not ‘I know it takes time and I am learning everything I can’.

None of that. It’s always because they don’t have any connections with the big shots.

Allow me to put up my hand and say this … I have over 1,000 subscribers (multiple times over actually) and I have done this under 18 months of blogging AND without having connections with any famous people.

I did meet Darren Rowse, Sonia Simone, Chris Garrett, Tim Ferris and Annabel Candy at the Problogger Conference in 2011 but I was so new that I was too scared to even introduce myself properly.

I am pretty sure this doesn’t count. So what does? So glad you asked.

If you are someone who has been blogging for a few months, you know how hard it is to attract readers. You spend insane amounts of time creating content but nobody takes you seriously. You hope to get a few shares, but all you hear is dead silence

You might be new-ish but you have quickly realized this reality: Blogging is hard work and sometimes it seems downright cruel..

You know honeymoon period is over

Creating quality content is getting you nowhere (assuming it is high quality) and you need a plan B. And you can’t come up with anything to save your life.

I have another suggestion. I propose that you go back and revisit your plan A. Identify loopholes, see if you could improve things so that you actually don’t need any other plans.

That’s how I did it.

Your first plan might look something like this:

  • Start a blog
  • Pick a topic
  • Identify your audience
  • Create useful content
  • Promote that content
  • Differentiate yourself from others (All of this within 2 weeks)
  • Form relationships with influencers
  • Grow your blog by leaps and bounds

So basically after about two weeks worth of work, you are relying on getting your blog off the ground by befriending people in high places.

Let me tell you, this is not a particularly smart strategy.

Through own my experience and by through coaching other clients (Yes, I am a blogging coach), I have found that most influencers won’t take you seriously unlessyou have some sort of proven record.

Your biggest fan

Image used with permission

Allow me to explain: Influencers are super busy people. They are very, very, very busy people. If you need to earn their attention, you need to prove you are worth it. So in my experience, you can have meaningful relationships with A-list bloggers but it doesn’t happen in the beginning. Not for most of us, anyway.

It takes time and lot of effort BEFORE they notice you. (And nobody will tell you this.)

If you trying to do this too early on, you are going about it in the wrong way. Instead, you should focus your time on your blog just so that you know what you are doing.

You need to do things right enough that you have a 1k subscribers worthy blog so you have the skill and confidence of approaching them properly.

So let’s have a look at the plan again, shall we?

After delivering hundreds of blog reviews and coaching many clients, I have found these to be the primary causes of why people don’t get their first 100 subscribers, let alone 1,000.

1. Poor first Impression 

Your blog looks amateurish, tacky or just plain spammy.

When someone new lands on it for the first time, they get no sense of what the blog is about, who is writing it and if it’s any good. There are too many flashy ads, or too many images, colours, links and tabs competing for attention.  The content doesn’t seem appealing. The headlines are boring, images are of poor quality, and everything is a big chunk of text.

Your blog title doesn’t tell them anything about who you are about and how you can help them. Your visitors are so confused that the only option that makes sense is to leave.

The easiest way to fix this is to make your site clutter free and get rid of all the unnecessary elements adding to the chaos. You want to make it as easy as you can for your readers to navigate.

Most people cram their sidebars with lots of information in order to look like they have been around for a while. That they know what they are doing. Please don’t. Things like tag clouds, categories, search boxes, links to other bloggers aren’t really helpful. Not really.

Don’t stuff your sidebar with ads either. I am guessing you don’t have enough traffic to make any decent money anyway.

2. Unspecified target audience

You are not making it clear who the blog is for. You are not saying to a particular group of people (maybe you aren’t sure who they are?) that this blog is for them.

For instance, let’s say you are a business coach. However this is a very general term. If you don’t make it absolutely clear that you are writing for start-ups, or small business owners, or mid sized business, or executives; you are just confusing your readers.

One great way to make it happen is to say that in your tag line or in a mini author bio that you display on the sidebar. You’ve got to have people saying, ‘Yes, this seems perfect for me.’

 3. Incomplete About page

People are really interested in person behind the blog. They want to know who that creative soul is. They want to like that person. They want to be that person.

A lot of people totally mess this up. Either they talk too much or too little.

Often they present the information in the wrong order. They start off with their story and why they write the blog and then barely touch upon how they can help you. People lose interest.

People want to know who writes this blog but more importantly they want to know why they should care.

Tell them why you are relevant to them, and follow it by your story and other details. And keep it brief.

4. Negative social proof 

One thing that will make the most difference to the number of readers you get is the display of social proof.

When people come to a place where they see others hanging out, they feel confident in making the same choice. For this reason, focus to create content that gets shared, liked and get commented on.

From day one, add credibility building elements to your site. The most popular of them all is the ‘As seen on’ testimonial. You want to land guest posts on popular blogs and then proudly display their logos on your site.

5. No point of difference

This is something that many new bloggers struggle to answer in their earlier days of blogging so I won’t say to worry too much about it. That being said, if you spend some time thinking about what makes you different from the rest, you will find it easier to create content and would be more focused in related tasks.

There are several ways to help make you stand out from the crowd.

Lady Pointing To You

Being you

This is the thing; you are the most unique thing about your blog. There is nobody else just like you, with your point of view, insights and experiences.

The more you accept that and highlight it, the more chances you will have to appeal to those who are truly the right people. So really hone in your voice and bring out that personality of yours for the world to see. People can’t get that anywhere else.

They love the snark in Ashley Ambridge’s voice. They love Danielle Laporte’s soul. They adore Darren Rowse for a kind, down to earth spirit. What’s your secret sauce?

Your purpose

Yes, you are providing solutions to somebody’s problems but why are you doing it, really? What is your big idea? What do you stand for?

Do you believe life is an adventure? Chris Guillebeau

Do you want to show people how work less and play more? Tim Ferris

Do you want people to focus on the essentials? Leo Babauta

Do you want to empower women in business and life? Marie Forleo

Do you want to offer personal development advice for smart people? Steve Palvina

If you believe in something, people will believe in you. Tell them now.

The way you dress

Your design, colours, logo, tag line, images – everything speaks volumes and appeal to a certain kind of person.

Want to attract go getters, how about choosing red or maroon in your theme? How about appealing to gentle, earth loving souls with the light green colour? Inspiration is your game then might soothing blue is what you need.

Your design needs to support your theme, mission and content and make you stronger. Marie Forleo is hip, Mars Dorian is bold, what are you?

Your offer

Your specific market, your content, the needs you solve and the exact solution you provide based on your expertise is often enough to differentiate you from others.

Derek Halpern teaches you marketing based on research findings. Corbett Barr teaches you how to get traffic because he has done it. What have you got on offer?

6. No incentive to sign up

Many new bloggers are finding it super hard to find new readers and to keep old ones also. One reason is because they don’t get them on their list. They don’t place a subscription box in a prominent position and  don’t give them any reason to subscribe.

Shouldn’t the blog itself be good enough reason? Yes, it is, but adding an incentive to your sign up box works really well.

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to just put together some old posts and offer as a freebie. One, nobody cares and even if somebody did, they won’t take you seriously.

But you don’t have to spend days or months creating something. Jon Morrow says the best opt-in offers are those that offer some sort of short cut of doing a task. A cheat sheet of sorts (His Headline Hacks is a great example).

Teach people to do one thing and do it really well. People don’t find long freebies appealing that take too long to read and would take months to implement. A report, mini ebook, white paper or a short webinar works well.

7. Lack of self promotion

Finally people never sign up because they don’t know you exist. You have to actively go out and promote yourself.

Again, you might feel compelled to remind me that that’s why you need relationships with famous bloggers so they can promote you. Let me tell you that is not the only way you can drive traffic to your blog.

You can guest post on mid-sized blogs. Often they don’t publish many guest posts so their audience might be more inclined to follow you. You can create YouTube videos, Slideshare presentations, answer questions in forums such as yahoo answers and Quora.

And no, I am not snubbing social media. But social media does take a while to work, especially if you are new. By all means participate in social media but don’t make it the main focus of your traffic generation efforts.

The point is: you have to promote a lot. Spend 20% of your time creating content for your own blog and the rest on promoting it.

Being smart or talented is not enough to build a successful blog

Then what is? Creating super useful content. Being able to stand out from the rest. And for the right people too. And to be worthy of getting some attention from A-list bloggers. Then you can approach the bloggers you worship. There is a good chance you’ll hear back.

Marya Jan is on a mission to help bloggers get their 1,000 subscribers. She is a blogging coach at Writing Happiness. Grab her free ebook ‘9 New Rules of Blogging – Grow Your Business with Little Traffic, No Connections & Limited Hours. 

The Walking Dead Guide to Writing a Killer Blog Opening

This is a guest contribution by Belinda Weaver, SEO copywriter behind The Copy Detective.

A sheriff’s car rolls up to an intersection, where several cars are burnt out and overturned. The occupant, a police officer, gets out, slowly walks to the back of the car and pulls out a gas can while cautiously looking around.

He walks. He walks past more cars, all clearly abandoned. We watch him peek in to one car to see a decomposing body. He looks sad but not surprised.

He hears a shuffling noise nearby and is instantly alert. It’s a girl. A young girl shuffling away from him (and us). He calls to her. Eventually she turns, revealing a decomposing face dripping with blood. She stares then begins to walk towards him, building speed as she goes.

The danger is clear and our policeman quickly shifts into position, his gun raised. He fires BANG! and we see the little girl fall back onto an impressive blood spatter.

The screen goes black and opening credits begin.

I’ve just described the first 4 minutes and 23 seconds of the TV series, ‘The Walking Dead’. Before the credits had finished, I was hooked. Three series in, I’m still hooked.

That’s the power of a good opening. It can make you stop whatever else you’re doing and sit, in a state of rapt attention. It can bring you back week after week.

How often are you doing two to three other things while reading a blog post? You might be watching TV, listening to the radio, on social media, cooking dinner, talking to your partner …multi-tasking with media is more common today and if you want to get someone’s attention you need to do it from the get-go.

It starts with a great blog title

When readers are looking for the next blog post to read they generally start by scanning a bunch of blog titles (or headlines). It might be titles in their blog reader of choice, or email subject lines from blogs they subscribe to.

As Darren once said, Titles change the destiny of your posts. Those few words at the beginning of your blog post can be the difference between the post being read and spread like a virus through the web like a wildfire and it languishing in your archives, barely noticed.”

It’s important to write a blog title that gets your blog opened. There are plenty of great Problogger posts about writing titles, starting with this one.

Assuming you make it past the first hurdle, your blog post is opened and the first few paragraphs are read… if you’re lucky. It might be just the first few sentences. All the while your reader is inching their cursor closer to the back button and the next blog.

Every sentence is ‘Last Chance Saloon’

Every word matters and each sentence that’s read brings you closer to a new subscriber.

There are lots of different ways to open a blog post but here are some ways to write a killer opening. The kind of blog introductions that let dinner burn while they’re read.

Zombie opener #1: Intrigue the reader

‘The Walking Dead’ set the scene. There were no rolling credits explaining that a virus has swept the earth and only a small percentage of the population remained un-zombified.

No. It did set a dramatic scene that made you question what you expected. The mystery unfolded until the big picture was revealed. In this case that big picture was a little zombie.

Tip: Don’t take too long about setting the scene. You don’t want your reader to get bored or impatient as they figure out when your blog’s going to get relevant.

Zombie opener #2: Make it personal

As our policeman cautiously tiptoes through a trail of devastation, it’s clear he is alone. We instinctively know that this will be his story. The way the series opens lets us share that story in an intimate way. We feel his caution, his shock and his sadness. We instantly wonder how we would react, which puts us in the story.

The opening of your blog post can draw in your readers in the same way.

You see, every blog reader wants understanding. They want to know that someone else feels the way they do. The best way to get a reader hooked is acknowledge a challenge they’re facing. The more secret the challenge, the better.

Tip: Repeat people’s thoughts back to them so your reader feels like you understand them. Weave your personal story into the shared challenge you are solving so you’re talking with your readers, not at them.

Zombie opener #3: Startle your reader

Reading blogs online can draw most readers into a bit of a stupor. The opening few scenes of ‘The Walking Dead’ are quiet. They’re suspenseful and a little bit weird. But then…. BANG! A little zombie girl gets shot down!

If the opening few lines of your blog can jolt your readers out of a stupor, well, you’ve got their attention.

Tip: Try using one-word openings. Or one-sentence paragraphs. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and break a few old-school writing rules.

Remember that the first paragraph or two of your blog is competing with other blog posts, the TV, the radio, the children and dinner. The faster you can get your reader hooked, the more likely it is they will keep on reading. If the rest of your blog post is as good as the opening, they’ll read all the way to the bottom and hit Subscribe.

So, how far into a blog do you decide it’s worth reading?

Belinda is a professional copywriter confidently walking the line between writing effective copy and creating an engaging brand personality. Get your FREE copy of her cheat sheet to incredibly effective copywriting and make sure you’re the first to hear about her next copywriting master class.

Do You Make These 6 Domain Name Mistakes?

I’m regularly asked about the mistakes I made when starting out with blogging and the first two words that usually spring to mind are  ‘Domain Names’.

Most of the early mistakes I made (and some of the more recent ones) have revolved around domain names. Let me run through a few:

1. Not Getting My Own Domain Name

The first mistake I made was not to get my own domain name at all.

The year was 2002 and a couple of hours after reading my first blog, I was ready to start my own. After looking at how everyone else was doing it, I decided to use Blogspot (Blogger) as my platform because it promised me that I’d have my own blog up and running in minutes. At the time I’m not sure Blogspot allowed me to use my own domain (you can today) but within a few months of starting that blog I was already regretting not using one of the other hosted blogging services.

I felt trapped on the Blogspot domain and realised how little control I had, especially in terms of design. So began to research switching. I initially switched over to MovableType and later to WordPress and at that point I registered my first ever domain.

Having your own domain name is beneficial in many ways. It shows readers you’re serious about what you’re doing, it helps build your brand and credibility, enables you to have an email address with that same branding and can also help with SEO.

Lastly, having your own domain name gives you more control, which means you’re not going to be switched off for breaking the terms of service of whatever host you’re on.

Switching my blog to a hosted blogging platform and getting my own domain name was a big part in my blog’s growth in the early years. At the time of switching, I was nervous that I’d lose all my readers and any search rankings I achieved but I need not have worried – it only grew my readership!

2. Getting an Aussie Domain

OK – so I’d made my first big decision to switch my blog to my own domain. This helped my blog a lot, however in doing so I inadvertently made another mistake (in fact, two mistakes).

The first one was registering the .au extension for my domain name. Now this may not be a mistake for everyone but for me it was.

I’m an Aussie but at the time of choosing my domain most of my readers were in the US. I didn’t realise it but by choosing an Australian (.au) domain name I was making my blog more findable in search engines to Australians – but not to a global audience.

This was both a blessing and a curse. It meant I got some nice traffic from Google.com.au as there were fewer Aussie sites competing for that traffic however, the overall number of people searching the web in Australia is much smaller than the global number of people searching the web.

If you’re looking to build a localized audience by all means consider a local domain. If you’re looking for a global audience I’ve found .com domains to be much better.

3. Not getting a .com domain

The other mistake was choosing the .org domain. At the time legally entitled to use the .org domain as I was involved with a church and a leader of that community. It seemed appropriate as part of what I was doing with my first blog was related to that church but in time, my goals with the blog changed to become more commercial.

Using the .org.au domain and running a commercial blog wasn’t really a good idea. It probably didn’t comply with the rules but it also wasn’t very good for my branding either.

4. Conflicting Brands

By this point I’d only been blogging for 18 months but I saw a real evolution of my blog. I started blogging about church, spirituality, almost as a personal blogger. As I developed my voice and began to experiment with different topics and with making money from my blogging, I made the mistake of keeping all my blogs on the one domain.

My domain name was livingroom.org.au (it’s still live today if you want to take a look) but on it I hosted a number of blogs that didn’t sit well together as an overarching brand.

I had a church information site, my personal blog, a camera review blog, a camera phone blog, an olympic games blog and more – all sharing the ‘livingroom’ brand.

It was messy, particularly when I began to try to grow my readership and start talking with potential advertisers for my main blog – the camera review blog.

Having said all of that and having made all of those mistakes – the blogs did grow to a point where I was able to make a decent living from blogging. This should hopefully serve as an encouragement to those of you who might have made similar mistakes – you can still have success!

5. Not Getting the .com for ProBlogger When I Could Have

In 2004, I decided I wanted to start a blog about blogging where I’d share tips on blogging and how to make money from blogs (something I’d been doing for almost a year). I’d previously been writing on the topic of blogging in a category on my personal blog but wanted to bring all those posts over onto a domain specifically for bloggers.

I decided upon the name of ProBlogger but someone had already registered the domain ProBlogger.com (they were originally developing a tool for bloggers) – so I got ProBlogger.net.

At the time, I didn’t reach out to the owner of that domain because they looked to be building something and what they were building was quite different to my intentions for ProBlogger so I thought we could co-exist.

In time, the owner of that domain stopped developing their tool and ‘parked’ the domain. At this point I reached out to see if they’d sell it to me. I don’t remember exactly what they asked for but it seemed steep (it was somewhere around $1000 from memory).

I reached out to the owner numerous times after that initially approach but the numbers they asked for got higher and higher (mainly because I was growing demand by having success with my blog and the word ‘ProBlogger’ began to be commonly used to describe people making money with blogs).

It was important for me to get the .com domain, mainly because I wanted to defend the brand. Having ProBlogger.net was ok, but .com was more common and I knew everyday readers were ending up on someone else’s site looking for me (note: ProBlogger.com is coming up for a big overhaul in the coming months).

Eventually, they put the domain up for auction and after a roller coaster of a ride I purchased it (for quite a bit more than they’d originally asked).

The lesson I learned was that if I am serious about a brand, back myself and buy the domain early.

6. Hyphens

The last mistake I made with domains was when I started Digital Photography School in 2006.

The site was started as something of an impulsive experiment so I didn’t put a lot of thought into the domain – but I wish I had.

While having hyphens isn’t a terrible thing in terms of search engines (although lately I’m wondering if that is changing) it is a real mouthful to communicate to people when you’re telling them the domain of your site.

As with most of the above mistakes – this wasn’t a mistake big enough to sink my sites development, dPS is my biggest site today, however it is/was a regret of sorts!

What ‘Mistakes’ have you Made with Domains?

I know I’m not the only one who has made mistakes with domain names – help me feel better about mine by sharing yours below!

Check out the New Ghost Blogging Platform Kickstarter: Funded in under 12 Hours!

6 months ago I came across a concept article written about by John O’Nolan (web designer and former deputy head of the WordPress User Interface group) that grabbed my attention (and the attention of many others). In the article John dreamed of a new blogging platform – Ghost.

In the article John spoke about the changes in WordPress over the year that have seen it evolve from a humble and relatively simple blogging platform into something a lot bigger and more complex – a content management system.

While the evolution of WordPress has been wonderful for many – John pointed out that its complexities and clutter has gotten in the way of him just publishing great blog posts.

John went on to describe a fictional and idealistic blogging platform – Ghost. You can read his initial post here.

At the time of writing that article Ghost was just an idea – but due to the overwhelming response John received it is fast becoming a reality – particularly in the last 24 hours with the launch of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to see it completed.

11 hours and 56 minutes after the Kickstarter campaign launched it was funded (you can still join in for the next 28 days).

Check out this video in which John shares the vision:

It has been fascinating to watch the reaction to Ghost – with people particularly been drawn to the idea of a simply, elegantly designed and useful interface.

There’s still a lot to be revealed about Ghost and we’ll not really know all the details until it’s released later in the year but the current Kickstarter program gives you options to jump in early and see what it is all about – or if you want to contribute more to partner with the Ghost team.

I’m really excited to see this developed and so have accepted an invitation from John to be on the Ghost advisory board. Others on the board include Vitaly Friedman of Smashing Magazine, and Frederick Townes – Founding CTO of Mashable.

Oh – last of all, this is a non-profit project with it being developed for the love of blogging rather than to make its developers rich. Profits will be reinvested back into making the platform better.

UPDATE: as the initial funding goal has been met so easily – John has shared plans of a ‘stretch goal’ and what that will mean for backers here.

Warning: Don’t Accept Guest Posts Until You’ve Done these 5 Steps

This is a guest contribution by .

Guest blog post can add a lot of value to your blog.

Guest posts not only give you a break from writing, they show you are connected and that you respect other experts’ opinions and different perspectives. Guest posts can demonstrate how much you value quality information your readers find useful. In the long term, guest posts can bring you new audiences, more connections and better content.

But it’s not always as easy as that. Before you accept and publish any guest blog post make sure you do these five steps so that only the best ends up on your blog.

1. Always check the posts for Plagiarism

Search engines, particularly Google, do not want duplicate content and plagiarism on web pages. Google’s recent update, Panda, has made it harder for content stealers to continue their behavior without getting penalized.

If you don’t want your blog to be penalized for duplicates, check any guest post submission for plagiarism There are a few easy to use plagiarism checking services where you can copy and paste the post and their unique algorithm will scan the content for duplicates, giving you a detailed plagiarism report with links to all the used sources. Some of them, like PlagTracker, are even free!

Google may not directly penalize duplicates, but such content will erode your website authority. You could even get lawsuits from other publishers for stealing their original work.

By checking your guest posts, and making sure the content you publish is always authentic and original, you can avoid such problems and guide your blog to success.

2. Proofread and Format the Guest Posts

It seems obvious but if you care about share high quality information with your readers, it’s important that your guest posts are relevant to your blog’s niche.

As with all online copywriting, make sure your guest post describes the benefits to your readers.

After all, your readers are interested in how their lives can be eased, so give them what they want!

Your proofreading should also check names, titles and genders, whether they are correctly written and consistent throughout the text.

3. Interlink the Guest Posts with Previously Published Content

You want to keep your readers on your blog for as long as possible. Linking new and old posts can help you minimize the bounce rate, keep the readers engaged and increase the number of page views.

In fact, it’s a strategy that professional bloggers use to rank higher in the search engines results.

When interlinking your blog posts, it is very important to decide how much will you interlink because too many inbound links may turn out to be counter-productive.

4. Optimise Guest Post URLs and Meta Tags

In order for search engines to recommend your blog in their results, you must make it easy for them to read and understand what your blog is about.

That’s what meta tags can help with.

Meta tags are information about information. If your title tags are optimized for the keywords you’re focusing on, Google will be able to faster index and rank your blog or web pages. The description tags should be creative, interesting and provide enough quality information for the potential visitors to know what your page or website is about.

Additionally, base your posts URLs on the important keywords and consider using short URLs when sharing your blog posts because they are smaller and appear better than the long ones.

5. Add Intriguing Images to draw your Readers’ Attention

As we all know one picture’s worth a thousand words. Don’t miss an opportunity to intrigue and keep your audience tuned into your message by including an image. You can always start with the free images available using Google Advanced Image Search, or Tumblr, FreeDigitalPhotos.net, PhotoPin.com, Foter.com, etc.

Do you accept guest posts on your blog? Can you add to this list?

Sandra Miller is a tech tips writer from Brooklyn. Loves writing about blogging, social media and SEM. You can reach her at Google+

Unlock the Power of Email To Grow Traffic and Profit: Melbourne ProBlogger Event

Next month on 24 May we will be running a day long workshop in Melbourne for bloggers on the topic of using Email to grow traffic and build profitability to your blog.

There are only 12 10 9 tickets left – grab yours here.

Over the last few years we’ve run an annual training event for bloggers that helps hundreds of bloggers to grow their blogs. These annual events have been for up to 300 bloggers at a time and are held over two days covering many aspects of blogging.

One of the pieces of feedback that attendees have given us is that they wanted us to run day long events that dig deeply into a more focused aspect of growing a profitable blog.

As a result we’re running this Email Marketing Workshop next month in Melbourne at the Melbourne Business School.

Photo 2The workshop will be capped at 30 attendees (there are 12 tickets left) and will be run by Shayne Tilley (who runs all my marketing, including our email marketing) and myself.

Email has become the biggest driver of both traffic and sales of my eBooks over the last few years and in this day we’ll be sharing with you exactly how we do it.

The day will focus upon 3 main topics:

  1. Building Your List of Subscribers (how to grow your list)
  2. Nurturing Your List (how to keep subscribers engaged)
  3. Getting Subscribers to Take Action (how to get them to visit your blog and buy your products)

Because the group is small we’ll be able to make this day interactive and tailor it to the level and needs of the group (so far we have a fairly intermediate level group).

We are also aiming to have some time for us to workshop and review attendees specific email strategies at the end of the day so hope it will give you plenty of things to put into action.

The cost of this day long training is $299.99 AUD (including lunch).

You can see the full rundown of the sessions and buy your ticket at our Eventbrite page.

PS: to those asking about when tickets go on sale for our annual event – we’re looking to release the last round of those tickets early next week.

Do You Know These Time Saving Blogging Tips?

Over the last few days we’ve been tackling the problem of ‘not enough time to blog’ that many bloggers struggle with. I started by sharing 7 tips for busy bloggers on how to find time to blog and then had 14 of my blogging friends share a little about their blogging routines.

When I asked these 14 bloggers about their routines I also asked if they had any tips for other busy bloggers. I’m glad I did because collectively they give some great insight below.

Chris Garrett

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  1. Write down any ideas you have and transfer them to your blog drafts as soon as possible. If you can, skip the writing down part and go direct to your blog drafts. Maybe use a smart phone so you are more likely to have a handy route to your blog!
  2. In your drafts add a semi-decent headline (not final, just enough to get the idea across) and some bullets. At the very least the point you want to make. If you don’t then you will forget what your post was about. Trust me on this, I speak from experience, ha.
  3. Work out the best time of day for you to write and schedule time in that slot. I find my best writing is between 10am and 1pm, and second best between 6pm and 8pm. After lunch is a better time for me to talk but not write. We all have a rhythm, listen to yours.
  4. Set a timer. Tell the family to not disturb you until the time is up. Close all distractions. Write.
  5. Break up your writing into less daunting chunks if you need to. One session just do outlines. Next session do bad drafts. Third some editing. Then formatting. Then final polish and posting. Don’t try to do too much otherwise you will never do enough!

Tsh Oxenreider from Simple Mom

When I first started blogging, it wasn’t a job, so I had to hustle on top of my already full life. When I blogged, it was in snippets of time here and there—I wasn’t able to afford a babysitter until a few years ago. My best piece of advice is to not wait for that “perfect” time to write or blog, because it’ll never happen. Most of our days are full with a lot of those daily liturgies that require our focus—laundry, dinner, time with friends, parenting. If you can only blog in 10-minute increments, then so be it. If you can afford childcare, even if it’s just a few hours a day once a week, I say try it out and see what happens with your writing.

And also, make the most of your blogging time by blocking out distractions. Treat your blog as real work. Close out Twitter or Facebook unless you’re genuinely working on something there, and don’t open your blog reader until you’ve written as least a few paragraphs that day.

Leo Babauta from ZenHabits

leocomputer-300x290.jpgBlock off a chunk of two mornings a week to blog. If it’s important, you’ll make the time.

Cut out TV, Internet, news, socializing to make the time.

If you can’t dedicate 2-3 hours a week to blogging, you shouldn’t blog.

Christina Butcher from Hair Romance

A productivity technique I use is setting an alarm on my phone for 20 mins. I work well to deadlines and because I know I’ve only got 20 minutes I don’t procrastinate or check instagram etc. It’s surprising how much you can get done in 20 minutes.

When I’m filming tutorials I try and do a few at a time so that it’s more efficient. If you’re not filming often, I recommend keeping notes and a drawing of your perfect camera setup (eg time of day, lighting locations, reflector position, camera settings etc). It makes your next shoot quicker and easier.

I think it also comes down to being honest about your priorities and being aware of when you’re working and when you’re being ‘busy’.

Sarah Wilson

Not to get too fixed on posting every day, or to a strict roster, if that’s not working for you.

Why do you blog? To be creative, expressive? To do something meaningful?

If this is the case, it’s better to be your message and be a little loose and free and produce good work rather than “churning and burning”.

Nicole Avery from Planning with Kids

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  • Have written SMART goals for what you want to achieve for the year with your blogging. Lots of opportunities come up with blogging and there are plenty of social media distractions, so to keep focused, you can look back on these goals and assess whether you are spending time on activities which are going to help you achieve your goals. Your goals end up being your decision making framework.
  • Creating a content plan that is aligned to your goals. A content plan can take time to develop, but it is an excellent investment in time, which will save you time in the long run.
  • Have a social media strategy. Utilise Google Analytics to determine which social media network connects the most with your audience and brings readers to your blog. Don’t feel you have to be on every form of social media. Choose 1 -2 and do them well.
  • Be disciplined. Use productivity tools like Focus Booster when working through your to do list and stick to the allocated tasks before wandering off to social media or email to check out what is new.
  • Make sure you have time off over the year. Being online there is a constant flow of information in. Unplug and disconnect for chunks at time to recharge and relax. You will be surprised how productive you will be when you go back online.

Tina Roth – Swiss Miss

untitled.jpgTry to get organized in other aspects of your life by using some of the tools that exist solely for that reason. I use Sparrow, which helps me filter out my email.

I also use TeuxDeux for keeping a list of the things I need to do any given day.

And I cannot stress how wonderful DropMark is for collecting images and organizing them into specific groups.

Jonathan Fields from Good Life Project

untitled.jpgBlog in the margins. Keep an idea capture device with you at all times (Moleskine, voice recorder app, etc). That way, when you’re running around and some insights comes as you’re going from one place to another, you can jot it down immediately, then flesh it out later.

Experiment with short form content (which I’m about to do a bunch of). No such thing as too long or short, only too boring.

Chris Brogan

Most times, jugglers just haven’t learned their priorities, or haven’t chosen to cut out extraneous things.

I don’t watch TV. I don’t surf endlessly. I don’t spend hours at a time staying up on FB and Twitter and getting current with 400 blogs.

I work for my community and that gives me the time I need to create.

Crystal Paine from Money Saving Mom

1. Focus on the things that will give you the biggest return on your investment of time.

For me, that means devoting most of my blogging time to writing posts. Interacting on social media is good and answering emails can be a great way to build relationships, but I’m okay with not always being able to respond to every comment or email if it means that I’m able to devote more time to getting quality posts up on a regular basis. At the end of the day, the quality posts are what are going to give me the biggest return on my investment. Well, unless one of those emails is from some huge blogger or gigantic media company who wants to promote me. :)

2. Use a timer.
Have a set times for how long you’ll spend on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, answering comments, answering emails, etc. and then set a timer and stick with it. I don’t spend much free time on the computer; most of my computer time is scheduled in specific time blocks for specific tasks. This might seem rigid, but it significantly increases my online efficiency. Once I’ve had a really productive stretch of time, I’ll often give myself a short 5 or 10-minute breather to check whatever I want online. And then it’s back to the schedule.

3. Batch everything you can.
Don’t flitter here and there checking Facebook and responding to one comment, checking Twitter and retweeting something, and checking Pinterest to re-pin something all while writing a post and trying to draft an email. Focus on one task at a time and batch those tasks. For instance, I try to schedule a number of posts on Facebook at once or clean out my inbox in one swoop. Multi-tasking rarely increases online productivity.

4. Shut down the distractions.
When I’m writing posts, I usually shut down my email so I can focus on writing posts instead of being distracted by incoming emails. In addition, I’ve turned off all notifications possible on social media so that nothing is beeping or dinging for my attention while I’m trying to concentrate.

5. Outline posts ahead of time.
I rarely write a lengthy posts in one sitting. Usually, I outline the post ahead of time — often while I’m in the middle of doing dishes or even driving (thanks, Siri!). Having a framework in place for my posts ahead of time makes it much easier to flesh out the post when I’m at my computer and ready to write.

Rand Fishkin from SEOMoz

Much like working out, it has to become a habit.

You can build a habit in 30 days if you stick to it and force yourself not to deviate.

In my early blogging days, that’s exactly what I did – I wouldn’t let myself go to bed until the post was live.

Trey Ratcliff from Stuck in Customs

What tips do I have to a “poor blogger who is juggling a busy life”? My response is that everybody is fucking busy, but you make time for what you love.

If you don’t love what you are blogging about, then you obviously are considering it “work” and it’s a “task” on your to-do list. Maybe your blog is about the wrong thing! It’s okay to change, you know… you’re allowed to be many things in life, so pivot to a new subject that you love. And if you’re not sure you love it, then try it for a while, like a child with a piano one week, a skateboard the next, and a guitar the next.

There’s no need to stop behing a childlike in your experimentation when you are an adult.

You’ll find what you love as long as you forgive yourself for failing on many random stabs! Your mom is not standing over you forcing you to play the piano (“blog about BS”) every day. You’re in charge, you know. If it’s something you love, then you crave it, you think about it in the shower, you lose track of time. If you love it, you find a way.

Chris Guillebeau

Well, we all have the same amount of time, and almost everyone is juggling a busy life.

For me it just finally became a priority. I wanted to be a writer for several years before I actually started writing.

Once I made it a priority I could tell it was something I’d be doing for a long time, so I tried to pare down as many other activities as possible to support that focus.

Neil Patel from Quick Sprout

neilpatel_1284435007_44-300x274.jpgHere is a guide to writing a detailed blog post in less than 2 hours.

FROM DARREN: A HUGE thanks to all 14 bloggers above who put aside precious time to respond to my questions! Thanks!

Don’t forget to check out our BlogWise Ebook for more tips on blogging productivity.