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What Studying Haikus Taught Me about Writing Blog Posts

This guest post is by Steve of Do Something Cool.

A form of Japanese poetry, haikus have been around for hundreds of years.  Blogging has been around for roughly two decades. 

On the surface, these two different forms of writing don’t have anything to do with each other.  But surprisingly, understanding haikus has taught me a lot about writing blog posts.

The key to a good haiku (and blog post)

I once read that haikus are best described as “a one breath poem that discovers connection.”  That’s about as good a description for haikus as you’re going to find. 

A well-written haiku gets the reader to discover a connection to something new and meaningful.  And the way you do that is by writing from a unique and interesting perspective no one else has seen.

That’s also what makes a good blog post.  A good blog post gets the reader to discover something in a meaningful way through a unique and interesting perspective.

Since I’ve started to study and understand haikus, I’ve taken a new approach to writing my blog posts.  Just like a Japanese haiku writer in the 1800s would have analyzed and observed every angle to find the one perspective no one had considered before, I try to write posts with a similar twist.

My blog posts have now become just as much about discovery as they are in haikus.  It’s not my goal to churn out blog posts just for the sake of publishing something.  I try to offer unique and meaningful posts for both the reader and myself in everything I write.

I’ve been told that a good haiku writer can look at a famous photo thousands of others have seen and written about, but still discover a perspective no one else had previously been able to see.  Who wouldn’t want that ability for writing blog posts?

Often it can seem as if everything has already been written before.  I’ve felt that way at times.  After scanning through thousands of blog posts online, you might ask yourself how you could possibly come up with something new.  Hasn’t everything already been written before?

Understanding haikus has taught me to see things differently.  There are endless ways to write a blog post simply because there are endless numbers of perspectives and viewpoints to write about.  There will never be a point when nothing new can be said about a subject.

Think about it this way: people have been writing haikus for hundreds of years.  There are hundreds of thousands of them that talk about nature alone.  Yet each one can be completely different.

I was in a group of students writing haikus once.  We were looking down at people crossing a busy street.  Each student observed the same scenes and wrote down several haikus each.  It was amazing how varied all the writing was.  Even those students who wrote about exactly the same things could find new and unique ways to write about it.

It comes down to perspective.  Writing haikus teaches you to notice details or angles no one else is seeing.  A dozen people watching one scene on a street could write in twelve different ways.  For the same reason a dozen bloggers could write about one topic in a dozen unique ways.

Of course, not all bloggers do that.  Many repeat what others are already saying without putting their own spin on things.

But you can train yourself to find that unique perspective.  Ask yourself:

  • What is being missed by everyone else?
  • Can something be added or subtracted from everyone else’s opinion to make it new?
  • Is there a bigger or smaller detail that others are failing to notice?
  • Could a different approach to this topic come up with something different?

It helps to think of it this way: writing a haiku is like looking through the lens of a camera.  You can zoom the lens in or out as much as you need to, as long as you eventually find details in the photo that make your perspective unique and new.  It can be a small, important detail or something much bigger.  But it has to be something your camera sees that no other camera has caught before.

Blog posts are a lot like that.  What you write is the lens and the way you approach the topic is the angle of the camera.  Put the two together in an original and interesting way and you have the beginning of a great blog post.

If you were to look back over the past two centuries and explore the millions of haikus that have been written, you would find that the number of perspectives and moments they capture are endless.  The same is also true for blog posts.  And it should be.  After all, you’re working with a lot more words.

Has poetry or literature influenced your blog post writing? Share your unique perspective in the comments.

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

Blog Accessibility Essentials: The Complete Guide

This guest post is by Steff Green of the Disabled Shop Blog.

Digital content has opened up a whole new world of possibility for people with print disabilities.

Previously, very little printed material was available in a format that blind and low vision people can access, (Braille, audio or large print), and these formats were costly and time-consuming to produce. But now, adaptive software has meant that content available electronically can be accessed by practically anyone.

With more resources than ever moving online or to electronic formats such as ebooks, people like me with low vision have access to more content than we could ever imagine.

It is estimated that there are around 25 million adults with significant sight loss) in the US today, and more than 285 million people around the world. That’s not including people with other disabilities who use adaptive software to access information, such as learning disabilities or motor impairments.

All these people could be reading your blog, so it stands to reason that you want to make sure they’re able to enjoy everything you have to offer.

A blog is never going to be perfect for everyone. There are so many conditions and disabilities in the world that it’s impossible to cater to all of them. That’s why many people who have disabilities use adaptive technology to help them access the web—they have to create the optimum conditions for themselves.

When creating an accessible website, what you’re trying to do is create a site that’s both easily viewable in its normal state and optimized to perform well when viewed with adaptive software.

As a bonus, an accessible website also happens to be extremely user-friendly for your whole readership, as well as being great for SEO.

What is adaptive equipment?

Adaptive equipment is any type of device that helps an individual perform an activity that they would not otherwise be able to perform due to a physical or mental condition or disability.

A blind person cannot access your blog in the normal way, so they must use some kind of adaptive equipment in order to enjoy your content. The most common piece of adaptive software is a screen reader: a program that reads out websites using synthetic speech for people with vision problems. A person can use keyboard commands to navigate through the site (since using a mouse is impractical).

Other adaptive software includes: zoom software, such as Zoomtext (I used to use this, but since switching to Mac, all the necessary software is inbuilt), Dragon Naturally Speaking. and a refreshable Braille display.

Blind and low-vision users aren’t the only people who need accessible websites. Other users have motor skill issues that make using a mouse difficult, or might have dyslexia and have difficulty understanding text when they read it. Adaptive equipment such as switches and keyboards controlled by the feet, head or other input methods can be used.

Making a blog post accessible

So how do you ensure that your blog is accessible? It may surprise you to learn that creating accessible blog posts is easy, and you’re probably doing a pretty good job already.

But understanding why you format blog posts in a certain way will help ensure that you continue to create accessible blog posts.

Headings

Heading levels are an important part of the functionality of adaptive software. The screen reader can navigate through headings, much like skipping through the chapters in a book. This enables the reader to choose the content they want to read.

Problems arise when bloggers don’t use the heading tags correctly—usually by bolding a heading instead of using an h1, h2, h3, or h4 tag, or by failing to use headings in a cohesive way.

Adaptive software retains the hierarchy of headings, so a user can navigate through post titles (h1) or subtitles within a post (h2) or headings underneath a subtitle (h3-5). But if you don’t use these headings consistently, the reader will become confused.

How can you improve?

  • Always use the heading levels to denote headings—don’t simply place headings in bold.
  • Nest headings correctly, so the heading hierarchy makes sense in a screen reader.

Images

You might wonder how adaptive software deals with images. Screen readers read out the alternative or alt text, and this tells the listener what’s in the image.

So to make your images accessible, you need to ensure each and every one has an alternative text description that explains what’s in the image. It doesn’t have to be long and wordy: “infographic displaying social media stats” is fine, as most of the info will be in the text surrounding that image.

SEO gurus recommend putting your keywords into the alt text, which is definitely a good idea, but only if they make sense in the context of the image.

How can you improve?

  • Ensure every image has an alt text description.
  • Use descriptions to explain what is happening in the text, not just to add keywords.
  • Add titles to your images (this helps with navigation, though it isn’t necessary).

Links

Hyperlinks within your post (and across your whole blog) should be able to be easily read and understood on their own. This is because screen readers can give the user a list of the hyperlinks on a page. Having ten hyperlinks reading “here” doesn’t help the listener figure out where she wants to go.

Meaningful hyperlinks (especially those containing keywords) are also good for SEO, so it’s a good practice to get into.

Links should also open in the same window, as opening extra windows can make navigation cumbersome. On WordPress, you can do this easily by setting the Target at “Open in this Window/Frame” in the Link box.

And, finally, when designing your blog, make sure links stand out from the text. Use bold, underline, and different fonts or colors to distinguish links from your main text. This helps everyone locate your links with ease.

How can you improve?

  • Avoid links like “Click here” and “NOW” and “More”.
  • Ensure the text of hyperlinks provides a meaningful phrase when read out of content.
  • Make sure links are easily visible—by being a different color, bold, and/or underlined.
  • Ensure links open in the same window.

Tiny links and icons

Tiny things are cute: tiny houses, tiny hands and feet, and tiny kittens. But tiny links and icons are just plain difficult. If you have some vision, like me, you may spend several minutes looking for a link or icon on a page, when you’d have found it easily if only it were a little larger.

One of the hardest things to find are those little “X”s or “close” links in the corners of those pop-up boxes (which I also loathe, but more on those in the next section). On some sites, these are practically impossible to see. I’ll click away if I can’t get rid of that box without straining my eyes.

Tiny links are also difficult for people with poor motor control to locate. Likewise, having lots of tiny links close together, such as social media keys on a navigation panel, means your visitors are often clicking the wrong thing by accident. This is frustrating and often forces readers to look for information elsewhere.

How can you improve?

  • Look at your site. Are you links identified visually? Can you easily determine where you are and what the focus of each page is?
  • Can you make hyperlinks longer than one symbol/word so they’re more obvious?
  • Can you make icons larger and use more space between them?

Dynamic elements

Pop-up boxes, slide out menus and other dynamic elements may look great, but they are extremely difficult to navigate.

If you’re slow on the mouse, the panels can disappear before you’ve clicked on the link you require. And those pop-up “sign up to my newsletter” boxes are extremely frustrating, but I understand why some bloggers are reluctant to get rid of them.

How can you improve?

  • Think carefully before using dynamic elements on your website.
  • Test your site by attempting to navigate it using the mouse in your non-dominant hand. If you’re struggling with navigation menus and tiny icons, maybe it’s time to improve your design.
  • Ensure your site is coded correctly so adaptive software users can easily skip past or stop dynamic elements such as menus or updating Twitter feeds.

Captcha

Okay, captcha services are one of my pet accessibility peeves. They seem to be getting progressively illegible, with letters layered on top of one another, squashed up like they’ve gone through a sausage machine, or struck through with so many lines and swirls they’re impossible to read.

You might say, “Oh, but there’s that audio button beside it. That makes captcha accessible.” Which is a fair comment. Except, have you ever tried to use the audio function? Half the time it doesn’t work, and the rest of the time it’s so garbled it’s impossible to understand.

How can you improve?

  • Choose captcha screens that are readable: letters and numbers spaced apart with a non-distracting background, and small letters instead of capitals.
  • Choose services without sloping letters.
  • Use a tick-box that says “Uncheck if you’re human,” or another, non-captcha method of determining spam from legitimate comments.

Other tips for improving blog accessibility

  • Have you created an audio or video post? It would be awesome if you could also provide a transcript and captions, so that everyone could enjoy the information in their preferred format.
  • Using blockquotes to identify longer quotes helps those using a screen reader to distinguish between your voice and someone else’s.
  • Instead of using the dash—or other symbols—to show items in a list, use the ordered or unordered list tags. The screen reader can then tell the listener that the items are in a list.
  • Unplug your mouse. Now try to navigate through your site. Can you do it? Where do you get stuck? That’s the same place that will trip up adaptive software.

By following these simple rules, you’re creating accessibility best practice on your blog, and ensuring that more people are able to access and enjoy your content.

It only takes a few extra minutes to check that your blog posts are accessible, and after a few weeks, accessibility will become second nature.

The more you learn about accessibility, the more you come to understand and appreciate how different people access information, and this makes you a better—and more considerate—blogger.

Accessibility resources

Steff Green is a legally blind freelance writer, blogger and illustrator. She writes about disability news, adaptive equipment and advocacy for the Disabled Shop Blog. Check out her latest post on Christmas Gift Ideas: Children’s Books about Disability.

Planning for the Year Ahead: My Approach on dPS and ProBlogger

I’ve had a lot of questions about the process my team and I go through to plan for a new year of blogging on dPS and ProBlogger, so I’ve put together a bit of an explanation of what happened at our recent planning day:
[Read more...]

X-Ray Vision for Guest Bloggers: Author Stats

This guest post is by Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media.

Analytics are great for seeing your site’s performance, but we can’t usually peek into other people’s web stats.

However, there is a tool that gives you a view you may not have seen before. It’s called Google Author Stats.

Embrace your new blogging super power

I think of guest blogging as modern-day PR. It has social media and search marketing benefits, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a key part of blogger collaboration.

The X-ray vision we’re talking about is useful for guest bloggers, but it works for any blogger.

To make it work, you need to do two things:

  1. Use Google Authorship to add a “digital signature” to your posts.
  2. Apply some SEO basics to your writing: a bit of keyphrase research and usage.

If you’ve been doing this all along, get ready to see through walls! Here’s how: log into Google Webmaster Tools using your Google+ login info.

This might seem strange because this account isn’t necessarily tied to a website. But keep going.

Now, click “Labs > Author Stats”. Here’s what you’ll see…

The stats

You’re looking at the SEO performance of every post you’ve written and tagged for Authorship. Let’s step through the information that’s included here.

  • Page: the address
  • Impressions: the number of times it has appeared in search results
  • Clicks: the number of visits to the page
  • CTR/Clickthrough Rate: the percentage of searchers who clicked on it
  • Avg. Position: how high the page ranks on average for all its keyphrases

It’s a thrill the first time you put on your Author Stats X-ray specs. You’re seeing the SEO performance (an important part of Analytics) for your site, but also other people’s websites. It’s enough to make a man blush!

Use your powers for good, not evil

Now that you can see through walls, what are you going to do with your new powers? Here’s a tip: use them for good. Use them as a reason to reach out and collaborate. Here are a few ways a guest author can continue to work with a host blog based on Authors Stats.

Your guest post has…

  • Avg. Position of 11-15: You’re ranking on page two, but not far from page one. The host blog should look for a few opportunities to link to the post from older posts, improving the link popularity. Or you can write another post on a similar topic with new link to the original post.
  • Avg. Position of 1-5, but CTR below 5%: You’re on page one, but not many people are clicking. There may be a mismatch between the title and meta description and the meaning of the keyphrase. Tweak the title to make sure the keyphrase and the topic are aligned semantically.
  • Clicks of 500 or more per month: You’re driving some traffic! The combination of your content and the host’s domain authority are powering significant visits from search. You should work together more often!

Now take of the X-ray glasses, email the blog editor, and continue to collaborate. Help the blog, help yourself, and help future readers find your content.

Peek at a few final tips

There are loads of competitive analysis tools that can give you a peek into the stats of other sites, but there’s still a lot we can’t see.

Ever used X-ray vision? Need help troubleshooting it? Got a favorite super power of your own? Leave a comment or question below…

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing You can find Andy on and Twitter.

Is Your Content ROI Really Untrackable?

This guest post is by Johnny.

We have all heard about the traditional advertising campaign that cost thousands and makes almost no impact on sales or turnover. But when was the last time you heard that about a content marketing strategy?

I’ll give you a clue: you haven’t. An effective content strategy can cost as little as the time it takes to create.

However, as more and more blue chip companies are beginning to catch on, questions are being asked about whether this strategy is the right one. Convincing people that it is will almost always require you to show the returns on your investment.

Here we take a look at some tips for content measurement and examine if tracking ROI is actually possible.

Always start from the end

Imagine I am a lost man trying to find my way to the first page of Google. I have no idea where I am and I don’t have any directions to get to the search engine, but I know I want to be there. What should I do first?

Knowing where you want to be should be the first step in your journey with content marketing.

Make the goal achievable and set some bench marks. Do you currently have 100 likes on Facebook, but would prefer 1000? What kind of content could achieve this?

Once you have your achievable goal in mind, set a time scale. Even if the goal is ongoing, having a monthly strategy and aiming to hit benchmarks along the way is essential.

One of the biggest indicators of return on investment relies on monitoring whether you’re hitting your monthly objectives or not.

Analyse and track

The majority of businesses undertaking content marketing will be focussing on one thing: sales. This is where a lot of people become confused and assume that you cannot measure sales from content marketing or social media.

This is completely untrue. It is simple to monitor key performance indicators in Google Analytics.

If you are providing content in order to boost brand awareness, monitor organic brand searches on Google. If this is increasing month on month, the work you are doing is obviously having an effect.

If you are trying to generate leads, monitor new visitors to your website. Use Google visitor path to see where your new visitors are coming from, and how long they are spending on the site. Systems like ResponseTap offer a call tracking solution which allows you to monitor how many people are picking up the phone after visiting your website.

Adding a monetary value to each of your goals is imperative to monitoring return on investment. For example, in your first month, you may be focussed on building a community. Monitor how many more visitors visit your website after the content is published.

If on average $100 is spent for every 500 visitors, and your content attracts an extra 100 visitors, then you can put a value on the content ($20). This is a basic arbitrary measure, but I think it’s important in showing how much top-level, real value you are adding, even ignoring the secondary benefits.

Nurture your leads

People who visit your website may be in different places in the buying cycle. Someone may find your content accidentally and become interested in the products you sell, but don’t know how they could use them. Do you have another piece of content or landing page equipped to show them how to get value from using your products? You should!

Another visitor may be looking to buy a product like yours at that very moment, so it’s essential to make your pricelist easily accessible. To attract more interested buyers, ensure you have white papers or videos showing why your products are the best on the market, and explaining your competitive edge.

Lead nurturing is the new lead generation. Your customers aren’t stupid. They want to come to their own logical buying decisions, so the more you offer them, the more value they will attach to your brand. The real value in content marketing is in building community, so attaching a value to your community is important.

So … is content marketing ROI trackable?

In a word, yes. Monitoring leads and sales value is possible using the various analytical programmes on the market. ResponseTap and similar companies are starting to bridge the gap between offline conversions and online activity, and I see this as the next step in linking content marketing with return on investment.

However at the minute, the secondary benefits of social marketing are not clear to monitor. Comparing new and repeat visitors to your website is a great metric for seeing how well your content is doing at bringing fresh customers to your site, but how advantageous is this in the long run? It is yet to be seen.

Do you have any of your own insights on content marketing and measuring returns? I would love to hear them in the comments below.

Written by Jonny who is interested in how social media and content marketing are helping small and medium sized businesses increase brand awareness online.

7 Old Post Revival Techniques You Won’t Believe You’re Overlooking

This guest post is by Ahmed Safwan of To Start Blogging.

Do you have hundreds of posts in your archive?

Most of them receiving a big zero in traffic?

You aren’t the only one who has this problem. Most of the bloggers, even pro ones, have this problem. That’s why this post was created.

Your old posts can generate additional visitors for you. Let’s see how.

1. Create internal links

You’ve heard me talk about internal linking before. This is because it’s very important.

When you link to your old posts, you are giving more value to your readers and also to Google itself.

You will be able to get traffic to your old posts, decrease bounce rates, increase average time on site per visitor, and increase your rankings. All this from just linking to your old posts!

So, whenever you write a new post, remember that your old posts can also give value, and link to them in your new post.

2. Update your old post and republish it

Do you notice how CopyBlogger republishes some of its old articles from time to time?

Doing this will let you catch a break, and also get a raft of traffic to your old content while making sure that content remains current over time.

3. Spread it on social media

Social media can also send more traffic to your old posts. Tweet more than one post each day, to get the best results.

As well as scheduling tweets for the upcoming week, see if you can’t theme your old post tweets around events that are happening in your niche, or the world in general. Depending on your topic, a post you wrote six month or a year ago may provide an interesting coutnerpoint or reminder for readers.

4. Create a follow-up post

Maybe you have an old post, but something has changed around that topic. Great: create a follow-up post that shows what’s changed since you wrote that old post, link back to it, and you will get traffic to it as well.

This can be especially effective if there are valuable comments on the old post, and you can pick up on those in the new one. Tactics like this, which weave the posts together, give readers a solid reason to look back at the past post.

5. Use a “related posts” widget

When your readers reach the end of a post, they want to know what to do next. Show them related posts from your archives. This revives your old posts and provides more context and information to your readers.

Remember, they can be your loyal readers forever, so always try to provide them with the content they need. Your archives should be chock-a-block with it!

6. Use cornerstone content

Do you have a number of posts on a similar topic? Create a single post that contains all of these posts, as a one-stop resource for your readers.

This way, you’ll get more traffic from search engines, and show your authority on this topic—which can only help build loyalty among the visitors you help.

7. Link to your old posts in an email series

Last week, I received an email from Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income. It’s an email that’s sent to all new subscribers after a given time, and in the email, he was promoting an old post. What a great idea.

Create autoresponders to send weekly to your new subscribers. In these emails, you can include links to your old posts and relevant tips. This is a great way to create a richer relationship with your new subscribers.

Do you have any other ideas?

These are the common ways to promote your old posts. If you have another idea, share it in the comments!

In addition to being a successful blogger and a talented freelance writer, Ahmed Safwan is on a mission to help bloggers who want to succeed build the blog that can help them to do so. If youíre one of them, check out his blog for more Blogging Tips that Help you make money.

How to Use Multivariate Testing to Build the Ultimate Opt-in Form

This guest post is by Adam Connell of Bloggingwizard.com.

There’s a testing technique out there that’s not being used to its full potential—or even used at all by most website owners.

Today I want to show you how you can use it to create the ultimate high-converting opt-in form.

So what is multivariate testing? It’s essentially very similar to split testing. The difference is that it takes into account a lot more variables.

Many site owners avoid multivariate testing as it seems overly complex, and most of the services on the market that provide multivariate testing are paid services, which leaves bloggers unsure of the potential ROI.

In this post you will learn how you can use Google Analytics content experiments to conduct multivariate testing on your own opt-in forms in an easy and controlled way that will allow you to maximise your conversions.

Why multivariate testing?

In early 2012 Econsultancy.com and Redeye conducted a survey http://econsultancy.com/uk/reports/conversion-rate-optimization-report that yielded some interesting results.

Multivariate testing came out as the most valuable testing method for improving conversions, despite only 17% of companies stating that they used it.

According to the same report, taking the leap from A/B split testing to multivariate testing can help you improve conversions by an extra 15%.

This shows a huge opportunity for those site owners and businesses that come on board and start using this testing method.

So let’s see how it’s done.

Step 1. Break down your opt-in form

In order to conduct any worthwhile experiment you need a plan and identify all of the different variables; but in order to come up with a complete list of variables you need to break your opt-in form into its various elements.

Here is a combination of the typical elements you may find in an opt-in form:

  • headline
  • subheadline
  • additional text
  • image/video
  • name capture field
  • email capture field
  • buttons
  • background.

Step 2. Define your variables

Now that we have all of the elements of your opt-in form mapped out, we need to break each element down further and plan out how we might want to vary each one.

Please note, the list below is not exhaustive, nor do you have to vary all of these when you come to experiment. The point is to show you all of the possibilities.

You may think some of these are minor changes, and they are. But the impact of some of these changes can be enormous.

For example, some marketers have tested opt-ins with name capture and email fields against forms with just an email capture field, and have managed to increase conversions by 20%. So it all makes a difference!

  • Headline: font, text size, text colour, capitalisation, alignment
  • Sub-headline: font, text size, text colour, capitalisation, alignment
  • Additional text: yes/no, font, text size, text colour, capitalisation, alignment, bullet points
  • Image/video: yes/no, image size, image content, video size, video content, video audio, video type
  • Name capture: yes/no, text in field, icon to the left
  • Email capture: icon to the left, text in field
  • Button: size, shape, text colour, text font, text size, background colour, rounded edges
  • Background: border, image, drop shadow, border.

Step 3. Plan the test

This is where it starts to get a little bit more complex: you need to come up with the original control version of the form for your test, and as large a number of variations as possible.

The downside to Google Analytics content experiments is that you’re limited to nine variations plus the original (or control) version.

You also need to be able to keep track of the variations and changes that you’re making; you can’t just throw something in and hope for the best.

To make this easy for you, we’ve put together a Google docs spreadsheet that will allow you to keep track of all your elements and variations.

Click here to access the spreadsheet

Please note: you must make a copy of this spreadsheet before altering it, otherwise everyone who visits will be able to see your testing plan!

testing-tracker

Due to the number of variations that may be needed in the future we’ve broken the document down into controlled groups.

Now just add the variations, which may look something like this:

testing-tracker-filled-in

At this stage it’s important that you only fill in the variations for group A as you need to use the results of each group’s test to inform the variations you select for the next group.

Step 4. Gear up to test group A

Now that you have planned out your variations for group A, you’re ready to get the test underway.

The test

The setup process here is fairly straightforward:

    1. Set up a new page for each variation.
    2. Add the pages to Google analytics content experiments. Log in to your account, then navigate to standard reporting > content > experiments.
    3. Set your goals. Note: the easiest way to do this is to ensure your opt-in form directs users to a thank you page, then find the URL and add this as the goal URL.
    4. Add the content experiments code to your pages.
    5. Let the experiment run.

It’s important to let your experiments run for as long as possible, so you can get data from the largest possible amount of traffic.

The more traffic you run this experiment on, the better, but if your blog doesn’t have as much traffic, then you will need to run it for even longer.

You are just looking for conversion rate here so, strictly speaking, you can run each test on different numbers of traffic. You need a statistically significant result for each test; you don’t need every test to involve the same amount of traffic.

Step 5. Review results and prepare to test group B

By now you will have had the results from group A, which means you can start thinking about the group B tests.

The first thing to do is to take the best performing variation from group A and add it as the original for group B (don’t forget to update your main page on your website at this point).

Now it’s just a case of rinsing and repeating the process above, tweaking and coming up with new variations to test each time.

A potential 15% conversion boost

Using this guide you will be able to create additional experiments for other parts of your sites, not just opt-in forms. You can easily tweak this method to use on sales pages, product reviews, squeeze pages, ad layouts or anything else you can think of.

The important thing is laying out your variations and keeping track of them. Then, just rinse and repeat.

Are you using any form of testing at the moment? We would love to hear about which methods you’re using and how much you’ve managed to increase your conversions in the comments.

Adam Connell is an internet marketing and SEO nut from the UK. He can be found blogging over at Bloggingwizard.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamjayc.

Blog Design For ROI Rule #7: Blend Ads With Content & Encourage Comments

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

What happens when someone comes to the end of your post? Their eyes keep reading downwards, so it’s wise to optimize the area with advertorials and an encouraging comment area.

Advertorials

What do I mean by advertorials? And why should they be present at the end of a post specifically?

In the news-media world, there’s traditionally been a distinction between “editorial content” and ads.

An advertorial is an ad designed to look like regular, non-sponsored content. Advertorial design aims to increase readership by avoiding traditional ad blindness.

As you can imagine, advertorials’ appearance varies according to the media they appear in, to better look like the content they’re designed after. Traditionally advertorials looked like news articles.

Today, Facebook offers “sponsored stories” in the News Feed, which are essentially advertorials:

Advertorial

Likewise Twitter offers “promoted account” suggestions and sponsored tweets, that are a modern variant of advertorials:

Twitter advertorial

What’s the key takeaway?

As Fred Wilson writes on AVC:

“In both examples, the ad unit is the same atomic unit of content as the users create in the service.”

The takeaway for bloggers is that advertorials for blogs need to look like blog posts, or at least inhouse content.

And what better place on a blog for an advertorial than where people are most likely to read it—after another post?

In other words, place the advertorial either after a few posts on a category page (where it looks like another post in the category page’s list) or after a blog post on its own page. In both cases your placement contributes to the impression that the advertorial is regular, non-paid content.

Some of the top marketing blogs use this area for advertorial promotions, be it for inhouse marketing (most commonly), or also for other people’s products.

Social Media Examiner uses their branded cartoon-jungle-explorer style for their newsletter promotion:

SM Examiner

And MediaBistro make their promo’s background the same as the background behind links to related content:

Media Bistro

And of course Problogger does this as well, featuring affiliate marketing for the Genesis WordPress framework. The advertorial uses the Problogger-brand-orange in the advertorial title and the light-blue of the related content box above the advertorial, having it blend in easily with the rest of Problogger content.

Problogger

Summary On Below-The-Post Ads

Style the ad like your content by featuring elements of your branding. These can include design styles like a border – visible in SocialMediaExaminer’s worn jungle map style and on Chris Brogan’s jagged-border advertorials – or your brand colours, or the background color used for some of your content blocks, like MediaBistro’s previous-link and next-link blocks.

Another approach that I struggled to find an example of but that can be even more impactful is adopting the exact styles of your post for the advertorial.

If you have graphics indicating the start of a post (following Blog Design For ROI Rule #4: Make Posts Easy To Read), you can repeat these at the end of your post to start your advertorial. This maximizes the impression that there’s more editorial content following the post … exactly as intended with the whole idea behind advertorials.

(NB: You need to indicate that the content is an ad, if promoting a third-party. However, leave the notice to the end, as Facebook and Twitter do, because if you immediately tell people that what follows is an ad, you may as well say “the following content is useless, so skip it.” The goal in using the advertorial approach is to overcome this obstacle. You then disclose that the content was sponsored at the end, so that people can decide for themselves what to think of the ad.)

Persuasive, easy-to-use comment design

As business bloggers, we want the most comments possible, of the best quality possible, so as to generate a vibrant community that helps build their repeat visitor traffic. Yet comment design rarely does anything to encourage this behaviour, being seen as a merely functional element rather than a serious opportunity.

Tell people Why they should comment

Tell them about incentives

It’s true that many people don’t comment for lack of time or for lack of anything to say.

Yet I know from giving away links to people who left thoughtful comments on my SEO ROI blog, that incentives can get some of these otherwise-passive readers to comment. And I know that SEOmoz, which has probably the richest, most thoughtful comments on the web, owes their success in part to rewarding participation with points, recognition (e.g. speaking engagements at events they run), and free memberships.

So offer a reward, and write a brief blurb near the comments saying so. For example, a while ago I saw a blog offering a monthly cash prize for its most prolific and best commenters.

Tell people about author engagement

If you’re able to, commit to responding to every single comment left on your blog. While it’s common knowledge that responding to blog comments encourages others to comment, that’s only for people who bother to read the comment section.

What if the first thing you see is that there lots of comments, though? Chances are you don’t expect the author to respond to each comment, in which case there’s less incentive to comment. No one likes talking to a brick wall.

So to answer people’s concern, you can explicitly state that you respond to all comments (say, except for “I agrees”).

For blogs that take contributions from multiple authors, you can either ask authors to commit to responding to all comments or even show what percentage of comments got a response from the post’s author.

An upper limit might also be appropriate in such a case, such as “I Gab Goldenberg commit to responding to the first 50 comments that state something beyond ‘I agree’. (Early thanks goes to those who comment just to show appreciation.)”

Tell them about rewards

If you run contests or offer prizes for reaching fixed participation levels, don’t hide the information elsewhere. State it explicitly above the comments area!

Auto-complete commenter names

The 80-20 rule applies to comments. 80% of comments come from 20% of the audience. Why not save time for repeat commenters by asking, once they’ve submitted their comment, if they’d like their names to be stored for future-auto-completion? Similarly you can get them to register at the same time, and use this for community rankings as described in “Shower Love On Your Blog Community.”

Display people’s profile thumbnails

It may seem obvious, yet most blogs still don’t show a thumbnail photo of their commenters. Probably this is partly because of non-registration, since most people don’t want to register separately for a blog (it’s yet another thing to register for…).

You can get around this by using Facebook for comments, since most people are registered on Facebook, and Facebook comments include thumbnails. This also gets you auto-completion of people’s names if they’re logged in to Facebook while browsing your site and it also has the advantage of…

Threaded comments

While it’s ironically not possible in regular status-update discussions within Facebook.com, Facebook-powered comments on third party sites use threaded comments. Threaded comments mean that you can respond to the first comment on a post without the comment appearing beneath all the intervening comments, which enables discussion that would otherwise be fragmented and unwieldy.Threaded comments

In addition to threading comments, Facebook-powered comments have the advantage of auto-filling in commenters’ names if the commenter is logged in to Facebook at the same time (e.g. in another browser tab).

So should you just switch to Facebook comments?

As of this writing, there seems to be a bit of technical savvy required, and the WordPress plugins I found for this have mixed reviews. If you have a suggestion in this regard, then please do. In any case, if you can implement it technically, then Facebook comments offer the above advantages as well as some others. And if you use FBXML, you can ensure the comments are indexed by Google, for optimal SEO.

In conclusion

At the end of your post, don’t just abandon the reader with nothing to read or do – show them an advertorial.

Ideally, have it adopt the appearance of your post, complete with header font and colors, category links etc. This will help maximize the percentage of people who read your message, as opposed to skipping it as just another ad.

If you’re advertising a third party’s wares, you should disclose this – at the end of the advertisement.

With regards to your comments, add an area above the comments section where you tell people the incentives to comment. Let them know that all comments are read and responded to.

And as to providing an optimal user experience, you’d be well advised to integrate Facebook comments, as they auto-complete the user’s name and profile picture, while threading discussions.

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

5 Ways to Harness Your Online Reputation For Blogging Success

This guest post is by Valerie Wilson.

Quick: Picture that bad choice for a prom or bridesmaid’s dress years ago. Or the haircut that your mom made you get—the one that looked like a Tupperware bowl had been placed on your head. The one that didn’t go over very well at school.

Some memories do last forever, don’t they? This is true. But, hey, they are just memories. All good. No real damage, right?

Quicker: Remember one rumor that floated around your high school years ago. Who was doing what with whom>?! Remember how it spread like wild fire? And how old are you now? How long has that rumor stuck with you? Those were rumors. No proof!

But your Facebook political blurt-out a few years ago—or last week? A scathing reaction you made or to which you responded? Or—the biggie—a “little comment” about a previous account or client or employer with whom you worked?

Brace yourself. That “just having a bad day” comment can have a long-lasting effect. That’s the stuff that can be cut and pasted and repeated and posted—everywhere. Don’t let that happen to you.

The good news is that there are some strong strategies you may employ to improve your online reputation:

  1. Always tell the truth. Remember those rules you learned as a kid? This was one of the most important ones. To increase your readership, don’t embellish. Your blog will succeed if you establish this intention. For example, Intentional Growth does a great job of establishing credibility.
  2. Build positive relationships. When you blog, you’re building relationships with people and organizations. Be aware of building as many of these positive relationships as possible. Follow other blogs; they’ll reply in kind. Appreciate them by directly commenting to them and about them, and keep the language fun and enjoyable. Upbeat blogs such as RapidBuyr’s exemplify this technique really well!
  3. Keep calm and carry on. If you do get that occasional negative poster, be sure to keep calm and carry on, just like the t-shirt says. The goal is to make it right. Do it quickly, or the number of your blog followers could dramatically decrease. Your reaction can and will be around for a long time. Act accordingly. One particular blog, Socialnomics, shares even more insight about how to handle negative feedback on your blog. Damage control can be painless if you pay attention to just a few key strategies.
  4. Go viral, go viral, and then … go viral. The more viral your blog goes, the stronger your reputation and following will be. Bigger is better. Get that blog up on every social media site you’re connected to, and consider providing incentives for folks who “share” your blog through their own social media. An angel investor, Haig Kayserian, shares the story of how his blog went viral, and it’s filled with great insights about how to get yours to do the same. “Word of mouth,” move over. There’s a new kid in town!
  5. Spread good karma! We all know that it just takes 30 seconds with the news, a newspaper, or a headline on your phone or tablet to remind you that life can present some pretty ugly stuff. Let people take a break from that by logging on and spending some time with your fun, upbeat, charismatic, and charming blog. When they like you, they’ll follow you. Just ask Oprah. Or Jimmy Fallon. They got the goods!  A personal favorite for spreading good vibes is the Etsy blog.

These five strategies can help you to attain and maintain a favorable reputation, and the great news is that there are now easy and efficient websites that you can use that will keep an eye on that reputation.

Sites like Reputation.com are fantastic for addressing the challenge of tracking your online reputation. They can monitor and guide you through reputation management for your businesses and your blog, and they have figured out how to make it easy for you! That’s a good day at the office right there!

Valerie Wilson is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics including creating strong workplace communications and spreading some good karma.