Close
Close

Post Length and Engagement: The Content Marketer’s Dilemma

Everyone’s talking about content at the moment: from those using content marketing to sell business-to-business, to pro niche bloggers, and of course, us here at problogger.net.

Phones

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi

It was also a topic that we dealt with on Monday’s #blogchat session on Twitter.

Among the topics that have come up in these discussions is one of length. Longread content is becoming more popular on social media and the web in general, and publishers are finding that while it costs to create longform content, it pays.

Yet research has shown that many social shares aren’t read before they’re shared (and as for afterwards, who knows?). And the average solo blogger probably doesn’t have time to create longform content for every post (or even every so often!).

So what’s better? Is longform content the way to go? Are the days of Seth Godin-style short, punchy posts numbered?

The stats

This post by Neil Patel analyses backlinks, shares, and conversions based on word count, and he’s found that longer content beats shorter posts in all areas.

It’s easy to glance through that post, be wowed by the graphs, and start planning your longread content strategy. But in the conclusion, Neil makes some interesting points, including this:

“Writing lengthy content won’t get you a ton of tweets and likes if you haven’t built up your social media accounts first.”—Neil Patel

While the figures are appealing, longform content shouldn’t be seen as the silver bullet to a blog’s traffic and reader retention problems.

Longer posts don’t necessarily drive greater engagement.

The medium

A Pew Internet study of young Americans’ (under-30s) reading habits from 2012 showed that “47% of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers.” But interestingly, “60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year.” Those library users were borrowing print books as well as ebooks and audio books, along with magazines, newspapers, and journals.

So not only can we safely say that readers are still reading; we can also say that they’re not reading exclusively online.

Which bring us back to Seth Godin’s blog. I don’t know about you, but I can’t really imagine him publishing a 35,000-word mega-post (like the SEOmoz post mentioned in Neil’s article) on his blog. Seth seems to keep his longform content to books. And perhaps there’s a good reason for making that differentiation.

I mentioned on #blogchat this week that I think different types of content achieve different kinds of engagement, and as bloggers, we can use that to engage with different audience segments more meaningfully. Maybe that’s Seth’s approach: if you’re an “advanced” user of his ideas and work, you buy the book. If you’re at the “beginner” level, you stick with the blog.

But I think this raises an interesting question for those considering embracing longform content because it’s popular right now.

Would the information in your longform post be better communicated:

  • in a book or ebook
  • as a course or email series
  • through a webinar, forum, or discussion
  • some other way?

The answers depend on your readers, and the message you’re trying to communicate. But as bloggers, we can’t assume that a longform post will go viral any more than any other kind of post will go viral. It may not even have a better chance of ranking well in search.

Why not?

Getting it right

Writing longform content takes different skills than writing shorter content. The way I see it, longform content multiplies the challenges bloggers face writing short content—and adds some new ones, like structure, pace, keeping interest, and so on, into the mix. The kind of longform content that really does get read, as well as shared and ranked, isn’t just a matter of more words. It’s a matter of delivering more value—much more value.

If you have trouble getting traffic to your posts now, or your readers don’t seem engaged, you may need to work on your writing technique more before attempting a longform post.

In any case, a longform post you’re using as part of a content marketing strategy isn’t likely to massively grow your readership on its own. Like any kind of promotion, it’ll do best when it’s supported by already-strong reader engagement, a solid social network, excellent quality control, and so on.

Longform content isn’t just about adding words. It’s about adding value. If you don’t yet believe you have the value to justify a longform post, it might be best to stick with shorter content until you do.

I’d be interested to hear if you’re embracing the longform trend, or keeping with shorter posts for the time being. Let us know how you see this dilemma in the comments.

2013 ProBlogger Training Event: To Be Held on the Gold Coast in Queensland

Today I’m excited to share news about the location and some other previously secret details of the new Aussie ProBlogger Training Day.

Over the last 3 years we’ve held a live blogging conference here in Melbourne that has grown both in attendee numbers but also impact each year.

The feedback from last year’s event was amazing. While there was room to improve in a few areas our team began to stress out a little as we read the feedback surveys at the end of the 2 days because the response was so positive we didn’t know if we could top it in 2013.

As a result we decided we needed to do something big to shake things up and today I am excited (and a little nervous) to announce that we’re taking PBEVENT on the road for the first time and are holding it at the QT Gold Coast in Queensland Australia.

gold-coast.jpg

I’ve just posted about the move on the ProBlogger Events blog where you can read more about the plans for the event but I wanted to mention it here on the ProBlogger blog too.

Great Blogger Training and Amazing Experiences of the Gold Coast!

Our ProBlogger Training Events are unashamedly packed with information for bloggers that will help them to grow their blogs (and to make them more profitable). Our 2013 event will be no different.

I’m already talking with a number of international and Aussie speakers about coming along and am excited by how that component of the conference is shaping up.

If you come you’ll return home with a head full of information, inspiration and ideas for your blog.

However this year we’re adding a new component to the event. Working with Queensland Tourism and Events we’ll be offering attendees the opportunity to have some ‘Pop-Up Experiences’ on the Gold Coast both before and after our event.

106211-634.jpg

The event itself is being held on 13-14 September but on the day before and days after we’ll offer some experiences that show off the region. They’ll include opportunities for pampering, adventure, fun and a little indulgence. They’ll be fun, give you an opportunity to meet other bloggers but also hopefully give you some experiences to write about on your blog.

Stay tuned for more information on what these pop-up experiences will be and how you can apply to be involved.

International Guests Welcome

Moving our event to Queensland also makes this conference a little more accessible to international guests. Last year we had attendees come Asia and a number of US readers seriously considered making the trip – this year the flights are shorter and we hope by offering the pop-up experiences before and after that we can tempt you to come along (and perhaps stay a little longer for a vacation).

There’s some exciting things happening in the Aussie blogosphere at the moment so coming to be a part of our event will hopefully give you some fresh perspective and inspiration for your blogging – wherever you are. Plus, us Aussies love to play host and I’m sure you’ll have a great time.

Sign Up to Be Notified When Tickets Go On Sale

In the coming weeks we’ll release more information about the pop-up experiences but also begin announcing speakers in the lead up to releasing tickets.

To keep informed of when tickets go on sale simply add your details to the form below and we’ll notify you of future developments!

Are You Following these 5 Headline Writing Tips for Better SEO Traffic?

This guest post is by Garrett Moon of Todaymade.

There are so many variables to a great blog post. There’s the topic. There’s the writing style and overall quality. But few things compare to the headline. After all, your headline is the first thing that your readers will see, and is probably the most important factor in determining if they will actually read your article.

While getting actual human readers is our primary goal, search engines also matter—a lot. They can, however, add complexity to the original problem. Your headlines need to be written for humans and robots, and they need to bring in big traffic from both sides. In blogging, there are two big headline goals:

  1. Get your viewer to actually read the post.
  2. Provide Google with the fuel you need to bring you big traffic.

How do we write headlines that win big for both readers and robots? Here are a five things that you can do to improve your headlines right now.

Step 1. Become a student of great headlines

It may sound like a beginner’s move, but learning to recognize a great headline is vital to writing headlines that excel in search. How can we execute this simple step? Easy. Observe your own actions.

Observe your own actions

Day in and day out, we are all using Google to perform a variety of searches. What is it that you are searching for? Like it or not, Google knows. If you are logged into your Google account, you can view your web history at https://www.google.com/dashboard/. Review your results to see the headlines that you ultimately clicked on. Your readers are probably similar to you in what they would choose, too.

There is, of course, oodles of information out there about writing great headlines, including the famous Copyblogger course on writing magnetic headlines.

Step 2. Know your audience

After viewing your own search habits and gleaning insight about headlines that mattered to you, put yourself into your reader’s shoes. What matters to them? Who are they, and what are they searching for? It is amazing how often we can go on blogging without even taking time to consider who our audience really is.

Step 3. Use Google’s related search to define key search terms

One my favorite tools for writing great headlines that rock is search itself—use Google! If you put a little strategy into your writing, you can write SEO-packed headlines using Google’s own related search terms.

The process is simple: when you search for keywords related to your blog topic, Google will automatically suggest alternative terms and phrases that other visitors have used. It is important to remember that these terms are based on crowd-sourced knowledge gained from millions of searches per day. These are the most popular keywords surrounding your topic.

Google autosuggest

It is very important in this step to refine your terms a bit and collect additional terms from a series of other popular searches. Let Google make suggestions and then revise your terms using these suggestions. This process can help us think outside the box and discover what our customers are looking for.

Step 4. Rewrite your headline at least three times

I can’t stress this step enough. Too often, we put a lot of our time and effort into the blog post, and forget about the headline. While the blog post will always matter and we do have to deliver in its content, the headline has to be great. Repeated iteration is key to great headline success. Write at least three alternative headlines for each post, for three reasons:

  1. We explore new territory: Admit it. You tend to write the same things over and over. We all do, but when we write more than one headline we force ourselves to work beyond the boundaries of our habits.
  2. Practice makes perfect: The more we write headlines, the better we become. More practice is always a good thing.
  3. We find new ideas: I can’t tell you how many “new posts” have come out of this simple habit. By writing three, you will regularly find a new spin on an old topic.

Step 5. A/B Test your headlines using Twitter or email marketing

Every time you publish or release an idea into the world, you are opening up to the opportunity to learn something new. Publishing new headlines should be no different. Improve your headline writing skills by putting them to the test.

Schedule a few tweets that link to the same post using alternative headlines. You could use several of your “extras” from step four of this blog post. The trick is to use a custom bit.ly link or other short URL service that allows you to track clicks. At the end of each day, calculate the clicks, retweets, and comments that you received with each headline. Which headline methods worked better than others?

The same test can be done with an active email marketing list. Most email software allows you to A/B test headlines and email subjects. Get into the habit of trying headlines against each other. Make sure you document the results and use what you lean to improve your writing abilities.

Better headlines, better traffic

No matter how frustrating it might feel at times, writing great headlines is not impossible. It just takes practice and a little bit of effort. SEO-driven headlines that are written to motivate readers and perform well in search are the goal of many but the achievement of few.

Follow these simple steps, and watch your headlines and traffic get the boost they deserve.

Garrett Moon is the marketing director at Todaymade, a web software and design company that created TodayLaunch, a fast and affordable social media dashboard.

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

This guest post is by Dunya Carter.

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

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

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

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

Printing from scratch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#comments {display:none;}

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

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

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

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

Using tools and plugins

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

For WordPress, the easiest option is WP-Print.

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

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

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

Looking good … in print!

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

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

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

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

This post is by Steve of Do Something Cool. 

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

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

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

The overwhelming list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This guest post is by Ayelet Weisz of All Colores.

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

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

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

Then you see this message:

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

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

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

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

Why would a site crash on theme installation?

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

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

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

The best times to crash your site

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

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

1. When your largest audience is asleep

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

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

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

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

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

If it all goes wrong

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

Option #1. Put on the tech hat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatal doesn’t always mean fatal

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

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

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

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

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

The ProBlogger Evolution: Our Halt on Guest Post Submissions

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post Submissions Closed

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

Watch this space…

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

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

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

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

This guest post is by Ayelet Weisz of All Colores.

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

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

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

You are?

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

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

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

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

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

2. Make sure it has a full refund policy

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

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

3. Read the terms and conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Know when to switch themes

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

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

6. Make time

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

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

7. Take tech support into consideration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Be willing to ask questions

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

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

10. Get a recommendation

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

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

11. Know that things will go wrong

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

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

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

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

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

This post is by Mark Acsay III of Webby Thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the five primary web design elements?

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

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

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

The design elements in practice

1. Emphasize the most important objective

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

Uprinting

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

Size

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

Shape

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

Color

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

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

Position

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

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

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

2. Use just the right number of design elements

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

Amazon

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

3. Make effective use of balance

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

Seomoz

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

4. Communicate the right messages effectively

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

thinktraffic

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

5. Use the right flow

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

Flash

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

Are you using the design elements on your blog?

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

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

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

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

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