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New Year, New Start – What Have We Done?

It’s January 31 – the end of the month where we make and break New Year’s resolutions and swear to do better next time.

If you’re anything like me, you may have thought about what you want to do with your blog this year, and where you want to go. Maybe wrote down a couple of changes, or a few ideas to try. Unlike me, you’ve probably also made a start on a few of these, and started 2014 blogging with a bang.

What we’d like to know is: what have you done differently this month? What kinds of things have you thought you might like to do with blogging this year? What new changes have you made, and do you think they will work for you?

Feel free to have a chat in the comments, or link to a post you’ve written about your blogging goals for this year. We’d love to hear an update on how we’re all travelling one month in.

Here’s to 11 more of success!

The Unexpected Way to Write Killer Content: Blog from Your Heart and Break All the Rules

This is a guest contribution from Tova Payne of TovaPayne.com

If you asked me two years ago about blogging, well let’s just say I must have been living in a cave, because I didn’t quite understand what blogging was all about or why people did it.

I’ve loved writing my whole life, but never realized how blogging was associated with business, or getting your message out to the world.

So I started off with writing a newsletter to an e-mail list I had, and slowly, as I was studying more about business, I recognized that my natural passion for writing could reach a wider audience through blogging.

This gave my writing a greater purpose—the ability to spread my message to a wider reach, to share what I love and hopefully help inspire others too.

Simple enough…Or so I thought.

The more I learned about business (and I bet you can relate), the more you start hearing about the “shoulds,” the rules, and the “right way” to blog and write in general.

You learn about techniques such as SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and how to craft the PERFECT headline so people will read the damn message. Let me be fair—these things contribute to the success of your blog. BUT, what I see and hear people tell me all the time is how they can’t write their blog because they are not sure if they are doing it the right way, or they can’t hit publish until they find that perfect headline.

What’s the problem with that?

Well, it’s an easy way to stay in fear-mode. Too scared you’re doing things wrong that you don’t send your message out to the world. Too scared you didn’t get the right SEO key terms that you never press “publish”. You keep waiting to have everything right until you hit that magic button.

Well, I’ll tell you—the fastest way to sabotage your blogging efforts is waiting to get things right.

Blogging, like anything in life, is a muscle. You need to work it to strengthen it. Through your dedication to blogging and through your consistent posting you will inevitably start crafting better headlines. You will receive feedback on what creates a more popular post and what works best.

And it’s not by spending 80% of your time reading about blogging and 20% of your time starting that blog you never post. The only way to really learn and get better is to get started: Write. And publish. You need to publish to learn.

Secondly, when you try so hard to fit into every blogging rule—you run the risk of seriously dulling down your message to fit the rules, which takes away from the feeling, the inspiration, and the heart of your message.

What posts go viral? It’s the messages that inspire people to share it with their friends. Not the ones that fit the perfect SEO-box.

And I know this from my own experience. Sometimes when I write for other publications I have to write SEO-driven content, and I’ll tell you it just doesn’t feel the same and it never brings me as many likes or new fans as the ones that come from pure heart and passion.

Now, like anything in life it’s a fine balance. I mean if the essence of your writing is to reach people, and if tweaking a few words here and there will help reach more people—then take a few minutes to tweak a few words. Certainly, take advantage of the tag words and writing a good excerpt if you can—but do NOT stress over it, and don’t waste more than a few minutes on this.

Like all rules, they are there as a framework to guide you. But the magic happens when you can chuck the framework and make up your own rules. To allow your intuitive guidance to help you in the decision processing that you make. And yes, this pertains to blogging and all areas of your work.

Certainly, SEO matters to some degree, but when you write from your heart and share your message from that place of passion, the right people will find you.

My vote is to spend more time creating from the heart and press “publish” more often (as you sweep the rules under the rug). So what are waiting for? People are waiting to hear your message. Get to work—Write. Publish. Repeat.

Tova Payne is a Published Author, Writer, Blogger, and Entrepreneur. She helps creative entrepreneurs take action on their dreams. Visit her online home to grab a free copy of 5 Keys to Starting + Finishing your Dream Projectwww.tovapayne.com

Connect with Tova on Facebook here.

Building a Magnetic Blog: How to Keep Your Readers Coming Back for More

This post is from SpecificFeeds.

As bloggers, we tend to be a little obsessed with numbers – we check our stats compulsively to see how many more hits we got today than yesterday and freak out if we lose a couple of followers on Twitter or Facebook.

However, most bloggers are focusing on the wrong numbers. Having a highly trafficked blog sounds great and it may well be, but what’s even more important that having lots of visitors to your site is ensuring that a high percentage of them are recurring visitors.

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to improve your blog’s SEO to bring in more search engine traffic, how to get more likes on Facebook and so on. All of this is great advice but a web visitor who clicks through to your site, stays for five minutes and leaves forever is probably not very valuable to you.

What we really should be concentrating on is encouraging our readers to come back to our site and read our content on a regular basis.

Why Recurring Readers Are More Valuable

Blogging is not so different from any other business – to be successful it’s important to gain a sufficient number of customers (readers). As with many other industries, selling to pre-existing customers is not only easier but is also likely to be more successful.

A high customer retention rate means that you don’t need to spend as much time and effort in trying to win new customers, as you can spend most of your energy focusing on your existing clientele.

Your regular readers don’t need any convincing to click through to your content. They are eager to read anything new you publish and they value your opinion and recommendations. A blog’s subscribed readers are its most valuable asset.

How to Encourage Subscriptions and Recurring Blog Visitors

Creating a blog that people want to come back to time and time again always comes back to the keystone of excellent content. If you’re not producing content that is helpful, entertaining, easy to read and interesting, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and start again.

That being said, there are a number of ways that you can encourage first-time visitors to your blog to become regular readers. Human beings tend towards laziness so you need to make things as simple and accessible for your readers as possible. If you don’t make it easy for people to access your content on a regular basis, the chances are they just won’t bother.

To encourage casual visitors to become regular readers, you should offer a number of different ways to follow your blog that are clearly visible within the design:

1. RSS Feeds – Still Alive and Kicking!

RSS is not dead, despite what the naysayers may claim. After Google Reader closed, the most popular alternative RSS reader, Feedly, gained an additional 3 million new users. If your blog doesn’t have a working RSS feed, you’re forcing your readers to come directly to your site to read your content and for many people, that is more effort than your blog is worth.

2. Email Opt-in Form – The Money is in The List!

In general, email subscribers are worth much more than RSS subscribers as there is a higher likelihood that they will read your posts. People tend to dip in and out of their RSS readers for entertainment and it’s easy for them to skip over posts when they’re busy. Emails have a higher perceived importance and are much more likely to be read.

Emails also feel a lot more personal than blog posts and allow you to customize your messages to each individual reader (e.g., by addressing them by their name). This can really help your followers to feel like you are talking directly to them and can help to increase your conversion rates.

3. Social Networking – The Future Present is Social!

Since Google Reader bowed out, its former users have had to hunt out alternative ways of keeping up with their favorite blogs and some have abandoned RSS readers altogether. Publishing links to your blog posts to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ provides an easy way for people to follow your blog, as well as encouraging reader interaction.

Like email, posting updates to social media has a more informal feel than using your RSS feed and people are more likely to read your posts when they’re mixed in with other updates from their friends and family.

Having social media accounts for your blog and making your posts easy to share is also an excellent way for growing your fan base. When someone likes your page on Facebook (or Google+ or whatever) it acts like a recommendation from one reader to all their friends and followers. This is a great way of getting new readers who are interested in what you have to say.

And if you’re a site where users can sign up as members, social media integration is a no-brainer anyway. Signing up through an existing social account takes much less time than filling out a form and avoids the problem of lost login credentials – that’s why the majority of social media users prefer this option.

4. New Emerging Technologies – Keep Your Finger on the Pulse!

Internet technologies go in and out of fashion extremely quickly and it’s not always possible to predict what will be the ‘next big thing’. However it’s never a bad idea to experiment with a couple of newer subscription technologies, particularly if they make life easier for your blog readers.

There are a couple of interesting options that are starting to make a name for themselves since the demise of Google Reader. One of these is SpecificFeeds which resolves many of the weaknesses with RSS by allowing users to customize feeds to their individual needs. Check out the Problogger specific feed to get an idea for how the service works.

The Pros and Cons of Pop-up Opt-in Forms

Pop-up windows went out of favor in the early 2000s but they are now back with a vengeance as technology has allowed them to be more user-friendly and they’ve been proven to improve conversion rates by an impressive amount.

There’s still a fair amount of controversy surrounding pop-ups – some people say that you should always use them in order to maximize your newsletter sign ups, while others claim they are an abomination that should be struck from the internet.

For a compelling argument of why you should use pop-ups, have a read through this article right here on Problogger, in which Darren illustrates how using a pop-up signup form caused his daily subscribes to shoot up by over 800%, overnight.

Pop-ups are of course intrusive by nature, and you do run the risk of annoying your readers and causing the opposite effect to what you intended. This article at Copyblogger discusses the downside of using pop-ups, ponders whether it is worth the risk, and offers some viable alternatives.

In the end It comes down to personal preference whether you use pop-ups or not, but there’s no denying that they are incredibly effective when it comes to increasing your email signups.

Perhaps an acceptable compromise is to make use of the sophisticated pop-up technology that is now available for blogs and show pop-ups only to first-time visitors or have the pop-up appear only when the user has read an entire article and scrolled to the bottom of the page.

Growing Your Subscribers is The No.1 Way to Grow Your Business.

The arguments for focusing on your existing readers are compelling. It’s said that a business needs only 1,000 true fans to be successful. What is a true fan? Someone who wants to consume everything you produce, whether you are an author, singer, artist or blogger.

Rather than focusing on trying to increase your blog traffic, instead shift your focus to converting your existing occasional readers into subscribers. If your blog can manage to obtain 1,000 truly engaged subscribers, you can safely call yourself a successful blogger, whatever niche you write in and whatever your method of monetization or business model you use.

Growing your subscribers is not something that happens overnight but with consistent effort and a well-thought out plan, it is possible.

To sum up:

Publish excellent content

Engage with your readers and be approachable and friendly

Offer a highly visible link to your RSS feed

Include an email subscription form

Add sharing buttons for the social networks you want to focus on

Look into new subscription technologies like SpecificFeeds

Consider a popup signup form.

Do you have any other tips for optimizing your blog subscribers? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the importance of site traffic versus RSS and email subscribers so join the discussion in the comments if you have any opinions or further points to add.

This post is from SpecificFeeds, which also has a blog on the topics of productivity and managing information overload.

Not on Instagram? Your Blog Could be Missing Out

This post is from ProBlogger Team member Stacey Roberts.

You could be forgiven for thinking Instagram is just for celebrity selfies and sharing pictures of what you ate for lunch. And while that’s exactly what Instagram is, it’s also so much more. For a start, it’s a network of totally engaged online creatures – exactly the kind of people who love to read blogs, and probably would love yours too, if you let them know you have one.

So many of us are visual creatures, and we love pretty pictures. In the last few years, Instagram has been the place to be for that – many of my blogging friends now call it their favourite form of social media. It is invaluable for interacting with readers (especially ones who don’t have a blog), and for finding new ones that aren’t coming to you through the usual channels.

It takes two seconds to upload a snippet of your day and check in with what’s happening. Instagram routinely gets plenty of interaction and engagement from fellow users, and while a tweet can sit in the ether feeling sorry for itself, an image is far more evocative. It also doesn’t take much for your followers to “like” your image, and you’re always in their feed as it’s not based on algorithms only Einstein could understand.

Instagram doesn’t take much brainpower to engage with – it’s not a tweet to be read, it’s not a Facebook status to understand – so people check in on it much more than they do other forms of social media. You can flick through while waiting in the doctor’s office, in the car at school pick-up, before a meeting, or even while waiting at the checkout. So the more you pop up in people’s feeds, the more your name and brand begin to get familiar. And because it takes one tap to engage – people are more likely to.

Folks love to share, and are often found snapping a picture of their freshly-made bed, a beautiful blue sky, or even their kids who painted their face instead of their paper. And they don’t just share and run, often they scroll through for a bit as well to see what everyone else is up to. Then they check back to see if anyone has chatted to them, which results in more scrolling. It would be silly not to capitalize on this, and be where the people are.

If you’re looking for 150 million monthly active users globally, you can’t go past Instagram. The 65 million photos uploaded by users every day result in a billion likes – and some of those could be on your content. Instagram says users spend three times as long on Instagram as they do on Pinterest and twice as long as on Twitter.

You don’t have to be funny or clever, you can just snap a picture of something intriguing and share that. There is always the lure of the “behind the scenes” images, so if you’re a business, upload some shots of what you all get up to in a day’s work. You might think it’s just for the young, but you’ll be surprised how useful it is to find new readers of any age, and how easy it is do do.

Less effort for more readers? You’d be crazy not to do it.

Stacey Roberts is the content ninja at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

5 Ways to Find Out What People Really Want From Your Blog

This is a guest contribution from Sabina Stoiciu, blogger, photographer and traveller. 

While it can be quite redundant to pose this question, here it goes: Why blog? Let’s have a look at a few key stats that’ll convince you to set up a blog in the next two seconds, if you haven’t already got one:

  • 77% of Internet users read blogs
  • nearly one quarter (23%) of the time spent on the Internet is directed towards blogs and social networks
  • small businesses that run blogs increase their leads number by 126%
  • offering valuable content is one of three reasons why people follow your brand on social networks
  • 81% of US customers give credit to recommendations coming from blogs they’re fond of

(see the full stats on socialmediatoday)

One thing that happens to many fresh bloggers is not knowing what to write about or what would best benefit their audience, in order to convince them to subscribe to that blog and to make them desperately wait for another post to be published.

Supposing this little problem of not knowing exactly what to blog about might occur to anyone, not only to blogging rookies, it’s a good idea to think about what people want from your blog.

By not knowing this, you make yourself a disservice because:

a) you can fail at attracting new readers if you’re not aware of what they seek and

b) you might lose some of your current readers if you don’t meet or keep up with their expectations.

When talking about blogs, it’s important to know how readers see them. Some people read blogs to live other people’s experiences. Others look for tips they can apply to themselves. Several people look for business information, while there are many others who seek entertainment material. As Darren wrote, a good question is also what your content is centred upon – information, inspiration or interaction.

Generally people find a blog, like it and become a reader because they value the content and the way in which it’s written, but wouldn’t it be great to actually know what your visitors want and to use this knowledge to attract them towards your blog for converting them into full-time readers?

Below you will find 5 ways that can help you in the quest of finding out what people really want from your blog.

1. Listen to them

You can do so by offering them a way to express their content related desires and by actually reading what they tell you.

Two places where readers can share what they would like to find are the comments section of every blog post and the “contact me” form you can embed into your blog. A form like this provides people a short and easy way to get in touch with you and to keep discussions private, in comparison to the comments section. 123ContactForm is an online form and survey builder that could help you in several ways. For example, it offers a free plugin for WordPress based blogs that can help you create a customisable contact form with almost no effort – you can access one here.

2. Ask them

You can also run a survey in which you kindly encourage them to tell you what they would most love to see on your blog.

The benefit of a survey is that it can help you in two ways: with your current readers and with potential readers. Why is that? Because you can publish it on your blog, where you’re addressing it to your current readers, but you can also publish it on other websites, partner blogs or social media channels, where you can reach a whole bunch of other people that aren’t necessarily your readers yet.

A free survey tool like the one from the already mentioned 123ContactForm can help you publish your survey on any of the above channels and personalise it as you wish, if you want people to recognise your brand.

While point 1 and 2 refer to the “ask the readers what they want” part, points 3 to 5 handle the more technical aspect of the user vs. content research, that is letting the data speak about what topics you should cover.

3. Keyword research

Get to know what is trending by doing some keyword research on Google, as well as on your blog. Both types of search can help you.

Here’s how: if you find out what people are looking for right now, you can start covering those topics (supposing you haven’t already) and drive organic traffic to your blog. On the other hand, knowing what people have been looking for on your blog can point you towards popular topics which you can afterwards choose to cover more in-depth.

As of the free tools that can help you do the research, you may want to try out Google Trends, the already popular Google Analytics and your blog’s stats. Again, this tool works for current and future visitors.

screenshot_Google_Trends

4. Check post traffic

Another indicator of what drives your visitor’s interest is the post traffic. Articles that readers find relevant and valuable will show an increased traffic volume compared to ones that are not so appealing.Thus, keeping an eye on your blog’s traffic data from Google Analytics or the blog stats is always a good idea that might also define or at least improve your content strategy.

One thing to bare in mind when talking about post traffic is also how well you optimise your posts for search engines. By using relevant and targeted keywords, clearly expressing your ideas, using a friendly, yet catchy headline, setting helpful tags and image descriptions, you allow visitors to find more easily what they’re looking for. And Google will love you for that.

You can also check out Darren’s post on how to optimise a blog post that performed well in terms of traffic.

5. Analyse engagement

The last point on our list (but definitely not one that should be neglected) is to analyse the engagement around your blog posts and around their reverberance in social media.

To be more specific, take a look at the number of likes, shares and comments a post received directly on your blog, as well as on the social media channels where you shared it. Naturally, posts that sum up a lot of engagement have always proved themselves to be a hot topic for those engaging with them. Hence, why not consider exploring more of these topics that your readers were so keen on?

These are some ideas on how to find out what your blog visitors are looking for. Remember, you can always test to see what works out best and let the results point you towards the direction worth following.

Sabina Stoiciu enjoys blogging, photography, traveling and finding ways of gathering and sharing relevant business knowledge. You can follow her on Twitter. She also writes for 123ContactForm, the online form and survey builder – try it for free.

4 Key Areas to Focus Your Time Upon to Grow Profitable Blogs [And How Much of Your Time to Spend On Them]

A regular question I’m asked by bloggers at different stages of their blogging is how much time they should allocate to different aspects of blogging.

Should you spend more time writing blog posts, promoting the posts, networking, responding to readers, working on social media etc?

Answer this question is tricky as there are numerous factors to consider including the topic of your blog, the type of content you’re creating, the type of audience you’re wanting to attract, your own passions and style as a blogger and the stage of your blog (i.e. if it is new or more established).

I’ll share some suggested splits of time that I think are good starting points for how to use your time below but before I do I want to share the four main areas that I have allocated time to over the last 11 and a half years of blogging.

I cannot imagine being able to grow my blogs to the point that they are at today without any one of these areas.

Priority One – Creating Content

Without a doubt this has always been my number-one priority.

In the lead-up to launching a new blog this is something that I would often put almost 100% of my time into (although you do need to put some time and resources into getting the blog designed and hosted). Once the blog is launched I decrease this to include some of the other activities below, but later on it would never dip below 40-50% of my time and effort.

Without great content on your blog (whether it be written, video, audio, imagery or something else) you’ll never really be able to grow your blog. While it takes time to create quality content I see this time as an investment that has a long term impact upon my blogs. For example the posts I wrote when I first launched dPS have continued to generate traffic and income for years to come.

My focus over the years has always been upon producing ‘how-to’ style content but of course there are other styles of blogs too (entertainment, opinion, news, personal, etc).

Learn more about Creating Great Blog Content: How to Write Great Blog Content

Three Other Key Priorities

While creating content for my blogs is #1 in my mind in terms of where I allocate my time and resources, there are three other areas that have been absolute priorities for me over the last decade or so.

All are essential to me but depending upon the life stage of my blogs each have grown and shrunk in terms of where I’d rank them in importance (I’ll explain more on this below). So I’ll share them in no particular order and give them equal weight:

Promoting Content

Having great content on your blog is great but unless you put effort into promoting that content it can often go unread. While later in the life cycle of a blog your readers can share your content for you in the early days it is largely up to you to grow your traffic – and this takes considerable work.

Once a blog is launched, this area becomes a fairly major focus for me.

For example when I launched Digital Photography School, I’d estimate that I spent about 40% of my time in the first few months promoting my content by engaging in forums, guest posting, networking with and pitching other bloggers, leaving comments on other blogs, engaging on social media and looking for mainstream media coverage.

I also spent a bit of time in this early phase thinking about optimising the site for search engines. I did more ‘on-page optimisation’ than building links – although some of the results of guest posting and networking of course did help with off page techniques too.

Learn More about Growing Traffic: How to Find Readers for Your Blog (recording of a 1.20 hour webinar in which I share everything I know on the topic).

Building Community

Once traffic begins to grow on my blog, I begin to switch some of my time away from promoting into building community and engagement.

It is all well and good to drive ‘traffic’, but I find that a blog really begins to come alive when you have a more loyal and engaged readership.

I know some bloggers are less worried about this than others but I personally find that it is much more satisfying to have readers that come back again and again than just people who come once and never return. I also find this makes monetizing easier too (see below).

In the very early days of a blog there may not be too many readers to build community with so you might not dedicate too much time to this, but as readers grow there will be opportunity to build engagement. Responding to comments, emailing readers, creating more discussion-related content, engaging on social media, etc all can help in this area.

Learn More about Building Community on blogs:

Monetization and Business Development

Not all bloggers want to monetize their blogs and so this area may not be a priority for all, but after a year of blogging I realised it was something I had a passion for and needed to be able to monetize in order to be able to sustain.

There are, of course, many ways to monetise a blog (and I won’t go into specifics here), but one thing I have learned over the years is that monetization is not a passive thing when it comes to blogging.

If you want your blog to be profitable, you need to build the foundations mentioned above (content, traffic and community) but you also need to be intentional about building a business model and creating income streams.

You might get lucky and find a lucrative opportunity lands in your lap, but for most full-time bloggers I know, monetization is a long and slow journey that takes work.

When starting a new blog I am generally thinking about monetisation from day one – however, when it comes to where I put my time, it is usually not until I’ve been blogging for a year or two that I put a lot of effort into this area.

So when I started Digital Photography School, I spend the first two years putting 95% of my time into content, traffic and community. While I did have a few low-level ads and did do a few lower-level affiliate promotions in those first two years, it wasn’t my main focus.

Instead, I worked those first two years on building up my archives of content and building up readership and engagement. With that foundation in place I was ready to start monetizing much more effectively firstly by doing some bigger affiliate promotions of other people’s photography eBooks, and then by creating my own.

In 2009 – three years after launching dPS – I launched our first eBook and wrote about how it generated $72,000 in sales in a week. While some people read that post and then wrote about how I made a stack of money overnight, it is important to realise that it only happened based upon the three years of foundations already built.

Learn More about Monetizing Blogs: Recording of ‘Monetizing Blogs’ Webinar (1.2 hours of everything I know on the topic).

A Word About Maintenance/Tech

The area that I’ve not addressed in the above four foundations of profitable blogs is anything about the tech side of things.

Of course blogs need to be hosted, designed, and have their blog platforms maintained. For me, this has always been something that I have outsourced in different ways (with friends initially, later on through contracting the services of others and more recently through developing a team).

So for me this has not been something I’ve allocated a great deal of ‘time’ to – but rather have allocated resources/money to.

Having said that – it is still really important and not to be ignored!

Life Stages of a Blog and How to Spend Your Time

You can already see above how the life stage of your blog helps to determine how much time to spend upon different activities.

While there are other factors at play also in general, here’s what I’d recommend as a starting point (and I’ll talk in percentages rather than hours as I know not everyone is full time and many have limited time to blog):

Pre Launch of a New Blog

  • 90% of your time on creating content
  • 10% of your time on design, SEO and other technical aspects of getting the blog ready to launch

Of course you’ll probably want to have thought about how you might like to monetize and be thinking about how to build engagement on your blog – but in terms of implementing these there’s not a lot to do in the prelaunch phase.

Launch of a New Blog – 0-3 Months

Depending how much content you have ready to publish from your pre-launch work, you’ll need to keep creating content in the launch phase. It is really important that you have regular and high-quality content going up on your blog.

But at the same time you should be putting considerable time into promoting your posts and blog.

  • 50% of your time on creating content
  • 40-45% of your time on promoting your blog
  • 5-10% of your time on building engagement with the few new readers that might come

Building Foundations

This phase will vary a little depending upon how fast your blog grows and the opportunities that arise but in general I would think you’d be allocating more time to engaging with readers as you get more traffic.

You’ll also want to start being more intentional about monetizing (or at least getting ready to monetize) your blog. This might mean starting to reach out to and network with advertisers, or starting to create a product to sell.

  • 50% of your time on creating content
  • 25-30% of your time on promoting your blog
  • 15-20% of your time on building community
  • 5-10% of your time on monetization

Maturity/Profit/Sustainability

It is hard to describe this stage, as blogs can look very different from one another in how they become profitable. Also at this point many bloggers begin to build teams or outsource different aspects of their blogging.

For example I now have a team of 5-6 people all working part time on my blogs, and also engage the services of 20 or so writers each month for dPS, so my own time is spent more on management and business development rather than upon the above activities.

Having said that, each of the people that work with me put their focus upon one or more of the above four areas and each is a key priority.

The Power of Infographics on your blog

This is a guest contribution from Chelsea Varney, a Community manager at Brandwatch.

Infographics are extremely useful for numerous reasons when it comes to content marketing and blogging.

Although many writers may not have considered using an infographic for a blog post this can be an excellent way to present interesting information while linking to a topic that is of significance to yourself and your readers.

What an infographic offers is easily digestible data which is presented in a pleasing form to an audience. The genius of an infographic is that it can communicate multiple facts or stats in a quick format.

A reader may not have time to peruse a whole blog on the rise of digital technologies or stats on WordPress users but a quick synopsis of a useful infographic may be of interest to them.

Unsurprisingly, using an infographic for a post can draw attention to a blogging site due to its shareability.

Unlike some images used within blog posts, an infographic can give an overall summary of a blog which will entice readers into looking at their article in more depth.

It has been proven that visuality is an essential element in the sharing of posts on social media.

Take Twitter as an example, tweets with images received 150% more retweets than those who did not have them, 18% more click throughs and 89% more favourites by fellow users. These are substantial figures when you are trying to get people to share your hard work with others.

Find an Interesting Infographic

When you find an interesting and informative infographic that grabs your attention while teaching you some new facts, you know that you are on to a winner! However, there are some points that you must consider when choosing an image to use on your site.

Although a blog which uses an infographic may be a success, it could also isolate an established audience if it is not relevant to their topic of interest. Do not use an infographic on cooking if your other articles are on digital technologies.

2. When choosing an infographic, take a look at the date that it was released. Old facts and stats are not going to interest your readers as much as those that were created this year.

Also, competing blogs may have already used this as a topic for a previous post. Being up to date on this will put you ahead of other bloggers.

3. Make sure that you read the whole infographic before dedicating your time writing a post on it. The infographic may only possess a few pieces of information that are relevant to you.

This will not be enough to support an entire blog post dedicated to the infographic. Instead you could use it as a supporting piece for another topic.

4. Some people may wonder how you measure the quality of the infographic? Unfortunately, there are some poorly executed graphics that are circulating the internet which demonstrate what you do not want to place in your blog.

Poor research, over generalisation and ineffective imagery leads to a picture which does not capture the imagination of the audience.

For instance, take a look at this infographic which is on gender division in the workplace. It does not deliver on its promise of explaining the difference of gender in the workplace instead it simply states some opinions with no objective evidence. To be honest, it’s pretty pointless. gender

An infographic which is clear in its objectives and delivers them in a fun and informative way will certainly grab the attention. However, some of you may be wondering how you will create an entire blog post around one image.

Here are some tips to writing about infographics:

Take this infographic on the trends of budget travellers in 2012-2013:

Budget traveller trends It is a relatively modern image that is simple yet offers some interesting figures on global cities, traveling needs and wants. Using information from their website they have calculated emerging cities and those which have fallen in popularity since their previous survey.

Firstly, to write a blog about this infographic you would need to outline the topic area that is being addressed. You need to introduce your audience to what the blog will be about and why they should be interested. How could this affect them?

For instance, you could discuss why travel is important for both the cultural and economic development of society. You will need to conduct some more research into the area and to not simply rely on the infographic alone.

Discuss the key findings of the infographic and its implications. Tokyo is emerging as a new tourist area for 2013 according to the hostelbookers survey. Could this mean that people are traveling further afield for holidays.

Go through each stat on the infographic and pick out which fact is most useful to you. The whole image does not need to be discussed in a blog only the key points.

Including a conclusion to what the infographic has taught you will also provide a strong ending to a blog and could encourage comments from others who agree with you (or even those who have a different view).

In the travellers image we can see that Europe is where all the most popular cities are for budget travellers according to Hostel Bookers an interesting fact that a reader may not have been aware of.

An infographic can also be used purely to support a topic that you have a knowledge of. Simply by using an image that is easy to share, you can increase the amount of people heading over to view your blog.

Another added benefit of using an infographic as the basis of your blog is that quite a bit of the content is already prepackaged for you. The infographic is providing you with a lot of data that you can use without much need for researching.

There is a whole host of reasons for using infographics but, as always, the most important is the increase of followers to your blog through presenting interesting content. Why not give it a try?

Chelsea Varney is a Community manager at Brandwatch , a social media monitoring company. You can connect with Chelsea onTwitter or Linkedin

Is your blog design ready for 2014? Four ways to tell

This is a guest contribution from Laura Windisch of 99designs.

It’s that time of year again. Time to take a good long look at your blog and reflect on what’s worked well, learn from what hasn’t, and set goals for what will. After you’ve had a chance to sort through the numbers—total visits, average length of stay and the like—give your eyes a minute to focus on what your design is doing to showcase your content.

Whether you install one of your platform’s pre-made templates or find someone to create a custom design, your blog’s appearance is what visitors will notice first. A good design will communicate your message with personality and passion.

Here are four questions you can ask yourself to assess whether your design is ready for 2014.

1. Is your design as simple as it ought to be?

When it comes to blogging, the written word rules. Keep readers focused on your content with a clean design. Here’s how.

  • Ditch the clutter. Delete any distracting background images and dead links.

  • Embrace white space. Give your text room to breathe.

  • Limit your fonts. Choose no more than three fonts (for example, one each for your titles, body text and navigation) to keep the page from looking overloaded. Whatever font you choose, make sure it’s legible.

  • Use colour carefully. Is your background light and your text dark? That’s a good start. An explosion of colour can be overwhelming, but splashes of vibrant shades will help you draw attention to important areas like call to action. A subtle background will also help the photos and images within your post pop.

2. Is your content easy to scan?

Most readers will be scanning your posts rather than reading them word-for-word. Make your design easy to scour.

  • Break it up. Headlines, subheads, lists, images and bold text are your formatting friends. They’ll make your content easier to consume.

  • Be generous with images. Treat your readers to big photos, illustrations and charts that supplement a point you’re making in your post. Visual content attracts eyeballs.

3. Can people find what they are looking for?

If you started your blog with a passion—but without a clear idea of all the topics you’d be covering—it may be time to take a step back and give your design a solid structural backbone.

  • First, get organised. Establish a clear hierarchy and put everything in its place.

  • Create noticeable navigation. Visitors will land on your blog from Twitter, search engines, links and who knows where else. Show off what else you have to offer with clear links to categories, recent posts and popular posts.

  • Include strong CTAs. Be sure your design clearly tells your audience what to do (e.g. “Subscribe to our newsletter”). Don’t assume they’ll hunt for anything.

4. Is your design memorable?

New blogs are popping up daily. As of this posting, for example, there are 72,628,476 WordPress sites in the world. Find a way to stand out.

  • Brand your header. This is the area new visitors will likely notice first, so don’t miss the opportunity to create a strong first impression of your personal brand. Play off your logo to show your personality.

  • Create a custom design. Stand out from the plethora of popular free themes with a custom blog design. A unique look will inspire your readers and keep them coming back for more.

Did you answer no to any questions? Now’s the perfect time to step up your blog design and let your content shine. Here’s to a beautiful 2014!

Laura Windisch writes for 99designs — the world’s leading online graphic design marketplace. If you’re looking for a custom blog design, try launching a contest on their website. You’ll get dozens of creative options and pick the one you love most.      

How I doubled my unique visitors in six months (and tripled them in a year)

This post is from ProBlogger Team member Stacey Roberts.

Welcome to 2014, folks – a year we hope to bring you even more tips and advice to make your blog everything you want it to be! Let’s kick off with both feet in the direction of unique browsers, and how to get them to come to your website.

Diversify – it’s the advice you hear in all sorts of blogging situations. Diversify your income streams. Diversify your social media. Diversify your time. stats

When it comes to finding new readers, it’s also advice that works. Diversify the places you are seen, and it leads to fresh eyes on your blog. Of course, then you’ve gotta deliver the goods to keep them coming back, but you’re halfway there once you’ve found them in the first place.

If you’re looking to increase the monetization of your blog, then quite a few brands and advertisers are interested in unique visitor numbers. It is also the way most blogging talent agencies work out pay scales – so the more unique visitors that read your blog, the more money you can make.

Between March and September of 2012, I doubled the unique visitors to my blog, Veggie Mama. By March 2013, they had tripled. They doubled again in the following six months, and are on track to triple by March this year. How did I do it? Well grab a pen and paper, folks, I’m about to tell all…

How I doubled my unique visitors in six months:

Content is king

Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it a million times. Have useful, interesting, engaging content and the readers will come. But don’t be too quick to dismiss the advice – without this foundation, you won’t have much to work with. Create good blog posts that lure readers. Create good blog posts to keep them there. It’s the ultimate building block, and cannot be taken too lightly.

Be seen outside your niche

Expanding my freelance writing online was incredibly useful for having people click through to the blog. I wrote or was featured on blogs, news websites, parenting sites, recipe sites, business newsletters, and in newspapers and magazines. Some worked more than others (newspaper features weren’t great for converting readers, but parenting sites and other blogs were. So were magazines with a Gen Y/Digital Native readership), but all put me in front of people who had never seen or heard of me before.

 Don’t underestimate Pinterest

Pinterest is the second-highest referrer of traffic to my blog. And due to Pinterest’s nature, it’s often referring unique visitors. Not only have I made my site easily Pinnable (by adding intuitive “Pin it” buttons, and adding graphics to images/ensuring they are Pinterest-optimised), but I’m an enthusiastic Pinner. I pop on there most days and repin a few things, which keeps me in people’s feeds, and encourages them to follow me. It’s not “in the spirit of Pinterest” to Pin your own content, but as long as you’re not spamming everyone constantly, adding your own stuff from time to time is very useful. By making your site easy to Pin, then it doesn’t take much for your readers to add you to their boards. Then you show up in their follower’s feeds, and so on. “Ooh, that recipe/article/tutorial looks interesting,” they’ll say. “Let me click through to get the instructions”. And there you have a brand-new visitor.

Join online communities

This is especially useful with tutorial posts or niche posts. A lot of my traffic comes from including my crochet tutorials on Ravelry – a place for people to search for knit and crochet patterns, upload their projects, and chat with other crafty types. By including some of my posts (and ensuring they were optimised for maximum search results), it means that I have a constant stream of traffic on posts I wrote years ago, but are still very useful in certain situations. Apart from a few outliers, these free pattern tutorials are the still the most-viewed posts on my blog.

Be a good blog citizen

If you are friendly and engaging on social media, then it’s likely that you’ll show up in your readers’ feeds when they interact with you. I notice that when I have a popular Facebook status update that has generated a lot of interest, it comes with a bunch of new “likers” who have seen their friends engage with me, and have clicked over to check me out. Chat with your community regularly and not only are you looking after the readers you’ve got, but also being visible to new ones.

Be where others aren’t

You might have no clue about why Google Plus is still around, and you don’t understand why Vine is popular – but don’t let that deter you. New readers are everywhere, including underused social media platforms. I find it much easier to interact with superstar bloggers and influential people who are inundated with Tweets and Facebook comments, but are not so overwhelmed on Google Plus. It’s easier to stand out there, and you’ll certainly be noticed.

Switch to WordPress

This was probably the easiest and most fun way to increase readership. I moved from Blogger to WordPress when I realised how much simpler it is to optimise your site and posts for SEO than it was on Blogger. One plugin is all you need (I use Yoast), and you fill in a couple of boxes of descriptions and key words, and it’s done. It takes no more than a minute, and even gives you a rating of how SEO-friendly you’ve made your post (a green light means you’ve done all you can). Being SEO-friendly means you’re going to rank better in search engine results – and when someone is looking for a mushroom risotto recipe, well up pops your post, and you’ve got yourself a unique visitor. And how is SEO fun, you ask? Well, it’s not. But by moving to WordPress, I got a brand new design and all the changes and newness meant I was re-energised and motivated to play around and blog more effectively.

Collaborate with others

People with bigger readerships or social media networks than you aren’t to be feared or envied – they’re to be worked with! If you genuinely have a way to collaborate with a bigger blogger, or you partner with a brand authentically, then it’s a win-win-win situation for all – you, the brand or other blogger, and your collective readers. If someone they trust is recommending you, then their readers are likely to check you out. Word of mouth is still the best advertisement around!

You’ll notice that I haven’t addressed content sharing or virality, and that’s simply because none of that happened more than one or two shares every now and then. It’s definitely a way to get fresh eyes in the form of unique visitors to your blog, and I thoroughly encourage it (but don’t bo so strategic about it that you lose your authenticity and your connection with your readers), but it isn’t something that I ever tried.

There are, of course, plenty of ways to drive traffic to your site, but these are the ones that have worked for me to bring unique visitors to my blog. While I didn’t do much of it strategically at the beginning, I can see it has been the most useful to me over time. Here’s to the next six months!

What have you done that has driven unique browsers to your site? Any tips to share?

Stacey is the Managing Editor of ProBlogger.net: a writer, blogger, and full-time word nerd balancing it all with being a stay-at-home mum. She writes about all this and more at Veggie Mama. Chat with her on Twitter @veggie_mama (cat pictures welcome!).