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Tapping into Joy and Disappointment: Lessons from Our Biggest eBook Launch Ever

Over on dPS last week we launched an eBook on Posing Portraits that has sold faster than any other eBook launch I’ve been a part of.

While talking with a friend about the success of the launch, he asked why I thought it had done so well. I thought I’d share my response here as I think there’s a couple of good lessons to take away from it.

There are certainly a number of factors at play that helped with our launch today including:

  • almost eight years of daily posting and building up a readership – this of course is the foundation for all we do and cannot be overstated.
  • a repeat author for the eBook - Gina, who wrote this eBook, has written two previous Portrait and Portrait Lighting eBooks and has contributed on our blog over the last couple of years. As a result she’s familiar to many of our readers.
  • a popular topic – portraits is a topic that many of our readers are interested in – in fact it’s the number-one type of photography that they do
  • a well-honed sales page – we worked hard on our sales copy for both the sales page and emails that we sent our subscriber list
  • a beautiful book – the cover and sample pages we showed of this eBook are beautifully illustrated and designed – it’s certainly easier to sell something with visual appeal
  • readers trust our products – this is our 16th dPS eBook. We pride ourselves on producing quality and useful eBooks and this builds trust/credibility over time.

But Perhaps the Biggest Reason Is…

As I was pondering our launch today a reader left this comment on our Facebook page:

Posing feedback

Then I spotted this comment just now on the blog post announcing the eBook:

Posing ebook feedback

When I saw this feedback I realised that probably the biggest reason that this eBook has been so popular with our readers is that it fulfils a felt need that many people have.

As that last comment says – most people know the feeling of seeing a photo of themselves (or others) that is awkward or stiff. This is a disappointment that we can all relate to as we realise that the image taken doesn’t really reflect the person in the shot.

On the flip side are those times when you see a shot of someone which captures their true spirit – feelings of joy accompany these moments!

At dPS we see both the joy and disappointment that many experience when shooting portraits and it was this very reason that we wanted to publish this eBook.

While at the time I don’t think we realised just how much it would connect with readers, now with hindsight we should have expected it.

Take-Home Lesson

Do everything you can to get in touch with the challenges that your blog’s readers face. What problems do they struggle with? What disappointments do they encounter? What moments of joy are they chasing?

Tapping into disappointment and joy is a powerful thing.

I think creating products (and for that matter writing blog posts) that respond to those things is a great recipe for success.

On a practical level this can mean manny things including:

  • identifying your own challenges, disappointments, joys (past and present)
  • watching the comments on the posts you (and other bloggers) write
  • asking readers to submit questions or identify problems that they face (further reading on one way I do this)
  • watching what search terms people are searching for to land on your blog
  • running focus groups with readers to ask them about their needs
  • running polls and using surveys to tap into reader needs (learn more on how I’ve done this here)
  • share your own needs/challenges/disappointments as stories on your blog (this often unearths other peoples)

The main thing is to keep putting yourself in the shoes of readers and let that experience inform your blogging direction.

PS: a Word About Manipulation

It is worth noting that tapping into the disappointments of readers is something that can at times lead to manipulation.

Playing on fears and problems and promising solutions is something that can definitely drive sales, but unless you’re backing it up with a solid product that actually solves those problems, you’re running the risk of manipulating your reader. Apart from helping you make a quick buck, it’s a ploy that doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

Instead of letting your readers disappointments inform empty marketing spin, let it inform the actual products you create to increase their actual value to those who buy them.

Content Week: How to Deal with Your Blogging ‘Inner Critic’

Theme WeekDo you have an inner critic? That little voice in your head that whispers in your ear as you write… chipping away at your confidence… making you second guess yourself… scattering seeds of doubt and fear through every paragraph you write… resulting in the ‘delete’ key being the most used key on your keyboard!

Or maybe that’s just me???

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It is content week here on ProBlogger this week and while we want most of our posts to inspire and equip you to create great content on your blog, it would be remiss of us to ignore one of the biggest challenges that many bloggers face – dealing with their inner critic.

I asked readers about their inner critic and how they deal with it on the ProBlogger Twitter account and Facebook page earlier in the week, and it was fascinating to see people’s reactions.

For starters it seems most bloggers have an inner critic – the response on that front was quite overwhelming!

How to Deal with the Inner Critic

There are no right or wrong ways to deal with your inner critic, and depending on the situation, you might want to take a number of approaches.

Ignore or Banish It

It is easier said than done, but when your inner critic has nothing constructive to say and is stopping the creative process, banishing it can be one of the most useful things you can do.

There are a range of ways of doing this, as illustrated in these responses on our Facebook page:

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This simple technique of redirecting your brain when you notice negativity is something that works for a lot of people. It aims to break the moment of negativity and then allows you to move on. You can try a word, like Karen does, or you can try to force your brain to think of something else to crowd out your inner critic – long enough for you to move on and be unaffected.

Then there’s the ‘willpower’ approach which some seem to favour:

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I find this willpower approach tougher and generally like to try to find a way to work with my inner critic.

Partner With It

I love this response from Erin White:

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This rings true for me and has become my default position for dealing with my inner critic. You see ‘critique’ is actually a useful thing. When used at the right time and in a constructive way, it actually makes us better.

I’ve come to peace with the fact that my inner critic is often actually my inner quality control inspector.

The key is to keep it in its place and only allow it to do its thing when the time is right.

So for me, when I begin to hear the whispers of doubt as I’m writing, I don’t ignore them, rather, I defer them until later – at which point they can go to town with their critical thinking. I also work the same way when I’m finding new content – first, brainstorm, then critique.

Note: This doesn’t mean I never allow myself to be critical of what I’m doing until I’ve finished. Sometimes some critical thinking is useful earlier in the writing process and idea generation stage.

It just means that there are times to bring critical thought to bear, and other times to suspend it and let one’s creativity flow.

So for me, I have a time for writing and creating, and a time for critiquing and judging what I’ve written.

If the doubts get loud to the point that they’re crowding out my creativity, I often find it worthwhile to jot down the nagging feelings I have on a piece of paper next to my keyboard before getting back to writing. I tell myself that I’ll pay attention to that doubt I have later… but now is a time to create.

It’s not always easy to take this approach but I’ve found that the more I do it the better I get at putting off and then, at the appropriate time, embracing the inner critic.

A few Questions to Ask When Working with Your Inner Critic

Working with your inner critic as a parter takes a little practice and is something you need to balance.

Without them, your work can be shoddy and of a low quality. But let them have too much influence, and you may not actually produce anything! If you let your inner critic overrule all the content ideas you come up with, it can be hard to keep producing them, and you might find you’re writing about the same old thing and never stepping out into new territory.

As a result I think it’s important to learn to ask yourself a couple of questions to help get the balance right (note: these are the same questions I recommend asking when another person is being critical of what you’re doing):

1. Is their truth in the words of my inner critic? - sometimes the whispers contain no truth and are just holding you back – but sometimes they have truth in them and are signals that you could improve what you’re doing.

2. What can I do to improve? – If there is truth in what you’re hearing – what do you need to do to improve what you’re doing? Turn the critic’s words into a constructive direction and use them to help you improve what you’re working on.

This second question is really important for many of us to do as often we let the inner critic paralyse us and stop us in our tracks. Rather than getting wrapped up in the turmoil of the critique – let it be the launching pad to better things!

Lastly, try to decide upon an action you can take that will move you on from your critical thinking. It is easy to get bogged down at this stage so I find it is important to move back into ‘action’ and ‘creation’ after having a critical review of what I’m doing. This gets the momentum going again and me back into a more positive frame of mind.

A Word About Fear

The other inner turmoil that many of us face as bloggers is fear. While some of the above probably applies I have previously outlined 3 quick questions to ask when you’re paralysed by fear. If fear is crippling you (as it has me at times) – I hope those questions help get things in perspective.

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.

Merry Christmas from ProBlogger HQ

It’s just ticked over to the early hours of Christmas Day here at ProBlogger HQ in Melbourne Australia, so I wanted to pause the blog tips today to wish you and yours a happy holiday season.

Here in Australia we’re expecting a pretty warm Christmas – around 30 degrees celcius – and will no doubt celebrate the day in shorts and t-shirts and eating our BBQ’d Christmas lunch outside by the pool (we really do throw shrimps on the BBQ).

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I’ll be celebrating with Vanessa, our three boys, and extended family and feeling very grateful for another healthy and happy year.

I’m also particularly grateful to you as readers of ProBlogger and hope that whatever you find yourself doing as the end of the year approaches that it’ll be safe, fun and meaningful to you and those you love.

PS: things will be slightly quieter here than normal this next week as we’re in Summer mode but we’ll be firing up again in the new year and will have some exciting things to announce as we progress into 2014. Stay tuned – things are about to get pretty interesting here at ProBlogger!

Start 2014 with a bang! 50% of all ProBlogger eBooks

Every year over at Digital Photography School we have a massive 12 Days of Christmas sale in which we put our photography eBooks (and a few from friends) on sale in the lead up to Christmas.

I’ve had a few ProBlogger readers asking me on Twitter if there will be a similar sale on ProBlogger eBooks so decided to put them on sale for a few days too.

So for the next 7 days you can save 50% on any of the 6 ProBlogger eBooks in our library.

Or – if you’re serious about taking your blog to the next level next year and you don’t have them yet – you can get all 6 for $75 (they’re normally $200) and save 63%.

What Can You Pick Up?

We’ve designed our eBooks to meet the needs of bloggers at different stages of their blogging journey – there’s something for everyone.

31 Days To Build A Better Blog just $14.99!

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31 Days to Build a Better Blog is a downloadable ebook designed to help you revitalize your blog. One step at a time, it will transform your blog into the page view powerhouse you’ve always dreamed of — because we all love seven digit numbers on google analytics!

This has been our biggest selling eBook ever, thousands of bloggers have used it to build better blogs.

Pick up a copy now

The Bloggers Guide To Online Marketing now $24.99.

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A comprehensive, 31 chapter blueprint for your blog’s ongoing profitability – right from the ground up (AKA more cash!). Backed by an extensive library of practical templates, printable worksheets, and in-practice example documents, this kit delivers all you need to make your blog turn a profit now, and over the long term.

So if you’re wanting to make your blog more profitable in 2014 – this one is for you.

Pick up a copy now

Blog Wise: How to do more with less – $9.99 – a bargain!

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One of the most common obstacles to successful blogging among our readers is simply finding time – so we sat down with 9 prolific and successful bloggers to find out how they not only blog successfully – but balance that with busy work, family and social lives.

Overwhelmed? Too Busy to Blog? Don’t have Enough Time? This one is for you!

Pick up a copy now

First Week Of Blogging – just $9.99!

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Making great early choices is vital to the long-term success of your blog. This ebook guides you, day by day, through your first week of blogging so you can make the most of those critical first few days. It will ensure you’re blog is build on a rock solid foundation.

If you’re looking to start a new blog in 2014 (or have just begun one) – grab this to help you do it right the first time.

Pick up a copy now

Blogging For your Business – only $24.99

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This guide is for those working in or owning a business that wants to get into blogging. It takes you step by step through how to set up a blog, thinking through goals for a blog, developing a content strategy, finding readers and growing traffic, establishing and growing a social media footprint and much more.

If you have or work in a business that is looking to get serious about blogging – this one is perfect for you.

Pick up a copy now

The Copywriting Scorecard – $14.99 all yours!

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Our blog posts are the cornerstone of your blog and will be the difference between you reaching your goals or not. This scorecard resource is designed to help you analyze the most important elements of your content to make sure they’re engaging, readable, professional and optimized for search engines.

If you’re looking to optimise your blog better for search engines (and readers) in 2014, get this one to help you on your way.

Pick up a copy now

Get One or Get the Bundle Today

Don’t forget – you can also grab all 6 eBooks as a bundle for $75 (normally $200).

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This offer ends in just 7 days time so don’t delay. Make your purchase or find our more about each eBook here.

Case Study: An Experiment with Short Form Content

Two days ago I wrote about the power of longer-form content on a blog, and gave a few examples of some posts that I’ve published this year that have been between 4000-7500 words that have done really well.

Today I’d like to talk about an experiment that I’ve been doing in the last week on Digital Photography School with short-form content.

The experiment started as an accident (as many of my better ideas do). I was surfing through some of my favourite Flickr photographers when I came across an image that grabbed my attention.

The image was of a portrait of little girl and it grabbed my attention partly because it was a beautiful shot, but also partly because it perfectly illustrated a post that I’d published on dPS recently on how sometimes NOT waiting for your subject to smile is the best time to photograph them.

The image was a creative commons licensed photo, and I toyed with the idea of adding the photo to the original post as an update – but as I pondered it, I wondered if maybe it was an opportunity to do something a little different.

On the spur of the moment I decided to set up a ‘page’ in the back end of WordPress to showcase the image. I added a link to the previously published article and then added a few more links to other portrait photography tips below the image.

Also because the content related to one of our eBooks, I put an ad for one of our eBooks in under the links too.

I also added a Facebook ‘like’ button to the page, and added a Pinterest ‘hover’ button to the image in the hope people might share it.

Here’s how the page looked:

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Why I Published it as a Page rather than a Post

You’ll notice that I mention above that I published this image not as a blog post but as a ‘page’ in WordPress.

I did this for a couple of reasons:

Firstly we had already published three posts for the day on the blog and I didn’t want to overwhelm my readers with too much content on the same day.

Secondly this was an experiment – a new type of post that I’ve not done before that was a simple image with a few links. I wanted to test it before rolling this type of post out onto the blog.

How the Content Was Received

I shared the post with our Facebook audience and tweeted the link to it to. As you can see in the screenshot – the post was fairly quickly ‘liked’ on Facebook over 400 times.

The post was liked on the Facebook share a further 300 or so times and was ‘shared’ there a further 36 times.

Traffic to the page was decent. The day I published it on our Facebook page, it received around 4000 visitors. Yesterday it had 250 more. Tonight it will be linked to in our weekly newsletter which should drive some decent traffic to it.

The above stats are pretty spot on average for a typical post on dPS – but what I did notice that was interesting about this piece was that visitors to it went on to view more pages on the site than a typical post.

Hence – the bounce rate on this post was pretty good. A typical post on dPS has a bounce rate of around 70% – but this particle piece of content had a bounce rate of 57%.

The shortness of the post and the fact that it was simply an image, a couple of sentences and some links for further reading meant a lot of people clicked those links and went on to read another 1, 2 or 3 posts on the site.

What I’d inadvertently done with this piece of content was to create a mini-sneeze page (a type of page that propels people deeper into the blog).

I found this fascinating and decided to keep experimenting with this type of post.

Evolving the Experiment

One of the things I immediately wanted to play around with was to change how the post looked.

You can see in the screenshot above that the image itself could only be shown at a relatively narrow size. The content area of our page template on dPS allows for a 600-pixel-wide image.

While this is big enough to illustrate an idea or show a picture in reasonable detail, it lacks punch. I also noticed that the content looks very short against the long sidebar that we had showing on that initial post.

Our sidebar was set up to show subscription options, a poll, ads, recent posts, etc, and while all this looked good on a typical post on the site – on this short piece of content it was two and a half times longer than the content!

Even as the post was going live on Facebook, I had already begun to talk to our developers to give them instruction on how I’d like to see a new ‘page template’ developed.

I wanted the sidebar removed and also wanted to add built in sharing buttons to replace the little Facebook button that I’d manually added.

Here’s the rough Skitch screenshot that I sent them:

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You can see from this that I was already thinking about other possibilities for this type of content. Not only could I use these types of posts to showcase further reading and promote eBooks, but potentially they could be used as pages to get new subscribers to the blog.

While our developer got to work, I began to hunt for a few more ways to use this concept to see if we could test it further.

I rolled out my next test piece with a similar format of post – a great image that underneath had a strong call to read a single related post. Here’s how it looked:

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This one went up a notch in terms of reader response.

Facebook likes were quickly up over 1000 on the button on the page, the Facebook status update generated over 800 additional likes, 74 shares, and some great comments (including readers submitting their own images), and the page was visited by over 5500 people in the first 24 hours.

While the post only had one link in it to further reading, the bounce rate was down even further to under 50%.

It was around this point that my developers got the page template updated to remove the sidebars and add social sharing buttons.

The result of doing so was visually fantastic. Here are the two pages as they look now:

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You can see them here and here.

The only pity in the change was that we lost the social sharing numbers that has already been counted with the old Facebook button – but in the scheme of things this was a small price to pay.

Since implementing these changes I’ve created three more of these pages:

It is too early to do proper analysis on these posts as tonight we send our weekly newsletter which drives a lot of traffic, but the initial results are promising and in the next couple of days I have a couple more experiments to try using this new approach.

To this point, my initial learnings are that this type of content is great for:

  • increasing page views per visit
  • showcasing older posts in your archives while still adding new content so that people who’ve seen the old stuff are not just being hit with the same old posts
  • creating shareable content (readers seem to be sharing these posts at pretty high rates)

I’ll update you on my next experiments with this type of content in the weeks ahead. To get updated when I do make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter below:

Long Form Content vs Series of Blog Posts

long-form-contentLast week I was involved in a number of conversations with readers about blog post length and whether it was better to write long posts or short ones.

My short answer to the question was to write ‘useful’ posts, and to use as many words as were necessary to do so.

Having said that, I have been experimenting over the last few months with the two extremes of short and long posts.

If you’ve been paying attention here on ProBlogger this year, you’ll have seen some of what our team have called ‘mega posts’.

For example here on ProBlogger we’ve published:

Over on dPS we also experimented with longer posts including on a post titled The Ultimate Guide to Learning How to Use Your First DSLR (4202 words).

These posts have all performed well above average compared with other posts on my sites over the last 12 months (in fact they feature pretty heavily in the most-read new posts on my blogs in 2013).

What About Series of Posts?

When I recounted the above examples in conversation this week the question that came each time was whether the same content could have been delivered as series of posts.

Wouldn’t it make sense to break a 7000-word post down into 10 700-word posts?

The answer, of course, is that a series of posts is definitely an option.

I’ve certainly created my fair share of series over the years, and will continue to do so, but I also think there is a place for longer-form content. In fact, I think good long-form content has some distinct advantages over series of posts.

For me, I think the main advantage of long form content is that its just more useful and convenient for readers to get it all in one go.

A series of blog posts is great for page views and helping you to fill a week’s editorial calendar, however if you put yourself in a reader’s shoes, it can also be a little (or a lot) painful.

Readers following the blog have to wait for new posts to be published before getting the full information in the series.

Readers who come across the series later have to follow links between posts to get each installment.

Neither of these problems are enough to stop me writing a series of posts, however, there are a couple of good reasons why I think long-form content is attractive to readers.

The other thing I’ve noticed about good quality and useful long-form content is that it gets shared – a lot.

While I’ve had great search traffic to each of the above posts this year, they have each been shared at a higher rate than the average post on my blogs in the same timeframe.

While I do find my series of posts can get shared around too, I’ve never seen a series that I’ve written shared as much as some of the long-form content I’ve created (the only exception might have been when I first ran 31 Days to Build a Better Blog as a series many years ago).

Choose the Best Length for the Topic At Hand

Let me finish by saying that I am not suggesting creating longer-form content just for the sake of publishing longer-form content.

The key is to choose the appropriate length and style of posts for the topic you’re covering.

Long form, short form, series of posts or other formats can all work.

Have you tried longer-form content?

I’ve love to hear about your experience of longer-form content. Have you tried it? How was it received?

Please share a link in comments below – I’d love to see your longer posts.

How to Generate Post Ideas, Understand Your Readership and Build Community On Your Blog

This week was a busy one for me in the lead up to our big Christmas promotion over at Digital Photography School, that we will kick off later in the week.

But in the middle of it all, I did something on the spur of the moment that I will definitely be doing again.

I created a quick Facebook post asking readers if they had questions that they’d like to see us write about on dPS.

You can see the thread here.

Questions facebook dps

I didn’t really know how the invitation to submit questions would go – but as you can see, it had a great response.

There were a few benefits from doing it:

  1. it gave us some great ideas for upcoming posts for the blog
  2. it gave us insight into our readership’s needs, but also the level they are at with their photography
  3. it gave our readers a chance to engage with us on a different level (and with each other)
  4. it showed our readers that we are genuinely interested in helping them improve their photography, and that we base our posts on their needs
  5. it highlighted some of the old posts in our archives (you’ll see that where we’d already covered a topic I linked to the older posts). This drove a little traffic.

The response was great both in the Facebook thread itself, but also in a couple of private messages of thanks that I received from readers afterward.

One recurring theme from these responses was that readers felt like we’d gone to the effort of giving them some individual attention.

This is really important – with a growing blog, it is easy for readers to feel a bit lost in the crowd. It is also easy as a blogger to let your ‘readership’ become a ‘thing’ and it was a good reminder to me this week that our readership is actually a group of very diverse individuals.

PS: I also asked a similar question on the ProBlogger Facebook Page this week. If you’ve got a question you’d like addressed in an upcoming post on ProBlogger – please feel free to ask it.

How to Build a Successful ‘White Hat’ Business on a ‘Black Hat’ Internet

White-HatOver on the ProBlogger Facebook page I was asked a great question by Aman Tandon, who asked for some tips on ‘how to stay alive using white hat techniques?’ when competitors in his niche were being ‘foxy’.

It’s a great question and one that I know many bloggers face in different ways.

The reality is that when you’re developing blogs or websites, there are many temptations that face us as bloggers. People make all kinds of choices about how to grow their businesses – choices that span the entire length of the ethical spectrum.

These choices impact the way that bloggers:

  • create content (eg. using others people’s words, images, and ideas)
  • optimise their sites for search engines (eg. buying links)
  • engage on social media sites (eg. buying followers)
  • monetise their sites (eg. selling links, disclaimers, promoting dodgy products)
  • grow readership (eg. personal attacks on others to create controversy)

The list could go on… and on.

Not a day goes by when I don’t see some kind of black…. or at least murky grey…. hat strategy being employed in some of the niches that I operate in (particularly the ‘make money online’ space).

Note: it is probably worth saying that while there are plenty of examples of ‘black hat’ around, most bloggers I come into contact with are good people with great morals, integrity, and a genuine desire to build businesses that not only are profitable, but that serve and help others. It’s also worth saying that there’s lots of different shades of grey between the extremes!

I have always taken the stance that I want to approach what I do with high ethics, transparency and integrity. That doesn’t mean the temptations are not there. I, like everyone else, am human and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t face temptations to take shortcuts or get ahead.

However I’ve worked hard at keeping on the straight and narrow and operating at the ‘white hat’ end of the spectrum. This probably flows from a mixture of motivations – partly it’s just who I am and how I was raised, partly it’s because I get a lot of satisfaction from doing things well and without taking short cuts, and if I’m honest it probably is partly out of fear – I’d hate to lose what I’ve built as a result of making a dumb choice.

I’m not going to use this article to define what is a ‘white hat’ vs a ‘black hat’ approach to blogging (although that would certainly make for an interesting discussion), but let me make a few comments for those bloggers who do try to play by the rules and approach what they do with ethics – sometimes in the face of others in their space who don’t mind bending (or completely breaking) the rules in an attempt to get an advantage or take short cuts.

Play with a long-term vision in mind

The main message I have regarding this topic is to approach what you do online with a long-term vision in mind.

As I mentioned above, I’ve seen many examples over the years of people crossing over to the ‘dark side’ to grow their online businesses. It is frustrating to see it happen, but in each case I’ve reminded myself that I’m not looking for a quick buck, but am looking to build a business that sustains itself over the long haul.

Numerous examples come to mind of when I’ve seen people make decisions for short-term gain that have led to long-term hurt.

  • I think of one blogger, seven or so years ago, who went on a spree of personal attacks of other bloggers to grow traffic to his site. He got the traffic, but destroyed his own reputation in the process.
  • I think of another blogger who made the decision to promote a product he knew was dubious as an affiliate on his blog. He hyped it up and made a lot of promises the product couldn’t live up to. While he made some quick money, he lost his reputation and most of his readership.
  • I think of another blogger who tried to grow his blog with some prolific link-building schemes with a ‘blog network’ that promised he’d be #1 on Google overnight. He did get to #1… for a week, before disappearing from Google altogether at the last big Google algorithm update.

Of course there are good examples around of people who behaved in arguably unethical ways that ended up doing well (anyone who has seen the movie ‘The Social Network’ probably has a good example in mind – however in many (if not most) cases that I’ve come across, the people who decide to go to the ‘dark side’ to get a short cut often end up behind the pack as a consequence of their decisions.

Deliver value

Instead of looking for a short cut, look to deliver value and be useful.

Usefulness trumps pretty much anything else I can think of in the online (and offline) space.

  • The online businesses that I support by spending my money with, are the ones that solve a problem for me.
  • The blogs that I support by subscribing, reading, and interacting with, are the ones that make my life better in some way.
  • The people that I meet on social media that I retweet, link to and recommend to others to follow are the ones that add value in some tangible way to my life.

Conversely:

  • the website that is clever enough to get me to visit them by ranking #1 in Google but doesn’t serve any purpose when I get there doesn’t get me to come back.
  • the person on twitter who simply self-promotes, or spams out affiliate products gets unfollowed, blocked, or reported as spam.
  • the business that rips me off or tells untruths to get a sale gets their reputation left in tatters, as blog posts and tweets go out exposing what they’re really about.

My personal experience is that when you build value, you build something that is much more likely to last as a business.

Stay true to your values and build something that matters to you

Much of what I’ve written above probably sounds a little trite, and will probably be laughed at by those who take pride in their ‘black hat’ ways.

I’ve previously been linked to and ridiculed in a number of black hat forums for the stances I’ve taken, so as I’m writing this half-expecting that reaction again.

However, all I can really say is that you’ve got to be true to yourself and do something that matters to you.

Me donning a black hat and going to the dark side simply isn’t who I am. I get a lot more satisfaction in life in building something of value, serving others, and looking to build a business and become sustainable through a win/win exchange with those whom I interact.

I sleep easier at night living in that way.

Others seem to be comfortable living at other points along the spectrum, and sleep easy with the decisions that they make. At least to some point, I think we have to live knowing that we’re each different.

When I first started out in blogging, and I would see others doing things that I disagreed with, I would often get angry and outspoken about it. I guess in some ways I’ve come to peace with the fact that in most cases, as angry or outspoken as I get, it is unlikely to change the perspective and practice of the other person.

Instead, these days in most cases I choose to focus my energy less upon what others are doing that annoys me, and more upon doing something myself that matters to me and those who read my blogs.

One last note on taking a stand

A final thought – there does come a point when sometimes you do have to take a stand, and not ignore what others are doing in your niche.

For example: if I see another blogger blatantly copying and pasting my content onto their blogs without any attribution, or pretending it is they who wrote it – I act. I start with an email to them, and will escalate that to issuing DMCAs.

Another example that comes to mind is a time when I saw a lot of ProBlogger readers being ripped off by a certain blogging network/service that I felt was a scam. In this case I wrote about it as a service to my readers.

While I’d rather ignore the dodgy behaviour of others and focus upon building something of value, there are times when I think it is important to take a stand to either protect what you’ve built, or to stay true to your values.

What would you add?

These are just my thoughts on this topic – I’d love to hear yours.

How do you approach working on the web where there is such diversity in the approaches that people take on an ethical level?

What do you do when you see others in your niches taking different approaches to you?