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10 Things TV Shopping Networks Can Teach You About Making Money Blogging

This guest post is by Jill Chivers of www.shopyourwardrobe.com.

I found myself entranced recently by a “presentation” on a TV shopping network. I usually flip straight past these networks, as I was of the opinion that they were cheesy shows, presented by couldn’t-quite-make-it TV presenters, and that they pushed sub-par products onto poor, lonely, hapless, housebound consumers who didn’t know better. Not that I was judgmental about them in any way…

But this time I found myself stopping for a moment, just to see what they were about.

As the “presentation” (which is what they called it—at this stage, I was still thinking of it as a cheesy, garbage-pushing intrusion) unfolded, I found myself becoming fascinated by the sheer audacity of it.

These shows face an enormous sales challenge, the scale of which could appropriately be linked to climbing to Base Camp, possibly without an oxygen mask. While no-one could call their techniques sophisticated, they are effective. The home shopping industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and sales actually increased during the global financial crisis, when all other retailing was going down the toilet.

What can we learn from how the TV shopping networks sell their wares? Without becoming cheesy and surrendering all integrity, of course. Well, the short answer is: a great deal! Here are the top 10 tips that we can take away from those who sell from, and to, the couch.

1. Repetition

The messages the TV shopping networks provide are repeated, over and over and over and over. They know that telling us once isn’t going to do it. Telling us twice is not enough either. We need to be told repeatedly about the product, the offer, the deal, the limited stock. They tell us—and they keep on telling us.

Ask yourself: How often are you sharing your message with your readers? We get bored with our own message long before our readers do. Don’t tell ‘em once, don’t even tell ‘em just twice. Tell ‘em over and over.

2. Funnel the info

Not only is the information repeated on these shows, but it’s funneled. They start off by overviewing the entire list of products and packages that are being presented. Then they go through each one in turn, detailing each product—what the product’s about, what’s in the deal, and what’s in it for us.

Ask yourself: Have you structured your information so it’s easy to digest? Have you overviewed your offering (helicopter view) first, and then dropped into the detail? Don’t expect us, your readers, to organize your information—lay it out for us.

3. Features and benefits

Aren’t you utterly tired of marketing gurus telling us not to share the features of our products and focus exclusively on benefits? I am!

The TV shopping networks prove how false a technique that really is. Features tell us the what, while benefits tell us the so what. Without the what the so what seems contrived, or made up. Features provide us with evidence—they’re the proof so many of us need. If all we hear is that the product is made from “all-natural products that smooths and brightens the skin with no harmful ingredients” we can find ourselves responding with, “Meh … aren’t they all saying that?” But when we hear the list of ingredients, or hear what’s not in the product, or hear any of the other details about the product, it provides us with proof.

Ask yourself: Are you explaining the what and the so what of what’s in your product or service? Are you making it easy for us to believe in your benefits by sharing at least something about the features?

4. Demonstration

The TV shopping network presentations show us the products in action. We see the Mink, marble-pressed mineral foundation with hydrating beads being dusted onto the model’s face—see how quick and easy it is to apply? We see the weight loss powder being mixed up with fresh fruit in the blender—see how “pantry friendly” the pack size is?

Ask yourself: Are you showing us how easy, quick, simple, effective, or whatever else your product or service is to use? What else can you do to put your product or service into action so your prospects get to see it in use before they buy?

5. Results

The TV shopping networks not only demo their products so we can see them in real-time action. They also show us people who have been using the products for a long period of time (often years), and get them to tell us what a difference their products have made to their lives. This is different to the demo, which is in real time and could possibly be faked. Results from real people aren’t quite so easy to simulate.

Ask yourself: Are you showing us the results that people who use your product and service get? Your testimonials page is one of the best ways of doing this—but are you keeping the testimonials fresh and updated? Build your “mountain of testimonials” over time, and keep adding to them.

6. Updates

Throughout the presentation, the presenters gave us updates about how the product was selling. When a certain level of stock had been sold, we were updated that “this product has just gone limited,” signalling that only a few were left. This happened from minute one: the presenters signaled that the product was already selling. Combined with point 9 below, this creates a compelling case to pick up the phone.

Ask yourself: How fresh is your information about your products and services? Have you updated your product or service in some way, and forgotten to tell your readers and prospects about it? Have you sold a milestone number, such as 100, or 1000 products? Has your list reached a milestone number of subscribers? Share what’s newsy and make your prospects and readers feel part of the action!

7. Packaging and bonuses

These home shopping shows rarely showcase single products for sale. Even big-ticket items are bundled up with bonus products to sweeten the deal. Instead of a single bronzer being sold, they sell us the Forever Flawless package with 3in1 skin perfector and auto lip-liner in a choice of three colours with the Diamonds Are Forever dusting powder—all packaged in a lined satin make-up bag for touch-ups on the go!

Ask yourself: How can you add bonuses to what you already offer? Or how can you make clearer to your prospects the bonuses you already offer? Tell us how much we’re saving or the value of our bonuses, so the final sale price makes us feel fortunate to have been so smart.

8. Pricing

These shows offer discounted pricing (although verifying that is problematic, giving the urgent timeframes they place on the offers); they sweeten the deal by offering some form of discount off ordinary pricing, however small. They also step out what we’re getting (the value of our whole package, with bonuses), and tell us what we’re saving.

Ask yourself: How have you explained your pricing? Is it a flat-footed statement of plain fact, or have you made an effort to show us what a great deal we’re getting? Even if you do not have a limited pricing offer, how can you make it easy for us to see how fabulous your pricing really is? Do you throw in postage and handling? Is your pricing less than some other poorer-quality, higher-priced competitor? What’s special about your pricing? How else can you position your pricing so that we feel oh-so-smart for buying what you’re offering?

9. Urgency

Through the use of updates, limited availability, and discounted pricing, a sense of great urgency is created on these shows. Viewers of the TV shopping networks are lead down a carefully constructed path that leads inexorably to action. Namely: picking up the phone and ordering at least one, if not more, products. Sure, they educate. Yes, they demonstrate. But ultimately, they’re here for one thing—to sell their product. They aren’t embarrassed about it, either. There is no coyness in their communications, no hesitation in their message.

Ask yourself: Why would a prospect buy your product today? What have you done to make it easy for them to feel good about making a Right Now purchase, rather than making it easy for them to delay the buy? If you can only create a false sense of urgency (and that makes you feel sleazy), what else can you do encourage action now?

10. Recaps and the late up-sell

It’s never really finished with the TV shopping networks. The sell, that is. After the presentation ends, there are other messages (commercials on a home shopping network seem like the ultimate act of a snake eating its own tail, and yet they have them!). But they always come back for one more up-sell. Often it’s positioned as a Buyers’ Choice segment—a short segment that highlights one of the packaged up bumper-bonus deals that we’d be mad to miss!

Ask yourself: Where is there an opportunity for you to do a late up-sell in the education and sales process you offer? Where can you offer a “wait—there’s more!” opportunity that truly adds value and book-ends the sales message you are delivering?

TV tactics on your blog?

You may not wish, or even need, to use all of these strategies. The TV and home shopping networks are a particular breed that not all of us wish to emulate in full—their sales approaches are more sledgehammer than fine scalpel, for one thing. But they can teach us a lot about selling: how to position our products, how to present them, how to craft our communications, and how to make the sale. After all, that’s what they’re in business to do—make the sale.

Perhaps you aren’t using the right-kind-for-you aspects of these techniques as conscious convincers for your prospects. Perhaps all you need to offer is one more thing in one more way—a tweak rather than an overhaul—to increase your conversion rates.

Ask yourself:
What more can I be doing to make this sale easy for my prospects? That’s what the TV shopping networks do.

Jill Chivers used to love shopping. After completing her own “year without clothes shopping challenge” in 2010, she created an award-winning website and international business that helps other women create a healthier relationship to shopping. Check it out here: www.shopyourwardrobe.com.

How to Write Amazing Product Reviews

This guest post is by Ray Maker of DCRainmaker.com.

Product review posts are in many ways the core of what blogging is about—the ability for all of us regular folks to express an opinion about a product, be it good or bad.  Every day, tens of thousands of product reviews are written on blogs across the world, and often, on just one product alone, hundreds of new opinion/review posts are written each week.

The goal of most folks when they write a review post is to share their opinion with the world about the product.  But how do you differentiate writing a review post that only sees a handful of eyeballs, from ones that see thousands of readers every day—and in some cases ranks even higher than the manufacturer’s own product page?

Know the product like nobody else

The single biggest difference between writing a product review that’s just so-so, and writing one that kicks butt is demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of the product.  A product review that is written by someone who understands the product inside-out will organically attract more attention than one written by someone who’s just stumbling around.

If you understand the product inside and out, show off that knowledge.  If you don’t, then learn it quick!  When people search the Internet for a review of a specific product, they’re looking for detail and coverage of the product.  What they aren’t looking for is a short blurb with a few “Four out of Five Stars!” icons tossed in.  If they were looking for that, they’d just check the ratings on their favorite online retailer’s site instead.

No, when they look for a product review, they’re looking for unbiased feedback from knowledgeable experts in that field.  The most popular product review sites for any niche are written by folks that understand the product and every little detail about it.  While short “I just opened up the box”-type reviews have their place, one has to realistically understand that place won’t be at the top of search engine results.

Speak from the perspective of someone new to the product…

If you review products often, you can easily get into the rut of thinking “my readers already know what I’m talking about.”  And while this may actually be true, you have to step back and look at what your end-state target audience is.

In many cases, it’s not only your regular readers, but also everyday people searching the wild blue yonder trying to find information about that specific product.  And in many cases, they know nothing about that product or its genre.  If I were to go out and buy a new camcorder today, I’d likely be starting from scratch to find out what’s a normal feature, and what’s a totally cool unique feature.

In thinking about it from that angle, you should always introduce functionality within a product as if the person never knew it existed. The benefit to doing this is that you not only explain that piece of functionality, but also teach your reader something new.  This is critical.  Users who find blogs educational will almost always stay around for more.  If they don’t learn anything new, they’ll simply wander elsewhere and not come back.

…And from the perspective of a longtime user

In addition to approaching a product from the newbies’ standpoint, it’s also important to delve into subjects that long-time users of the product or product series will find useful or educational.  You can do this in a number of ways, but I find the easiest way is to simply talk about the evolution of a given feature from product to product.  By doing so you illustrate not only your understanding of the product, but also your understanding of past products within the same line/genre/niche.

Longtime users often come to product reviews looking for a fix for “their issue.” This is generally an issue that’s caused them deep annoyance for a period of time. It tends to be the one and only thing they’re hoping to hear has been fixed or solved.  By covering these key desires of previous generations of products or competitor products, you’re no longer just another reviewer, but someone who truly understands the product they’re reviewing. 

In short: know the product pains, and address them.

Don’t use PR marketing material

There is no quicker way to turn off readers than regurgitating canned PR pieces from a manufacturer.  Not only can the average human detect it, but search engines do as well.  People immediately gloss over anything that looks like either PR text, or PR images. I always shoot all of my own images.  While my photographic skill varies between barely functional and decent, readers know they’re real images that show off how the product works in the real world—not carefully crafted pictures photo-shopped in the best light.

Speaking of PR, be careful with what you keep of products. In my case, I have a pretty clear policy that anything I test goes back to the company.  I generally poke at it for about 30-45 days, and then once I publish my review, I send it back.  Often I’ll end up purchasing another copy of the product to be able to answer questions about it over the long-term.  Just remember, most readers can quickly see whether or not you’re praising a product simply because you got it for free. Using those PR snippets never helps that case, either.

Research the living daylights out of it, and don’t make mistakes

If there’s one thing that folks know about my reviews, it’s that they’re both complete and accurate. 

I spend inordinate amounts of time ensuring that every detail is correct.  When I proof my reviews, I often sit back and read them from the perspective of a nit-picker.  As such, I ponder every little detail.  Is that 100% accurate?  Should there be a caveat noted?  Are there fringe cases where someone might disagree?  If so, address those issues.  By addressing edge cases and tiny details up front, you address concern within the reader’s mind about review accuracy.  It also helps to drive the key tenant of product reviews that I touched on earlier: showing in-depth knowledge of the product.

And while I try to avoid making mistakes, it’s certainly possible that in my 60-80 page reviews, they occur.  I always include a little snippet that simply says “If I’ve written something that doesn’t quite jive, just let me know and I’ll research it and get it fixed”.  We’re all human, and reminding readers of that puts everyone at ease.

Show off what the product can do with examples from your other posts

I’m told one of the biggest draws of my blog is that when folks find a given product review, they’re given information not only about that product, but about how to use that product to its fullest potential.  I do this of course within the product review itself, but also by providing comprehensive links to relevant content throughout my site.

I have numerous other articles and posts that explain what a given feature does, even if it’s not product specific. If I’m talking about how to use that feature, I’ll give a brief introduction within the review, but then I’ll direct folks to another post for an equally in-depth post on that specific feature.  This has the added benefit of increasing page views and reducing bounce rates.  And remember one of the other key pillars of a good review—educating?  Well, by introduce readers to other educational content, and they’ll find your blog even more beneficial.

Do communicate with the company

This is one step many folks overlook, which is puzzling to me.  I usually make a point of circling back to the company that made the product, and having a brief conference call or email exchange to discuss both the pros and cons that I found while reviewing the product. Why would I do this?  A whole bunch of reasons!

First, doing this creates a bridge between my readers and the company—a great way to funnel future feedback to them … or from them. 

Second, in some cases issues I found aren’t really issues, but things that can be solved a different way.  This is information I can then pass onto readers, helping them out should they encounter the same problem, and increasing your value as an educator.

Third, people just want answers. While complaining and making a racket about a problem is fun for a while, it’s not what makes for a good long-term readership draw to your site.  By talking to the company you can often understand the “Why” of an issue, and get realistic answers on how that decision was made.  Even if the issue can’t be fixed, at least folks can understand the reasoning—and then independently decide for themselves the validity of it.

Reply to post comments with answers

I spend a fair bit of time not only immediately after I post an in-depth product review—but also for months and years—answering peoples questions about the product.  This shows that I’m still involved with the post and niche, and that I care about helping them out. 

Do this, and readers are far more likely stick around with you and see what else you have to say.  In addition, this back-and-forth discussion tends to answer questions that others are searching for, once again helping to drive up PageRank on your product review posts.

Search out forums with questions

As you’ve read countless times on ProBlogger, the easiest way to build support for your blog is to invest in your niche’s community.  But “investing” doesn’t mean that you partake in seagull-style forum link dropping.  It means that you look for questions on forums that you spend time in and answer the question there.  Once you’ve fully answered the question there, then include a link to relevant off-site content if and only if it’s relevant.

Folks can easily see through link-dropping, but by answering the question fully and then mentioning that additional reading is just a click away, you truly contribute to the community, instead of just bettering your own blog.

Communicate to relevant media outlets

Last but not least, if you’re reviewing a product that’s new on the scene, sending a quick note to relevant media outlets and popular sources of information in that niche can be a great way to spread the word.  I generally send a quick note letting them know I’ve published something new and that it may be of use to their readers. And then I leave it at that.

In the same way that you on your own blog have a vision for what would be published, they do as well.  So respect the fact that every review you post may not be exactly what they’re looking for, and don’t pester them continually—that’s not good for you long term.

Wrap up

Last but not least, with any product review it’s important to write a summary or wrap-up.  That’s what readers skim for.  While I write 60-80 pages of stuff on most of my in-depth reviews, I understand that at the end of the day people skim to the end of the post. Be sure to outline the pro’s and con’s there.  Summaries also help to gel together longer reviews into concise opinions—after all, that’s why the reader came to your site in the first place.

Do you write product reviews on your blog? What tips can you add to this list?

Ray Maker is the author of DCRainmaker.com—a blog dedicated to extremely in depth product reviews of sports technology products (have you ever seen a 61-page product review?).  In addition, he writes about his running/triathlon training as well any other interesting things that float his way.  You can also follow him on Twitter at @dcrainmakerblog.

Why You Should Charge Money to Review Guest Post Submissions

This guest post is by Darya Pino, Ph.D of Summer Tomato.

Three months ago I started charging $10 to consider guest blog post submissions, and it changed my life. Not only did it clear out many of the most annoying emails in my inbox, it elevated the quality of posts I receive and reduced the time I spend editing them to levels I would never have dreamed possible.

When your blog reaches a certain size and level of popularity, you can expect to receive regular pitches from other bloggers, product people, book writers, and all sorts of random folks looking to contribute to your site in exchange for links back to theirs. Guest posts are a wonderful way for up-and-coming writers (or products) to get exposure, and for experienced bloggers to publish more diverse content.

The problem

But the problem is that everyone is playing the same game, and there are many more small blogs than there are successful ones. Another problem is that successful blogs get popular because they put out consistent, high-quality content, so anything contributed by a guest writer needs to meet those standards—otherwise, you’ll lose you audience. That puts pressure on the blog owner to be a fierce editor, which often results in more negative conversations than positive ones.

Tired of spending hours every week explaining to mediocre writers why my site isn’t a platform for selling lame calorie counting apps, or that “7 Vegetables You Should Know About” isn’t an interesting headline, I knew I needed to change my workflow.

I considered hiring an editor/assistant, but not being a big media blog, I couldn’t fit it in my budget. I also considered paying for higher quality writing—I write for several blogs that pay me for my work—but I didn’t want to encourage people to send even more pitches. I just wanted the pitches I do get to be better. So I nixed these options.

The solution

Finally I settled on requiring a $10 minimum donation to my Charity Water campaign to even consider a guest post. The donation does not guarantee the post will be published—it only guarantees I will read and consider it. I chose a charitable donation rather than a for-profit charge because I didn’t want to make it seem like I was charging for links or taking advantage of writers. The only purpose of the donation is to save me time and make sure that anyone who sends a pitch is a serious writer willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Charity Water has a fantastic online system that makes donations easy to track. I added my donation requirement to the top of my Guest Posting Guidelines (the most likely landing page for someone wanting to submit a guest post). I also created a canned response in Gmail explaining my policy, which I can easily send to anyone inquiring about guest posts.

The results

The results were staggering. Email pitches instantly dropped in number dramatically. The amount of pitches I receive from self-promotional link seekers (the ones I always reject) fell from about 90% of pitches to about 20%, and none have opted to donate and have their post considered. Most importantly, the few who have taken me up on my offer have written fantastic posts that I was happy to edit for clarity and publish at Summer Tomato.

Even more amazing has been the responses to my new system. The self-promoters almost never respond to my canned response (win). The less experienced writers apologize for their inability to donate and leave me to my business (double win: these guys require the most back and forth emails and editing). And most remarkable of all, the ones who have stepped up and contributed have been overwhelmingly positive about my guidelines, saying things like “it looks like a great charity, I would have happily donated anyway” or “all sites should require this” (Charlie Sheen-style #winning).

The reality is good writers know when they have something valuable to contribute and have no problem stepping up to the plate. Weaker writers (the ones who send you drafts with ten exclamation points peppered throughout) know when they’re reaching out of their league, and risk-aversion prevents them from moving ahead with the submission.

Be careful, though: required donations are not for every blog. If you aren’t currently spending a lot of time responding to pitches or editing guest posts, charging isn’t necessary. Also, new bloggers can benefit from accepting guest posts and going through the experience of editing them. Know your audience before making any big changes to your blog policies.

All that being said, I don’t charge everyone who contributes to my site. If I invite someone to submit a post because I think they have something interesting to share, then the donation isn’t necessary. Likewise, I do not charge people for sharing their success stories or their farmers’ market updates (this is a weekly segment on my blog), because I don’t have the same problems with quality and insincerity that I get from raw pitches.

Required donations are an excellent deterrent to self-promoters seeking links from high-profile sites. They also save you tons of time by raising the quality and reducing the number of the pitches you have to read. Best of all, it feels great knowing all that time you saved helped build a well and give hundreds of people access to clean water.

Would you consider charging a fee for guest posts on your blog? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Darya is a scientist turned food blogger who shares healthy eating tips for food lovers at Summer Tomato. She is also a contributing writer at The Huffington Post, KQED Science, Edible SF and SF Weekly. Follow here on Twitter @summertomato.

5 Techniques to Create Raving Loyal Fans

This post is by Brad Branson of Lessons in Lifestyle Development.

Most people walk through life in a living daze. Most people live their lives vicariously through television, sports, or the gossip section. They are afraid to take action, afraid to take a risk. Why? Be average and you don’t risk embarrassment.

So, how does this relate to writing compelling blog articles and creating a devoted, enthusiastic fanbase?

You need to be polarizing. You need to set yourself apart from the masses, and be willing to take a risk in your writing. It’s not hard to find the vanilla ice cream out there; what people crave are the unique flavors. Be the jalapeño mocha light frappuccino, and they will come in droves. Create something different, dynamic, something unexpected.

What follows are five techniques to step outside of the box, cultivate a unique voice, and create an infectious website that compels readers to become subscribers.

1. Become an authority

One of the main problems of a non-remarkable blog is that the writer is afraid to step up and be a voice of authority.

As Seth Godin writes in his book, Tribes:

“Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable.”

When you lead, you take a risk. Risk can lead to failure. But because of that risk, people will reward you for taking action.

How do you become a leader? Set yourself apart. Be an expert on your topic. Do extensive research, and become obsessed about your writing. Or create a unique niche, and do it better than anyone else. Then start sharing it with the world.

Remember that leaders talk authoritatively, and make sure your writing follows suit. Here are a few examples:

WEAK: “I think one of the most important aspects of a successful blogger is the writing style they use.”
STRONG: “One of the most important aspects of a successful blogger is the writing style they use.”

Don’t use mitigating words such as: just, I think, like, might, or should.

WEAK: “You just have to write about topics you should enjoy.”
STRONG: “You have to write about topics you enjoy.”

Keep your writing forceful and authoritative. People give more credence to decisive leaders.

2. Use emotion in your writing

The demographic I write for is mostly single men looking for dating advice. One question I get often is how to continue the conversation after the initial interaction via text messaging. The problem is that you can’t create emotion or dynamics in a digital format.

One technique to combat this is by using emoticons, ALL CAPS, and vernacular to convey some personality and emotion. Haha ;)

It’s been said before, but in the blogosphere, the more colloquial you can make your writing, the better. Your readers want to feel like they know the person writing the articles. It’s about the relationship you create, not the professionalism of your writing.

Now that doesn’t mean punctuation, grammar, and diction aren’t important. To the contrary, they’re even more important, when you’re dropping curse words, to make sure people know you take the writing process seriously.

3. Be vulnerable

When I teach my weekend seminars, one of the main things we focus on is taking the client’s personality, “placing it on a volume knob, and turning the knob UP TO ELEVEN!”

Most people hear this and think, “Alright, I need to amplify all the cool things that I have going on in my life.” But, counter-intuitively, the true power is in amplifying the weird idiosyncrasies.

Do you like studying vocabulary words? Do you have a secret penchant for World of Warcraft? Do you have a fear of heights? Talk about that. Especially if you start cultivating the authoritative tone I mentioned earlier.

When people see both sides, they develop a stronger rapport with you. Vulnerability is a sign of authenticity. Authenticity creates trust. You become more human, not just words on a computer screen.

4. Create consistency in your blog’s message

Your main focus has to be on the content of your site, but every aspect—from font color to picture captions—adds to your “voice.”

Image is author's own

Feel like creating a specific ambiance as someone reads your article? Add a youTube video with a correlative song to set the mood. Pictures are great for breaking up text, and can either reinforce a concept, or offer a little comic relief.

Font formatting, color schemes, picture choice, picture captions, headlines, comments, and widgets all play an integral role in conveying the overall message of your blog.

5. Ostracize people. You can’t write for everyone.

Some of the content on my site may be considered “controversial.” When I started the blog, there were always persistent thoughts like, “If my family were to view my website, would they approve?” But is my readership my parents? My colleagues? (Well, for me, yeah I guess it is. Heh.)

My niche happens to be early 20-something to late-30-year-old single men, so a decent amount of “locker humor” is what resonates best with them.

As I slowly interacted with my audience, through comments, emails, and looking at their feedback and favorite articles, I realized that the more I took a risk, the more I pushed the boundary of what I thought was acceptable, the more I ostracized certain readers. And yet my subscription levels kept rising.

It’s marketing 101: write for everyone and you write for no one. Find your niche and focus your writing style and “voice” to those people. They’ll feel more of a connection and relationship, which is what blogging is all about.

Is there something holding you back? A fear that you might not be well received? Do you censor yourself ?

I’m sure I just ostracized a few readers, but for those left, how did you develop your voice, and how has it evolved as your blog matured?

Brad Branson has taught dating advice and personal development in over 30 countries on 4 continents. His site, Lessons in Lifestyle Development, takes you through his journey around the world and the insights gained from the teaching process.

What is Google +1 … and What Does it Mean for Your Blog?

This guest post is by Jacob of BlogRevolter.com.

On March 30th, Google announced the release of its latest addition to the search engine, a small button called the +1. As with any Google announcement, there are always going to be implications—both great and not so great—for the average and professional blogger. Understanding the potential effect of Google’s new +1 feature can better help you prepare for the next six to twelve months of your blog.

What is Google’s +1?

In essence, Google’s +1 is a way for people to vote up the results in Google without making it appear like a Digg setup.

In other words, if someone likes the result that they found on Google, they hit the +1 button, then go on with their lives. When someone makes the same search that person made, they’ll see that there’s a +1 attached to the particular search result, and that, at least in Google’s eyes, will encourage them to click on that result.

Should you decide to allow your name to appear, people within your network will see that you, specifically, liked this result. But this last aspect is voluntary.

Why is Google’s +1 important?

For some time now, Google has been talking about how social media and social networking is going to directly tie in with search engine optimization. It used to be that we just built a bunch of links to rank for keywords. But, what I’ve noticed as a SEO is that other aspects are becoming increasingly important, including how a site deals with social media.

We can tie this increased reliance on social media to Google’s quest to provide the absolute best results possible. Here’s an example.

Darren Rowse runs this site about how to make money blogging. He’s got 173,000 readers via RSS, 128,000 Twitter followers, and nearly 23,000 people who like his Facebook group. In other words, he has a ton of readers.

Now, you’re Google and you’re trying to figure out who to position as the top results for the keyword “Professional Blogger.” Sure, someone might have a ton of backlinks, all containing that anchor text, to back up the claim that they deserve the number one result.

But how does Google know that those backlinks are genuine and not, say, purchased? It doesn’t.

The only way for them to truly know if that website is considered an “authority” is to see what people believe. And what better way to do that than track how Darren is doing in the social media and networking world?

The implications of Google’s +1 for bloggers

I look at this update as a powerful move for bloggers. Because we are taught that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket, we’ve all been focusing on social media, search engine optimization, and other aspects to bring traffic to our blogs.

Now that social media is, in part, connecting to search engine optimization, the amount of work that we do now doubles for both social media growth and search engine growth. But, there is still more to it than that.

Google will be releasing a button similar to the Facebook Like button. And if you click the +1 button, you’ll have automatically given your vote to that search result. You are saying to Google, “Yes, I like this.” And the search engine will remember that.

What this means, as a blogger, is that you need to produce the highest level of quality that you can. If others are getting that +1 and you’re not, are you going to be missing out on potential search rank? I’d say that you are.

If Google believes that it is important enough to create a new button and include it on their SERPs, they are definitely going to take it into consideration when trying to decide which site to put as number one. And, if it’s a difference of +1s that determine who should be first, I’d wager everything that the person with more +1 votes will get the number one ranking.

Since 34% of people click the first result first, and the second to fourth results get less than 34% of the clicks, total, it’s very important to get that number one rank.

How to get ready

Since it was just announced on the 30th, this is obviously a component that will take some time to roll out. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be getting ready for its complete implementation. Here are a few steps to getting prepared.

  1. First, ensure that you are publishing content that is high quality. No longer can you get away writing garbage content, or ripping content from other sites. Google’s Panda Update slammed people with this kind of content and no one will give you a +1 for it.
  2. Second, play around with it yourself when you start seeing it pop up. If you head over to Google’s experimental page, you can join the experiment and be put into the program to start working with it.
  3. Third, don’t start abusing it. One of the things that I think will play a major role in the success of +1 is who’s voting with it. If it’s the same few people, Google might not give those votes as much credit as other pages that get votes from random people. So, don’t start searching for every article you wrote to give it a +1.

Google’s +1 is not a social network, per se. However, it is a voting system that will give Google a better idea of what content people like and don’t like. And, when they release the button for inclusion on your web pages, you’ll have the chance to encourage your readers to +1 your site.

With Google’s love for social media growing, this is definitely an important step in your blog’s growth. How do you see +1 affecting your blog?

Jacob is a 22 year old SEO who works in Manhattan. When not managing SEO for a company, he works on his own network including BlogRevolter.com. He discusses topics such as link building and blog monetization. He is giving away a free ebook on how to get people to your website as well as how to keep them there. Be sure to follow him on Facbook.

How A Few Tweets Led to a 370% Increase In My Traffic

This guest post is by Tom Meitner of The Practical Nerd.

The other night, I found out author/marketer Chris Brogan was in town. I am a big fan of his and his book Trust Agents, so I wanted to go meet him. I’m not going to go through all of the details of the tweet exchange—you can read about how I wound up not meeting him after all on my blog.

Photo by Aidan Jones, licensed under Creative Commons

However, as a result of trying to meet him, I had a conversation with him via Twitter. So, I wrote up a post about what I learned from not meeting him, and I put his name in the title when I tweeted it out to my followers. Chris was notified, and he retweeted it to his followers, with the tag, “Very nice story.”

That doesn’t sound that interesting, does it? I mean, Chris doesn’t know me, has really never met me, and it was one tweet. But by putting his stamp of approval on it, Chris was publicly inviting people to read my article—and he has over 177,000 followers. In a matter of minutes, I had an influx of traffic (see the screenshot below). These are by no means numbers to write home about, but when you average 50-60 visitors a day, 185 sure is a big jump—especially in the span of a couple of hours!

The "Brogan Effect"—An hourly breakdown of traffic that day

It never would have happened if I had decided to go meet Chris but didn’t tell him about it. I had to break the ice with him first and give it a shot. Through that, I got on his radar, and that’s how my post was tweeted out to his followers.

It also taught me a few very important lessons about networking:

  1. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the big dogs. Chris Brogan, in the small interaction I’ve had with him, seems to be a pretty genuinely nice guy, and my post only brought more people who told me the same thing about him. Twitter has such a low barrier to entry that it gives you the opportunity to connect with just about anybody who’s there, and most of them are just normal people.
  2. You have to be genuine. If I had gone into this interaction with Chris and was purely motivated by the thought, “Hey, maybe I can score some free traffic to my blog,” he would have sniffed that out pretty quickly. He wouldn’t want anything to do with me—and he’d be right. Sometimes you have to catch it, and remind yourself of the motivation for your actions. The rest of it will take care of itself. Just focus on building the relationship. That was the opportunity I saw when I found out Chris was in town.
  3. Be proactive in your efforts. One of my favorite stories of networking is my friend Jacob Sokol’s adventure of taking author and well-known entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk to a New York Jets football game. He reached out to Gary proactively and regularly to get noticed—and on Gary’s terms. Sometimes it will feel like a throwaway; I tweeted Chris that I was heading downtown to see him just on a whim in case he checked his Twitter feed while he was out. I never thought he would reply, let alone do any of this. But that happened because I took action.
  4. Don’t ask for anything. This goes along with being genuine. I did not ask Chris to tweet my post. I did hope he would read it, but I didn’t ask him to read it. I merely let him know it was there. It’s the same thing I did when I got 19 other people to share their small achievements with me: I told them, “Here it is, it’s done, read it if you want, and thank you.” Most of them took it upon themselves to share it with their followers. Instead of asking for something, work hard to make what you are doing to be noticeable and different. Let your sincerity show through, and that’s what motivates people to share your stuff—not because you asked, but because they want to.

As a result, I have new readers and a few new followers on Twitter—and I never even met the guy.

Have you had any experiences like this, where a small contact led to a traffic burst for your blog? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Tom Meitner is a writer who helps people break through their boundaries at The Practical Nerd. Check out what he’s reading and sharing on Twitter @TomMeitner.

Are You Protecting Your Blog’s Most Valuable Asset?

This guest post was written by Neil Matthews of WPDude.

Are you protecting one of the most valuable assets of your blog—your email list?

The majority of us rigorously backup the content of our blog, but do we give the same thought to our email lists?

Why back up your email list?

“The money is in the list.” is a mantra we often hear in Internet marketing circles, and we hear it so often because it is so true. An email list is still the best way to communicate with your tribe and to make offers to them. Those people are on your list because they know, trust and like you, and are prepared to give you their attention.

Our attention is the most valuable thing we can give to a marketing message. Bombardment with online ads and the resultant ad-blindness means your list is incredibly valuable. You should be protecting this golden asset: the details of those people who have given you their attention.

You email list also represents a huge investment of time. Over the months and years, your list has slowly grown because of all the work your have done creating quality content on your blog and sending great newsletters.

Don’t let your list slip through your fingers! What would happen to your business if you no longer had that asset?

How you can damage your list

There are a number of ways you could kill your email list.

User error

You could accidentally delete all of your subscribers. Email software systems such as Aweber or Mailchimp are not the easiest user interfaces to navigate. You could accidentally wipe your email list.

Being banned

If you go against the terms and conditions of your email provider, there’s a chance that you could be banned from that service and lose access to your list. This is not a far-fetched as you may think: one time I sent out an email to my list which generated a 1% unsubscribe rate, and Mailchimp temporarily suspended my account. I was given the IT equivalent of a call to the headmaster’s office so I could explain my actions before my account was re-instated.

Persistent breaking of your mail service’s terms and conditions will result in your being banned from that service—and the loss of your entire list.

Non-payment

Your list is held by a third party, and can be taken from you if you fail to pay for the mail service because, for example:

  1. you have no cash
  2. you forget to make the payment—perhaps when your credit card expires.

Don’t loose your entire list because of a temporary glitch in your finances or oversight with your credit cards.

How to back up your list

All of the mail services I have used have an Export function. When you create an export, your email data is exported from that mail service as a CSV (comma separated values) list, which can then be stored away from the email provider as your secure archive.

Here are links to the major email providers’ support documents on exporting a CSV of your email subscribers:

  1. AWeber
  2. Mailchimp
  3. Infusionsoft
  4. Getresponse

Once you have your CSV file, you can re-add your subscribers should you accidentally delete your list or move it to another hosting provider if you’re banned.

How often should you back up?

The answer to that question really depends upon your list. If you are adding a substantial number of subscribers to the list per day, you’ll need to back up your list more often; personally, I do this once per month.

But if a recent marketing effort has added a large number of people to you list, do an ad-hoc backup to protect this work.

Even though your list is one of your most important blog assets, I bet many of you don’t back your list. When was the last time you backed up your list. And how did you do it?

Neil provides WordPress coaching and technical support services at WPDude.com.

Launch a Brand New Blog … with Authority

This is a guest post by Jane from Problogging Success.

Launching a new blog today is not the same as it was a few years back. Things were a lot easier and diluted in the past decade, but now, the competition is dense, given that thousands of blogs are launched every day. Every niche has become competitive, forcing bloggers to try to rank highly for less-competitive keywords.

How can you stand out in that sea of competition? Authority!

Authority makes you notable and noticeable. Authority can be built over the time, as the blog gets older and gains readership.

But how about new blogs? Can you launch a new blog with authority? Yes, you can.

Launch a second blog

When you already have an established blog, it will not be hard for you to launch your second blog with all authority. A very good example was the launch of FeelGooder. Even though it’s not a second launch, it’s among the most successful launches Darren has done.

We all know how authoritative are ProBlogger, Twitip, and Digital Photography School.

With this mighty empire on hand, Darren didn’t need to do much when he launched FeelGooder! Just a post on ProBlogger about how FeelGooder had come about was fine: people rushed to FeelGooder. Even without worrying about PageRank, and despite the newness of the blog, authors were eager to guest-post on it, myself included.

Well that’s the magic. When you already have one or more established blogs, it’s easy to authoritatively launch a new blog. People will believe you, trust you, and know about your content even before the new blog goes live.

Building your social empire

You don’t have to have an established blog to launch a new blog with authority. You can launch your first blog with authority. The key is simply to make yourself known on the Internet. Create your social empire. Be one of a kind.

Social media

Let’s make one thing clear: building your social empire doesn’t mean creating accounts on every social site out there. Anyone can create multiple accounts in Twitter as long as they provide unique email addresses for all of them. But that will not build your authority.

You have to provide value wherever you are, even without a blog. Share high-quality content in your niche, among your followers and friends. Do not go on an auto-follow or auto-friending campaign. Do not go on a “follow me and I will follow you” campaign. I know that’s tranquilizing, bit it’s important that you don’t lose control. If authority is your goal, you must always aim at quality.

Tweet and share the best of the blog posts you have read on the Internet within your niche. Occasionally be funny, make personal tweets, share and comment on others’ shares, retweet good information, and so on. These are the components of social engagement. This is about building relationships online.

Guest posting

Can you write guest posts without having a blog? Absolutely. If you can write high-quality, unique articles, submit guest posts to blogs you already know. Aim for publication on the blogs whose content you promote to your social networks. They should be able to identify you, and if your post is on-target, they’ll let you in.

In the author bio, include links to your Twitter or Facebook page to gain more followers and friends.

But don’t be impatient and start writing and submitting articles just like that. You have to guest post effectively, even if you don’t have a blog.

Launch with authority

I think there are four essential steps involved in launching a blog with authority.

1. Keep your blog offline until you post enough content

How can a new blog have “enough content”? It’s possible… Depending on how often you post, the time it will take you to develop “enough” content will vary. But if you’re posting every day, you might keep your site a “secret” for, say, about two weeks. Here’s how.

  • Do not submit the blog to search engines until you have enough content.
  • If you’re using WordPress, go to the Dashboard and click on the Settings tab, then on Privacy. Click on “I would like to block search engines, but allow normal visitors,” and save the setting.
  • If you’re using Blogger, go to the Settings tab of the Dashboard and take care of the two items shown in the figure below.

Caution: Don’t forget to change those second and third options once you launch the blog officially, or it will never be found!

2. Remove dates and time stamps while launching

All major blog platforms will allow you to remove dates and times from your posts. Select this option as you launch your blog, and turn it on later, down the track, once your blog is up and running successfully.

3. Launch without comments

One of the factors that decide the authority of a blog is the number of comments the content attracts. And we all know that a newbie blog will most likely not get a good number of comments. Instead of showing a poor number of comments in the early stages of your blog, it may be better to shut down comments altogether. Once your blog gets momentum, you can open up discussions to readers.

You can get more comments at the initial stage while your blog is still not officially “live” (as I explained above). For this, I assume that you have built your social empire already.

  1. As soon as you launch the blog, let your friends and followers in all social networks know. Ask them to make comments on your blog.
  2. Join a commenting tribe—a small group of people who share links to their posts. You give and get. For instance, if the group at the tribe has 20 members, you leave comments on those 20 links and you’ll receive 20 comments on your posts. It’s a good thing to do!
  3. Find a handful of blogging buddies; again this is a give-and-get proposition.
  4. Register your blog at ComLuv.com and do a search for CommentLuv-enabled blogs in your niche. While leaving comments on those blogs, you can display of the last ten of your posts after your comment (I have given some more details on this at my earlier post on relationship building for bloggers). This will give you good exposure and kills two (or three) birds with one stone—you get backlinks, you make buddies, and you create an online presence.

4. Launch with a premium theme

If you are willing to spend some extra money, I strongly suggest you launch your blog with a premium theme. It’s worth it.

Wait! Don’t rush yet to search Google for “Premium WordPress Themes.” Not all premium themes will do what you expect.

I can suggest two premium themes that makes blogging easy and elegant: Genesis and the Thesis frameworks. I recommend Genesis even though I have not used it—Darren seems to be doing great with it. I recommend Thesis because I use it at my blog and am extremely happy with it.

What will a great premium theme do for you?

  1. It makes your blog look professional.
  2. It comes with clean coding.
  3. It takes care of basic—and some advanced—SEO.
  4. It comes with elegant skins and designs.
  5. Professional support is available when something goes wrong—you don’t want your blog to look amateurish, with broken layouts and code. We’re talking about authority here, after all!

These are the basics of launching a new blog with authority. What other tips and advice can you add?

Jane is a blog consultant and the founder of Problogging Success. She has authored two e-books Problogging Action Plan (winner of the Small Business Book Awards, 2012) and Guest Blogging Champion to help bloggers become successful in their blogging business.

The Four Os: a Four-Step Guide to Successful Blogging

This guest post is by Adam Best of FanSided.

I spent the previous decade figuring out how to “make it” online as a writer. Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” comes to mind. Eventually, with the help of my brother, I made a bit of a splash on a Kansas City Chiefs blog called Arrowhead Addict. That effort went so well we decided to make a business out of sports blogging and started the FanSided Network. What started as one lonely Chiefs blog is now a family of 175 sites, with over 300 bloggers and millions of readers.

I’ve gone from figuring out how to blog to figuring out how to make bloggers better. As FanSided’s Editor, that’s my job. In a day and age where Charlie Sheen has dubbed himself a “genius warlock with tiger blood,” I’m gonna take the high road and just say that I know a thing or two about blogging. Ah, screw it. I’m a Blogfather and I’m here to make you a blogger they can’t refuse.

My blogging philosophy, the Four Os, has guided FanSiders for years. Hopefully, this blogging code will now help guide some of you. The Four Os are:
Blog Original.
Blog Often.
Blog Outstanding.
Blog Obsession.

Drumroll please (I picture a grand total of six of you tapping your pens on your desks…).

Blog Original

Elvis. Bowie. M.J. Madonna. Kanye West. Lady Gaga. All talented musicians? Yes, but it was their originality, even eccentricity, that allowed their talents to come to the forefront. Am I saying that you have to wear one glove, paint your face, announce that George W. Bush hates black people, and then die eating a sub on the toilet? No. What I’m suggesting is for your blog not to be a carbon copy of the existing powerhouse blogs in your category of choice.

Because almost anybody can jump online and start a site, it’s a copycat world out there. Everybody is involved in the same rat race to be first to get to the same story, the same video, the same meme, and then be first to market that post. What happened to establishing your own voice? What happened to being a trend-setter?

You don’t want to be viewed as a walking, talking spambot. Nobody really breaks news at this point. C’mon, everybody already heard about it on Twitter. My little sister broke the story on her Facebook page before most blogs did. Your focus should be on crafting original content that’s well written and different from anything else you can find on the Net. Research your niche; figure out its staples and what’s missing. Look outside your niche for inspiration. Put together a game plan to make your site one of a kind. Don’t be afraid of trial and error either. Your audiences will eventually only remember your hits, not your misses, and if you compile enough hits you’ll be well on your way.

Say what you will about Lady Gaga and her idiosyncrasies, but there’s only one of her and her schtick feels more natural than gimmicky. She’s made herself an indispensable part of the music scene. You’d be wise to do the same in your category.

Blog Often

Let’s say you own a restaurant. Let’s even say your place has spectacular food, a convenient location and great atmosphere. The problem? You only serve one meal, lunch, and only serve it Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If that was the case, you’d expect patrons to visit somewhat frequently during those times, but not during other times. Most bloggers serve up content about as infrequently, yet expect different results—great daily traffic. That’s unreasonable.

If you are only doing three, four, even five posts per week, you are contributing on strictly a hobby level. Those who write that infrequently yet experience a great deal of success are often either already famous or write like Hemingway. Most blogs need to average a post per day. Sometimes a daily post isn’t enough. FanSided is like Office Space. We can only ask our writers to wear so many pieces of flair, but our writers who wear the most pieces (post the most) get the most out of their blogs. I’ve been staring at analytics for years now, and there is definitely a strong correlation between post quantity and traffic.

Blogging isn’t just writing—nobody alive can write four or five opuses every day. Blogging is part writing, of course. But curating, or mining the Internet for gold (news, videos, links, images, stats, quotes, tweets, etc.), is equally as important. Yes, your blog has to be your own voice, but it also has to be more. The best blogs serve as hubs that keep readers from having to surf the web. Besides, you can still Blog Original and voice your opinion when you are curating. Just make sure you interject original insight, even if you do so in rapid-fire fashion.

Another suggestion is to add a staff around you once your blog is established. There are plenty of talented writers out there who don’t have the time to spearhead their own site, yet want to receive great exposure. Adding staffers will also allow you to focus more on quality over quality. Most importantly, any knucklehead can start a site by themselves. If you have a dedicated and talented staff serving under you, then you and your site must be legitimate. That’s not always the case, but a blog staff presents a façade of success and perception is everything—or at least very damn important.

Make sure you have at least one quality post on your site every single day. If you’re not doing so already, try it out for a month. If you already do one, do two or three for the next 30 days. If your traffic and comment numbers don’t increase, tweet to me @adamcbest and let me know it didn‘t work. I’ll tweet to all my followers that I don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s how confident I am in the Blog Often approach.

Blog Outstanding

Part of the problem with trying to Blog Often is that we are all pressed for time. As a result, visual appearance, formatting, grammar, title and promotion often are overlooked aspects of blogging. Compare posting a blog post to selling a house. When you sell a house, you do everything possible to get potential buyers inside, where they can envision being there on a day-to-day basis. You don’t get sloppy or take shortcuts. You make sure the house is painted, the yard is mowed, and that there is no trash anywhere on the premises. You put up yard signs and get the house listed.

Most bloggers, however, don’t think of blog posts as houses for sale. They assume that as long as the message is there, that’s what matters. Those bloggers couldn’t be more wrong. Blog readers often scan new sites before digging into articles. If your formatting sucks, they’ll probably just close the tab. If you have huge blocks of text without breaks or images, they’ll probably bounce. If your post is chock-full of errors, they’ll assume you are either unintelligent or lazy and won’t come back. If you don’t promote your posts and site in general, nobody will even show up in the first place.

That brings us to promotion. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Likewise, if a blogger posts brilliant content that no one ends up reading, was it really brilliant content? “Post and ghost” is a systemic plague that has killed blogs off for years. The Internet is vast. Bloggers can’t just post, step away from the keyboard and expect for readers to miracle their way to their site.

How do you promote your blog? Start with Facebook and Twitter accounts, and make sure they are personalized. Do not just use these accounts to aggregate new posts. Network with other bloggers in your niche, introduce yourself, link their site. You might think of them as competition, but most fans of any category read multiple sites. From experience, kindness in the blog community is typically repaid. After that, look at social media content communities like Digg and Reddit, and see if you can get any traction. I no longer digg, but as a former “power digger” I can assure you that these sites can point a traffic firehouse at your site.

This section is simple: if you don’t take pride in your blog, how can you expect anybody else to? If you’re proud of the way posts look and read, you won’t feel uncomfortable promoting your site. Also, the more you promote, the more you’ll stop worrying about the shameless self promotion you’re doing and do what needs to be done. In reality, almost all promotion is at least partially self promotion anyway. Take pride in your blog. Eventually, you’re audience will, too.

Blog Obsession

Ultimately, your success will depend on your topic, your niche. If you think too small, your earning chances will be extremely limited, and you’ll have a hard time getting noticed. On the other end, if you think big, bigger opportunities could present themselves, but so will bigger challenges. For those of you who have seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, let’s call it Ramona Flowers Syndrome. Your new beau might seem fine at first, but a bunch of dudes were there before you and all of them are formidable. You will have to work your way to the top—if there’s even room for you up there. It’s kind of like making a decision between entering the main World Series of Poker event or a smaller WSOP satellite tourney.

Not only do you have to be passionate about your topic of choice, other people have to be passionate about it as well. If you’re not passionate, fans of your topic will see right through you. If nobody else is passionate about your topic, you might as well print your blog posts and stick them on your mom’s fridge. The number of folks who are enthusiastic about your topic will determine the ceiling of your blog venture. Some topics will leave you stranded on a deserted island with a few friends. Trust me, you don’t want to be a Blog Gilligan. I’ve been there and there’s no Mary Ann or Ginger.

When I think about the choices I make, a scene from Blow pops into my head. The one where Diego says to George, “You failed because you had the wrong dream.” Your blog could fail the second you choose your topic, as many relationships often fail because the pair was just wrong from the start. Make sure you and your topic are a good match for both you and your audience, and that there is an actual audience. It’s like an NFL franchise choosing between quarterbacks with a No. 1 overall draft pick. Choose wrong and it will cost you down the road, possibly for a long time. You want to pick Peyton Manning—not Ryan Leaf.

Take your time mulling your topic over before you launch your blog. If you’ve already launched, reevaluate your blog and ask yourself if you’re covering the right topic. If you figure out you’re wasting time, that’s okay. You’ll be saving time in the future.

So what do you think? Are you following these Four Os of successful blogging?

Adam Best is an entrepreneur, blogger/writer and artist from Austin, TX. He founded FanSided and currently has a couple other start-ups in the developmental phase. He has covered sports, film, pop culture and blogging all over the Net. Follow him on Twitter at @adamcbest.