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How to Select Good SEO Keywords

This guest post is by Jeremy Myers of TillHeComes.org.

The problem with good keywords is that they are usually not words at all. Good SEO keywords are usually phrases, that is, two or more words strung together in a saying or idea. When you enter keywords into your meta keywords section, don’t use words, use phrases.

Why? I’ll give you two reasons.

1. There are too many single keywords

While you can use single-word keywords, you will be vying for position with the millions of other websites that also use the same keyword.

Let’s say, for example, you are writing a post about how to prepare a manuscript for ebook publishing. While you could use the keyword “ebook,” you will be up against the millions of other blog posts about ebooks, even if they are about ebook readers, ebook sales, or ebook marketing.

By lengthening your keyword into a keyword phrase, such as “ebook publishing,” or maybe even “prepare manuscript for ebook publishing,” you significantly narrow the field of competitive websites, which allows your page to rise higher in Google Search results for that phrase.

Reason 2. Nobody searches for single keywords

When was the last time you searched for something on Google using only one word? That’s right: never.

If you are searching for ebook publishing tips, you don’t search for “ebook” or for “publishing.” Both are too broad. Instead, you search for the complete phrase, “ebook publishing tips.” If that is how you search for relevant sites, then that is also how you should write and prepare your own pages and posts so others can find your sites.

Boost relevance using Google Insights for Search

One helpful site I use to search for relevant keyword phrases to use in my blog posts is Google Insights for Search.

At the top of the page, you enter the single keyword or keyword phrase that you’d like to write a post about. You can choose options including a geographical area of the world you want to focus on, or which timeframe you are interested in, and then hit Search.

Google Insights

Here is a brief video from Google about what Google Insights can do.

Let’s look a little deeper into how you can use Google Insights for Search to write blog posts around a central keyword or phrase. Let us say, for example, you wanted to write a post on the “top blogs.” If you entered “top blogs” as a search term, and did not change anything else, you would discover that since 2004, the interest in searches related to “top blogs” has been steadily increasing.

This is good news! You have hit on a rising trend which might make a good blog post or, better yet, blog series.

Interest over time

But Google Insights also provides you with a list of related keywords and key phrases that people have been searching for on Google, as well as keyword trends:

Top searches

The phrase you originally searched for, “top blogs,” does not appear to be the best choice of keywords. Better and more popular phrases appear on the left, with breakout trends on the right. As indicated, the word “breakout” means that over the timespan chosen, this keyword has trended by 5000% or more.

Choose a few of the phrases or words that are most popular or are trending upward, and write your post focusing on those terms. As the picture below shows, you might be better off focusing on terms like “top blog,” “the top blogs,” “best blogs 2010,” or “best design blogs.”

However—and this is crucial—this search, while helpful, does not show recent trending. Remember, it is using the default search criteria, which go all the way back to 2004. You want more recent trends to understand current searches. So one thing you could do is adjust the timeframe filter, maybe to just the last 12 months, as shown in the picture below:

Reseraching "best blogs"

By adjusting the timeframe filter, you can get a bitter picture of what people are searching for more recently. As the following image shows, not much has changed except the top search phrase on the right. People want to know what the best blogs of 2011 were. Maybe you could write a blog post on that instead of the more generic idea of “best blogs.”

Refining the keyphrase

Let me give one final example.

Let’s say you are launching a blog about men’s health. Naturally, you want lots of visitors as soon as possible. So what sorts of posts would be best to start with? Let Google Insights for Search tell you. You would begin by leaving the keyword search field blank, and then change the filters to reflect a recent timeframe and the “Men’s Health” category.

Google Insights on "Men's health"

By doing this, you discover the most popular and upward trending search phrases on Google.

Google Insights search results

Men's Health top search results

It would appear that if you were launching a blog post on men’s health, you would be wise to do a series on vasectomies, androgen insensitivity, circumcision, and uncircumcision.

Hmm, I wonder why those search terms are popular? I’ll let you research that on your own … but not on your work computer—your boss may not understand!

Using Google Insights for Search to help select better keyword phrases will not automatically rocket your website to the top of Google Search results, but such a practice will help you write more targeted and focused articles, which over time will provide you with more readers.

Have you used Google Insights for Search yet? Share your experience in the comments below.

Jeremy Myers writes at www.tillhecomes.org. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Why Your Blog Sucks

This guest post is by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.

Your blog sucks. You just don’t know it yet. On the other hand, my blog is great because my blog really sucks, and I know it.

I know that my blog needs work, and I’m always working to improve it. I wish I had the fan base that Chris Guillebeau from the Art of Non-Conformity has. I wish I could “figure out” social media better. I wish I had apps like Travelfish. I wish I could have better conversions, a better design, and a million other things.

In short, I know that despite getting tons of traffic and being viewed as having one of the biggest travel websites on the Internet, my blog still sucks because I know there’s always room for improvement.

I’m always working on improving my site on every front. I understand that blogging takes time and that no two blogs are equal and, if I am going to make it, I am always going to need to change and constantly improve.

No two blogs are the alike. However, one common trait I see among too many bloggers is the idea that just because we all have blogs, we’re all equal and deserve the same treatment. I think this notion harkens back to the early days of blogging, when the practice was seen as a more egalitarian form of journalism, and everyone was in it together.

Even when the social aspect of blogging is put aside and the business factor comes in, this equality idea still lingers on, and it limits bloggers from developing great websites. Why would you need to improve your website if you think it’s already on par with the best sites on the Internet? You don’t. After all, you’re at the top of your game, right? But the mentality that “all blogs are equal” will only keep you from reaching the true potential of your website.

Think of it this way: is McDonald’s the same as that amazing burger place down the street? Are two pizza places the same? No way! If every sushi restaurant thought they were the famous Nobu, why would they ever bother improving their services or quality? They wouldn’t!

And it’s that kind of attitude that keeps bloggers from developing truly outstanding websites. There’s the assumption that if we all have a blog, we are all equal and deserve the same stuff. We all deserve to guest post on Zen Habits, get advertisers, write for CNN, and receive lots of amazing perks.

I run a travel site and PR folks often remark in their conversations with me that they find too many people demanding a free trip, a free hotel, or a free whatever. Those PR people are going to look at a blog and think, “This person has no readers, but s/he is demanding free stuff. Why would I give them anything?”

They’re right to think this way. You have a blog, but that doesn’t mean you should be entitled anything. Anyone can start a blog. It takes about ten minutes. However, not everyone knows how to make a high-quality blog.

Should the person who just installed WordPress be entitled to the same benefits as the person who has been working two years at building a successful site has? I don’t think. Would you make a guy CEO after he worked for your company for two weeks? You need to prove yourself and show you have value to offer.

I wake up everyday thinking, “How can I be better? What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong?” Unfortunately, too many people don’t do that. They just have a cookie-cutter, free theme and write short, unfocused posts. But blogging is more that.

Blogging, like it or not, is a business. (Sure, you can write a blog just for mom and dad but I suspect most people reading this article want to make a serious business out of their blog.) Blogging is like any other profession. You don’t get better unless you improve yourself. But if you already view yourself as the best, you limit your ability to become great, because you make yourself blind to your limitations.

I think it’s great that you have a blog. You are doing something, and by reading ProBlogger, you are probably already committed to bettering yourself. However, don’t get into the false mindset that all blogs are equal, because they aren’t. Recognize that your blog, just like my blog, needs to be improved constantly. The more you better yourself, the more traffic and readers you will get.

In no other business do you see people say, “Okay, I opened a store and that’s all I need to do. Let the money roll in.” So I’m always baffled that bloggers think, “Well, I just started this blog and even though my mom is the only person reading it, I should still get that all-expenses-paid trip, I should be able to preview the new iPad, speak at SXSW, or write for Mashable.”

Stop thinking that way. Stop thinking you are the cat’s meow just because you blog. Stop thinking you are the same as everyone else. Start thinking about ways to improve your site. Start looking at what is wrong and how to fix it. Set goals for yourself, work at it, and see what other people are doing.

Yeah, it’s going to be a lot more work than it was before. Yeah, blogging will be like a job. But if your goal is to have an awesome website that supports you, simply posting a blog post isn’t going to cut it.

Can your blog do with some improvement? What changes are you making to better your blog today?

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site and has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL’s Wallet Pop, and Yahoo! Finance. He currently writes for AOL Travel and The Huffington Post For more information, you can visit his Facebook page or sign up for his RSS feed.

10 Ways to Use Your Blog to Manage a Crisis

This guest post is by Jeff Domansky of The PR Coach.

Your blog is a very important part of your personal image or company brand. While you’ve invested time in its development, have you ever thought about how you could use your blog to manage a crisis?

A blog offers several advantages compared to news releases, websites, or other social media channels.

Image by Jeff Domansky of Fotolia.com, used with permission

It lets you control your message without a media filter. It speaks with authority as your “voice of record.” In a crisis, your blog can be a valuable internal and external communications tool. And, most importantly, with quick action, it can help ensure you’re heard accurately in a crisis.

Ten ways to blog in a crisis

Here are ten valuable ways you can use your blog to help manage a crisis:

1. Quick response

Issue your holding statement and/or first “official” response to a crisis as soon as possible on your blog. This prevents a vacuum being filled by the messages of your critics, competitors, or opponents. Deal with the most obvious concerns. Be proactive. Provide facts. Reassure the community that you’re actively working on the issue and that safety is paramount.

Scott Monty shows how SeaWorld used its blog effectively in the tragic death of an employee by one of its Killer Whales.

3. Voice of record

Use your blog as your company’s voice when you can’t reach everyone more easily in other ways. A fire or other emergency may prevent you from accessing your email system, your office fax, or communications equipment. In that situation, your blog may be your only available communications channel.

GE recently tried to use Twitter to defend itself from media attacks around a tax issue. It didn’t work. 140 characters wasn’t enough. Using the GE blog would have been more effective for such a complicated defense. Ultimately, GE has quit trying to “spin” its story after a poor media relations effort.

3. Updates

Quick, timely updates through your blog can be invaluable in keeping employees, customers, regulators, fire and safety officials, the media, and the general public informed of new developments. Remember, your updates can be very brief and factual. Most crisis managers know it’s important to show that even if you have not yet resolved the crisis, you’re working to solve it.

BP attempted to use a blog for Gulf oil spill cleanup updates, but received pointed criticism for its attempts to paint the recovery unrealistically. BP since shuttered this blog and removed the posts, demonstrating how transparent and objective you must be for success.

4. Corrections

Your blog is critical in correcting mistakes, responding to misinformation, and making sure that audiences have the correct information. Move quickly to correct factual errors, but don’t sweat the small stuff.

Chrysler’s Ed Garsten used his corporate blog to go on the record effectively with facts about firing a consultant for dropping the F-bomb in a corporate tweet.

5. Leverage internal resources

In a crisis, employees are your most valuable resource. Encourage employees to view your blog. Suggest they provide links to the blog to their key contacts. It informs employees, controls their messages and helps them respond to family, community, customer and other concerns with accurate information.

Whole Foods Market’s’ blog, Whole Story, has a series of Food Safety posts that show its care and commitment to safe, healthy foods.

6. Media relations

In the heat of a crisis, it may be difficult to reach media. Your blog can provide critical media information as well as links to press releases, fact sheets, FAQs, photos, video, and everything else a reporter needs if they can’t reach a spokesperson. Make sure your blog address and 24-hour phone contacts are provided on all media information.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark’s blog, craigconnects, has a simple Press page that works well.

7. Support with the “basics”

Use your blog to provide advice, direction, and basic information such as phone numbers and addresses for company, fire, and safety contacts, and community organizations. Provide all employees with key information including the blog address. Add a recorded message to your answering service to ensure that information on your blog is available after hours. This will help ease pressure, reduce inbound calls and show concern while your team deals with the crisis.

Remember, much of this information can be prepared in advance before you have a crisis.

8. Enrich and personalize response

Your blog is a great vehicle for visuals, multimedia, links and many additional voices that allow richer, more effective, more human response by your organization. Be creative. If time allows, make use of all of the social media advantages in blogging.

No surprise that Disney Parks Blog is one of the best, taking visitors behind the scenes with wonderful storytelling.

9. SEO

Careful use of keywords in your post titles and content helps you rank higher in search engines and news aggregators, allowing you to compete for a fair and balanced share of voice in the crisis coverage.

10. Post-crisis

Companies often forget to do a wrap-up after a crisis has been handled. The community, your customers, employees, officials, regulatory agencies, media, and the public all need to know that you handled the crisis well. They need to be reassured that they are safe, and that they can trust you to do the right things now and in the future.

Discovery Channel did this very effectively after their hostage crisis in 2010.

Don’t forget to do advance planning so your blog can be used off-site in the event of a fire or other emergency that prevents the use of your office. Build your mailing list of VIPs, media, employees, and customers with smart, useful content.  In a crisis, make sure to alert your readers with the blog address using Twitter updates when speed is critical.

By following these ten steps, your real-time blogging can play a vital role in helping you prepare for, respond to, and manage a crisis. You’ll earn respect for openly communicating and definitely establish trust for the future.

Remember: one-size social media does not fit every situation. Anticipate, plan for the worst crisis you can imagine, and blog for the best.

Have you had success blogging in a crisis? What were your biggest challenges? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Jeff Domansky is a PR consultant, crisis manager, writer, blogger and editor of The PR Coach with more than 7000 PR resources. Reach him on Twitter @theprcoach.

Why Hopeful Bloggers Are Bad Bloggers

This guest post is by Chris, The TrafficBlogger.

Depending on your situation as a blogger, hope could be your ticket to success, or cause you to quit blogging within the month. Dictionary definition-wise, hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had, or that events will turn out for the best. Think about how this could be a great or terrible thing for you as a blogger.

False hope (bad!)

There are two very different types of hope for online marketers—and all bloggers need to start thinking of themselves as marketers if they want to be successful.

The first type of hope is a false kind. It is the kind of hope that makes you think spending hours online was worth it because you earned a few pennies for your efforts. A false sense of hope is not only dangerous, but it also wastes your time and, more often than not, your audience’s time as well. I’d rather you failed at something miserably and attempted to make changes, rather than have mediocre success and consider it a reason to keep on failing.

False hope is so dangerous because it leads to complacency and plateauing.

False hope was something that pervaded my every effort online when I first started Internet marketing three years ago. A typical example would be AdWords and affiliate marketing. I would set up ads on Google AdWords for a few dollars each and have the accumulated traffic sent to websites designed to sell a particular product.

Since I was seeing some money come in from this effort I felt that I was successful, but I was actually failing horribly. For every $5 I spent on AdWords advertising, I made $7.

As someone just starting out I felt that a few dollars each day was successful and this feeling led to a false sense of hope which made me complacent instead of aggressive in my internet marketing endeavors. Nowadays I spend $1 and make $30, which is a far cry from the good old days of sitting back and thinking I knew everything about making money online.

Motivational hope (good!)

Failure is a great thing. It’s a reason to have hope, not to lose it.

It is through failure that we achieve success. As a computer programmer, I know what it’s like to find every possible route that doesn’t work—until eventually you track down the solution to your problem. This is how you should view failure: as closing off another dead end, which, in turn, helps you get closer to the correct answer.

When you fail, have hope in the fact that you have saved yourself from the false sense of hope I mentioned earlier, and replaced it with the motivational hope that will one day see you achieve financial success through your efforts.

Don’t take mediocre success as good enough. Keep failing until you get it right.

Taking your failure and spinning it into a motivational tool is part of becoming successful in life—not just online. Failing can push us further towards success, but we have to first recognize failure, and then convert it into motivation. The secret to doing this is to never be satisfied with your own efforts, and therefore to work constantly to improve upon your strategies. Personally, I am never satiated with the fruits of my labor and this forces me to constantly look for a better way to do what I do on a daily basis.

In three years I managed to create a system for blogging that actually builds relationships, captures leads, and sells products consistently. That’s three years of constantly working towards improving upon my own system and being my own biggest critic.

A great example of this is in my posting style. Look at the way you first started blogging, and compare it to the way you do today. Personally, I use more bulleted lists, bolded key points, big headings and concise content. I interact with my audience on a daily basis with not just posts, but social media and a few thousand words per day. I also work hard to get feedback and suggestions from my audience through various collection methods.

Rewind to three years ago? I was happy writing a paragraph a day! Only once I changed my attitude from being excited about my performance, to realizing that I was failing, was I able to begin improving my blogging business.

Are you a hopeful blogger?

The good kind of hope keeps you swinging for the fences, tearing down bad ideas, and trying out new ones until you tweak and split test to the point where even you are happy with the results. A person who is motivated by failure will always be looking to improve upon their current business strategies.

Are you this kind of person, or do you sit back and relax because you feel that you are doing “well enough”?

Chris writes for The TrafficBlogger, as well as writing books on how to drive traffic to your blog.

Shakespeare on Blogging

This guest post is by Leanne of IronicMom.com.

Although Shakespeare wouldn’t have known words like Twitter, social media, and blogging, he no doubt would’ve embraced these new terms. After all, he coined an estimated 1700 words and had a lot of fun playing with language.

But what do you get when you take Shakespeare’s words out of context and apply them to blogging? You get sage advice that has—in its own way—survived more than 400 years.

Here are words from the Bard, applied to blogging.

On the length of posts

Brevity is the soul of wit.
(Hamlet)

Translation: Keep posts and paragraphs short.

On posting too infrequently

I wasted time, and now time doth waste me.
(Richard II)

Translation: Post regularly, or your blog’s energy and following will wither away.

On finding images

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.
(Hamlet)

Translation: Ensure your image is related to your content; if it’s not obvious, use a caption make the connection.

On the importance of blog design

The apparel oft proclaims the man.
(Hamlet)

Translation: Appearance is important. If you wouldn’t wear 35 accessories, don’t put that many on your blog.

On content

More matter, with less art.
(Hamlet)

Translation: Photos and images are important, but fantastic content is what keeps readers returning.

On avoiding controversial topics

Boldness be my friend!
(Cymbeline)

Translation: Don’t be overly afraid of divisive topics; they can attract and engage readers. Deal with them maturely, and invite readers to disagree.

On commenting

They do not love that do not show their love.
(Two Gentleman of Verona)

Translation: Ensure you read and comment intelligently on other people’s posts. Blogging is about building relationships, and—if you’re genuine—commenting is the best way to do so.

On dealing with hostile comments

I am not bound to please thee with my answers.
(The Merchant of Venice)

Translation: Hostile comments are rarely fun to deal with. It’s usually best to remember that you don’t have to please; instead, aim to critique the idea, rather than the person.

On being preoccupied with statistics

All that glitters is not gold.
(The Merchant of Venice)

Translation: While stats do indeed glitter, they don’t tell the whole story of a blog’s success. Check them, use them to improve your blog, but don’t let them distract you from writing and building community.

On verifying your sources

Lord, what fools these mortals be.
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Translation: Don’t immediately trust what other people have put on the Web. For example, there are several quotations from seemingly reputable sites that are attributed to Shakespeare; cross-referencing revealed the quotes aren’t all his.

On the need to proofread

What’s done can’t be undone.
(Macbeth)

Translation: Think before you hit publish; ideally, leave your post 24 hours and reread it again.

On helping other bloggers

How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.
(The Merchant of Venice)

Translation: Find someone less established to help out; this is the spirit of blogging.

Leanne’s motto is “If you can’t laugh at yourself, laugh at your kids”; you can read her attempt to survive parenting at IronicMom.com. Leanne also co-created the website, WordBitches, where she and two friends use sass to motivate each
other to write 500 words each day.

Use Twitter Contests to Find Targeted Followers

Few things will replace SEO, providing great content, posting frequently, or building relationships with your readers and with other leaders in your niche as ways to help bring visitors to your blog.

However, I’d like to introduce you to another way you can find targeted followers who are interested in the content, products, and services you create: Twitter contests.

Anyone can put on a Twitter contest. The actual steps you go through are not difficult. And anyone can find a lot of followers with a Twitter contest. But what I want to share is how you can craft a Twitter contest to find the people who are interested in your niche, and build excitement around them following you on Twitter.

What is a Twitter contest?

Simply, a Twitter contests is a marketing activity designed to cause people to follow you and tweet a predefined message in order to be entered into a drawing for a prize. At the end of the contest period, you randomly draw the winner from those who:

  • followed you, and
  • tweeted the predefined message you created for the contest.

The results, if the contest is crafted right, are a lot of new followers who are truly interested in the messages that you tweet. These are the people who will most likely stay connected with you on Twitter and take action on your tweets. These are also the people who will be most likely to visit your blog or website long after the contest is over.

Each Twitter contest I run yields between 20% and 25% new targeted followers over ten days. My contests are big, so I run them about a year apart. That way, they don’t become so commonplace that they lose their novelty and appeal for either the people who enter, or the sponsors who provide the prizes.

Elements of a successful Twitter contest

While I concede that there are a lot of reasons why a person or company may want to conduct a Twitter contest, the reason that I’m discussing focuses on the blogger’s desire to find targeted followers. All other things being equal, we would rather have 2,000 followers who are interested in the information we tweet, than 10,000 followers who follow us but have no desire to read our tweets.

Depending on how you craft your contest, you may spend a lot of time, energy, and money attracting the wrong people. Alternatively, you can take specific steps to attract those in your niche.

There are several essential elements involved in attracting targeted followers in your niche:

Be clear on the purpose of your contest

Before you go through the work of crafting a Twitter contest, make sure you are clear on what you’re looking to get from the exercise. With me, it’s more targeted followers, targeted being the operative word. Once I have them, I have other activities in place to move them to my blog, my books, and my products. If you’re not clear on the contest’s purpose, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment when it’s over.

Choose prizes wisely

This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes people make when they conduct a Twitter contest. If you are looking for targeted followers, bigger is not always better—bigger can cost you a lot of money without delivering the results you are looking for. For example, $5,000 in cash may not be as good a prize as a $500 camera or a $30 signed photography book if you’re looking to find photographers as targeted followers.

Sure, $5,000 is empirically worth more than the other two prizes, but consider this: $5,000 may attract a lot of people to your contest who want nothing to do with photography. All they want is the prize—then they’re out of your life. And the truth is that not everyone is motivated to enter contests for cash. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you entered the Publisher’s Clearinghouse $10,000,000 sweepstakes?

When you select a prize for your Twitter contest, it needs to do two things:

  1. Encourage people in your niche to enter the contest.
  2. Discourage people who aren’t in your niche from entering.

Generic prizes like cash, electronics, and vacations appeal to a wide range of people without doing anything special to reach out and grab the attention of a photographer. A camera, however, might raise the eyebrows of someone in your niche, as would a signed book from a renowned photographer.

Spending time choosing the right prizes that appeal to your targeted Twitter followers can make or break your chances of contest success. It can also save you a lot of money by helping you focus on the prizes that your targeted followers really value.

Don’t offer only your own prizes

Here is another mistake that people often make when they launch a Twitter contest designed to find targeted followers. Instead of reaching out to others for help in providing cool prizes, they only offer a book they wrote, a product they created, or a service they offer. While your prizes may be worthy of prize status, you will be missing out on a huge opportunity to find new targeted followers if you don’t invite others to contribute prizes.

When you reach out to experts and leaders in your niche to donate prizes to your contest, you are in essence setting up a sure way that the sponsors will send their followers to your blog or website—where they’ll find out how to enter your contest. You’ll also capture a lot of their followers on Twitter when they enter your contest. These are targeted prospects who may never have known about your contest had it not been for the sponsor your recruited.

As an example, I recently launched a Twitter contest for my blog with nearly 20 sponsors. Each of these sponsors will play a huge part in sending traffic my way; and since I chose sponsors and prizes related to my niche, the quality of visitors should be in line with the target audience I’m aiming to attract.

Give away the spotlight

In order to get the best experience from your contest, you need to take a step back from the limelight during the contest, and make your sponsors shine. This will give them all the encouragement they need to enthusiastically promote your contest to their followers and subscribers. Remember—these people are business men and women who are constantly looking for ways to promote their business. If you set them up as experts with a prize worthy to win, then they will help you communicate that message.

Another way you provide value to your sponsors during the contest is by highlighting their prize, linking to it, and linking to their website. By doing this, you’re increasing the chance that someone who’s looking at your prize list will see something they like, and decide to buy it instead of waiting for the contest to end.

Make the contest period the right length

This is where some finesse comes in. If you make the contest period too short, it will be over just about the time that its exposure is ramping up, causing you to miss out on a lot of potential traffic. Conversely, if you make it too long, people will not get the sense of urgency to enter it now.

We all know that if we don’t get a prospect to take action when we have them on our page, the chances that they will come back to do so later are dismally low.

With my contests, I’ve found that ten days seems to be a good running period. I run them over two weekends and the week between, starting on a Friday and going through the second Sunday. However, the length and the days you choose may be different for your niche. Don’t be afraid to test the contest length to find the optimal one for you.

Plan your tracking system

You need a plan for tracking all the people who enter your contest. The worst thing you can do is run a contest and then realize that you forgot to track it. Or worse—find that the tracking system you planned to rely on doesn’t give you accurate results.

For example, if you rely solely on Twitter search to find your entrants, you may find that the results don’t go back far enough to capture all the entries.

I like to use redundancy by choosing two tracking methods and cross-referencing the results. There are a number of great services that can send you alerts whenever someone enters the retweet phrase you create for your contest. When your contest starts, you need to immediately confirm that your alerts are capturing data accurately.

Communicate who the winner is and measure your results

When the contest is over, you need to contact the winner and announce on your official contest page that the contest has been won.

I wait until I receive confirmation from the winner before I publish his or her name. I also give the winner seven days to respond to my contact before I choose another winner. The last thing you want to do is choose a winner who doesn’t accept the prize, or one who comes back a month later and wants to collect the prize package then. Be clear in your rules and you can avoid issues like this.

If you’re like me, the real fun begins when the contest is over. This is when you get to crunch all the numbers to see how well you did. The data you get can help your next contest become more effective.

Creating a great retweet message

As I said earlier, for a follower to have a valid entry in your contest, they need to:

  1. follow you on Twitter
  2. retweet a specific message that you create.

A great retweet message will look like this one, which I created for my last contest. This retweet message is not for my current contest, so please don’t retweet it! I’m using it for illustrative purposes only:

RT @tonyeldridge Win a $1300 book marketing prize package from top book marketing experts in the business: http://tinyurl.com/ljn7y6

A great retweet message has these elements:

  • It’s 140 characters long, or less. Don’t forget to make room for the URL when crafting your message. Some blog platforms won’t provide you with the post’s URL until after the post goes live. In those cases, you’ll have to grab the URL, shorten it, and edit your post with the complete RT message once you publish the post.
  • It begins with “RT @YourTwitterID.” If you don’t place something before your Twitter ID, then Twitter will treat the tweet as a reply, rather than a mention. This can limit your contest retweet message’s exposure.
  • It makes mention that this is a contest, and summarizes the prize. It’s harder than you think to craft a small message that packs a big call-to-action, but it can be done. Your goal is to craft a message that makes people want to visit your page to read more about this great contest you’re having.

Twitter contest launch tips

Based on my experience, here are some parting tips to help make sure your Twitter contest takes off smoothly:

  • Don’t roll out a contest on the fly. Until you get experience with running these contests, there are too many places for things to go wrong. A little planning goes a long way for a smooth contest launch.
  • Give sponsors plenty of time to respond. If you don’t have enough planning time, you will not give potential sponsors enough time to digest the benefits of donating a prize to your contest. Chances are, you will be the first person who has approached them about being a sponsor. If you give enough time for this process, you can truly win them over to this marketing activity.
  • Test all links to your sponsors’ pages. You will be reaching for the antacid tablets if you get a bunch of calls from sponsors saying that their links are broken. Broken links are a rough way to start a contest.
  • Make sure you understand exactly what your sponsors are offering as prizes. Here’s where you grab the rest of the antacids in the bottle. You post that your sponsor will donate a 60-minute, free consultation; they come back after the contest is live and say, “No, I said I’d donate a signed copy of my book.” You really don’t want to have to change your prizes after the contest starts, nor create hard feelings between you and your sponsor.
  • Don’t change the rules mid-contest. People expect rules, but they don’t like to see them change. It tends to make them feel like they’re not being treated fairly, or that they’re being taken advantage of. You don’t want to create ill-will by changing rules after the contest launches unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Tweet around the clock. Twitter is global, so make sure you are tweeting about your contest around the clock. Even in your own country, you may have target audience members working all hours of the day. Someone is always around to read about your contest.
  • Don’t charge for an entry into your contest, or require someone to purchase something to enter. In many places, it’s illegal to require someone to purchase something to enter a contest. The laws of gambling take effect then. To be safe, make a “No purchase necessary” contest.
  • Don’t trust your sponsors to promote the contest. Prompt them. I often create special tweets that highlight an individual sponsor’s prize and tweet it three or four times during the contest run. This almost always catches their attention and causes them to retweet the message, thus increasing their followers’ exposure to the contest.
  • Follow Twitter’s contest rules. Twitter contests are popular, so Twitter has weighed in on rules they impose for contests. Their rules are simple and very practical, so make sure you follow them. Here’s a summary:
    • Discourage the creation of multiple accounts. If your contest encourages people to create multiple accounts to better their chances of winning, you are in violation of Twitter’s Terms Of Service.
    • Discourage posting the same tweet repeatedly. While it’s okay to have one tweet that everyone needs to use, you cannot encourage users to tweet it multiple times to increase their chances of winning.
    • Ask users to include an @reply to you in their update so you can see all the entries. You can see this in my Retweet example earlier.
    • Encourage the use of topics relevant to the contest. If I have a Twitter contest about photography and I say, “Cool new Apple phone out now” just to get people to click on the contest link in the tweet, I’m breaking the rules. You can use specific hashtags in the tweets, but even the hashtags need to be relevant to your contest.
  • Have fun. You may find a contest stressful when you launch it, but take a breath and relax. I’m betting this will be one of the most memorable marketing experiences you’ll engage in!

Twitter contests, conducted correctly, can be a fun, viral way to uncover targeted Twitter followers and ultimately send them to your blog or website. If you conduct quality contests on a regular basis, you will find sponsors lining up to be part of your next contest, and you’ll build an eager niche anticipating your upcoming contests. Once you have these followers, it’s up to you to keep them, with valuable tweets that relate to their interests.

Have you had experience with Twitter competitions? How have they worked for your blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tony Eldridge is the creator of the Marketing Tips For Authors blog and the author of the Twitter marketing book, Conducting Effective Twitter Contests, and the action/adventure novel, The Samson Effect, that New York Times bestselling author Clive Cussler calls a “first rate thriller brimming with intrigue and adventure.”

Why Your Self-Hosted Blog is More Valuable than Your Facebook Page

This guest post is by Marcie Hill of The Write Design Company .

Facebook has taken the Web by storm in a very short period.  In addition to being the highest ranking social networking site, it is the second most visited site in the world according to Alexa, the popular blog measuring tool.  Facebook’s popularity is so great that it unseated Google as the king of the Web one day in 2010.

Even though Facebook offer relationships, fun, and exposure, following are five reasons why I think your self-hosted blog is more valuable than your Facebook Page.

1. You can control your own media and space

You have limited control on Facebook. You have access to the profiles and pages you create, but having access isn’t the same as ownership.  And your design options are minimal. Your blog, on the other hand, is your space to do what you want, when you want, how you want.  From design to set up to content.

I recall a time when Facebook sent a message to their millions of members information them of content ownership.  Apparently, anything shared on Facebook belonged to them.  After loads of protests and opposition, the social networking giant backed down. I am not convinced.  Generally speaking, if you do not own something, you cannot control it.  If Facebook shuts down or suspends your account, you will not have access to the content you entered.  Thus, your self-hosted site is definitely a better option for media creation.

2. You can reach a very targeted group

People who sign up to receive your blog updates tend to be most interested in the content you provide.  It is more likely that this group will convert to loyal followers. You can have all the fans you want on Facebook, but if those people are not taking interest in what you share on your blog, all you have is a big remote fan base on someone else’s site.

3. You have the chance to get paid for advertisements

On Facebook, you have to pay to get your message to your targeted group.  On your blog, people have to pay you to get their message across to your audience.  Because you control the site, you determine the type of ads you want, how long you are going to let them run and how much they should cost.

4. You can rank high on Google

If someone conducts a Google search on your name or company, your Facebook pages may appear within the top five search results.  That’s impressive.  However, if you blog quality content consistently, your site will also rank within the top five—or at least on the first page.  Even if your self-hosted site appears below your Facebook page in the search results, at least you own the site.

5. Everybody is not on Facebook

Some people may never join Facebook; others are leaving.  Even with these transitions, people will always have access to your blog.  You don’t want to alienate people who are likely to support you just because they’re not on Facebook.

Above are five reasons why I think your self-hosted blog is better than your Facebook Page. Use Facebook as a means to an end—not as an end in itself. Use it to make contacts and drive traffic back to the site you own and control.  Remember, if you don’t own it, you can’t control.  And you will never own Facebook.

Marcie Hill is the Founder & President of The Write Design Company help clients develop creative conversations that will lead to long-term online and offline relationships.  She also shares information on culture, education, employment, health and youth programs and activities on her community site, Shorty: Your Chicago South Side Resource.

Have You Outgrown Your Blog?

This guest post is by Brian Milne, a longtime sports blogger and founder of the BallHyped Sports Blogging Community.

We’ve all been there.

You’ve been blogging for months, even years, and your blog is going nowhere fast. Traffic is stagnant. Your subscriber count has dropped off. AdSense is paying just that: cents per day.

So what’s a blogger to do when they hit “the wall?” The most important thing to remember is that every blogger hits it. The key is to break through that wall or scale over it.

To overcome the wall, you have to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself the question: Have you outgrown your blog, or have you failed to grow with your blog?

Like our blogging platforms (WordPress, for example, has two or three major updates each year), individual bloggers have to evolve as well.

If your blog has plateaued because of a lack of promotion (are you spending as much time marketing your blog as you do writing for it?), content development (have you tried complementing your writing with images, podcasts, video?), SEO improvements (are you using keyword phrases in titles, opening paragraphs, subtitles, captions, and attachment file names?), then it’s on you to grow.

But if your blog has plateaued because your niche is too niche, it’s time your blog’s subject matter evolved.

How niche is too niche?

In today’s saturated blogosphere, all the talk is about niche sites, and niche is a great way to make a quick buck impact: getting your site to rank quickly for super specific keyword phrases, and making a name for yourself in a small industry or at a local level.

But is that micro-level impact your long-term goal for your blog? Or are you looking for something more?

Don’t limit yourself. If your existing blog is going to be a major part of your life, your business, and your brand long term, you need to think long term.

Can you crush through “the wall” with better, or more content? Can you add topics or categories to your blog without it feeling bloated or misplaced?

If so, it’s time to write about something different, which is the easiest way to hurdle the blogging barrier. Write about new topics, with a fresh set of keyword phrases, and it’s only a matter of time before Google starts sending you fresh visitors based on those search terms.

But if, deep down inside, you feel your blog has a shelf life, and you’re unable to expand your content with additional categories under the existing title or URL, it’s time to move on … and redirect/roll up your existing content into a category or tag on a new blog with a broader range of topics. That, in some cases, might be the only way you’ll ever smash through the wall and set yourself up for long-term success.

A smashing success

Suggesting a friend, colleague or family member ditch an existing blog for something bigger isn’t an easy thing to do. And I’d never encourage it unless that blogger knew in their gut they had outgrown it.

I underwent that gut check a few years back when I ditched a somewhat popular regional fishing blog and forum in favor of a statewide fishing site. While that site attracted a much larger audience, and gave me hundreds of new fishing destinations to write about, I quickly realized I was still limiting myself keeping the blog within California’s borders.

But I still had room to grow as a blogger, and instead of rushing out to start a national fishing blog—and redirecting all of my content, again—I focused on developing the content I had. I went from writing a couple posts a week, to writing multiple posts per day. I brought on user-generated content and even created my first ebook.

Next thing I know, I’m signing on with No-Nonsense Fishing Guides to write a second edition of that book for print. That led to another book deal with Wilderness Press, and later, a paid blogging position to cover national and international fly fishing topics for About.com.

I took the same route with my sports blogs, starting off with a Blogger site focused on a small local college, before moving on to create a popular West Coast sports blog, and then the national sports blogging community, BallHyped.com.

So there’s something to be said for building up your expertise on your niche blog, and expanding on those experiences for a larger audience. Just make sure you’re not leaving behind a blog and a niche that has huge growth potential in itself.

Make the move

What’s your gut telling you as you read this?

Is there still room to grow on your current blog? If so, use this opportunity to develop your content and take your blog to the next level.

Or have you outgrown your blog, and feel a need to expand your blogging horizons? If this is the case, you’ve probably been thinking about it for quite some time.

Now the only question that remains is: What are you waiting for? The best thing you can do if you’ve seriously considered expanding your blog is to just do it. Instead of writing another post for a lame duck blog, channel that energy into your new site, because it’s going to take some time to get it set up, alert your existing community, and redirect all of your awesome niche content.

But if you do it the right way, that wall will come crashing down in no time at all.

Have you outgrown a blog? I’d be interested in hearing how you overcame the wall in the comments below.

A former McClatchy senior writer and web editor, Brian Milne has taken his own advice today and is launching the BLOGhyped.com blog promotion network, where bloggers of all genres can share their blogs, get followed links and additional blogging resources. For consultation and content development services, contact Milne via Twitter @BMilneSLO.

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.