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8 Reasons to Add an Ecourse to Your Blog

This is a guest post by Kelly Kingman of StickyEbooks.com and the co-creator of Engaging eCourses.

A great ecourse can make a huge difference to your blog and your business. In fact, I can name eight fantastic reasons why you should add an ecourse to your blog.

But first of all, what exactly do I mean when I say “ecourse”?

Ecourses can be anything from a simple, free auto-responder educational series to year-long, in-depth membership programs with live calls and personalized coaching. They could involve text, audio, video — and every combination of those.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll define an ecourse as instruction delivered over time, and delivered virtually, with the intention of helping the consumer achieve a result.

As I watched Darren’s 5Cs of Blogging video the other day, I realized that well-designed ecourses can deliver all five of these critical elements:

  1. incredibly useful content
  2. a basis for community
  3. points of connection with your audience
  4. cash in your pocket
  5. a contribution to your readers’ lives.

Not too shabby.

Pace Smith and I recently asked six bloggers who have mastered the art and science of creating great ecourses for their advice on inspiring people and helping them get results from ecourses. Our collected interviews make up Engaging eCourses: How to Motivate People to Get the Results they Want, which is available this week for the first time.

As we learned from our conversations with these bloggers, teachers, coaches, and authors, there are lots of great reasons to explore the arena of delivering educational content, and concrete benefits to be gained by setting the consumers of this material up for success.

Here are eight reasons we found why an effective, well-designed ecourse is good for your blog.

1. It inspires your readers to action.

In the Internet age, we have no shortage of information. Information is great. Information is important. And as bloggers, we thrive on delivering information — but it’s only part of the picture.

What people are hungry for now is inspiration. A great ecourse inspires people to implement the information they’re receiving.

Your readers’ results are the best way to build your business, according to Pam Slim, of Escape From Cubicle Nation. “[Results are] always, always is a stronger foundation for your company —rather than focusing all this time and energy on getting the perfect brand, or the perfect tagline, or the right people to be re-tweeting your stuff on Twitter,” she told us.

Not only do people like to feel inspired, but if you help someone solve a problem, they are likely to share their good results. This could take the form of social media buzz, testimonials and just good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

“People become sort of raving fans if they use the whole thing and complete it,” said Scott Stratten of Un-marketing.com. “Don’t be afraid of the conversation [in social media]. People are going to ask, ‘what are you talking about? What is UnBootcamp?’ and then people can go check it out.”

2. It helps focus and refine your niche.

Teaching people shows you not only which chunks of information are the most useful, but who really “gets” what you’re saying. Sonia Simone, from Remarkable Communication, told us she didn’t really, really understand her niche until she launched her ecourse, the Remarkable Marketing Blueprint.

“When I launched the Blueprint I saw the people who stayed and got excited about it and those that drifted away or didn’t get it. It was really seeing that that helped me create Third Tribe, because I could say ‘this is the kind of person who gets it.’”

Instead of trying to figure out the nuances of your niche in advance, see who responds to the content and style of your instruction and then work with them in mind. “Always look to your students to see who you’re most able to help,” Sonia said. “Sometimes you don’t know until you try some stuff and see what people respond to … who is picking it up and running with it?”

3.  It deepens your relationship with readers.

It’s one thing to give someone ten tips on mountain climbing; it’s another to walk someone step by step through choosing the best path and preparing for the trip, then listening to how their progress is going along the way. Depending on the level of interactivity, creating and delivering an ecourse can give you crystal-clear feedback on what works and what doesn’t about your information and your approach.

“Ecourses represent a certain level of commitment,” Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing told us in his interview. “The more that you set the ecourse up so it reaches that peak level of commitment, the better the results [your participants] are going to have, and the more feedback you’re going to get.”

Designing an ecourse also means tuning into which problems your readers are really facing and what they want. “What’s going to make you feel really good is when you’re focused on the learner. What is that they’re trying to do? Be really curious about it, dig in,” Pam Slim told us. Pam co-created the $100 Business Forum with Chris Guillebeau.

4. It helps you monetize your offering.

Who doesn’t love money? The great thing about an ecourse is that if you offer it at a reduced cost to an initial “test group,” you essentially are being paid to create most of it.

Sonia Simone offered a “beta group” price to the first members of the Blueprint and made it clear that the content would evolve based on their feedback. She told us how this was the model Brian Clark used when starting out with Teaching Sells, essentially creating income from the ecourse before it was totally polished and done. This also lets you adapt the material on the fly to the needs of the group.

Even if you feel like you’re relatively new to your niche, you’re a few steps ahead of a total beginner. “The biggest market in all topics is the beginner market. That’s when people are looking for something to help them over the hurdle. If you’re an intermediate, you know of the basic advice that’s out there which is really key,” said Sonia.

5. It helps you grow a strong tribe.

Participants in an ecourse can form the core of a tight knit community. “If you let people know you care about them, they will have loyalty to you and that loyalty will help them get moving,” said Sonia.

Don’t spend too much time trying to convert those who don’t vibe with your approach. Sonia said that “people sign up because they resonate with your values — your point of view — and that gives everyone something in common and makes everything go more smoothly.”

A tribe gets stronger through the connections that are built within it. Students given a space to interact online often find enormous value in helping each other.

“It’s not been an uncommon phenomenon for people to come out of our courses and start a mastermind group or continue to have significant contact with some of their buddies from the courses one, two, three years later,” said Mark Silver, from Heart of Business. “Building those relationships, and really being able to trust and get support from your peers, are some of the most important parts of the learning experience.”

6. It helps you build expertise by teaching.

“As you help people solve problems, you tend to get the reputation for being an expert,” said Pam. But she also warned against getting too hung up on the word “expert.” “All that I care about is: are you really able to help people solve a problem?”

The best way to build confidence in your skills is to use them. “If you can really listen to and respond to what feels like it’s lacking with your folks … and be very responsive to that feedback, this is going to increase your confidence at such a deep level,” said Pam.

7. It helps you gain a competitive edge.

An ecourse can provide a way to help people cut through the noise, to figure out which information is key for their situation, and this will set you apart. “The entrepreneur who delivers a better experience to her right people, wins. It’s the experience — not the content, not the information,” said Charlie. “[Experience] can be the level of engagement, it can be the ease with which they get results that you promised, it can be the results themselves.”

Instead of striving to be original, Charlie said, focus on being effective. “The point is not to come up with something novel and new, though it’s great when you do,” he said. “The point is to explain, synthesize — do what you have to so people take the information that’s already there and use it.”

8. It helps you give back to your readers.

Ultimately, helping readers get results impacts their lives for the better. “When your focus is really, ‘how can I help my ideal client do what they need to do?’ that’s going to be driving excellence. That’s going to be driving results and impact,” said Pam.

She added: “That is what our work is about: it’s about the impact of your gifts on people that you care about that’s solving problems you want solved in the world.”

Kelly writes about creating compelling eBooks at StickyEbooks.com. To learn more about how to deliver ecourses that engage and inspire, visit Engaging eCourses.

11 Ways to Convince Readers to Buy Your eBook

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja — a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

eBooks are a great monetization channel for your blog. Unlike methods such as advertising and affiliate programs, your own products allow you to keep the lion’s share of the profit. But with this great power comes great responsibility. Unlike other monetization methods, with ebooks, it’s up to you to turn your readers from fans into real customers.

In this post I’ll explain 11 ways you can convince readers that your ebook justifies them pulling out their credit cards.

1. Don’t leave them wondering.

If a reader has to think twice about how to buy your ebook, that’s one time to many. Your readers shouldn’t have any doubts in their minds about how they can order your product. Now this doesn’t mean you should turn your sales page into one gigantic Order button (believe me, I’ve tried), but it does mean you should have clear and identifiable order buttons at the top, middle, and bottom of your page.

2. Give them safety in numbers.

People don’t like missing out, nor are they comfortable with feeling as though their friends, competitors, or colleagues have the jump on them. If 10,000 people have read your ebook and they all love it, make sure you let everyone know. Give your readers safety in numbers, and they’ll give you their credit card numbers!

3. Connect them with advocates.

Anyone can write testimonials, including testimonials that never actually happened — and your readers know that. But what you can do is provide advocates. If there are real people in the real world who love your ebook, ask them if they’d be prepared to openly share that with others who might be interested in the product. A testimonial from someone who includes their social media profiles and encourages readers to get in contact with them is going to pay much better dividends than a testimonial that you made up yourself.

4. Give them a guarantee.

Buying any product requires some sort of leap of faith on the part of your readers. You’re asking them to spend their money on something that, even with the world’s best sales copy, is an unknown. You can reduce the size of that leap by guaranteeing your ebook: “If this doesn’t deliver all that you hoped for, we’ll refund your money – so you’ve got nothing to lose.” The smaller you can make that leap of faith, the more sales you’ll make.

5. Give them a sense of urgency.

Perhaps an unfortunate reality is that we’re often lazy, or easily distracted in our daily lives, so you need to create a sense of urgency to ensure your readers stay the course and complete the entire purchase process. An easy method to achieve this is to threaten a price increase after a certain number of days. If they don’t act now, they’ll pay twice the price.

6. Tell them your story.

Whether yours is a technical book or a novel, readers will value being able to connect with you as the author. If you book involves the completion of a journey that a potential reader is about to embark on, and you can help them avoid all the mistakes you made, they are much more likely to order.

7. Don’t bore them to death.

If your ebook’s sales page contains as many words as your first chapter, you’re going to do nothing but bore them away from your page, and your key sales messages will be lost. Write your sales page as concisely as you can, then strip out 50% of the words — and you’ll just about be there.

8. Make it easy for them.

You’ve only won half the battle once you’ve got your reader to click that Order button. What happens next is perhaps even more important. If you ask them to jump through four more clicks and fill out 20 fields with information, chances are you’re going to lose them. Ask your potential customers only to do the minimum required to make your sale, and get the money in your bank account. If you want extra information, do that after the sale is made.

9. Cater for their preference.

eBooks these days are more than just PDFs. iPads and Kindles have changed the expectations of ebook purchasers. If you can, make sure your product is available in the maximum possible number of formats (ePUB and Mobi). This can be a great point of difference in a competitive ebook market.

10. Know your audience members’ problem and tell them how you’ll solve it.

You probably should have figured this out before you wrote the ebook, but you need to still convey what problem your ebook solves for a reader, and make sure this message dominates your sales copy. Your friends will buy any book you write, but the mass market will buy books that solve their problems.

11. Give them one thing to do on your sales page.

It’s very easy to hedge your bets when it comes to creating a call to action on your sales page. There should be your clear Order button, but you might be tempted to add a Tweet This button, or an alternative product, or even someone else’s ad! Unless you stand to make as much money from someone tweeting your book page, or clicking your ad, as you will through an ebook sale, then ensure your page asks visitors to do one thing and one thing only: buy your ebook.

Selling ten ebooks is easy; selling 10,000 can be a little more challenging. I hope these tips help get you going.

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja — a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing more of his tips undercover here at ProBlogger over the coming weeks.

How to Make Everybody Happy

A Guest post by Stanford from Pushing Social. Image by superbomba.

happy.png

Your blog is like the popular kid at school.

It needs to look great, be funny, smart, and remember everybody’s name. It’s a tough job.

But the hardest part of the job is keeping everyone happy.

You are probably figuring out that your readers are not all cut from the same cloth. Although they may share a common interest, each has his or her own reason for visiting your blog. Some are casual readers, while others are hardcore fanatics that devour every word.

It’s easy to believe that every reader will be satisfied with your 300-700-word post. Not so. In fact, your standard post may only satisfy a fraction of your readers and leave the rest wondering, “Where’s the beef?”

If you want your blog to grow, get passed around, and inspire an engaged community, you’ll need to write content that makes everyone happy.

Wait, you can’t make everybody happy … right?

I know that blog readers — myself included — can be a fickle crowd. There’s a handful of blogs that I read daily and I have impossible standards. They need to write exactly the type of posts I like, publish them regularly, and never, ever, disappoint me. I’m a tyrant and so are your blog’s readers.

The problem is that you can’t write multiple types of posts every day to satisfy every reader.

But can you make all of your readers happy?

Crowd -> community -> core

Yes you can … by being smart about the content you produce and where you place that content.

It’s useful to think about your audience as overlapping circles of readers. At the center are the core readers. A little further out is your community of regular readers. Furthest out is the crowd, who occasionally visit. All together, these folks form the ecosystem for your blog.

Every day, people read your content and naturally settle into one of these circles. Your goal is to move the crowd to the core.

Let’s take a look at each group and some techniques for keeping them happy.

The core

These folks are dedicated to you. They visit your blog every day and are the first to comment, retweet, and mention your posts. You may even know these fans by name. Core readers are the first to sign up for email courses, pre-order products, and join your affiliate program.

Your goal as a “tribal leader” is to find and connect with your core as quickly as possible.

Core readers are disproportionately influential. Don’t be fooled by their small followings — their enthusiasm is infectious and they can rally a crowd through sheer persistence.

How to make core readers happy

Core readers hunger for more than your usual posts. They want to dive deeper into each of your posts and are starving for more detail. These folks have devoured your archive post and relate to you on a visceral level. You need to kick it up a notch to keep them satisfied. Here’s how to do it:

  • Go deep: Use email courses, private forums, and ebooks to give the core a deep dive into your content. My own Spectacular Posts email course is designed to give my core readers new information that I haven’t covered in a post. I don’t hold anything back because my core reader has an insatiable appetite for more information. So does yours.
  • Keep your eye on them: Create a list of your core readers in Twitter and bookmark their Facebook pages. Friend them, follow them, and regularly visit their blogs. Make sure they know that you are cheerleading for them.

The Community

Community readers are regular visitors to your blog. They are infrequent commenters but frequent retweeters. The community makes up the bulk of your blog’s traffic. They appreciate a consistent message and hate surprises.

How to make the community happy

  • Be reliable: Your community wants a steady supply of information that serves their needs. They share your goals and interests and want to hear more from you. Consistent posting encourages them to visit your blog often. Over time, you earn their trust and convince them that you have a resource worth sharing.
  • Use “edutainment”: Community readers plow through a lot of blogs every week. Dry, me-too posts are easily drowned out. To raise above the clutter, you need to combine entertaining and interesting viewpoints with your topic. These mashups can combine Lady Gaga and Blogging Tips or Ant Swarm Behavior and Project Management. This is guaranteed way to stand out in the RSS reader, and catch the eye of super-influencers too.
  • Be relevant: Community readers have a low tolerance for loosy-goosy, feel-good content that isn’t practical. They were attracted to your blog because you helped them solve a problem. They keep coming back because you are interesting and have a viewpoint that fits them like a glove. Don’t disappoint them. Keep an editorial calendar that continually delivers on-point content.

The Crowd

Outside of the community lies the crowd. Crowd readers are usually referred by another source. They are not regular readers and may only spend a few seconds on your blog. Your topic is likely to be complementary to the crowd reader’s main interest, but not a tight fit.

It’s tempting to dismiss the crowd since they aren’t your bread-and-butter readers. But smart bloggers work to satisfy the crowd because they bring fresh perspectives to the community. Your goal should be to turn the occasional crowd reader into a regular community or core reader.

How to make the crowd happy

  • Guest post: As you know, I’m a huge fan of guest posting as a way to reach readers that lurk outside your community. Guest posts allow other more influential blogger to vouch for you, giving you enough credibility to attract a larger audience. It’s not a mistake that many up-and-coming bloggers spend a large chunk of time guest posting to reach the crowd.
  • Build outposts: Outposts are social networking sites where you maintain a profile and special content. Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are popular outposts that represent online watercoolers for millions of users. Pick one outpost to start with, and invest some time to build a presence there. Link your outpost to your blog and regularly post content there. Over time, your outpost will get on the crowd’s radar screen and start escorting new readers to your blog.
  • Be a peacock Don’t be shy. Every once in a while, write a post that grabs attention. Your post can be provocative, epic, or piggy-back on a popular topic in the news. These “peacock posts” get noticed by influencers and passed along to their network. Even though it’s hard to tell if your post will be a barn burner, you can increase your chances by regularly writing them!

What do you think?

Can you make all of your readers happy? Which technique will you try first?

Stanford obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Socialexcept when he’s fishing with his boys. Follow him to get the latest about his new ebook “Get Noticed.”

The Power of Not Giving Up – One Blogger’s Story

A guest post by Naomi Dunford from IttyBiz who emailed last week to remind me (Darren) that today is ProBlogger’s 6th Birthday and asked if she could write a birthday post. Here it is!.

I’ve sat where you sit.

I’ve devoured the articles and the blog posts and the link roundups. I’ve agonized over whether I could afford that video camera or that conference or that membership program. I’ve felt like a fool for even hoping this blogging thing could ever work.

I’ve sat right there and I know how scary it is.

Maybe I should introduce myself. My name is Naomi Dunford, and I was just like you.

I was desperate, scared and pregnant. My doctor had put me on bed-rest. I had to leave work because I was fainting all the time. Even before he was born, we knew our baby boy would have health problems.

We had intermittent web access because I could only intermittently afford to pay the bill. My husband was making very little money in a job working nights and it was going nowhere. Things did not look good.

Then I found Problogger.

I read all the archives. (All the archives.) Read some Copyblogger. Read some Chris Brogan. Slept. Drank a lot of tea. Had some panic attacks and spent a lot of time thinking about how cool it would be to be a problogger one day.

You’re waiting for the bit where I say it got better, right? Where I say I dove right in and created a blog and hustled my way to fame and fortune? Sadly, no.

I did nothing. Nothing. For a year.

I had my son. Went back to my job. Left work in the middle of my shift on my fourth day back. Went down to one (sub-poverty line) income. Flirted with the idea of starting a business. Got one half-hearted client. Put our son to bed by myself. Ate a lot of rice.

But I kept reading Problogger.

One day, Darren mentioned he needed businesses to sponsor his third birthday giveaway. Sitting there, nursing my son in the middle of the night, I had a crazy idea. I could be a sponsor. I had no idea what I was going to give, but the deadline of Problogger’s birthday was enough to get me going and get my blog launched.

I decided to give some marketing coaching. I had to fill out a form to say who I was and what I was offering, and I wrote that IttyBiz was the “offshoot blog of IttyBitty Marketing”. IttyBitty Marketing? Please. We’d had the sum total of one client and to this day, they haven’t paid me. But I had to put something in there. I sent it off, and then all I could do was wait.

(The actual story of how I went from not even having a domain name to launching my site on a Technorati Top 100 blog in four days is pretty uninteresting, although there are some juicy behind the scenes highlights and an adorable picture of Xavier here.)

I launched the blog. I wanted to email the people who commented to enter the contest and invite them to IttyBiz, but I didn’t have their email addresses. (I ended up clicking on all their links and personally emailing them via their contact pages, a process that took two full days. We worked straight through the night.) I did the same with the other sponsors.

I got some readers. Not a lot, but some. I got a little bit of traffic. A few other bloggers said some nice things about what I wrote. My goal was to get a thousand subscribers before Christmas. I didn’t make it.

But I kept reading Problogger.

Let’s flash forward three years.

My blog now employs six people. We have over 20,000 readers. We’ve helped more than 1000 people quit their job. As an affiliate, we sold enough copies of Teaching Sells to fund a school in Cambodia.

My husband quit his job. We’re unschooling our son. We moved to England for a while. We bought a little house. We finally got a car. We went to Cuba and Ireland and SXSW and Blogworld a few times. I threw a party in Austin and Darren came.

We’ve had ups and downs. I got pregnant again and lost the baby. Burned out. Missed some deadlines. Had a few site crashes. Got hacked a couple times. Did some stuff I’m not proud of. Did some stuff I’m very proud of.

And we’re home. My husband kisses my little boy goodnight seven days a week.

But here’s the really crazy part.

Nothing special happened.

I didn’t just happen to get a column in the New York Times. Nobody invited me to be on Oprah. I didn’t conveniently score a book deal. Despite my repeated attempts, I’m still not married to Brian Clark. I didn’t do anything special. The gods did not smile on me.

I just kept reading Problogger.

The point of all of this?

Please don’t give up. I know it’s terrifying. I know you are under indescribable pressure to do something serious with your life and grow up and forget your crazy blogging dreams. I know that some days, this is the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

I know your family thinks you’re crazy. I know you feel completely alone. I know you feel like it’s never, ever going to work.

But what you’re reading here? It works. I promise. Please don’t lose heart.

Happy birthday, Problogger. And thank you, Darren. I am blessed to have you as my mentor and honoured to have you as my friend.

Naomi Dunford writes at IttyBiz.

How to Romance Your Readers Like a 5 Star Restaurant

A guest post by Kelly Estes – coauthor of Online Business Elements. Image by Storm Crypt.

romance.pngIf you’re trying to impress a date, nothing does it like a romantic multi-course meal. In the blogosphere, you’re not trying to romance anyone, but you are out to impress — and snare — prospective readers.

Intrigue, Don’t Bore

So impress; don’t bore them. Think of it like serving up a multi-course meal. Don’t freak out~just like you don’t eat that type of meal all at once, you serve up the most fabulous food by planning out a menu, making your grocery list and scheduling the cooking. You work behind the scenes like a fiend, perhaps sweating a bit in the kitchen. And then you present a scrumptious, mouth-watering meal to guests, making it look easy.

Serve Up A Memorable Experience

The reason customers return to a four-star restaurant is not just the quality of the food. It is the attention to detail. It is the personal greeting when you arrive. It is the escort to your table with a beautiful view. The pulling out of a chair so that you can easily sit….you feel the personal attention taking your experience up a notch. With a flourish, the maitre’d places a napkin on your lap. The waiter arrives and gives a polite introduction, inquiring what you would like to drink, acting as if you and your date are the most important customers in the restaurant. Meanwhile, the background music plays on, unobtrusive and elegant.

These actions add up to a beautiful experience. When someone visits your blog, you want them to have and remember a great experience.

Maybe you’re not going for an elegant impression. Perhaps you’re aiming to titillate and showcase your wide writing range and expertise, or to combine hilarity and blog tips. These are bloggers who leave a lasting, good impression on their readers, and have sticky blogs.

How do successful bloggers do it?

1. Whet the appetite with a perfect appetizer.

Set the stage with a creative and professional banner that showcases your brand. It’s the first thing a potential reader sees, and if it looks like an amateur did it, your readers might just click away.

If you go into a restaurant, and the ambiance is that of fine dining, complete with mood lighting, your expectations are set high. When the waiter starts describing the delicious, fresh buffalo mozzarella on heirloom tomatoes with basil chiffonade, drizzled with Italian balsamic vinegar, it ‘fits’ with the branding you’ve experienced to that point. You’re looking forward to eating what the chef whips up.

Just as some restaurants use candlelight with tablecloths and china (not Chinet), creating the right ambiance for a nice dinner, so too should you think about the first impression you give a reader with your banner. Does it reflect your brand well, and is it professional looking?

2. Stand out with a Salad

Hold the not quite ripe tomatoes, and stay your hand on the tasteless bagged carrots. Get out the awesome stuff that is really good.

The headline to your post should not be boring (duh). It should be creative and offer help or information your readers need. Here’s one headline that caught my eye on Yahoo….”Checking Out of the Grocery Store Faster, and With More of Your Paycheck In Hand.

Now that’s definitely a hot headline. Do I want to check out of the grocery store faster? Yes. Do I want to leave the grocery store for less money out of my pocket? Heck yeah! So I click to find out how to accomplish that goal. Voila. The headline did its job.

Remember, the headline that people see on Twitter, Facebook, or Google can determine whether they click on that link to read it. So entice them. Get click savvy. You can get your potential readers to ‘order’ your blog post.

3. Serve a memorable soup, not thin gruel.

What I mean is, make sure your opening paragraph isn’t dry as sawdust. Keep your reader’s interest by being unique, and engaging them with a targeted question. If you’re writing about dieting or nutrition, you could open with ‘Why do some nutritionists advise eating five small meals a day to lose weight? Does this work for you?”

Sometimes, adding just a few choice ingredients makes all the difference between so-so tomato bisque, and the most awesome, creamy, and delightfully different tomato bisque ever. There’s the tomato condensed canned soup made with milk, and then there’s the French chef’s secret recipe to knocking your socks off tomato bisque. If I’m going to order tomato bisque at a restaurant, I don’t want the ordinary. I want the extraordinary.

When people arrive at your blog and read your first paragraph, they’re going to decide whether to keep reading or not. Make sure they keep reading because you’re serving up the knock your socks off tomato bisque topped with crème fraiche.

4. Provide Entrees that Satisfy.

Would you rather have a perfectly grilled steak, baked potato and salad, or a microwave meal? They both fill you up, but one satisfies the senses more than the other.

It’s the creative analogies and cool stories to inform and entertain that people remember, and come back for more. There are so many ways to make boneless, skinless chicken breast into a meal, but there are a ton of ways to prepare and serve it.

Enlighten readers with your unique perspective on your topic of choice, impress them with how much your blog helps them (it’s your content strategy) and you’ll gain their gratitude and readership.

5. Dessert: Sweet Success

As your traffic grows (through your sweat equity online), and you’re getting to know more bloggers through networking, you’ll start to feel like you’re making progress.

Tasting the sweetness of success as a blogger only comes after a lot of hard work and long hours. In the beginning, you might feel like you’re only getting a lick out of the cookie dough bowl.

The first steps on the road to success are paved with small victories. Gaining loyal readers. Racking up Twitter followers and Facebook fans. Guest posting on a bigger blog in your niche. Before you know it, you’re further and further along toward achieving success.

You’ve planned your ‘menu,’ served up successful ‘meals’ (blog posts), and are continuing to network with readers and bloggers alike.

Cyberspace is interesting, though. Even meeting someone online doesn’t quite measure up to the real thing.  Face to face networking still rules.

Why bother networking offline, like at a convention such as the upcoming BlogWorld Expo? Consider what your goals are as a blogger.

Are you going to be able to achieve a huge level of success without meeting and talking with other bloggers in the ‘real’ world? Will you be able to enjoy a decadent helping of success, like a Hawaiian chocolate Kona soufflé, or will you keep sampling the cookie dough as you celebrate little victories?

As you consider your game plan and your goals, map out how you will taste the sweetness of success. Of course, getting there will be its own reward.

Kelly Estes is a food blogger and former print journalist who blogs at Hot Cookin‘ ~ She is also a co-author of Online Business Elements.

Creating a Blog In a Niche You Know Nothing About

A guest post by Adam from Things To Learn.

I’ve been blogging for over two years now and I will be the first to admit that I haven’t been the best blogger in the world. Far from it. There were several stretches where I didn’t blog regularly or I wrote posts that just didn’t cut the mustard.

The blog that I was maintaining was in the ever crowded personal finance (PF) niche. Frankly, I know a lot about financial planning (I have a master’s in it) and I thought that I would thoroughly enjoy writing about it. Man was I wrong. If you ask any expert in the field, they will tell you that everything PF has already been written. In order to separate yourself from the hundreds of PF blogs out there, you have to put your own spin on the topics or just talk about your personal experiences. Well, I wasn’t that great at putting a spin on the topics and my wife and I don’t really live a fascinating financial life.

So, I slowly continued the blog. I stuck to it for about 2 years and decided that I just wasn’t having fun with it. I still enjoyed writing, but I was just burnt out writing about personal finance. I knew it was time for a change but I just didn’t know what. I don’t really have any hobbies and everything else just seemed so saturated already.

Blogging On Something You Don’t Know

As I was enjoying a nice walk around Washington DC with my wife, something caught my eye. None of the buildings were tall. I wondered what the deal was and figured that plenty of other people may have thought the same thing. I did some quick research at home and found out that there is some crazy law that doesn’t allow the buildings to be tall in the city. Weird.

After I learned about the topic, I had other random questions/things pop into my head and they just kept coming. An endless supply of blog posts! I wrote them down on a piece of paper with the title “Things To Learn”. I knew right then and there that I needed to create a blog on the topic. I was going from writing about things that I knew inside and out to something that I had no clue about. Why would I do that?

Why Should You Blog In a Niche You Know Nothing About

You Have An Almost Endless Supply of Blog Posts

Many great bloggers started writing about things that they wanted to know more about. For example, J.D. from Get Rich Slowly started his site when he was $35,000 in debt. Obviously, personal finance wasn’t his strong point at the time but he started the blog to learn more about the subject and it has now grown to one of the most popular blogs on the web. Heck, even Darren started this blog because he wanted to learn more about making money on the web.

Personally, I have been thinking about my new blog for weeks now. To date, I have approximately 100 “things to learn” in my WordPress drafts. You know what, the ideas keep coming too. Whether I am reading a book or having a conversation with a stranger, the thoughts keep flowing. You can do that with any niche too. Especially if you are constantly trying to learn more about it.

It Never Gets Old

Most new bloggers fizzle out after a few months because they feel like no one is listening. Hey, it happened to me a few months after I started. But, I stuck with it and my blog has made a few bucks here and there.

Believe it or not, I don’t really care if my new site has readers. I mean, there is a small part of me that likes the interaction but I am doing it more for me. I want to learn and blogging about things I am interested in gives me pleasure. The place that I want to get my interaction is from other sites like this one. I am saving some of my better posts for other blogs and I will be interacting with the readers here.

I think that by blogging in niche you know nothing about, it will be difficult run out of things to write. I mean, I bet it may get a little old after a while. If I had to guess, I would say that many of the bloggers that have been around for a long time will tell you that it’s starting to get old. I imagine the thought of quitting has crossed their mind. Even though they started out knowing nothing about the niche, now they do and it would get old. However, they are now probloggers and are making good money. How many small bloggers that burnt out posting about what they know can say that?

* * * * *

How many of you started blogging in a niche you know nothing about? Have you seen the same results that I mentioned? What other positives can you see with blogging in a niche you know nothing about?

Adam spends his time finding out what the closest city to the north pole is or what the largest country is. He enjoys learning new things every day and sharing them with those who are willing to listen.

4 Things to Expect When You Become an A-List Blogger

A Guest Post by Glen Allsopp from ViperChill.

There’s a ton of advice in the blogosphere about how to increase the size of your blog audience and become an A-lister. There is far less advice though on how to deal with such a large readership and the changes that come with it.

While I don’t consider myself an A-lister, my blog is closing in on the 10,000 subscribers mark after less than a year since launch, and quite a few things have changed from when I had a much smaller audience.

Some of these are good, some are bad, and others are completely what you make of them. This is simply my guide on the things to expect and possibly watch out for.

Growth which Snowballs

The first few months with blogging are generally the toughest. If you’re not learning how to tweak your design and implement good on-site SEO you’re trying to establish yourself in your niche and build relationships. Growth at this time can seem slow or even stagnant.

Thankfully, it does get much easier. Once you have built an audience you have more people to naturally share your posts for you, buy your products, and help spread your brand. When I grew my old personal development blog to 500 subscribers it took me 7 months of non-stop hard work.

Yet, in the next 5 months after that, thanks to this snowball growth effect, the blog had over 4,000 subscribers. The bigger you get, the bigger the growth spurts tend to become as well.

Public Criticism

I’m very fortunate to have built a following of people who are very positive and thankful for the effort that I put into my articles. However, as with any project that grows large, I’ve faced public criticism as well. This didn’t seem to happen based on anything I did but came about when my audience hit a certain threshold, resulting in feedback that was seemingly random.

Some people say things like “you’re just trying to be like X blogger”, “you’re scamming people” (even though I have no ads or affiliate links) or they may claim I’m lying when I write about certain figures, even after posting screenshots of everything I do.

At the end of the day, criticism is something you should come not only to expect, but forget. If there’s something negative out there about you that you agree with and can change, then do so. Otherwise, leave the internet trolls to do their thing and continue doing what you do.

It’s not just in the blogosphere where this happens of course, but in all areas of life. Look at the launch of the iPhone 4 as an example. It was Apple’s most popular product launch in their history and has less refunds than any other iPhone by far, yet every tech blog is jumping on the bandwagon about the issues it appears to have.

Whether you believe Apple should be scorned or not, you can’t deny that it seems that the more popular a person or company gets, the more people want to take them down. At certain times I like to remind myself of a quote my Sean Stephenson which is quite relevant to this situation: “What people say about you is none of your business.”

A Rise in Reader Communications

As much as I didn’t want to do this, I’ve had to make it significantly harder to get in touch with me over the last few months. First of all, I stopped returning follows on Twitter and went from following over 3,000 people to less than 100. If you follow someone they can send you a direct message (DM) and I simply couldn’t respond to even half of them. I can’t imagine how other people who have much bigger audiences deal with it.

I then had to create a new Skype account as people were using the ‘find by email’ feature and adding me personally. As I give away my Skype address frequently when buying new websites, I would sometimes be flooded with support requests because I couldn’t tell if someone was a blog reader or they were selling a website I was interested in.

Finally, I made my contact form much less inviting and put my email address right at the bottom of the page. I hate that I had to do this one the most, but I think people would rather find it harder to contact me than spend time writing a request for help that I simply can’t fulfil.

Of course, I still respond to many emails and I try to reply to every single blog comment I receive, which can take hours each week, but I can’t keep up with the other communication channels. Similar to my last point, people can be very vocal on social media platforms if they get in touch with you and you don’t reply — even if it’s just a day or two later.

If you have time to respond to everyone then that’s great but make sure you’re prioritising tasks (writing posts, tweaking your site) and not trying to be everywhere to please everyone. My simply philosophy is that I would rather spend a few hours writing an article which helps thousands of people than spending hours in my inbox helping only a few.

Higher Expectations from your Audience

When I said there would be points which you can view in your own way, this is what I was mostly referring to. This may just be a personal feeling and not something other large bloggers can relate to, but I definitely think people have higher expectations of the information and ideas I share after following my work for a while.

I personally see this as a good thing as I don’t want to stand behind work which I believe to be mediocre so I’m reminded to produce valuable content. You may see it as added pressure to publish only your best articles but realise that your audience just wants the same great value that they’re used to. When asked how he dealt with the pressure of his fans, rapper Lil Wayne simply said:

“I would rather have the pressure of fans wanting me to do well then the pressure of running from police or something like that. Fan pressure is good pressure.”

When you start out you can make “mistakes” you wouldn’t normally do like fill your site with ads, write reviews just for money or publish guest posts which are of a far lower standard to the content you usually put out here. Once you grow though, the reaction to those kinds of mistakes can be a loud voice in the online space.

I love growing my audience for the obvious benefits such as:

  • Having more eyeballs on my content
  • Having more people who can share my content
  • Connecting with a bigger audience
  • Being able to make more money
  • Having a bigger influence

These are all great advantages to becoming a bigger blogger, so definitely don’t just focus on the points that I’ve highlighted above. Just become aware of what you may have to deal with as your site does begin to grow. At the very least, if you do experience these things, now you know you’re not alone.

Glen Allsopp is the author of ViperChill, a blog on Viral marketing. If you’re interested in guest posts like this one here, you may enjoy his guide to guest blogging.

4 Ways I Compose Posts to Drive Millions of Pageviews to Blogs Through Digg

A Guest Post by Neal Rodriguez.

With the release of the new Digg on August 25th, anybody with the ability to understand how a story, which is promoted to the popular section, is composed, has an edge in attaining viral exposure ranging from tens of thousands to millions of pageviews. Digg’s users constitute a large proportion of bloggers. Thus stories promoted to their popular section, which was previously their homepage and now the Top News page, can attain anywhere from less than 10 to hundreds of links pointing to their websites. Digg also has millions of users; many of whom visit websites that reach the popular section at a rapid rate. My blog went down when I promoted my interview with Ben Huh The Most Popular SFW & NSFW Failblog Pics of the Decade to the popular section and more than 1,000 visitors loaded the page in the first few minutes after reaching the front page.

NSFW/SFW pics

No matter how much of an efficient promotor of content you are, you will not get your blog’s pageview count passed the two people who made you nine months ago without writing content that people are willing to share among their online friends and acquaintances. There are just some stories that people are willing to pass on to their fellow digital networkers through email, Facebook Like action, retweet, pigeon carrier, or Greek messenger. What are some of the elements that increase the chance that a story will spread virally?

1. A Picture is Worth a Hundred Thousand Pageviews

I was surprised to hear that my friend had launched his photo blog and had grown his traffic level to 100,000 monthly pageviews in 3 months. Now together with Digg he is behind one of the biggest viral campaigns on the web in the past few weeks: the dry erase girl. Photos on the web appear to have the hypnotic ability of making people share them upon first encounter. Ben Huh reportedly did nothing but post photos of people failing at everyday tasks on his blog. Last time I spoke with him he was driving 1 billion pageviews to his blog network every 4 months.

On the blog post to which I alluded in the first paragraph, I aggregated the most popular photos posted on Ben’s blog in the last decade and performed some social outreach on the news aggregators. The post made the front page of Digg and drove 26,690 pageviews in the first few hours. It received 36,019 pageviews the following day. The post has received over 77,000 pageviews in total.

You should add photos to every blog post you write. The funnier the picture the better. Even the most serious topics work great with a offbeat picture that can also represent the post’s topic. Stunning pictures such as those posted on PDN Photo of the Day Aftermath (6 photographs) show the story of a woman’s breast cancer treatment in a series of self-portraits. I drove over 200,000 pageviews to this story on the first day of publication. It went popular on Stumbleupon and made the front page of Reddit, a social news aggregator, to drive over 90,000 views over the weekend when traffic is typically slowest. The only reason I didn’t put it on Digg is because nudity was not allowed at the time. I have found I have been able to drive the most traffic when I aim to tell a story through pictures.

Dry Erase Girl Quits

2. Opinionated Stories

My first blog post on the Huffington Post briefly outlined reasons why I thought we as consumers brought the U.S. financial crisis upon ourselves. In short, my argument contended that increases in foreclosures were the product of people buying homes that they could not afford. Whether you think I was wrong or not, this post made the front page of Digg in 2007 and incited a huge response. If any of you have attempted to promote content on Digg, you know that solely stories that receive the most response and support from the community get promoted to its popular page.

I got insulted on this post for my lack of substantiating my arguments with 3rd party facts. However, I did help people close no-paper A loans as a credit repair specialist back in ’03; so, considering the amount of people for which I secured $300,000 loans without showing income documentation, I had a pretty good idea from which to draw an opinion. No excuse, nonetheless, in your iteration, ensure that you back up your content with solid facts, statistics, and other expert opinions to make your argument as credible as possible.

My opinionated piece that called for the arrest of a Bart police officer who shot an unarmed man in 2009 also made the front page of Digg. My thoughts on why the Bart police officer who shot Oscar Grant should be held without bail was the most popular story on the Huffington Post on its day of publication with over 40,000 views through my outreach efforts.

Most Popular Huffington Post

What also made this post popular stand out, is that mainstream media wasn’t giving it the attention that the American people thought it should. Now touching on the subject of race, I received a hundreds of racist insults. Expect to get verbally abused when taking a strong stance on many subjects; especially touchy subjects that cover sensitive issues such as race. Just log out of Foursquare and Facebook Places before hitting the check-in button while you watch your 3-year old impersonate a Oreos commercial eating cookies in your house. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

3. Infographics

Infographics are visual representations of an outline of information. The graphic typically constitutes a skyscraper and rectangular image that is 500 pixels or wider. Inside the infographic, you can see factoids represented by smaller images. The smaller images can constitute pictures, graphs, and/or any other imagery associated with the information its representing.

Infographics can get tough to do if you don’t have a graphic designer. However, beyond the sparkling quality of the color and resolution of the images, the information conveyed in the infographic is what will determine its viral success. I put up a simple infographic on what other items could be bought with the money put into a Super Bowl ad and drove over 50,000 views to the Adfreak blog in a few hours.

Super Bowl Infographic

When creating a infographic keep in mind the following best practices:

  • Research your topic from at least 10 resources.
  • Try timelines and abstract ways to display diagrams, graphs, and charts; a popular way to graph data is by using rows or columns of images associated with the data – e.g. stick figures like those used to identify public mens and womens rooms when providing information on people.
  • Post key information that surprises or intensely interests people upon disclosing it; little-known historical facts and processes work well.
  • Use colors for the fonts, background, and images that relate to the topic being discussed. In this case we used colors in relation to football. We used the two team colors that were playing: the Colts and Saints.
  • The font size should poke readers’ eyes into their throats. Make them big, bold and colorful. Emphasize the words that are most important and experiment with different font sizes and styles.

Add several facts that constitute the ‘WOW factor;’ that your audience can relate to. So in the Super Bowl infographic, we related the factoids to popular memes on Digg since that was the initial channel of promotion. And again, although the graphic quality is important, put more focus on the information you will be embedding in the infographic. Visualize the image and draw a rough sketch outlining how you want it to look on paper or digitally.

4. Rewriting Headlines

The new Digg allows you to edit a headline before submitting it to the community. Your headline is the first thing a user sees when the story is posted on his feed. You should incite the need to click and read what loads upon clicking the title.

Top # Lists

When content is already listed or outlined but the title doesn’t read so, you may increase the chance of promoting a story to popularity using a numbered list title. A Forbes story once listed the most expensive private jets in the world. I rewrote the headline to “The 10 Most Expensive Private Jets on the Planet.” I successfully promoted the story and drove thousands of pageviews to it in a few hours. A good way to structure a list is by using the Cracked.com forumula

“The” + (Number) + “Most” + (Over the top adjective) + (Subject) + Of All Time (Synonyms like “in History” or “Ever” will also be accepted) = Popularity

Cracked Popularity Equation

Topics Important to the Digg Community

Some stories generally cover an event or developing topic. At times you will find a something that is dear to the heart of Digg users. I promoted a story for PBS that was covering a political convention, which had a tent catered for bloggers. Digg was mentioned once as a the sponsor. You probably know what I did better than me. I stated how Digg was sponsoring the event as the title. I successfully promoted the story to the front page and exposed it to its million-person user base.

Percentages

I also take the most important percentage that proves the key fact in the story and have made it as a headline. A story explained how betting pools were operating for the upcoming Super Bowl. The story’s key finding reported that 80% of bets were for the underdog, my NY Giants. I used this stat as the headline – “80% of Super Bowl Bets are on the Giants” – and successfully promoted the story to the front page.

How have you composed posts to drive the most traffic to your blogs?

Neal Rodriguez is a social media marketing operator ready to jog in blizzards this winter to get ripped for the summer in New York City.

How to Use the Ansoff Matrix to Develop New Products for Your Blog

A Guest Post by Allan Ward from Blogger Business Plan

A few weeks ago Darren wrote a post called Brainstorming Activity: What Could You Sell from Your Blog? In the article he suggested you think of products or services you could one day add to your blog. The post generated a lot of comments and many people agreed on the importance of planning ahead. A few years ago as part of studying an MBA I came across the Ansoff Matrix – a tool that helps business owners generate ideas for new products. It’s easy to adapt it to the blogging world and use it to brainstorm ideas for products and services you can offer and also how you distribute them. The Ansoff Matrix consists of four quadrants:

  • Market Penetration
  • Market Development
  • Product Development, and
  • Diversification

Ansoff-Matrix-Slide-1.png

Market Penetration is all about selling more of your current products to your existing markets while Market Development looks at selling current products to new markets. Product Development is concerned with selling new products to existing markets while Diversification is about selling new products to totally new markets. Let’s look at each of the four areas through the eyes of a blogger, and think of ideas for new products or services.

Market Penetration – Current Products / Existing Markets

This involves taking your existing products, and selling more of them to either your existing customers (readers), or new customers who fit your target market. Ideas you can consider include:

  • Guest posting on other blogs in your niche.
  • Having people guest post on your blog.
  • Article marketing posting blog articles to Ezine articles and other directories.
  • Post more articles on your blog.
  • Joining with other bloggers in joint ventures.
  • Using Facebook or Twitter to promote your blog and find people who could be interested in it.
  • Improving the SEO of your site so you rank highly for relevant keywords.
  • Promoting your blog or product through the email list of another blogger – perhaps you can reciprocate?
  • Allowing affiliates to sell your product.

Market penetration can be the simplest way to increase sales, as it uses the products you already have.

Market Development – Existing Products / New Markets

This looks at ways you can increase sales by selling your existing products or services to new markets. Things you could consider include:

  • Geographical reach – if you currently only sell your product in one region, could you increase that area to include more regions?
  • Guest posting on blogs in different niches i.e. if you write about personal finance, guest on blogs that are about other topics, but are read by people in your target audience.
  • Language – is it possible to get your e-book translated into foreign languages to increase sales?
  • Is your product suitable for other industries? Say you help realtors with their web marketing. Could you offer the same suite of services to attorneys?
  • Is there a new or different use for your product that makes it attractive to new markets?

Product Development – New Products / Present Markets

This is aimed at introducing new products or services to your existing clients / readers. If you understand the needs of your target market, it gives you the opportunity to create products that solve their problems. This is potentially a very lucrative area, if you get it right. Ideas to consider include:

  • Repackaging your existing product – can an e-book become a video or a live workshop? Can that live workshop be recorded and then become a new video or audio product?
  • Can your e-book become a real book, or could you create an audio book from it?
  • Creating add-on products. If you’ve already written one e-book, is there another subject you could write about that is a natural progression from the first e-book. You could write a new e-book and sell it to all the people who bought the first one.
  • Can you write another e-book about something different? Or update your original one?
  • Can you create a membership site or forum?
  • Can you create an iPhone application or another piece of software that complements your business?
  • If your target market is bloggers, why not create a WordPress theme or plugin?
  • Are there other products that you can sell as an affiliate that your readers would be interested in? In Darren’s case, he promotes WordPress Themes, Aweber, Amazon products and other blogging related products.
  • Is it possible to create a new blog on a topic related to your existing blog? Darren did this when he started TwiTip. A lot of ProBlogger readers were also interested in learning more about Twitter and TwiTip provided this information to them, whilst also finding new readers.
  • Can you create joint ventures with other thought leaders in your niche?

Diversification – New Products / New Markets

This is perhaps the toughest one to get right. It involves moving into a totally different line of business selling different products to a different market. Virgin is a good example of a company using a diversification strategy – their airline has little in common with their banking company. Ideas here include are unlimited – forget what you’re currently selling. Is there another opportunity that you consider to be profitable? Again, Darren provides a great example of the diversification strategy when he started ProBlogger a few years after Digital Photography School. The two blogs are in totally different markets, yet are both hugely successful.

Use It!

The aim of this article is to help create a framework you can use to brainstorm new ideas. Reading it is only part of the process – using the information to create a plan for your blog is the next part. Plan to spend half an hour in a quiet place where you can think about this concept. Take something with you to capture your thoughts – pen and paper, a computer or an audio recorder. Some do this best by themselves, others prefer to do it as a group exercise. Go through each quadrant one by one and brainstorm ideas using the list I’ve provided as a starting point. Don’t censor yourself at this stage – just get your ideas down. Once you’ve created your lists, work through them and prioritise your ideas. Then get to work! Please leave a comment below and let us know about an idea you’ve thought of that fits in one of the four quadrants. Together, let’s see what ideas we can come up with.

Allan Ward runs a financial planning business in Adelaide, South Australia and also works as a business coach. He blogs at Blogger Business Plan where he helps bloggers implement offline business strategies (like the Ansoff matrix) into their online businesses. You can also follow him on Twitter. This article is one of his Market Penetration strategies!