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

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

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

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

(see the full stats on socialmediatoday)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Listen to them

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

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

2. Ask them

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

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

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

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

3. Keyword research

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

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

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

screenshot_Google_Trends

4. Check post traffic

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

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

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

5. Analyse engagement

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

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

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

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

The Power of Infographics on your blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find an Interesting Infographic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some tips to writing about infographics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Is your content easy to scan?

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

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

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

3. Can people find what they are looking for?

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

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

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

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

4. Is your design memorable?

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

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

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

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

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

7 Insider Tips To Help You Get Noticed On Blog Directories

This is a guest contribution from Andrea Martins, founder of Story Resumes. 

Okay, so the honeymoon of Aunt Gracie reading your blog posts is over and you’re now looking to accelerate your blogging career. You want to play in the big league but to do that you need to attract more traffic without the need to promise your first-born son.

One way to gain visitors is to get noticed on blog directories. Photography, cooking, gardening, cycling, travelling, meditating and more, there are thousands of directories out there each catering to specific niches and interests. If you look, you’re bound to find some just your size.

Now here’s where you have a choice.

Once you’ve found directories to list on, you can be one of the 99% of bloggers who press ‘submit’ without thinking too much about the potential of that listing.

Or you can choose to be in the 1% who are strategic about what they are about to do and how they are about to do it.

You see, a blog directory listing is not just a blog directory listing and there is more to listing on a blog directory than meets the eye. Your listing could be a unique opportunity for your blog to get noticed and receive a valuable shout out from the blog directory owner and/or successful peers on the directory whose high traffic blogs could skyrocket your visitor numbers. You may even luck out with a media request. It happens.

Having personally approved most of the 2,265 blogs on a global directory that’s been running for over six years, here are my top seven insider tips to boost the chances of your blog receiving valuable shout-outs and traffic spikes from blog directory listings.

1. Did You Have Me At Hello?

If you don’t have a strong, catchy title for your blog, how will you ever stand out in a long page of blogs listed on a directory, or grab the attention of the blog directory owner who sees hundreds if not thousands of submissions?

2. Do You Make Me Feel Good?

If you walked into a café that sold last week’s leftovers and was void of atmosphere, would you stay? Neither will your audience.

Content might be king over time, but no one will hang around to read your content unless your ‘look and feel’ instantly attracts. You don’t have to spend a fortune on design. Quality templates work just fine as long as there is something on your page that hooks possible influencers and inspires them to give you a big shout-out.

3. Did You Mean What You Said Last Night?

The most critical blog post is the one we see first. If you usually blog about entrepreneurship but you couldn’t resist blogging about baking your daughter’s birthday cake last night, we’ve already left before the candles are lit.

When you list on blog directories, make sure you have your best and most relevant blog post right at the top of your page before you submit.

4. Do You Inspire My Trust?

It makes no sense to bring people to your blog, get them excited and then lose their trust with broken links on your site. That’s akin to submitting a resume for your dream job without supplying the correct contact details for your referees.

You get just a few seconds to inspire trust and prove you know what you’re doing. Don’t blow it.

5. Can I Tell My Friends About You?

Online influencers are busy people. If they like what you offer, they usually want to quickly shout out about it and notify you of their good deed all in the same action. They can’t do this unless you’re on Twitter and your handle is easy to find on your home page. The same applies for their audiences who can ‘pay it forward’ for you if you make it easy for them.

Facebook and Google+ work well too, but nothing beats the ease and speed of 140 characters.

6. Is Your Love Genuine?

If the blog directory requests that you display their hyperlinked badge or text link on your blog, then display it loud and proud.

If you try to outsmart the blog directory owner and hide these on zero page rank URLs and/or on pages that no one will ever intuitively find, you destroy your goodwill immediately and risk not being accepted on the directory at all.

7. Will You Remain Faithful?

Finally, if you put a blog directory’s badge or link on your blog and then remove it after your listing has been approved, that’s just bad karma. It may not be noticed for a while, but it will be noticed. And you wouldn’t want to mess with karma, would you?

If you’ve never thought about the potential of gaining traffic by getting noticed on blog directories, today’s a great day to start. Somewhere out there is a directory owner or peer influencer who desperately wants to discover something new to shout out about. Put a bit of thought into your listing, brighten their day and they might just brighten yours!

Andrea Martins is the founder of Story Resumes: Visually Awesome Resumes That Tell Your Story and Get You Noticed. Prior to that, she co-founded Expat Women and its global blog directory. 

How to Regroup and Keep Going After a Disappointing Launch

This is a guest contribution from Ernest Dempsey, fiction author.

life-unexpected.jpg

The big day has come and gone. You did all the prep work, created as much buzz as you could, and promoted from every angle.

You blew up social media. Networked with peers and strangers. Met new people and helped them promote their stuff through your small, but growing channels.

You spent countless hours getting your product ready to launch to the world, painstakingly covering all the bases so it would be as good as it could be when the release day arrived.

Zero hour arrived and you waited patiently as the sales began to trickle in; a good sign at first. Or so you thought.

But as the day went by, the small flurry of sales never became the avalanche you’d hoped for, and by the end, you were left wondering what the hell just happened.

Does your product suck? Did you do something wrong with your marketing and promotional plan? Should you give up and try something else or should you regroup and push forward?

You’re not alone in this maelstrom of confusion. There have been several big names that have seen that road. And there are some key lessons we can take away from their experiences.

Big Ideas

Light bulb with a great idea

Here’s the problem with people and ideas. We get them in our heads and inside that imagination of ours, they seem like the best thing since sliced bread. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had ideas for books, movies, products, or services that took my excitement to the edge of the stratosphere.

Throw on top of that all the amazing success stories we see on blogs, Youtube videos, and online training courses. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

We see the articles about the guy who wrote a guest post for someone and got 10,000 visits to their website the next day. Or the girl who sent out a Tweet with the right hash tag and sold 5,000 units within six hours. Or the lady who had 1,000 subscribers before her blog even went live.

We see all of that, and think it can be us too. Why not? They were normal people just like you and I. All we needed to do was have a good idea, take action, and execute the exact same strategies.

Right?

Not so fast. And I mean that literally, not so fast.

Great Expectations

Dreaming goals

Mark Aplet – Fotolia.com

Let’s go back to the point where you just released your product. It’s day two and sales are barely doing anything. Maybe you’re moving a product or two every twenty-four hours. Or maybe you aren’t selling a damn thing.

That’s not going to cut it. And at that rate, if you haven’t already, don’t quit your day job.

But what is the problem? You did everything exactly like you were supposed to, following the blueprint of those who have gone before to the letter. Why did your launch suck?

It could be any number of things. But the first thing you need to examine is the expectations you set before the launch.

If you go back and look at it, what were those other people selling? Was it a product with a bigger market, a hungrier market, a more viralistic market? (I think I just invented the word viralistic)

Let’s assume that you have already done that and you have a really strong market that can produce lots of traffic to your site, and a market that is desperate for the solution that you provide. Sounds like a perfect scenario. Even with all of that, it is not a good idea to assume that your launch is going to go bonkers with sales.

What has worked for someone else in the ways of marketing, promotion, and the resulting sales or subscribers may not happen for you. Every single person is different. Every scenario is different.

Then what kind of results should we expect?

Realistic Expectations

You know people will pay for your product or service because you have already done that part of the process. You tested out a few prospects in your target market and they loved what you’re providing.

So, why hasn’t it gone viral? Why didn’t your launch go better?

The truth is, most product launches don’t go that way. In the normal world, those occurrences are the outliers in the statistical universe. For you, it’s probably going to take a little more time, a little more effort, and a lot more patience.

After all, there is a ton of behind-the-scenes work that goes into an overnight success.

These things take time to build up for most businesses. In the offline world, it can be as slow as networking with one person at a time. On the Internet, we have the opportunity to meet and interact with multiple people in small amounts of time, but it can still be a long process to build up trust.

And trust is crucial.

Would it be cool if your launch went viral? Sure. But don’t expect it. What you should expect is to need to keep working hard and constantly making connections, interacting, and helping others.

Like I said before, you’re not alone. There are lots of people who have been in your shoes. But it took a bit of regrouping, and rethinking to get them to the level of success they desired.

People with failed launches who pushed through to succeed

Self-Published Author- Me

Yeah, I thought I would start with my personal experience in the matter. I write action/adventure fiction and science fiction. When I released my first novel, I expected lots of people to buy it. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t believe I could quit my job right away. I just wanted to write stories on the side.

But I figured I had 700+ Facebook friends and most of them would buy a copy since I had helped most of them in some way at some point in time.

I sold less than fifty copies in a year.

It sucked. And I was crushed by the lack of support. Moreover, I was riddled with doubt. Was my book horrible? Was I a terrible writer? What did I do wrong?

Actually, it is pretty simple. I set huge expectations, relatively speaking, and did very little ground work to get my book noticed. I didn’t understand the first thing about traffic or promotion or marketing.

I just figured I could put something out there and the people I knew would buy it, and word would spread.

Compare that strategy with the one I employed in December of 2012 when I re-released my first book along with the sequel. This time, I gave away thousands of copies of the books. I did a lot more online networking.

As a result, my book sales took off. I didn’t sell millions of copies, but so far in 2013, I’ve sold around 4000 copies of my books and novellas. Pretty cool, right?

The lesson here is that for many of us, slow growth is how we will get to where we want to be. And that is okay. Slow and steady wins the race, after all.

App Designer- Nathan Barry

When Nathan was getting ready to launch his book about creating apps, he wrote a bunch of guest posts and submitted them to various blogs. His hope was that he could get several of them published and the resulting traffic would help propel the launch of his book.

In the end, he only had five posts published, which is still a good number. But the traffic that came as a result was moderate at best; each yielding about a hundred visits.

He could have thrown in the towel at that point and just waited to see what would happen. But he didn’t. Nathan continued to build up his subscriber base until it was close to 800 when he launched his book.

On the day his book went live, he brought in over $12,000 dollars. That is an amazing day. Not life changing money, but awesome nonetheless.

What is better is that Nathan kept on pushing, sending emails, writing posts, grinding it out. The result was over six figures worth of sales in a year. Nice.

I realise that is not a disappointing launch, but it was certainly discouraging before he went ahead with the release. Nathan could have waited around until he reached what he thought was critical mass before putting his book out there, but he didn’t. Rather, he persevered and kept pushing slowly forward.

Restauranteur- Colonel Sanders (Founder of KFC)

Yeah, surprise name right? I know. But in 1955 when an interstate bypassed Corbin, Kentucky where Sanders had been cooking up fried chicken for almost twenty years, he was left broke and uncertain about his future.

He knew his chicken was good. But he’d been forced to sell everything he’d worked so hard to build over the course of two decades.

Then Sanders rethought the way he’d been doing business. He decided that instead of doing all the work himself, he would franchise his chicken business. And Kentucky Fried Chicken was born.

Within five years there were 190 franchisees and over 400 restaurants serving up the Colonel’s eleven herbs and spices.

The lesson from this one: A great idea is nothing without a great execution strategy. There could also be a better way to do what you’re doing. If so, find it!

Visionary, Author, Blogger- Seth Godin

The master of seemingly all things business has not gotten there by being immediately successful every time he launches something.

One of his earliest ideas was a video tape that produced the visual of a fireplace or an aquarium on a television screen. He figured lonely or lazy people would be interested in buying such a thing because they could pop the tape in the VCR and just let it go.

No fire stoking. No fish feeding. Simple.

He went to American Airlines magazine and ran an ad for it, telling himself if he sold 30 units, he would pursue production of the item.

The first week he ended up selling 24, so he thanked everyone who’d ordered the tape, and sent them a gift.

Since he didn’t meet his goal, he bailed on the idea. However, the next week he received another eight orders, which would have put him over his goal of thirty. But Godin had already abandoned the idea and moved on to the next thing.

What’s the lesson here? Patience. That is the lesson.

Sometimes, we set these goals in our minds and tell ourselves if we don’t reach them by a certain time we will just give up. Godin’s idea with the video tape might not have been a successful venture in the long run, but we need to give our products and services a fair chance at success.

That means giving them time to sink in while we work behind the scenes to get more eyeballs on the product.

Another Self-Published Author- John Locke

No, not the guy from the Lost television series. He’s an author. Actually, he’s a best-selling author.

Early on, though, he wasn’t.

John had been a successful businessman, and had made his fortune long before he started writing books. No agents or publishers were interested in his stories so, he decided to self-publish his novel.

With loads of expendable money in his arsenal, he released the book and spent $25,000 over the course of a year trying to promote it. He hired one of the top publicists in the country to send out over 10,000 press releases, bought a kiosk in the mall just outside of Borders Books, advertised on billboards, and tried several other things to boost sales.

In the first twelve months after he released his book, all of those efforts netted him less than thirty sales. You read that right: thirty. Not a good return on investment for all that time and money.

John had written a few other books during that year-long process, and decided that he needed to take a step back and regroup. The marketer inside him told him to do things differently, the way he would if he was running his book business like a regular business.

He got on Twitter, built a simple WordPress blog, and began networking with the online community. At one point, after hundreds of hours interacting with people online, he wrote a blog post about two people he admired and sent out a tweet about it.

Because of all the work he put in behind the scenes, his tweet led to hundreds of retweets, and thousands of visits to his blog. Sales of his books went off the charts and within five months, John Locke had sold over a million ebooks on the Kindle platform.

He is one of only a handful of self-published authors to ever be on New York Times Best Seller list. And he is still one of the top best sellers on Amazon.

The lesson from John’s story is that you may have to take a step back from how you are doing things in your promotion and marketing strategy. It may even require a complete overhaul.

John will tell you up front that he is not the best writer in the world. I’ve read some of his stuff, and he’s right! Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, edgy, witty, and a good read. But it will probably never win any awards. And that’s okay! He writes to his audience whether he’s writing a blog post or another chapter for a new book.

Because he has redesigned his marketing plan, he doesn’t have to be the best writer in the world. His product is good enough for the people it was created.

It’s On You

Do any of these stories fit into where you are or have been with a product launch? What did you do? And what are you going to do in the future?

Ernest Dempsey is a fiction author and writes about personal development and life observations on his blog.  He has also been a Master’s level counselor for the last decade.  Find out more about his books and check out his inspiring posts by visiting ernestdempsey.net or follow him on Twitter @ErnDempsey or Facebook.

How Targeting Influencers Can Sky Rocket Your Blog

This is a guest contribution from Rebecca Price, marketing specialist currently working for Davpack.

Have you ever sat in front of your computer, looking at other people’s blogs, and thought: “How the hell have you managed to be so successful so quickly?”

I know I have.

For a long time, I just couldn’t figure out the secret; it often seemed like I was close, but it was always just out of reach.

Then I stumbled on a book called ‘Influence Marketing’ by Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella.

That was the answer – market influencers.

Why is this so powerful?

Instead of starting off from scratch with no blog readers, traffic or any sign of engagement, you put a strategy in place to connect with influencers and get them to promote and share your content to their already established audience.

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that…

In this post I’m going to show you how to expand your reach, increase your audience, get more social shares, become an industry influencer and attract more traffic to your blog.

Finding industry influencers

If you have been operating within your niche/industry for a while, then you will probably have a good idea who the key influencers are and, while they should certainly be on your list of targets, don’t forget the ‘new rising stars’.

These people can potentially carry a lot of weight and your list should never be limited to just a few influencers. This works best at scale.

You will need to put together a list of your target influencers and there are some key pieces of information about them that you should keep track of:

  • Their name
  • Their contact information
  • Their location (potentially a good conversation starter!)
  • Links to their social profiles
  • Links to their blog and any other sites they own
  • What topics they like to blog about
  • What topics they like to share

You could use a CRM or, alternatively, an OpenOffice or Microsoft Excel spreadsheet will also do the trick.

I could write an entire post on finding influencers alone, and a lot have. There are also some awesome presentations floating around on Slideshare, like this one by Wishpond:

Tools to help you

I won’t go into too much depth now about individual tools, as the subject has already been covered in some depth; you can find all of the tools to help you right here.

Don’t rely entirely on tools to do all of the work for you, for while there are some extremely powerful tools that can give you most of the answers – the human element is important.

Computers are getting smarter and so are the algorithms that they use, but there are opportunities that they can miss.

A few things to remember

This entire strategy hinges on building a positive relationship with influencers and, if you go about things in the wrong way, then you could just end up wasting your time.

And your time is valuable. Don’t waste it.

Be helpful and courteous when you are dealing with anyone, not just influencers. There will always be people that waste your time and take the wet, but give them a chance; but know when it’s time to walk away.

Whatever you do, NEVER email someone or ask them via social to do something for you out of the blue.

You will eventually need to ask an influencer to do something for you, but there needs to be a clear benefit, and you must have done something awesome for them beforehand (and they need to know about it).

So, before you ask anyone to do something for you, you need to ask yourself – “what’s in it for them?”

You have to come across as authentic and credible – being real is your greatest asset.

Avoid burning bridges at all costs. Relationships are difficult to repair once you have destroyed them.

Building the relationship

Now that we’ve laid the ground rules, it’s time to start building your relationship with influencers in your niche:

Making things easy for yourself

You’ve got your list of your target influencers and their social profiles, so now it’s time to go ahead and follow them across as many as possible.

Another way to make things easy for yourself is to keep right up to date with what’s happening on your target influencers’ blogs.

So make sure you subscribe to their mailing lists if they have them and subscribe to their RSS feeds too. After Google Reader closed, I started using Feedly but recently switched to Netvibes in favour of their iGoogle style RSS reader – either are solid RSS readers that will help you keep on top of things. 

Commenting works wonders

Try commenting on the blog of an influencer you’re targeting and do it regularly – it works wonders, especially if they respond to comments. You may find that commenting on Facebook statuses and Google+ updates can work equally well, if not even better.

Drop them an email

At this early stage, you could also drop them an email, but if you do, don’t ask them to help you out at all. You need to warm up to that.

Instead, say something awesome and highlight something awesome you have done for them, like share a piece of content etc.

Connect through multiple social platforms

Facebook

Make sure you have the same display picture throughout all of your social profiles – consistency is important and it makes you easier to recognise.

Start off by following the influencers on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook and whatever other social networks they are active on.

Create a separate circle on Google+ for influencers and a list on Twitter, too – people love it when they’re referred to as a market influencer. It’s quite flattering and great for grabbing their attention, because a lot of influencers don’t actually think of themselves as influencers.

Your next step is to start sharing their content, but there is an important part of the process that a lot of people forget – tell them about it!

The idea of this is that when you do something awesome for someone, they know about it, or at least you do whatever you can to let them know.

So, when you Tweet their content, @mention them and add some positive commentary. Do a similar thing with Google+ and Facebook too.

You can also take things a step further by sharing quotes and making sure the influencer you have quoted knows about it.

Involve influencers in your content

Grab the attention of your target influencers by involving them in the content that you create.

This can be as simple as linking out to them and saying some awesome stuff about them in a regular blog post or an industry round-up – or it could go so far as to involve them directly in a group interview.

The point here is that when influencers are involved directly in a blog post, they are more invested and therefore more likely to share.

Here are a few examples:

Kikolani

In September, Kristi Hines published a group interview which involved 32 experts who shared their best blog post promotion tips. This post featured 600+ Tweets, 245+ FB likes, 448+ Google+1’s and 180+ Linkedin shares. The post also earned links from over 50 referring domains.

Earlier this year, Blurbpoint.com published a roundup of over 101 SEO experts which also did rather well and received 375+ Tweets, 438+ Google+1’s, 230+ FB Likes and 145+ Linkedin shares. This group interview also earned links from over 30 domains.

These are examples of influencer marketing at scale – these types of posts do take a lot of time to produce, but they attract a lot of eyeballs to your blog, and the fact you have included these participants in an ‘expert round-up’ is quite flattering. Doing great things for people can make great things happen.

The use of social media is a big part of this whole influencer marketing thing, and there are a number of things you can do to get more results using social that I talk about here.

Write for influencers

I guess we could call this guest posting, but there are certain connotations that come along with that word and some people do assume that the focus is on the SEO benefit, but here’s where it’s different.

Sure, you could go around guest posting to build links to your site, people do it and it’s fine, because it will still help you at least from an SEO perspective if you do it right, although you do need to do a lot of it.

The SEO benefit here is a secondary consideration, because the whole idea of writing for influencers within your niche is to expand your audience and reach.

It’s also to get your name out there and help to position yourself as an authority.

Your ultimate goal should be to join the ranks of influencers within your niche, but why? Well, having influence is a great thing and then other bloggers will do awesome stuff for you too.

It all starts off with blogger outreach, which is an extensive topic itself; there are plenty of courses out there, like Jon Morrow’s guest blogging course, while Ian Cleary wrote a great guide that you can find here.

Summary

Marketing your content to influencers within your niche can be a powerful way to not only get more traffic to your blog, but you will also get more social shares, expand your audience and increase your own influence too – you will soon find you’re on your way to becoming an authority.

You can do it, I believe in you.

What other tactics do you use to get traffic to your blog?

Rebecca Price is a marketing specialist currently working for Davpack. Rebecca’s specialty is helping businesses become more visible online.

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

WARNING: These 4 Self-Publishing Myths Are Keeping You Down

This a joint guest contribution from Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt.

Too many indie authors buy into the myths and lies that keep them running in circles rather than charging forward into a lucrative self-publishing career.

Before successfully writing fiction full time, we both wrote for our own blogs for years, along with guest posts for sites like Problogger. We wrote about entrepreneurship and all the blah blah blogging you’re plenty used to. But in 2012, with millions of e-readers in circulation, and hungry consumers in need of content, we made a decisive shift.

We spent the last year writing and publishing 1.5 million words of fiction through our company Realm & Sands. We’ve never been happier, and we’re writing what we want for an audience who loves us.

Isn’t that the dream of every blogger?

Fortunately, we didn’t let some of the most common self-publishing myths hold us down like they wanted. We hope you don’t either. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, avoid these myths and you too can build yourself a lucrative self-publishing career.

MYTH #1: If you self-publish, you can’t publish traditionally.

We’ve get this question all the time on our Self Publishing Podcast. It usually looks like this: “I’ve just finished my book, and figure I have two options: I’m trying to decide if I should self-publish or shop it around to literary agents. Why should I consider self-publishing instead of traditional?”

The root of this question is a fear that the writer has used up what’s inside them — often all they feel is inside them, because the notion of writing a second book feels daunting — and that they therefore have exactly one shot and don’t want to waste it. These writers (and bloggers) see self-publishing versus traditional as a binary decision wherein they can choose one or the other … but not both. If they use their only chance to pursue self-publishing, they’ll never see their book in a bookstore.

Traditional publishing is seen as “better” and self-publishing as “Well, at least you did something.” It’s publishing is often referred to as “real publishing,” as if it’s somehow more genuine or has more inherent value. We get it; if anyone can self-publish but not everyone can traditionally publish, the latter means you’ve passed another tier of approval. But does that matter? Maybe and maybe not.

Is it a mistake to self-publish that masterpiece rather than banging on doors until you crack your way into an agent or publisher?

Well, yes and no. There is some truth to the idea that a publisher won’t want a book that’s already been published … at all … anywhere … including by you. Publishers want fresh meat, so they can shape it how they’d like without worrying about your current readers who may have earlier versions.

If you have Book X and you self-publish, it’s possible a publisher won’t later be interested in Book X because it’s already out there in the world. So, if Book X is all you have in you, and your life won’t be complete unless you see Book X in a bookstore, and nothing less is acceptable, then maybe you’d better keep querying and networking and trying to get it to a publisher. If you’re a total unknown, and Book X is your first and only book, the odds are very, very heavily stacked against you, but if you want to keep at it, that’s your business.

On the other hand, let’s say you can write a second entry, called Book Y. If you publish Book X yourself, and if Book X is a big self-published success, publishers will be much more interested in looking at Book Y. You’ll be able to tell those publishers, “Look at Book X … I already have readers and fans who love me!”

Publishers always want to know about your “platform,” which means “your ability to promote the book without our help.” Racking up a few self-publishing successes before pitching traditional publishing is like playing baseball in the minors: Publishers can look at your record and see you have the chops needed to sell in the majors.

MYTH #2: Publishers can do things for you that you can’t do yourself.

There’s technically some truth to this one, but only a little, and it’s irrelevant for most writers.

Big publishers are built for scale. They can, in essence, take large things and make them larger. But the average writer will get a marketing budget commensurate with what they expect your books to sell. That means virtually nothing for most of us. There’s a certain “chicken versus egg” loop at play. Authors think it’s a publisher’s job to earn them money, but publishers don’t see it that way. In their eyes, you and your book are assets at best and liabilities at worst. You’re a stock in their portfolio; you’ll either perform, or you won’t. They won’t market the crap out of you to ensure your success. It’s more accurate to say that they will market the crap out of you if you become successful.

Book publishers can get your book into big brick and mortar stores. That’s true. But unless they expect your book to sell quite well, the publisher won’t pay the extra money to get you prominently featured in that store: face-out on the shelf, displayed in the end caps, laid out on the front tables. That positioning isn’t earned by merit. With the exception of something like staff picks, a bookstore isn’t going to think your book is awesome and set it up front. Chances are, for most authors, you’ll be another anonymous spine on the shelf, begging for attention. Your book will then have a few weeks to prove itself, and if it doesn’t, the bookstore will declare it a failure, pull it from the shelf, and return it to the publisher.

For most authors, publishers will handle editing, covers, and book packaging. They’ll get your book into stores. From publicity to promotion, the rest is up to you.

Yes, technically, traditional publishers can do a few things that indies can’t … but for most writers, those things are irrelevant, especially compared to the loss of control. You can’t make assumptions. Always weigh all sides of any deal; know what you’re getting and what you’re giving up.

MYTH #3: Self-promotion and marketing are dirty.

Much of the resistance to selling and marketing people naturally have is the fault of used car salesmen, timeshare companies, and multi-level marketers — fields based on the hard sell. Nothing matters more than nabbing the buyer, and if you must deceive and bully your prospects to get that sale, so be it. Coffee is for closers, they say. So close, at all costs.

The world’s used car salesmen and high-pressure realtors have left a bad taste in our mouths, because no one likes being sold to, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Being sold to, for most people, is something that happens almost against your will. Like an assault. When you’re sold to, the salesman might as well be putting a knife to your throat. But haven’t you ever bought anything outside of a high-pressure situation? Have you ever seen something in a store or seen an advertisement, thought you might like that thing, then bought it? That’s selling. That’s marketing. The seller set the object or service in front of you and accentuated the positives so that you could agree to buy it. Transaction done, and no one had to get knifed.

Have you ever gone to see the sequel of a movie you liked, or ordered dessert when the waiter offered it after your meal? Have you ever Super-Sized your Value Meal? Those are all examples of an upsell — another “dirty” marketing word. Yet you probably don’t regret any of those transactions.

You might, in fact, have appreciated the chance to get more of what you already knew you liked, often at a preferred price. Shocking!

We could beat this to death, but you get the point. In valid, non-sleazy salesmanship and marketing, everyone wins. Do you really feel that you “lost” and that the seller “won” whenever you buy something? Do you really feel that duped? No? So, why be hesitant when you’re in the seller’s position?

In an ethical sales transaction, the buyer and seller should be equally pleased. Each party should feel like thanking the other.

Ethical marketing is nothing more than letting people who might like your product know it exists — and, ideally, giving them some sort of a deal that makes the offer better for the potential buyer.

If you ever find yourself resisting sales and marketing, read the previous two paragraphs a few times until you believe them, because they’re true. If you refuse to believe they are — if some deep part of your brain continues to insist that all sales and marketing are about manipulation and winning at someone else’s expense — you’ll never succeed as an indie author.

MYTH #4: Self-publishing is a lottery, and you can (or have to) get lucky.

This is one-title thinking.

If you’re thinking self-publishing is a lottery (either one you hope to win or one you hesitate to enter because winning seems impossible), please do yourself a favor and look at the title of our book. We called it Write. Publish. Repeat for a reason. You must write, publish, then do it all over again.

There are success stories out there like 50 Shades of Gray, where an author had exactly one title, and that book blew up big time, but those are lottery scenarios and in no way typical. E.L. James scrambled to write the rest of the 50 Shades trilogy after she started making the equivalent of a small nation’s GNP each month, but even today every book in her catalog starts with 50 Shades. E.L. James did hit the self-publishing lottery, and never has to write another book if she doesn’t want to. But don’t let her story discourage you because it seems so unlikely. Don’t let her story encourage you, either, because you’re hoping for the same.

To the gamblers: You’re not going to have that one-in-a-million hit, so stop hoping for it and keep writing.

To the skeptics: You don’t need to have that one-in-a-million hit … because you can keep writing.

We do not believe in lightning-strike thought, or that you must hit it big to find success as an indie. A surprising hit would be great, and surely boost your catalog. We’ve raised a dozen funnels to market, with around 40 individual titles. If one of our titles hits BIG, everything sells at least a little more. But the magic is that we don’t need a big hit. The approach we believe in, use ourselves, advocate, and evangelize is workmanlike. Get one book that makes $200 per month, then create another 20 or 30 like it over time. Two hundred dollars per month is in no way a big hit, but it’s good. And achievable. It certainly isn’t the lottery.

Any good, persistent, business-minded, prolific writer can succeed if they keep writing and moving forward. For the modern writer, that’s excellent news.

Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt published 1.5 million words and built full-time self-publishing careers from scratch in 2013. In their comprehensive self-publishing guide Write. Publish. Repeat, they tell you everything you need to know about how to do the same. The book is half price for launch (and comes with a bonus book) through Friday, December 6.

PPC: A Viable Alternative to Organic Traffic for Bloggers?

This is a guest contribution from Nicholas Whitmore, freelance journalist and website content editor.copy

With search engine traffic becoming increasingly difficult to rely on, it’s important for bloggers, like you, to think of different ways to drive people to your website. After all, there’s no point in blogging if no one is going to read what you write, right?

One question I’m asked a lot is whether PPC traffic is a viable alternative to organic search engine traffic, from the point of view of a blogger. It’s something I’ve looked into, experimented with and drawn my own conclusions about.

It’s not free

You didn’t need me to tell you that PPC traffic isn’t free, but I wanted to get it out of the way.

The main different between PPC and SEO is that you pay on a cost per click (CPC) or cost per mile (CPM) basis. Whereas organic traffic is served on a golden platter to your website completely free of charge, PPC traffic costs you real money. 

The fact it costs money isn’t a problem in itself. Hundreds of thousands of websites use PPC, so it is definitely worth it in a lot of situations.

A few merits of PPC

Some people point blank refuse to use PPC because they don’t like the idea of paying per click or impression. Each to their own – but here are a few reasons you might consider using PPC advertising for your blog:

  • Instant traffic: As soon as your site goes online you can drive traffic to it. Whereas organic traffic can take months to arrive, PPC traffic is nigh on instant.
  • Turn it on & off like a tap: Going on holiday? No problem! Pause your PPC campaigns and you can pick up where you left off when you get home. You can’t do that with SEO.
  • Highly targeted: Depending on the campaign settings you choose, PPC traffic can be just as targeted as organic traffic if using search networks on Bing or Google.
  • Control: You’ve got control over loads of factors including ad copy, landing pages visitors are directed to and more – it’s a great way to split test pages on your site and optimise them for conversions.
  • You’re billed after the traffic is received: If you’re really good at what you do, you can maintain a positive cash flow from day one – providing you make more money than you pay in costs.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Some bloggers I know cram their blogs full of affiliate links, adverts and sponsored editorial content. The more traffic they get the more affiliate sales they make, the more advertising revenue they receive, the more they can charge clients to publish sponsored editorials.

These aren’t your average hobby bloggers – they’re calculated people aiming to make serious cash. There’s nothing wrong with that though.

Other bloggers I know have vast sites that ooze authority and popularity – but their owners have made no effort whatsoever to monetize them. They just don’t want to for one reason or another. Their blogs are hobbies, interests – but not apparatus for making money.

It’s clear that in the former example, there’s some ROI to be calculated – the difference between the PPC expenditure and the sum of the income from various revenue streams. For the later example there is no ROI, because the blogs aren’t being monetized.

If you’re attempting to monetize your blog in any way, shape or form, it’s generally a good idea to at least dabble with PPC traffic. If you’re not going to monetize your blog at all and it’s just a hobby, there are few merits to throwing money at traffic – you’ll never make that money back, so what’s the point?

Define your goals

The original question posed in this blog is whether PPC traffic can be a viable alternative to organic traffic for bloggers.

In truth, the only person that can answer that question is you. It’s important for you to define your goals as a blogger – if you’re going to create value and generate revenue somehow then PPC will almost certainly be a traffic generation method you should use.

Examples of value generating techniques bloggers might use when driving traffic via PPC include:

  • Adverts
  • Affiliate links
  • CPA offers
  • Physical products for sale
  • Services for sale
  • Email list opt-in (addresses can be used in future email marketing campaigns)

All of the above are reasons why a blogger might pay to send traffic to their website using PPC.

Even if PPC is useful, is it really an alternative?

There’s a difference between something being useful and something being an alternative.

The problem a lot of bloggers and website owners have is that they’re overly reliant on one source of traffic. They invest all of their time and effort into that one source of traffic – when that goes belly up their interest wanes and their blog dies.

PPC isn’t an alternative to SEO traffic. The two should be used in tandem – they complement each other perfectly. They should also be used alongside traffic generation techniques like social media marketing and email marketing.

To conclude…

Most people look for an alternative to SEO because their organic traffic has come to an abrupt halt – usually due to a search engine algorithm update.

By putting all of your eggs in one basket (and focusing solely on SEO) from the outset you’re asking for trouble. If you put an equal amount of time and effort into various marketing practices like SEO, PPC, social media and email marketing, if one of your campaigns goes badly wrong, you’ve got the others to fall back on.

If you’re a hobby blogger and you make little or no money through your website, PPC is probably not something you should look to experiment with. If you’re a blogger that monetizes your website, PPC is very useful indeed.

That said, PPC shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to any other traffic source though – the most successful blogs and websites draw traffic from multiple sources including search engines and social media.

Nick is a freelance journalist and website content editor from http://www.contentwriting.org. He writes extensively about the art of blogging, as well as online marketing techniques such as SEO, PPC and SMM.

Blogging, and Twitter, and Readers…Oh My!

This is a guest contribution from Courtney Gordner.

If you want to maximise the potential of your blog, it’s essential that you interact with your followers. And if you want to interact with your followers, you need to know where to find them.

When they’re online and not reading through your latest post, odds are, they’re engaging with social media.  This is exactly why if you have a blog, you should be interacting with your readers on Twitter.

But hang on just a second.  Before you jump right into linking your blog with Twitter, you should take some time to make your blog “Twitter friendly.”  Here’s how this is done:

Creating a Twitter-Friendly Blog

Be Familiar with Your Target Audience and What Interests Them

It’s tempting to think that your blog should be all about your interests, but in reality, if you want to accrue a consistent readership, it’s essential that you write for your audience.

With this in mind, you should develop a marketing persona to understand the needs and priorities of your audience and a social media persona to know where they gather and interact on social media.

Use a Featured Image

Pictures, infographics, and visual aids draw readers in and grab their interest. Pictures should be properly formatted and appropriate for your content. Also, images of people are especially effective, so they should be used whenever possible.

Twitter Tools to Use with Your Blog

Use the Sidebar

Ask visitors to follow you on Twitter in your sidebar. Maximise the value of your blog by getting readers to interact with you on other social media sites.

It’s likely that visitors are already spending a lot of time on these platforms, and if you want to attract more readers, you need to go where the people go.

Incorporate Social Sharing Icons Above and Below Every Post

This is especially effective with your readers who are visually oriented.

Linking Twitter and Your Blog

Develop a Blog Profile

In your blog profile, you should give information about your blog, along with providing its URL, a current description, and gravatar.  The name you use on Twitter should be consistent with your blog.

Make Your Blog’s Brand Part of Your Twitter Image and Background

Since you’re using social media to enhance your blog’s brand, you should make sure that your Twitter profile uses brand elements that identify with your blog.

Enlist the Help of Your Friends

Share posts from your friends on your Twitter page, and have them return the favor by sharing your posts on theirs.

Keep Your Eye on the Competition

Use your personal account to follow and interact with your competition on Twitter.  The benefits of this are twofold:  first, it allows you to develop relationships with people who may be interested in your content; secondly, it gives you ideas for other topics to address on your blog.

Optimizing Your Blog’s Potential with Twitter

Tweet Each Blog Post Multiple Times 

Since people on social media live across the country in different time zones, this helps to ensure that your posts get noticed.

Condense Blog Posts into “Tweetable” Chunks

For more lengthy posts, roundups, and lists, make the most of your content by creating a set of tweets to be posted over an extended period of time.

For Reader Accessiblity, Pre-Format Tweets

This works especially well with quotes and data roundups.  To promote tweeting, use Clicktotweet.

Extend Your Blog’s Reach with Optimal Hashtags

Keep your audience in mind as you evaluate the relevance of the content for your hashtags.  You should use a maximum of three hashtags and keep them separate from the body of your message.

Publish Your Tweets With a Scheduling Tool

Scheduling tools allow you to set the time you want your tweets to appear.

Express Gratitude Towards People Who Share Your Blog Posts

They will appreciate the recognition, and by thanking people, you can develop and strengthen your social media relationships.

Join Pertinent Twitter Chats

Joining chats on Twitter is another great way to build social media relationships.  Consider joining #BlogChat on Sunday evenings to learn ways to optimise your blog and interact with other bloggers.

Interacting with your blog readers on Twitter shows readers that you care about them and value their input.  It helps you maintain your current readership and even allows you to draw in new readers.

So, if you want a widely followed blog that can’t be beat, the answer is clear:  you better start to tweet.

Courtney Gordner is a blogger with a passion for all things internet, social media and SEO. She learned her skills while working for an internet marketing company.