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Five Lessons Any Blogger Can Learn from Organized Crime

This is a guest contribution from Steven Gomez.

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Crime in America has many names. There is the Mafia, the Mob, the National Crime Syndicate, or “La Costa Nostra” – Italian for “This Thing of Ours.” In addition to the colorful names and faces are the larger-than-life personalities that turned crime in America literally into a “booming” industry.

Figures like Lucky Luciano, John Gotti, Meyer Lansky, “Bugsy” Siegel, and Scarface Al Capone grew the mob from a bunch of small-time criminals to an empire.

What can a blogger learn from the worst criminals in America? Well, loads of bad stuff, but also some truly epic lessons in how to create a great blog.

1) Provide Your Tribe with an Identity and a Brand They Can Care About

Crime is neither glamorous nor attractive, and criminals tend not to be society’s best and brightest. No one brags about being a drug pusher, a purse snatcher, or a mugger. Yet the idea of being a “Made Man” has an allure and mystique that even Hollywood finds irresistible.

An associate is brought into a dark basement filled with shadowy figures and his finger is pricked. Blood is drawn and a lit prayer card is placed in his cupped hand, the ashes mingling with his blood. He is told that he now has a family that supersedes the one he was born into. A family that values honour and loyalty above all, demands total obedience, and offers prosperity, wealth, and respect.

The reality of the Mafia is decidedly different, but the appeal of being “Made” by the Mob has a romance that is hard to ignore.

It is an identity that promises distinction.

Author Scott Sigler calls his long-time readers “Junkies” and the Noir Factory, my blog, refers to its subscribers as “Confidential Informants.”

While no one is suggesting that you set prayer cards on fire, and – depending on your blog – it may be very inappropriate to demand blood-letting, you should instill that same kind of identity in your tribe.

If you can capture that sense of romance, that same loyalty in your readers, then you not only have a tribe, you have a “family.” Let the identity serve as a badge of honour.

2) Work with Your “Competition” to Create New Opportunities

For years after the Mafia came to America, they were ruled by the Capo di tutti capi, also known as the “Godfather” or “Boss of Bosses.”  This worked well for the Mob if the Capo was an intelligent and sensible man who was interested in the organisation’s well-being and growth.

More often than not this was not the case.

In 1929, Meyer Lansky gathered the heads of the strongest Prohibition-era gangs in America. Combining his wedding with a business conference (he was a romantic at heart) Lansky brought together diverse faces in the crime world, including many who had never worked together before. For the first time, the Irish mob, the Italian mob, and the Jewish mob all sat down together.

Lansky made them see that the Prohibition Wars caused them to lose business as well as manpower and was something that they could avoid. By working together the bosses from Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York formed a governing body, called The Commission, which would meet every five years and would also decide on internal issues as needed.

In one of the Commission’s first exercises of power, Dutch Shultz questioned their authority to have prosecutor Thomas Dewey killed.  Shultz was killed by Murder Inc. shortly afterward for challenging the Commission.

Again, while we do not recommend that you enter into illicit partnerships with criminals, it’s important to remember that YOURS in not the only voice in your chosen niche. You might not form a Commission with those other voices, but imagine the kind of effect you can have on your readers by partnering with the leaders in your field.

Even if you aren’t a leader in your niche yet, by reaching out to the “bosses” of your niche you can increase your sphere of influence exponentially, and increase your readers’ engagement.

3) Network with Your Peers Outside Your Comfort Zone

Like the Atlantic City Conference that built the Commission, the men who would become known as the “Crime Syndicate” chose to meet in interesting places not only to talk business but to build their relationships.

In places like Havana, Atlantic City, and Apalachin, New York, mobsters met with others of their kind to drink, tell jokes, and talk business. In other industries, branding strategies and logistics might be the main topics. With the mob conventions, it was all about hostile takeovers.

At the Apalachin Convention, the mob discussed the distribution of gaming interests throughout the US. In Havana the bosses made decisions regarding working with the Sicilian crime lords and how best to deal with the high profile, money skimming liability that was Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

You (hopefully) won’t engage in the same kind of networking, but you can connect with the movers-and-shakers in your niche and work towards solving common problems and cementing relationships.

For many entrepreneurs and bloggers, making acquaintances and building friendships lead to interview opportunities, traffic building exercises, and even the odd friendship or two.

4) Always Look to Expand Your Empire

Before Bugsy Siegel became a liability to the mob, he was seen as a young man of vision. A rising star in the east, Siegel was a close friend of mob boss Meyer Lansky and a boyhood pal of Al Capone. His lasting contribution to the mob, however, led him into the west.

Moving to California and embracing the Hollywood lifestyle, Siegel made the acquaintance of William R. Wilkerson, who was building the Flamingo Hotel. Shoe-horning himself in as the liaison between Wilkerson and the mob, Siegel became a guiding force for the mob’s gambling presence in Las Vegas.

While Siegel’s vision led him to a less-than-happy ending, as a blogger, when you are looking to expand your presence, you can learn from Siegel’s example.

Look for new territories that are complementary to your niche. If you write for single mom entrepreneurs, look for other markets that would interest a single mom, and connect with the voices in that field. If you are writing about weight loss with a focus on Italian food, then Italian travel, particularly active-travel, is something that should be on your radar.

Finding these growth opportunities for your blog will allow your voice and your empire to flourish.

5) Always Reward Loyalty

One of the reasons the community tolerated the presence of the mob was that they protected the neighbourhood from small-time criminals and contributed lavishly to local charities. Sometimes those charities were orphanages and churches, and sometimes those charities were policemen and district attorneys.

When someone gives you the gift of their attention, be it by subscribing to your email list, your blog feed, or friending you on Facebook, they honour you with that attention. Never take it for granted.

When you implement a campaign for new readers, make sure that you reward those have been with you for the long haul. If you offer a give-away to new subscribers, email your current subscribers to let them know how they can get in on it as well. If someone is constantly sharing your content, give them a shout-out.

Reward the loyalty of your readers and they will become evangelists for your blog, and from there it’s a small step from evangelist to enforcer.

I’m just saying.

Steven Gomez is a pulp writer in the best (or worst) tradition. He lives and dies with his favourite football team, enjoys old movies and older pulp novels, and writes constantly about pulps, blogging, and crime. To sign up as a Confidential Informant, as well as get a FREE copy of his Knockout Noir Novel – THE STANDING EIGHT – visit the Noir Factory! You can also swear at him on Facebook!

Inspire, Interact & Inform to Create Thought Leadership in Your Niche

This is a guest contribution from Will, a young entrepreneur slash marketer.

We can all agree that the most popular blogs have a few things in common – they all inspire, interact with and inform their readers. As Darren has discussed before, these three pillars should form the foundation for your blog’s content plan.

I’m not much of one for introductions, so let’s just jump right in…

As you continue reading, you’ll learn specific tactics and strategies to utilise inspiration, interaction and information on your blog.

How to Inspire Your Audience

Remember that both positive and negative emotions are inspirational; what matters is that your readers are provoked. Not in a manipulative way, but so that they genuinely want to learn more and take action.

Here’s how to create that inspiration for your fans:

Be Enthusiastic

You’ll be amazed how far simple enthusiasm gets you. When you’re genuinely excited about your niche, people notice.

So, how do you show your passion to your audience? Just think about how you’d identify an enthusiastic person:

  • An enthusiastic person loves what they do
  • An enthusiastic person works hard and takes initiative
  • An enthusiastic person wants to share their ideas and experiences

How can you display these qualities to your audience?

Tell Your Story & Share Your Own Inspirations

One of the best ways to inspire your readers is by telling them who or what helped you become the expert that you are today.  This shows them that everyone starts somewhere, plus it makes your current authority that much more believable.

If you credit another expert in your niche, all the better! You’ll be giving your readership another resource to learn from. Remember that the other authorities in your niche are your partners, not your competitors.

Leverage Controversy

Some people might call this a moral grey area, but nothing inspires people to take action like controversy.

Controversy doesn’t always have to be negative, though. For example, my buddy Kyle wrote a great post on our blog titled The Harsh Truth: Why your Side-Business is Failing and How to Fix It… While the message is controversial, the end result is that our entrepreneurial readers were inspired to work smarter and harder on their startup ideas.

How to Interact with Your Audience

Interaction only happens when your audience feels completely comfortable. So, whatever platform you push your readers to interact on, be personal, friendly and natural.

Here are a few ways to create more interaction opportunities for your audience:

Interview Other Experts

Interviews allow your readers inside the mind of an outside expert. You can discuss your own strategies and ideas while giving your readers a look at another recognized authority’s success story.

On top of that, if the person you’re interviewing has a blog, then suddenly you’ve both doubled your interaction potential by getting in front of each other’s readership. Used strategically, this can do wonders for both blogs’ traffic.

Be Available

Social networks are the obvious place to make yourself available, but remember that there isn’t a single platform that works in every single niche. It’s up to you to identify where you’ll get the best ROI… And the answer isn’t always Facebook. For example, we’ve had great results from niche forums and Reddit.

In addition, make sure you keep up with your email! Hire someone to help you, if you must, but your readers want a quick response when they contact you. Every loyal reader matters, which means that every email matters too.

Make Your Blog a Club

One of the best ways to turn a visitor into a reader is to make your blog feel like a club.

For example, Darren’s Digital Photography School and ProBlogger.Community both encourage interaction through their very name. Marketing Profs is another great example, and their membership base is staggering. Our blog, Startup Bros, also has that built-in feeling of camaraderie.

Don’t stress if your domain name doesn’t evoke community, though… An exclusive-feeling email list or Facebook group (or any other membership platform) will do just fine.

How to Inform Your Audience

The information section is last because, honestly, most of us are already pretty good at keeping our audiences informed. Usually, that’s the easy part.

However, since we tend to prioritise information, it can sometimes feel like you’ve run out of new stuff to teach. Writer’s block sets in, you start settling for sub-par content, then nobody’s having a good time.

So, here are six quick ideas you can use to maximise the information you provide your readers:

  1. Use industry news to keep your readers in the loop. Feedly.com is a life-saver after Google Reader shut down earlier this year.
  2. Use case studies and real-life examples to re-teach old lessons to your readers
  3. Create a recurring blog series so that you have a pre-filled content slot every week. Works great with industry news.
  4. Use mixed media to make old information consumable in different formats. For example, make your blog posts into videos, slideshows or podcasts. This also gives you more platforms for interaction!
  5. Publish your own surveys and discuss the results.
  6. Keep an eye on social networks – there are tons of new ideas out there if you can listen well and ask the right questions.

Your Audience is Waiting…

Each one of these content pillars – inspiration, interaction and information – could’ve each received their own full-length blog post. Instead, this post showcases some of my best ideas taken from personal experience, then leaves it open to the awesome community here at ProBlogger to fill in the gaps.

So, what other strategies have you used to inspire, interact with, and inform your audience? Share your wisdom in the comments below!

My name is Will, and I’m a young entrepreneur slash marketer living in Tampa, FL. I’ve been launching successful online businesses since 16, some of which you’ve probably heard of. If you’re curious, learn more about me and my story from the StartupBros About Page, or you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook to get my latest entrepreneurial advice.

The ONE thing your written content needs. (And it’s not what you think!)

This is a guest contribution from karen gunton is a blogger, teacher, and visual marketing specialist.

Bloggers hear a lot of advice about content marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing, but you may have noticed something new pop into the online landscape lately – visual marketing.

So yes, even though you are a blogger and your job is to create written content, I am here to tell you that you need some visual content too.

Visual marketing is simply using images to communicate a message about your blog or your business. The images you use can come in a number of formats (jpeg, video, PDF, slide, print etc.) and can contain a wide variety of content (text, photographs, diagrams, icons etc.) so the definition of visual marketing is actually a lot wider that in seems. You can create visual content that suits you, your blog, and your audience… the key is to get visual.

Here’s why:

social-media-update-frequency.png

1. Social is visual.

If you are using social media platforms to engage with your audience and market your blog then you need visual content.

Social media is visual: brands that share visual content on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ get more engagement than brands that do not; and visual platforms like Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram drive traffic back to blogs.

2. People are visual.

Visual content catches people attention: it often resonates in a way that words alone do not, and it is generally more memorable. The saying “A picture is worth one thousand words” came to be popular for a reason! People are visual, so it makes sense to incorporate visual content along with your written content as a way to engage with your audience.

3. Visual stands out.stand-out-from-crowd-blog.png

We are bloggers. Words come easy to us! But I am sure we all experience a similar problem in our respective niches: there are a number of bloggers blogging about the same topics we blog about. Visual marketing is your chance to stand out, particularly if it is not popular yet in your niche. And visual content is a great way to share your message in some new and engaging ways.

So how do you get started?

Number 1 imageStep one is to realise that any type of blog, in any niche can use visual content. You do not need to have “product photos” in order to do visual marketing. Think outside the box to come up with ideas for visual content that suits your blog, your brand, and your niche: before and after photos, behind the scenes photos, sketches, maps, flow charts, diagrams, humorous memes, inspirational quotes … there are many ways to get visual!

Number 2 imageStep two is to go beyond the typical blog “stock photo” and use blog images that double as social media images. Creating an image with your blog headline, a quote from your blog text, or a helpful tip from your blog content will give you something to post to Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, even your email… any place where your audience is hanging out!

When you post your image to social media, include the link back to your blog and a call to action to click for more. If your images resonate with your audience they will do they sharing for you – that’s why I call these types of images “shareables”!

Number 3 imageStep three is to look at content that you already have and think about how you can make it visual. Repurposing existing, popular content is a great way to engage with your audience in new ways, plus it doesn’t have to take a lot of extra time.

Consider creating a slide show and sharing it on Slideshare, adding your voice to the slide show and uploading it to YouTube, turning your content into a printable PDF guide or checklist, or creating an infographic.

Think back to when you were in school and you realised that kids learn in different ways – adults are the same. Sharing your written content in new ways will help you engage with your audience. Not to mention that these different formats give you the opportunity to share content on new platforms, and include your own visual branding to build brand recognition.

It is win-win-win.

I know that one of the big things that holds many bloggers back from creating visual content is the whole “But I am not very creative!” thing. We are into writing, and that sometimes means we aren’t as comfortable with images.

But I bet that there was a time when you didn’t feel like a writer either! You have probably heard the advice that the best way to learn how to write is to start writing. It is the same for visual content. The more you play with creating images the more comfortable you will feel with it, and the more you will learn what resonates with your audience.

And with so many amazing free tools and tutorials online, this is indeed something anyone can learn. To get started, try picmonkey. It is my favourite online tool: it’s free, it is very user friendly, and it is a fun way to create social media shareables that will help you promote your blog posts.

Go on, give it a try… give your audience something they can pin, share, tweet, and print – they are waiting for it!

karen gunton is a blogger, teacher, and visual marketing specialist. she is passionate about helping micro business owners SHINE online. take her FREE visual marketing class to learn how to create your own branded shareable images for social media – no photography or design skills necessary!

5 Actionable Tips to Grow Your Blog’s Traffic

This is a guest contribution from Scott Purcell, co-founder of Man of Many.

People often speak in very broad terms when giving tips or suggestions to improve blog traffic.

We may hear unspecified suggestions, such as: “be active on social networks” or “partner with other blogs”.  If you are attempting to launch a new blog it is likely to prove difficult and frustrating putting these things into practice, and all too often with limited success if not implemented properly.

One of the reasons I believe the 30 Days to a Better Blog is so successful is that it gives you clear, actionable and step by step advice regarding WHAT TO DO.

It seems that it’s all too rare these days.

So while the five tips below may not be a set formula that works for everyone, at the very least we hope they give you some ideas or inspiration to use on your own site. These steps below helped us grow our blog Man of Many from zero to over 100,000 page views in only three months.

Let’s jump in.

1. Participate in Group Boards on Pinterest

Images are vital to our blog. Typically it is the visual imagery rather than the descriptions or written content that attracts visitors to Man of Many. Consequently, obtaining maximum reach with images of our feature products via social networks is essential to generating hype around our blog and reaching as broad an audience as possible.

Everyone knows Pinterest is absolutely golden for bringing in traffic, but it can often prove difficult to build up a following in initial stages of usage.

If you Google “Group Pinterest Boards” you are bound to find a few Group Boards related to your blog or niche. These Group Boards are a great way to share your posts with a targeted demographic, rather than simply starting from zero with your own board. Group Boards can often already have a large following (usually 1,000+ people) which can provide an excellent starting point for generating interest.

Usually the page description will contain an email address for you to contact if you would like to contribute. Alternatively just leave a comment on one of the pins requesting that someone invite you.

Steps

  1. Google “Group Pinterest Boards” or go to http://www.pinterest.com/pingroupboard/
  2. Press Ctrl+F and search for keywords on the page related to your niche.
  3. Contact the Group Board owners to request to contribute.
  4. Share your content with a new community.

Pros

  • Easy and quick to implement.
  • The audience fits perfectly in your niche and is hyper-targeted.

Cons

  • Your pins can be drowned out by others if the board is active.

 Alternatives

  • Start Group Board of your own and ask others to contribute

2. Automate Your Social Network Sharing

A big problem people many face is the significant amount of time it takes to individually upload an image, write a title and share the post on all of the social media networks you may wish to utilise (of which there are many!).

To simplify this process, we have been using a free WordPress add-on called NextScripts Social Network Auto-Poster. As soon as each post is uploaded via WordPress, this tool automatically shares the featured image (or whatever content you like) with your social networks.

The plug-in can publish nicely formatted messages to your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Blogger, LiveJournal, Delicious, Diigo, Stumbleupon, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Plurk, VKontakte, WordPress, and Tumblr accounts.  You can even customise the accompanying description, links to your page or title and even set a delay to sharing on your social media accounts. Best yet, there’s no annoying “Shared via NextScripts.com” or “Posted by SNAP for WordPress” messages as the posts will be 100% white-labelled and come directly from your own account.

**EXTRA HINT** Nextscripts can be used to share your content with Group Pinterest Boards as well but requires a Pro Account (see point #1 above).

Steps

  1. Go to Nextscripts and follow the clear and well laid out instructions here: http://www.nextscripts.com/installation-of-social-networks-auto-poster-for-wordpress/
  2. Customise how you want your posts to be shared using the plug-in. Think about if you want a Title? URL? Image? Tagline?

Pros

  • Hugely time saving and efficient to achieve maximum social reach with your posts.
  • Very little maintenance required once set up properly.
  • Extra options to set delayed, random or repeat postings.

Cons

  • Less personal than well crafted and unique posts.
  • Posting to Pinterest and Google+ requires a pro account.

 Alternatives

3. Set up Profiles on other “Product Sites” and Upload your Content

A lot of our traffic comes from other “product or sharing sites” that are very similar to Pinterest. You can simply set up profiles on each of them and usually include a URL (+1 for link-building!), and share your posts or use them as a place for research and inspiration.

Examples of such sites (in order of traffic generation for Man of Many) are: Svpply, Tapiture, Gentlemint, The Fancy, Allmyfaves, Springpad, Punchpin, Manteresting, Stasham, Storemate, WeHeartIt, Wanelo, Polyvore, Lyst, Sumally, Gimmebar, Nuji, Lookk, Likabl.es, SocialBro… and the list goes on (do some googling for your niche!)

Steps

  1. Go to one (or all!) of the URLs mentioned above.
  2. Register your profile. Make sure to include your logo, URL, description etc.
  3. Install the Bookmarklet. Most of these sites will have a bookmarklet that you can easily drag up to your bookmarks bar in Chrome or Firefox in order to easily share your posts. I keep all of mine in one bookmarks folder.
  4. Go through each of your blog posts and click on the bookmarklet to share your content.

 Pros

  • Allows you to share your content with an entirely new and broad audience.
  • Extra opportunity to share your brand/logo/URL on your profile page and provide an in-bound link.

Cons

  • A lot of these sites tend to be very product or fashion focused.
  • Can be time consuming and difficult to build an audience unless you remain active.
  • Certain sites require extra info like price/colour or categories which can get annoying

**HINT** Open your posts up in a few tabs and use Ctrl+Tab to work through them quickly with repetitive tasks or clicking.

Alternatives

  • Fiverr / AirTasker / Task Rabbit / Amazon Mechanical Turk – Get someone to share your content on these networks or other for you (at a cost)
  • Search for other social networks or forums related to your niche.
  • Got a spare PowerPoint, PDF or Keynote slidedeck lying around? Why not upload it to Slideshare with a few links back to your target site.

4. Share your Competitions with other Comp Aggregators

When you run a competition on your blog, make sure you do not just share it with your Facebook followers or social networks. Sharing it with a wider community via Competition Aggregator sites can be an excellent way of pulling in some extra traffic to your blog.

There are veritable smorgasbords of them online where you can submit your competition and include a backlink to your site.

Steps

  1. Set up your competition page and make sure you have a set of Terms and Conditions (these can easily be amended from other blogs running similar giveaways).
  2. Simply Google “online competitions”
  3. Check out some sites where you can register
  4. Share your competition URL with the site and make sure to include appropriate descriptions, links to the T&C’s or any extra information.
  5. It does not hurt to also tweet a link to this page as well as the post itself.

Pros

  • Competitions, if done correctly, can be used to build engagement with your site (comments, sharing, collaboration)
  • Many brands will be willing to do a giveaway for free in return for promoting their product.

Cons

  • Certain countries may have different laws/regulations when it comes to running competitions.

5. Submit Your Blog to Startup Review Sites or other Blog Directories

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” – Jay-Z, ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’.

Just because you run a personal or part-time blog, it doesn’t mean it can’t be thought of as a business.

A lot of people are unsure where to start with promoting their blog other than sending it to their friends and family. We initially focused promoting Man of Many on other fashion blogs or related sites, but it often proved difficult partnering with them, having such a small following in the early stages.

A beneficial alternative we discovered was although we were not your typical “start-up”, many entrepreneurial sites and directories were willing to cover us, or at least allow us to submit a profile which was critical to building sustainable traffic and SEO.

Steps

  1. Prepare written information on your blog in a word document so that it is easily accessible to copy over when you are signing up to directories. This will include the usual information like Name of Company, Site, Address etc, but you will also need a short description (or tagline), a longer description and answers to questions like who is your ideal customer or what makes you unique? While it might take a bit of time in the first instance, it will be a thousand times easier to copy it over than type it out each and every time you are submitting your site.
  2. Prepare an image file containing logos, screenshots, and author profile pictures and keep it updated.
  3. Work your way through this list of sites to submit your blog to: http://productivewebapps.com/blog/list-of-places-to-submit-and-promote-your-startup-or-site/ (Disclosure: I also wrote this article).
  4. Register to the sites and copy over the appropriate information for your profile.
  5. Once it is posted it is always nice to share or tweet out a link to the profile as a thank you.

 Pros

  • Extra opportunity to market your brand/logo/URL and provide an in-bound link.

Cons

  • A lot of these Startup or Directory sites tend to be very tech focused.
  • Can be time consuming working through the list.
  • Not all sites will accept your submission.
  • Certain sites charge for submission but most are free.

Alternatives

  • Many companies that will perform SEO and directory submissions services for you but they often prove very expensive.
  • For $47 Submit Your Startup will submit your site to over 30 of these for you (No affiliation).

Conclusion

One thing to note with all of the tips listed above; none of them will work if your content is not of the highest standard, engaging, exciting or useful to readers.

In the blogging business Content Is King and there is little point in sharing your content with people unless you have something of value to offer in a flooded market.

So over to you, share your best actionable tips in the comments below with step by steps (if you can!) or let us know if you found the tips/ideas helpful.

Scott Purcell is the co-founder and fashion editor of Man of Many (manofmany.com). Man of Many is a men’s lifestyle and product review website dedicated to showcasing the latest in men’s products, culture and style.

Are You Leaving Yourself Open To Social Media Identity Theft?

This is a guest contribution from Amy Johnson.

Social media has become incredibly popular.  Many people have accounts on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or LinkedIn, and many share information, photos, and other things with their friends through these sites. But they may not realise how much they’re sharing or that strangers can access some of this information.

In fact, some people never think to apply some of the basics of online identity theft prevention to their social media posts and profiles.

It’s important to realise that, even if you have restricted your posts to certain people, it may be possible that others can see and access some of your information and use it to steal your identity.

What to Keep Secret

When you sign up for a social media profile, there are some things you almost always have to provide, such as your first and last name, your email, and your birthdate. Most sites allow you to keep some of this information hidden, but you still have to provide it.

However, besides the email address, you aren’t actually required to provide real information. You can use a fake last name or a fake birthday if you want. Just make a note of this information in case you need it later. Most sites will send a confirmation link to your email address that you must click on to activate the account, so you must enter a valid email address.

However, to avoid giving spammers and others your real email, create an email address you use only for things like social media or mailing lists.

Never add your address or phone number to your profile.

Think about your Profile Picture

Posting a profile picture is almost a requirement with social networks now, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a picture of you. You can use a picture of your pets, a piece of artwork you’ve done, or a picture you’ve applied different filters to.

If you have a professional photo that you know is being used elsewhere on the internet, there’s no reason not to use it, especially if you’re creating a work-related profile on a site like LinkedIn.

Here are two things when considering what picture to use:

  1. Does it give away any information about me that I would rather keep public?
  2. Would I want my mother or children seeing this picture?

Privacy Settings

Almost all social media sites have privacy settings you can use to help with online identity theft protection. However, they usually are not set by default.

When you create a new profile, make certain to look at the privacy settings and set them to at least friends-only. You may want to set some items, such as your birthday, to private. Remember that even if you choose not to display your birthdate on your profile, some social media sites will announce it’s your birthday to your friends, so you may need to find and turn off that setting as well.

Do Not Accept All Friend Requests 

It goes without saying that you should never accept friend requests from people you don’t know, but what about acquaintances and friends of friends you might have met once or twice?

If you don’t know the person well enough that you would be willing to share information face to face, you may not want to add them to your profile.

Be Careful What You Post

While it may be very tempting to post about your upcoming vacation, remember that this is telling people when your home will be empty.

Be careful when mentioning things like this, especially if you haven’t adjusted your profile privacy settings or if you have people on your friends list who you don’t know very well.

Protecting your Family from Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a trend that has become more and more concerning to parents over the last decade. Instead of teasing or bullying a child in public, kids have taken to using social media sites to do so.

Bullying on social media sites is just as hurtful as physical bullying. While it may be easy enough to block a bully on a site like Facebook, if they have access to your personal information, they may start bullying through email, text, or even appear at your house.

This is why it’s very important for children to understand that they must keep their information private. If you teach your kids online identity theft prevention techniques now, they will habitually use them later.

Check Your Credit

Finally, keep an eye on your credit. The importance of credit monitoring extends beyond keeping your credit cards safe. It can also alert you to online identity theft and help you understand where people are getting your personal information.

Checking your credit score regularly, as well as locking down your social media profiles, are both great methods of online identity theft prevention.

Amy Johnson is an active blogger who is fond of sharing interesting finance related articles to encourage people to manage and protect their finances.

Call-to-Action 101: Why they’re important and how to use them

This is guest contribution from Michael Kuhlmann.

Would you like to increase your readership? How about boosting downloads for your latest white paper or newly-launched digital product?

The secret to success sometimes lies in the obvious.

While you may have placed a sign-up field for your newsletter or added a new product to your e-commerce site, your job as a content marketer doesn’t end there. You need a CTA, a call-to-action!

The easiest way to start is by answering the “why” question. Why should somebody subscribe to your blog? Or, why should I buy this new product? The answer can be anything from “Buy 1, Get 2 Free!” to “Sign up today and never miss another post!”

A sleepy reader without a call to action

Finish the race

When you’re ramping up a marketing campaign through an email, landing page or any other asset, it’s easy to get lost in the offer and messaging. You’ll talk about all the amazing things your customers will want and maybe even include a bulleted list of why your goods and/or services are so awesome. You might even throw in the “time-limited offer” verbiage to incentivise your customers.

After you add your button that reads “click here” somewhere in your content, you might be inclined to call it day. Don’t! You’ll just have wasted a lot of time and effort on what’s, really, your first draft.

Let’s backtrack a little.

Every form of communication with your customer should begin and/or end with a call to action. While it’s easy to point out the importance this carries over your marketing efforts, it’s best explained through an example. Consider the following marketing copy for an email:

Scenario

Unilever announced it will sell a new body spray this December called Squirrel-Off, which is intended to repel food-begging squirrels.

Call to action: Example A

Ward off those pesky squirrels this holiday season with Squirrel-Off!

Call to action: Example B

Keep squirrels away this holiday season with Squirrel-Off, the amazing scented body spray that protects you from those unwanted critters.

Example A sounds abrupt, lacks any type of interaction with the reader and isn’t warm or fuzzy. Example B, on the other hand, is more descriptive and increases the click-through rate (CTR) by linking the bolded call to action in addition to the advertised product.

Split testing your call to action

Split test

To calculate the effectiveness of the marketing copy with and without a call to action, we can refer to what’s called an A/B split-test.

A lot of email service providers (ESPs) have a built-in functionality to measure this, but for the sake of keeping things simple, let’s assume we have a database of 200 contacts. If we also assume that our ESP is fairly basic without a simple or automated A/B split-testing functionality, then we can halve our contacts and send them the marketing copy with the contents from Example A and the other 100 people receive the contents from Example B. The CTR from the latter email should yield higher.

Calculating the effectiveness of CTAs doesn’t hinge solely on the email copy nor on the medium in which you use it, and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated.

For example, if you’re not too keen on fiddling with Google Analytics and have a fair marketing budget, you can use Optimize.ly or Visual Website Optimizer on your landing pages. You can perform split-tests on your hero shot and call to action buttons, as well.

Does a red pill button outperform a blue pill button? How about button with a chevron or triangle? The possibilities to what you can measure are endless, but the common denominator will always be your content, your call to action.

To hone down on your CTA, you’ll want to answer five questions.

1. Does your first sentence grab your attention enough to continue reading?

An easy way to figure this out is to think of your favourite product or service and substitute it for the actual product or service you’re promoting. If you’re thinking, “Sure, this sentence is still good enough” stop right there and revise it, because your first sentence needs to be excellent!

When it’s excellent, the road is paved for your customers to keep reading your content, which will increase the chances for them to perform an action – starting a trial, getting a discount, downloading a document, etc.

used-car-salesman.jpg

2. Do you have emphatic CTAs sprinkled throughout your content?

If you think your call to actions might be a bit weak and you’re worried about making them sound too “sales-y”, don’t worry. Make them sound “sales-y”.  Obviously, you don’t want every sentence to have a link pointing to your product or service, but your call to action should be noticeable throughout your content.

The worst thing you can do is have a boring call to act

ion that nobody cares enough to click on, which brings up the next question.

3. Have you linked your CTAs?

Sure, you can expect people to read your entire content and scroll down to click on your awesome call to action button, but let’s not be so lazy. Your customers need a bit of hand-holding and that requires you to give them more than one way to click on things. For example, if you’re prompting them to “discover new music”, then make sure to link your CTA to the appropriate page.

4. Are you tracking your CTAs?

Hopefully, the answer is always “Yes”. If you’re shrugging your shoulders, link-tracking simply means you’re counting how many times people have clicked on your linked call to action.

You can use tools like Google URL Builder or Bit.ly or any other tracking method for that matter. You’ll want to get into the habit of continuously measuring your marketing efforts, as that will help you promote your products and/or services more efficiently. It takes a bit more time, but you’ll make much more informed decisions for your next campaign.

5. Are you using a pill-shaped “Click Here” button?

Yes? Shame on you!

That type of marketing belongs next to the blinking text from the late 90s. If you want people to start a trial, your pill-shaped call to action button should read “Start Your Trial” … and, yes, make that title-case, because it stands out more. Don’t be vague! People should be able to look at your CTA button and figure out what happens before they click on it.

Once you’ve tweaked your content, give yourself a pat on the shoulder and a quick breather, because you’ve just scratched the surface on optimising your marketing effort starting from your call to action.

Michael Kuhlmann is a highly-caffeinated content creator at Quote Roller. When he’s not writing stuff, he spends time with his shutterbug wife, teeny toddler and West Highland White Terrier named Beary White who has a Napoleon complex. 

How to Beat Amazon eBook Competition

This is a guest contribution from The Blogger, Greg Narayan.

If you’ve tested your luck in the eBook industry you probably have noticed one thing: the scene is a total mess.

While it takes years to publish a hard cover novel, we can now whip off a PDF eBook in the time it takes to make a PBJ sandwich, then start selling it online.

This presents a real problem to both producers, and consumers as competition rises to the extremes.

Aside: If there ARE good eBooks out there, they are here at ProBlogger.net. I’ve bought a few and even at my current stage in blogging I’ll admit that even the beginner content has taught me a ton!

Back to the whole ebook mess… how do we know which eBooks to buy, which ones will sell, and what topics need coverage?

Well, let’s take a look.

Learning how Amazon works

market an ebook on Amazon

Source: Goodereader.com

This short story  begins with Amazon, who frequently sends me eBook suggestions which I often delete.

But the other morning I decided to give Amazon’s suggestions a shot. Maybe it was my refreshed feeling with the new fall season or the strong cup of coffee that sat in front of me.

Either way, I was ready to learn.

And what I saw in this email proved worth it.

Gregory J. Narayan,

Are you looking for something in our Business & Investing Books department? If so, you might be interested in these items.

Typical introduction…but I kept reading.

Side note 1: If you’re a blogger or anyone bent on learning online marketing, clicking Amazon emails, ads, and even Facebook ads can be really informative. It costs you nothing and you can then take notes on the persuasive copy and landing pages that others have invested money in.

At the top of the list was the new book called “Let Go by Pat Flynn” and below it were books that were also awesome, but just lacked the pop that Pat’s had.

Here are five things I noticed from observing Pat’s book, which to date has already sold thousands of copies and receives ways more reviews than other books in his niche.

Best Practice Tips from Published Amazon eBooks

kindling

Source: Alvaro Gonzalez http://www.alvarogonzalezalorda.com/

These are some tips I sort of “stole” from Pat’s eBook launch.

Tip #1: Create a title that resonates

Make your title brief and powerful with simple words. The idea is not to use fluffy words like “world class, expert, millionaire, unique, or empire” because that’s what everyone else is doing!

These words look great upfront but will only cloud your objectives.

Instead, pick a unique yet simple combination of words that people will remember. Ideally, you want the title to be both memorable and relatable – reflecting the kind of activities a lot of people want to pursue.

Activities? Yep, eBooks are about doing.

⇨ Best practice: Keep the title short and include your name (even though Amazon sometimes discourages this)

Tip #2: Pay for a respectable logo

Pay a starving logo-designer a couple hundred bucks to create something memorable, instead of using some played out image like an open road or top of a mountain. It will make their day and they’ll put good hours into your design which will be reflect for months or even years to come, depending on how your niche evolves.

A good, respectable image can dominate your whole cover (which is a good thing) and create a lasting impression in peoples’ mind. Again, think memorable and relatable.

⇨ Best practice: Think up a story to go along with the image.

Tip #3: Recruit other known authors for social proof

Bring in 2-4 other niche names and you’ll really add value to your end result. I know it’s nice to do everything on your own – I’ve been guilty of trying to write, design, and even code my entire blog – but honestly outsourcing some of the work is a really smart tactic.

Firstly, this shows folks you have a network of like-minded thinkers.

Second, this will instantly multiply the organic marketing base you have (with things like more personal Facebooks and Twitters to share from). Lastly, more authors means more people to critique your own work before you publish to Amazon!

The value of another set of eyes is overwhelmingly high, yet most of us take this for granted.

⇨ Best practice: Don’t email your contributors until you have the ball-rolling, a sales page drafted, an image, etc. Once you do, give folks a concrete assignment and deadlines (people are just too busy otherwise).

Tip #4: Don’t get greedy with your price

Don’t set your eBook to hardcover prices. Unless you’re already established, no one is going to pay your rate of $15-30. Common sense economics tell us it’s more valuable to get more sales even if it means at a lesser price, duh.

But common sense economics also tells us that we often overvalue things we create. This part might be less intuitive. So, maybe ask someone (like ehem, one of your awesome readers?) how much they would pay.

Do a survey or a poll, and tailor your price around the higher end of what people say they would pay.

⇨ Best practice: Research prices of other eBooks already dominating your niche, and price yours competitively. Watch “The Price is Right” for a shrewd strategy or two :)

Tip #5: Jockey for positioning

The order in which we see thing really matters. So if your new eBook does start to gain some popularity and rise the ranks on Amazon or wherever it’s listed, you should deliberately keep increasing it’s rankings.

You could achieve the ‘snowball effect’. Sometimes, more people noticing your book and noticing that others are noticing it can really launch it into the limelight. And your window for success in this department may be slim.

In the next section, I’ll show you what I mean.

Time to contact Mr. Flynn

PatFlynn

Source: PatFlynn http://patflynn.me/

In my excitement seeing Pat’s book blast apart the others (seriously, hundreds more reviews than the next guy) I instantly reached out to him. What ensued was a ridiculous fun Twitter conversation/forum that you may want to join in on if you have a moment.

What I learned from Pat, as I prepare my own eBook for it’s sale (on the to-do list after I finish this post), was priceless.

The main message? You can enter even the most saturated niche – just do it with style, confidence, and originality.

Bonus Tip: Create an offsite promotions page

Now, I don’t mean to bombard you with so much here that you wont’ be able to stammer out a comment (which you know I love) but I needed to include this too.

Sure, your blog is a good place to promote your new eBook or any product you come up with. But you could go the next step.

Domain names go for as cheap as $2 bucks a pop (Google Search for discounts!) nowadays, so why not setup a promotions site and nest your eBook download right in there?

Advantages of offsite promo:

⇨ More websites = more trafic potential = more clout

⇨ Your announcments won’t get burried by newer articles as they would on a blog format

⇨ Leverage new domain name to build PageRank around keywords closely related to your book

And if it’s building PageRank you’d like to do…well, let’s just say the topic of eBooks and PageRank will be like peanut butter to jelly soon!

Conclusion

If you want your new eBook to launch well you have to research your niche and find out how to be different. While this boils down to price, style, and content there are lots more criteria to take advantage of.

Get creative, click ads, and send pipe dream emails to those you admire. The biggest flaw would be assuming you’ll get rich (or make anything) just because you make it to Amazon.

I know this has gotten your ideas flowing. If you have any stories from your own eBooks or personal businesses, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

The Blogger runs a blogging answers community out of Manhattan but really considers his home online. He just finished the launch page for his new PageRank eBook, make sure to hop on that list and read up before the next update passes you! As usual, get more on .

The Do’s and Don’ts of Conducting Interviews For Your Blog

This is a guest contribution by Kelly Gregorio.

As an active blog owner, chances are you strive to produce content that is engaging, relevant and most important, fresh. Right?

Switching up your content’s style and delivery can keep readers’ interest and may even make the experience of producing content more exciting.

One way to engage your audience is with a stellar interview. Not only can a successful interview provide some great promotion to your brand and credibility within your field, but it also can get audiences more invested in your blog’s content.

Unfortunately not every blogger knows the keys to great interviewing.

Missteps and mistakes can turn your endeavour into a flop while running the risk of staining your online reputation. Follow these quality do’s and don’ts and make the process work for you, your interviewer and your blog audience.

Do Prepare

If there is one thing an interviewee hates it is a repetitive, unprepared interviewer. If you want stagnant answers and shallow insights, then by all means don’t do your homework. However if you want them to open up…

Get prepared. Know your subject’s biography and background better that he/she does. Read every interview about them that’s ever been published. Your interviewee will not only appreciate not needing to fill in the well-known blanks about their past, but they may even get invested in the interview itself.

By reading past interviews, you’ll know not to ask those same old questions that they’ve heard before. Take on the task of striving to ask something they’ve never publicly explored before; try to get them not just to answer, but also to reflect and really think.

Don’t Serve Your Own Curiosities

Of course you will come to the interview with your questions already prepared –this goes without saying. However pre-interview be sure to formulate each question with your eventual readers in mind. 

The formulated questions you collect should serve as a great skeleton for where you see the article going. The interviewee will either fill in the meat or break the mould completely; you have to be willing and open to things going either way.

Whatever you do be sure not to abuse your power and ask questions that solely serve your curiosity. Do not ask things that you have no intention of writing about but are instead, are just nosey; it’s so unprofessional. Everything you say and do should be in representation of your reader’s interest while being both polite and politically correct.

Do Set The Tone

It is your job to ease your interviewee’s mind. Despite their public persona, people get nervous during interviews. And a clammed up subject will make for some boring interactions.

This is why you should make the interview more of a conversation.

Be willing to work with your interviewee as they formulate his/her thoughts. If you rigidly plan to quote them verbatim you are going to find yourself with a tight lipped and hesitant participant. Instead, encourage them to just be themselves and go off and explore together. Get clarification before quoting anything, to make sure that their intended message gets across.

Don’t Forget To Show Thanks

Post-interview be sure to follow up with a formal thank you for their time. If you have an online following, promote your interviewee (and any upcoming projects they have going on) by providing teasers to your readers about the upcoming interview.

Be sure to let your interviewee know when their post will be live. Not only is informing them the polite thing to do, it might even open your interviewee up to participating and interacting with questions and comments from your readers.

Have you had any success conducting interviews for your blog? What tips can you add?

Kelly Gregorio is a journalist that reports on small business trends while working at Advantage Capital Funds, a company that provides businesses working capital. You can connect with her through the comments section of her daily business blog here.

 

A 10 Step Guide to Becoming a Better Blogger – Starting Today

This is a guest contribution by Adam Smith.

If you are reading this post, I am guessing that you have a blog and at least a few social media accounts or you are just starting out and have a interest in blogging. Right?

Instead of trying things out at first, guessing, hitting a wall and then becoming discouraged, this post is a ten step guide to becoming a better blogger than you are right now.

This guide will get you at the top of your blogging game faster than you ever thought possible.

Here are the ten habits that I have created with my blogging to get noticed and they will work for you, too…

1. Prepare a plan

Is your blog development planned? A plan works for anything that is important to you.

What do you want to achieve with your blog? Include what you want to communicate through your posts to your readers and create the daily steps to get to those goals. List every important thing down to the smallest detail.

Taking the time for this kind of planning will help keep you on track and doing the necessary work to get to where you want to go. It will also inspire you to keep going through the difficult time.

Action: Make a detailed plan for your blog and look at it when you need motivation.

2. Focus on your content

It seems that everyone has a blog these days and each person is adding to the ‘noise’.

The best way to fight for the attention of an audience is to produce quality content over and over again. Content that helps get your readers where they want to be. An easy way to find what content your readers love is to install Google Analytics and research what people are actually reading. You can stop taking a shot in the dark and become more intentional with your content.

Realize that the time you put in is a reflection of what you will get back. You should also know your strengths. There is no possible way that you can be good at everything and people know that, too. Build a blog that people know they can get great advice on a particular topic and they will come back for more. It works for Darren here on Problogger, On Twitip and dPS and it will work for you.

Action: Put in the time to deliver high quality content to your readers. 

3. SEO matters

Besides your content, search engine optimisation will help increase your traffic. SEO or “Search Engine Optimization” includes, but is not limited to factors such as: backlinks, quality of your blog posts, your social networking, unique visitors and the keywords that you focus on throughout your blog.
Google Adwords - keyword planner – is a great tool to assist you in finding the most popular keywords to use in your writing.
When it comes to themes, most WordPress themes have some SEO built in and when you’re using WordPress you’ll be able to access SEO plugins that can be installed to make life easier for you.
In a world where it is really hard to stand out in a big crowd, pairing great SEO with writing for your specific audience will grow your readership quickly and effectively. 

4. Be concise

People’s attention spans and time allotted to read is getting smaller and smaller these days. There is too much to do and so little time.

Write your posts so they share what is needed to get your point across, without rambling. You make a bigger impact when you share your thoughts in a concise way.

Action: Don’t lose your readers with long, drawn-out posts. Get to the point without all of the excess.

5. Be quotable

Being quotable is a really effective way to gain the attention of new readers; it’s more important than who you know.

Clear, clever quotes are easy to share on Facebook, more retweets on Twitter and more repins on Pinterest and when you include a link to your post, you can reach more people than you ever could on your own.

Action: You will get the traffic that you have always wanted from being quotable. Pick out the best quotes from your posts and share them across social media.

6. Grab their attention with new ideas

Light bulb with a great idea

The first step to having more success with fresh ideas is to be quiet and think.

That’s right.

Carve out time in your day to focus on creating fresh ideas. Don’t repeat what everyone else is saying. Push yourself to find greatness with your writing and then push yourself even more. It is time to find your unique voice and once you do this, stick with it.

Action: Be quiet and write down the ideas that come to you. Take time to do this on a daily basis and you’ll find yourself with lots of great ideas to choose from.

7. Speak with authority

Nobody takes advice from a book that starts every sentence with, “Maybe”.

Learn to speak with confidence in your area of expertise. Become a source of knowledge by becoming confident. Show readers that you take your work seriously by putting your time into conducting research. When you do this, you’ll begin to share your knowledge with a new found familiarity and confidence.

Action: Become familiar with the topic you are writing about with further researc. Learn to repeat these steps even when you don’t feel like it. That is what separates the amateurs from the pros.

8. Don’t have an outdated look

 

Mess

Image courtesy stock.xchng user shelead

Maybe your content is decent, but if your blog theme makes it difficult to find and your font is hard on the eyes, your readers won’t stick around.

It useful to find a group of people you can have look at your site and give you honest feedback. Sometimes you just need a fresh set of eyes to see things differently and make changes that are better in the end.

Action: Ask yourself, “Is my blog theme up to date?”

9. Don’t forget your marketing

Marketing your blog is essential if you want to attract new readers. After all, how will they know about you if you don’t tell them?

You can entice new readers to subscribe by giving something away for free. In my case, it was a free ebook that began drawing new readers in, but for you it could be something different. This gives you a way to capture reader’s email addresses and it allows you to begin forming your team.

Action: Incentives entice readers to commit. Give free,valuable information away to others and then do it some more.

10. Build a team

Create relationships. Be reachable. Help others. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to others, too. People usually won’t know about you unless you take the time to meet others.

After writing great content for a short time, people will begin to know you for helpful content and your community will naturally form by them coming back for more.

Action: Word of mouth is the best type of press. Find and connect with your core group of followers and encourage them to share your best posts with others.

It doesn’t matter what subjects you write about on your blog, these ten steps will help you develop your blogging plan and propel you forward to finding your “sweet spot” in the blogging world.

My challenge to you is to find those things that work for you and take note of the items that create growth.

Once you create traction with an audience, it can be repeated.

What steps have you used to see a great reaction with your posts online?

Adam Smith resides in the Boulder, Colorado area with his wife and daughter. He is the author of the ebook, Discipline: The Art of Achieving Greatness and also an editor/ blogger at asmithblog.com. You can read more about Adam at http://asmithblog.com/about/.