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The Brilliant Content Strategy Everyone Gets Wrong

This guest post is by James Chartrand of Men with Pens.

For a long while (and on the Internet, a “long while” means about six months), there were dozens of posts telling you how to reuse content.

Your content, other bloggers’ content, magazine content, brochures-from-that-stack-in-the-attic content. It didn’t matter. The point was that you didn’t need to come up with all the ideas on your own. You could jump-start your brain with interesting content from other sources than the bottomless depths of your own genius.

It was good advice. Reusing content was (and remains) a smart, valid strategy.

The problem is that no one does it right.

How they got reusing content wrong

The basics are simple: find someone else’s content (or your own content from long enough ago) and spot something interesting you can relate to your own work. Then all you need to do is write a good post.

It was a hard strategy to mess up, and no one really did. For the most part, reusing content netted interesting posts that featured interesting content from sources that wouldn’t otherwise have shown up in that industry.

And content reuse is a perfectly valid strategy for when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel creativity-wise and you just need a jolt to get going again. It’s great, in fact. Go forth and use it with my blessing.

But that’s where everyone stops.

Sure, it was great that you applied that nuclear physics conclusion to brilliant copywriting, and it made for one hell of a post. By the next day, though, readers are looking for the next hot thing.

They’ve forgotten your brilliant post. They’ve forgotten how interesting they found it.

And because someone else has a new, interesting post, they’re all about that post now.

So that strategy won’t further your business. It’s just going to keep your blog alive for one more day. That’s not enough, is it?

Of course it’s not. You need to grow your business and your readership. You need to bring in clients, create products, or become an insightful and focused teacher.

Just recycling the same old content and the same old approach as everyone else in your niche means you’re going to fade into the background.

How to do it right

You’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell, haven’t you? How about Seth Godin? How about the Heath brothers, Dan and Chip, authors of Made to Stick?

These authors reuse content from the word go. All their books (and in Seth’s case, pretty much his entire blog) rehash anecdotes and stories they’ve heard elsewhere. They’re simply applying those stories to the subjects that interest them most.

By sorting out all of the relevant stories to one particular aspect of their field and bringing it all together in a book, they did something revolutionary: they created a philosophy.

Seth Godin’s purple cow? That’s content reuse. Seth didn’t originate the story of the purple cow, nor any of the other twenty anecdotes that make up the content in his book. He simply saw what all that content had in common and brought it together cohesively.

Few people who read Seth Godin’s book are utterly amazed at what they find there. Really? To have people notice me I have to be remarkable?

The book isn’t fascinating because of its insight. The basic philosophy is what you’re pretty sure you knew all along.

But by stringing together a thousand examples, Seth managed to make a simple concept seem important enough to keep at the front of your mind all the time in your business.

Not just in branding, but when you email a client. Not just the product but the packaging. Not just the upper management but the mail room.

Bring the purple cow into every room of the business, Seth said, because it belongs everywhere.

He didn’t come up with that concept out of thin air. He came up with it by looking at twenty stories from twenty different sources that all put a purple cow in a different room of the business.

You got it: content reuse, done right.

What you can do with reused content

It’s clearly been established that reusing content just to fill your blog doesn’t work. Well, it does, if all you want is to keep your blog alive.

But it doesn’t work for your business, which means you need to find a way to reuse content when you’re ready to put some thought and energy into the next phase.

Start making a list of the stories you enjoy telling over and over again. The advice you keep repeating. Most of the time, you’ll enjoy reusing these stories and advice because they seem to exemplify what’s important.

That tells you something. You have useful knowledge you’re continually sharing because you know readers need it. So what can you do with it?

Mind map it. Connect the dots. Brainstorm. Let the content take you where it will.

Because one day you’re going to wake up and see the connection. You’re going to have a Big Idea. And it’s going to change your entire world.

It doesn’t have to be the formula that cures cancer. It just has to be valuable and true—and it’ll have a whole lot of content from your archives to back it up.

How reused content begins a revolution

When I started to look at my own content for the stories I liked to tell over and over and the advice I kept sharing with writers, I realized I didn’t need to write yet another post on how to not screw up writing.

If people could teach themselves, surely one of those posts would have hit home by now.

My sudden realization was that readers needed help—more than yet another blog post.

And every single one of the anecdotes in my reused content told me this. All my stories about successful writers involved someone getting a teacher, sitting down, and putting in the work.

It seemed like anyone could do this on their own, but the more I looked at all the content, the more I realized that readers could… but they don’t.

So I set out to give them a place where they didn’t have to work alone. I used my content and built an online writing course for business owners where there were teachers willing to help, lessons that were easy to understand, homework to make students accountable, and peers to empathize with and learn from.

I called it Damn Fine Words.

It was a simple idea, born of content I’d told and retold until it had worn thin at the seams. But it changed the lives of my students.

How can your repackaged ideas change the lives of your readers?

James Chartrand of Men with Pens teaches students at Damn Fine Words, the only online writing course that helps business owners succeed so they can stop keeping their blog alive for just one more day and start pulling in results with their content.

3 Blogging Rules You Should Break

This guest post is by Anish Majumdar of DashAmerican.com.

The most valuable piece of writing advice I ever got was from an editor at a print magazine after I’d handed in the first draft of an article. I’d spent hours poring over old issues to “get the tone right” and had fought my natural style every step of the way. The end result? A returned draft shot through with corrections and a one-line response: “Write from the inside and trust that we’ll get it.”

As a ProBlogger reader, you probably already know how rare it is to come across a site devoted to blogging that actually offers something besides the same old “rules” recycled in various forms. You know them: keep pieces short. Use bullets. Link to other articles, etc.

While it’s comforting, especially when you’re starting out, to find something—anything—to model posts after, it’s critical to understand that a reader will forgive a strong voice almost anything and a weak voice almost nothing.

Are the rules you’re following helping or hindering your voice? Here are the three biggest blogging “rules” I’ve broken … and the unexpected results I’ve enjoyed.

1. Make posts scannable

There’s a line of thinking behind blogging advice posts that insist pieces must be kept short and stuffed full of typographical tricks like boldfacing and bullets that assumes a typical reader has Attention Deficit Disorder. If you don’t hustle to offer value and get your point across at a glance, they’ll simply move on.

There is another way.

I was recently in the midst of writing a deeply personal account of growing up with a family member suffering from schizophrenia and realized there was no way to make the post scannable. The paragraphs were long. Themes wove in and out of each other without clear sections. And inserting bullets would wreck the overall flow. Anticipating a post that would sink without a trace, I hit “Publish” … and got the strongest reader response of any piece I’d ever written—as well as a Facebook recommendation from an influential literary magazine editor.

I challenge you to, in the words of Jim Carroll, “hustle like a cheetah instead of a chimp.” Don’t worry about gaining a reader’s interest. Don’t waste time with tricks we’ve all seen a thousand times before. Instead, write in a way that gets your heart racing—and locks in a reader from the first sentence.

2. Stay on topic

A blog that’s stuck in a rut is like a relationship where you do nothing but the same routine day in and day out: eventually, things will fall apart. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying you shouldn’t hold true to the underlying theme of your blog. You should. But endlessly recycling the same types of posts under the rationale of “that’s what my readers want” is not only shortsighted, it’s just plain wrong.

Sure, you may be receiving a steady stream of visitors now. But are they sticking around? Are they engaging in a satisfying way? Or are they dropping in to quickly scan the latest post or two and flitting off? Experimentation, planned for and consistent, is the lifeblood of blogging success, and can open up new vistas of personal expression.

I use the following strategy to keep things fresh: every third post has to be new. Not an idea based on an existing post. Not something I’ve pulled out of the “evergreen idea bag” which I assume every blogger has for those days when inspiration doesn’t come.

I’m talking about trying something you’re not sure you can pull off.

For me, that’s meant writing posts on current events, conducting interviews with people I admire, and opening the door to guest posts. Some of these gambits have worked. Others haven’t. But here’s the amazing thing: regardless of how far I stretch, the true fans, those who get it always stick around.

Dare to tinker with your formula. Your readers will respect you for it.

3. Be an authority

In the 10+ years that I’ve been earning a living writing, I’ve spent more time feeling insecure than an authority. I’ve pitched stories that haven’t gotten published. I’ve started projects that have stalled. There have been days when I’ve hated every word I’d committed to paper, and others where I’ve expected to make a huge impact … and haven’t. This comes with the territory, and yet we often feel the need to hide it, as if readers will flee at the first sign of vulnerability.

When I first started expressing my perceived shortcomings and fears on my blog, I felt hideously exposed. There went any claims to being an out-of-the-gate success. But what I received in return were readers who responded to who I was as a human being. They felt invested in my journey because it mirrored their own: what more can you ask more?

Which blogging “rules” have you broken? Let me know in the comments!

Anish Majumdar is the creator of DashAmerican.com, a blog devoted to the cross-cultural experience. If you’re interested in real-life stories detailing epiphanies, embarrassments, and all stops in between, please stop by!

How to Convert Visitors from Your About Page

This guest post is by AJ Kumar of Single Grain.

One of the most under-utilized pieces of website real estate out there is the About Us page.  While most webmasters treat it as a throw-away repository for a stock biography or company history, consider the mindset of the visitors who arrive on these pages. 

They’re interested enough in you and your brand to want to take the next step and learn more about you—indicating that they’re more receptive to sales or other conversions that those who have simply stumbled on to your Home page.

So why waste this valuable opportunity to engage visitors and increase conversions?!  Instead, use your “About” page as a springboard to increase engagement with your readers and the number of conversions that result from this valuable web content.

In general, there are three types of conversions that you can pursue from your About page: sales, leads and newsletter signups.  Let’s look at each of these in turn to determine when to implement each option and how to integrate each one effectively.

Conversion option #1: Newsletter signups

We’ll start with newsletter signups, as this is the easiest conversion type to feature on your About page.  As mentioned before, people arrive on this page because they want to know more about you.  From there, it’s easy to convince these readers that one way to get to know you and your business even better is to sign up to receive your email newsletter.

For proof that this strategy works, consider the case study featured by Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, who added an opt-in form for his email newsletter to his About page on the recommendation of conversions expert Derek Halpern.  The result?  A 446% increase in signups from this page alone.  According to Pat:

“From the changes I made, adding an opt-in form to the About page has increased the number of subscribers the most (by far!) and this makes perfect sense.

The About page serves to describe who I am and what my site is about. It’s one of the most visited pages in my navigation menu and it doesn’t include links, resources, or any other calls to action, so having an option to learn more about what I do through a newsletter after reading (and hopefully being interested in) what my site is about, is perfect.”

To increase newsletter signups from your About page, create a separate opt-in form from within your email list management program to embed on the page.  Use language on your form that’s targeted specifically to your About page (for example, “To get to know more about us, subscribe to our newsletter below!”) in order to maximize newsletter signups.  Don’t forget to create a separate version of your form to split test on this important page to make your opt-in form as effective as possible!

Conversion option #2: Leads

If your online business model revolves around attracting qualified leads to either sell or use in an offline business, your About page is a great place to start converting new visitors!

Similar to the newsletter opt-in conversion process described above, adding a lead generation form to your About page works because the people who have arrived on this page have already demonstrated interest in learning more about your company.  With visitors already in this mindset, it’s an easy transition to encourage them to take the next step of giving you their contact info to receive more information.

For example, say you begin your About page with a brief history of your company and a description of the services you offer.  If visitors reading this page find your information interesting enough, they’re naturally going to want to learn more about your products and services.  So instead of hoping they’ll meander back to your homepage, where your lead generation form is installed, why not create a separate form here to capture these already-interested readers on the spot?

To make this area of your site even more effective in capturing new leads and increasing conversions, use language on the page that tells readers that filling in the lead generation form is simply the next stage in the process of getting to know your company—not the scary prospect of handing over personal information to a nameless, faceless website.  Doing so will help overcome your visitors’ natural hesitation to reveal personal information unless it’s absolutely necessary.

You could also use this opportunity to highlight a special bonus that you’re offering to visitors that complete your About page lead generation form.  This could be a free consultation, free ebook, or other giveaway that will help to overcome resistance and encourage visitors to this page to convert into leads.

Conversion option #3: Sales

Converting your About page visitors into buyers is the trickiest option in terms of increasing conversions, but when it’s done well, it can dramatically increase your website’s revenue and ROI.

Again, the key to increasing sales conversions on your About page lies in understanding the mindset of your readers.  The people who have reached this important page on your site want to know more about you, which means that they’re ready to invest time in your business and are likely open to taking further action on your website.

So instead of leaving them cold with a simple bio and company history, use this space to highlight a few products for them to start with.  To do this effectively, consider any of the following options:

  • Highlight your favorite products: If you sell multiple products on your site, use your About page as a place to recommend a few of the products that you feel best showcase your business.  Offer personal comments on why you love each of the products you recommend in order to make your About page product features more engaging to visitors.
  • Showcase your bestsellers: Your About page visitors may be looking for the next steps to take with your company, so if you offer an extensive variety of products for sale, consider using this space to feature the products that sell best on your website.  Doing so will give visitors an easy starting place to delve into all of your different product lines.
  • Feature your “most viewed” offerings: Use your Google Analytics data to determine which products on your site are viewed most often, as these popular products will likely be a good place for your About page visitors to jump into your product offerings.

To determine whether or not you’ve chosen the right products to feature on your About page, set up a Google Analytics “goal” that tracks how many sales result from visitors who land on a product page from your About page.  If you aren’t seeing high conversions from the products you initially feature, swap them out with others until you hit on a winning combination.

At the end of the day, the specific type of conversion you decide to pursue on your About page is less important than the fact that you take any action in order to make this digital real estate as effective as possible in the first place.  Track your results as you go and make improvements as needed in order to make your About page both useful for your visitors and lucrative for your company’s bottom line.

Are you gaining conversions through your About page? What kind, and how? Share your tips with us in the comments.

AJ Kumar is co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency< based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media, and various other marketing strategies.

How to Awe Your Readers to Take Action

This guest post is by Jeevan Jacob John of Blog Networking 101.

You have traffic.

You have a great number of people reading your blog posts daily.

What do you want to do with these people?

Have them subscribe? Comment? Read?

Simply put, you want them to take action, right?

And how are we going to do that?

Yes, of course: through different strategies. In this blog post, we will take a look at some strategies to “awe” your readers to take action—to subscribe, to comment, or to do whatever.

Why should you “awe” your readers?

If you look up the definition of the word “awe”, you will get something like this:

Awe: A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Notice that I highlighted the words, respect and wonder. These are the feelings that we need to take care of. In other words, you want to create a feeling or emotion of respect and wonder within your readers’ minds.

And how exactly can we do that?

How to create “awe” in your readers

Think about this from a normal-life perspective. Do you read fiction? How do fiction authors create a feeling of wonder within your mind? Through twists, dramas and wonders within the story.

In other words, they give you something unexpected.

The same thing goes for your blog. You can awe your readers by giving them something that they don’t expect from you. Now, the action you need to take depends upon you, your blog, and where your blog is in the popularity race.

What do your readers expect?

The best way to answer this question is to ask your readers through surveys and polls. But there’s something else you can do: analyze your competitors. Take a look at your competitors’ blogs. What do they have that’s different from your blog? Is it the quality of content, design, layout, writing style?

You can also analyze the blogs that you read outside your niche. What is it that makes you want to read those posts? Is it about the creativity used by the author? Identify what makes those blogs popular, and decide to do the same thing for your blog. But, when it comes to doing, do better.

In other words, aim for similar success, but strive for something bigger.

Action: Comment

We all know about the standard ways to get your readers to comment on your blog posts: write high-quality content, include calls to action, and conduct giveaways. The trick in doing this with success is to do it differently.

Conduct random giveaways

The first reason why I love surprise giveaways is because you can get more out of less. Here is how it works:

To encourage comments, tell your readers that for the next 5 months, you’ll offer two or three giveaways for the best comment.

Now, here comes the best part: you don’t have to conduct giveaways every month. Choose the months you’ll award your giveaways at random, but don’t tell your readers. You’ll encourage comments and you’ll surprise readers when you do award the giveaway.

The giveaway should inspire awe in itself—make it extremely generous and valuable to your readers. The comments themselves, and your responses to them, should also help to create a sense of awe if you approach them the right way.

Conduct surprise giveaways

This works similarly to random giveaways; the only difference is that you don’t tell your readers that you are going to conduct a giveaway at all—until you announce the winners of the first one.

When your readers see the announcement post, they will have a stronger motivation to leave “better” comments more frequently (compared to the random giveaways technique). Again, this helps to foster a sense of awe in your readership—and prompt them to act.

Action: Subscribe

Okay, admit it: you want subscribers. You want subscribers who are loyal and are willing to buy your products and those you recommend.

Here are several techniques that can help:

  • On your landing page, include beautiful screenshots that depict your subscription offer: Include the screenshot of the email’s design, the first page and Table Of Contents of your ebook, or screenshots of weekly tips emails and autoresponders—whatever your subscription provides, show images of it. The goal is to awe your readers so that they feel that they’ll be missing out great things if they don’t subscribe. Just don’t tell them, show them!
  • Conduct exclusive giveaways for existing and new subscribers: Here, you want to do two things: conduct giveaways for existing subscribers and for new subscribers, separately. This will be easier for you to do if you can sort out your subscribers by subscription date (Aweber is a great tool that you can use here). And if you do conduct giveaways, include screenshots of that in your landing page!
  • Make your landing page beautiful: On your landing page, you want to amaze your readers with design and words. Experiment, analyze, learn, and tweak your landing pages. Make them stand out from the rest of your blog.
  • Include testimonials and comments: These could be from your clients, subscribers, friends, and even the popular people from your niche. You want to showcase all these things—create awe by making your readers feel that you’re an authority.
  • Give something, even if they don’t subscribe: Don’t hate readers for not subscribing; instead, share and care. Here is something else you can do. All of us have seen exit pop-ups. Use those for your own good. Let’s imagine that one of your prospective subscribers wasn’t awed enough to click the Subscribe button. What can we do? Give them something useful. For instance, if you are offering your ebook to subscribers, then give a handful of chapters to prospective subscribers. Keep one thing in mind: you want your prospective subscriber to read it, be amazed by it, and then subscribe to your list. So, include the subscription link in that giveaway.

Inspire, awe, and encourage

Having great content is important. So is marketing and networking. But, that’s not all. You need to invest time in every little step. You want your blog and brand to stand out from others, in content, design, layout, and every possible elements. Play with it. Experimentation is the best possible way to find out how you can create a feeling of awe within your readers’ minds. And that’s what you want to do. Inspire, awe, encourage, and gain action.

Editor’s note: later today, we’ll showcase another approach to increasing conversions on your blog—this time, through your About page.

Jeevan Jacob John is a young blogger who blogs about everything that is related to building a better blog. If you like what you are reading here, then you should probably check out his Why You Should Give A Damn Page.
You can also find him at his blog – Blog Networking 101.

Better Email Results … Instantly!

This guest post is by Bamidele Onibalusi of YoungPrePro.com.

Let me be straightforward with you: I’m no email marketing expert and I don’t plan to be soon. But email marketing is just so important to my blogging that I can’t ignore these very important techniques.

If you’ve been following Darren for more than a few months now you will have noticed how much emphasis he places on email marketing for bloggers and how important it is for his business. The same is the case for most top bloggers I know.

Email marketing is also an integral part of my own blogging business and as a result, the moment I notice something wrong with my email marketing, I look for ways to fix it. Almost ever tips I’ll be giving in this article I discovered by accident; some I discovered by reading the results of others and testing them for myself.

Here are three practical ways bloggers can get more from their email marketing efforts—instantly!

1. Always use a linked call to action

The first step is to always use a call to action in your email. It took me a long time to discover this, but the moment I did there was a difference in my results.

I know you might have already read a lot of email marketing articles about calls to action, and are already thinking you’re getting it right. But before you skip this section you need to realize that there is a difference between a “call to action” and a “call to action“.

The basic idea of a call to action email is to focus your email on getting subscribers to take a particular action, and including text that encourages them to do so.

A mistake most people make, though, is to use a call to action and then paste the link below the call to action.

That was what I used to do, too, but I recently started linking my calls to action text to the specific link I want subscribers to click, and I saw an increase in clickthrough rates of over 50%.

In other words, instead of using a call to action like “Visit YoungPrePro to learn more at http://www.youngprepro.com“, I changed the text to something like “Visit YoungPrePro to learn more!” And that increased my clickthrough rate by over 50%.

One thing I used to worry about, though, is the fact that some of my subscribers will get the text version of my emails and won’t be able to click on the link. In my own experience, the number of such subscribers is very few and the results you will get from an active call to action will far outweigh those lost opportunities, so there’s no need to worry about that. If you want all your subscribers to get your messages, you can include a sentence asking people who receive the text version of your message to read it online in HTML.

Also, make sure your emails only contain one call to action. When it comes to email marketing, giving people too many options won’t be effective so make sure every email you send is only centered on one action you want the subscriber to take.

It’s okay to include two links in your emails as long as they’re focused on the same call to action. The more you’re able to remind subscribers about the action you want them to take, and the easier you make it for them to take that action without having to scroll down or up, the better.

In other words, it’s okay to include your linked call to action more than once in an email, as long as they lead to the same page.

2. Use a custom email template

I know, there has been a lot of debate about this online, and the majority are in support of sending a text-based email, mostly due to the fact that there are text-only subscribers on their lists. But in my own experience, switching to an HTML email template increased the results I’m getting. I’ll explain!

One major problem I recently started to notice with my email list were high unsubscribe rates—even if I sent an email packed with value. I started to wonder what was wrong.

The problem was that most people are unsubscribing because they’d forgotten who I am—and it doesn’t help if they don’t receive any email from me in almost a week. Even though I never intended for an HTML template to help, I was surprised by the results.

On average, with text-based email I get around eight to ten unsubscribes per email, but with a custom HTML template that figure has reduced to two unsubscribes.

Most people will think this is a fluke, and has something to do with my message, but let me explain the idea behind it.

Having an HTML template that is designed the same way as your blog template helps reinforce your brand to your subscribers. As a result, no matter how long it’s been since you sent your last message, they will remember you once they see that template. Text-based emails can also get boring—especially when you consider the fact that most people get dozens of them daily.

Having a custom HTML email template helps you stand out—it places your brand in your subscribers’ inbox and ensures no one else can copy your approach.

One important consideration, though, is that you should make sure your email template is a custom one, not the default one most ISPs provide you with. The main effect of the template is to remind subscribers of your brand—and their reason for subscribing—whenever they open your emails. So your email template must be exactly the same as your blog design.

3. Don’t use shortened links

Link shorteners like bit.ly and tinyurl.com are becoming increasingly popular, and why shouldn’t people use them—especially since they make links handy and easy to track?

The problem with link shorteners is that their advantage is their disadvantage. Instead of having to include one ugly long link in an email you can easily shorten it to a few letters and enjoy the ability to track clicks to it.

The problem is that email spammers also know this, and are now abusing link shorteners. They send spam emails to people who never subscribed to their lists, using shorteners to cloak their links and track results. As a result, most of the popular link shortening services have been blacklisted by email servers.

In other words, using one or more of the popular link shortening services will increase the chances of your email not getting delivered to subscribers’ inboxes.

AWeber recently published a list of the link shortening services that have been blacklisted, and where they were blacklisted, so make sure you check it out!

If you don’t want long links in your emails, you might want to create your own link shortener, or always link your calls to action to the actual links you want users to click.

Instant results

Email marketing is still the most effective way to get your message across to your readers, especially as a blogger. Here I’ve shared three tips that gave me an instant boost in my email marketing results.

What other email marketing tips do you think we should know? Share them with us below!

Bamidele Onibalusi is a young blogger and writer who helps people learn to write for traffic and money. Visit YoungPrePro.com to learn what he has in stock for you and also follow him on twitter @youngprepro.

The 5 Keys to Blog Usability

This guest post is by Neil Patel of Quick Sprout.

The user is king. That’s what a lot of pundits are saying these days, from usability experts to SEO gurus and content marketing pros.

Actually, it’s always been true, and it’s why the mantra “content is king” has always been so important. Content is exactly what users wanted. Naturally, you should give them what they want.

But content isn’t enough today. Total user experience must be baked into blog content if you want to make it bigger and better so that you stand out and dominate in your space. These five elements of user experience are essential to doing just that.

1. Navigation

When it comes to a site heavy with content like a blog, navigation is essential. The primary job of navigation is to lead the user around the site. When it comes to a blog, this is especially important. The goals are as follows:

  • New content should be available and obvious to users. They shouldn’t miss out on anything.
  • New users should be able to understand in a short period of time what content is exactly available.
  • Users should know how to find the content they want. They are looking for answers, and it’s your job to get them to the relevant content.
  • Older content should be available to users who liked newer, related content.

In the end, it comes down to putting the content where your users can find it. And the number one navigation strategy rule is this: the navigation should never change even though new content is being added.

Let’s deal with a couple of typical navigation problems: finding old content and keeping users reading.

A blog that is just a few months old will not run into navigation problems. There just simply isn’t enough content. As that blog grows, however, and new content is added, you will begin to run into navigation problems, namely older posts are getting lost and forgotten.

That’s not good.

The common way to handle this is by adding a Monthly Archives widget to the blog. That is probably the worst possible way you can handle this problem.

 

Instead, put your content in proper categories and use a workable search system.

The Popular Posts sidebar widget is a great place to start. And instead of allowing the plugin algorithm to decide which content should go there, you make the choice. It’s better to choose based upon your experience and what your analytics are telling you, than to let the machine guess.

The same is true for adding older posts as related material at the end of posts. This is how Smashing Magazine does it:

Internal links are also another great way to improve the navigation of older posts. This way you can give them related material that’s immediately relevant to what you are writing about … and may even expand on a point.

There are two ways of doing this correctly. One is to make the links organic to context, so that they flow, like I did in my 8 Things Blog Readers Want More Than Just Content:

Or you can highlight the post by suggestion it as additional reading, like James Aultucher does in his 10 Things to Do When They Don’t Call post:

 

One way you don’t want to link to older posts is like they sometimes do at Freakonomics:

 

That is neither helpful for SEO purposes, or to users. It’s bad user experience. You are not giving users any indication of what is behind the link, and that slows users progress.

The goal is to keep them reading. Once someone lands on your site, you want them to stay. Otherwise you have high bounce rates. That’s why a Popular Posts or Recommended Reading plugins are essential.

Categories are useful for navigation when done right, but I don’t use categories because my tests have proven they aren’t useful. But perhaps they make more sense for your blog. If that is the case, you always need to keep three rules of thumb in mind when creating them:

  • Keep the number of categories to a bare minimum: Remove categories that have fewer than five posts until you can fulfill your category authority plan and create more content in those silos.
  • Use keywords that explain what the site/blog is about: A user should be able to look at your list of categories and understand immediately what the site is all about. Here are some categories I would use: Advanced SEO Techniques, Web Analytics, Digital Marketing, and Entrepreneurs. In fact, your category labels should come from your SEO keyword research.
  • Use categories only when you can justify them as being useful to help users find content: They should be intuitive and easy to understand. A confusing category list can sow distrust in your user.

Here’s a poor example of category use by Dumb Little Man:

Copyblogger demonstrates a clean, unique, and simple way of using categories:

While categories can prove useful, you should always test to see if they are helping or hurting you.

2. Speed

In a 2009 Google study, it was reported that a 0.5 second delay in page-load time caused a 20% drop in traffic. Amazon experienced a similar drop in traffic and revenue due to a fraction-of-a-second load delay.

More recently, Google has reported that slowing down search results by as little as 400 milliseconds will actually increase dropped searches from 0.2% to 0.6%.

That’s a huge drop in traffic for 400 milliseconds, so it pays to minimize the page speed. This is usability 101. It forces you to always ask if that new feature you want to embed on your page is worth the drop in load times and traffic.

You might like the flashy features, but they can dramatically slow down site performance. And don’t get fooled by the fact that internet connection is speeding the web up. How much site load speeds impact user experience will always be important. Just look at how it impacted Google.

I’ve covered the topic of speed extensively in How Design Your Blog for Awesome SEO, as have authors here at ProBlogger.

3. Focus

When it comes to creating a user experience that will make your blog better, the focus of your blog is equally as important as any of the onscreen, tangible things we have been talking about.

For example, page load speed and conversion are both actions that can be measured. Focus is less tangible, but highly important.

Let me share some common mistakes people make to show you what I mean:

  • Trying to please everyone: A blog that thinks everyone is its target user is going to be a miserable failure.  But you can’t simply pick an industry and then think you are narrow enough in your focus. For example, saying that your target audience is people who love food is still too broad, especially if you want to dominate that space. You have to pick a unique, narrow segment of that broad space. People who love hospital food may be a little too narrow, but you understand what I’m saying.
  • Confusing your content with your context: Sometimes you can attract the wrong audience by giving them the wrong content. If you run a social media blog, for example, but write content about postcards, or something totally from left-field, like home-made beer, you might get your user to come to your site, but he or she won’t stay.
  • Hiding behind everyone else: Another focus mistake occurs when you copy someone else’s success and provide nothing new or unique to the conversation. Say you love what Seth Godin is doing, and think you have some worthy things to share. Your blog will flounder if you don’t define some way to make you different than Godin. You just simply can’t compete.

A good, focussed blog strategy has the following elements:

  • Narrow definition of what you are trying to accomplish: As I mentioned above, your blog should be focused on delivering content that fits into your definition of cornerstone content.
  • Narrow definition of your target user: Your defined cornerstone content should fit perfectly with your defined target user. These should really mirror each other.
  • Unique selling proposition: Next, your focus should be on something that your competitors don’t provide. And this should be a focus that you regularly highlight. The harder you can make the focus uncopiable by your competitors, the longer you will be able to dominate the space.
  • Cornerstone content creep: A narrow focus will also help keep you from straying too far off topic when it comes to creating content. A warning sign that you may be experiencing cornerstone content creep is that your category list keeps growing.

Creating a focused strategy begins with user research and analysis of your competitors. And as you do your research, you’ll come up with a lot of ideas. It’s key that you rank these ideas in order of importance. Keeping just the top two will help you keep your focus narrow.

4. Display

You may not think about display too much, but whatever stage you are going through in your design process, you will need to think about how most visitors will see your layout depending on what screen resolution they use. Remember that you want to give users what they want.

This means that you have to take into consideration height and width and line length. But that’s not so easy. High-resolution monitors have a high screen resolution, which means users get in a habit of browsing in small windows in which the browser window resolution is much smaller.

In other words, we want to know the size of people’s browsers’ content windows.

So your first step is to figure out who your average user is.

Look at your Google Analytics and see the average screen resolution of your visitors. This data will also tell you about their preferences and behaviors. Then see which user is staying on your site longer, and start to design user display size toward that average profile.

In an older study in which over 18 million screenshots above the fold on browsers, most users will be able to see content that is located within a 500px by 800px space. Over 80% will see the content in a display that is 1000px wide, while the remained browse in a display that is 1250px wide.

The moral of the story is that you need to design displays for your average user. For most, that means the layout will be less than 1000px wide. To give you an idea of what you can do with that, check out The Big Picture Blog by the Boston Globe.

5. Readability

Readability is all about what your user reads on the screen. And the golden rule to good readability is this: the easier your content is to read, the better.

If you want to see how your blog ranks when it comes to readability, run it through the readability test. In the meantime, here are the basics behind good readability:

  • Contrast font color with background color: This is critical, because it’s easier to read font text when its color contrasts with the background on which it appears. Black text on white background is the most basic and easiest to read:

     

    Just so you can see how awful a bad contrast can be, check out this pink on blue page:

     

    Also, check your site with Vischeck to see what colorblind people see when they visit.

  • Break your copy into chunks. Large blocks of text will discourage people from reading.
  • Use bullets. 
  • Keep your paragraphs short. 
  • Keep your columns narrow so the eye doesn’t have to travel across the page too far: The best line length is between 60-80 characters. This metric should remain constant across different browsers and screen resolutions.
  • Avoid backgrounds that are busy: Think of MySpace and how awful those pages were to read. Talk about distracting!

     

  •  

  • Keep it simple: From your home page to an article page to your contact page, a user should know quickly what the site is about and what the main goal is of that page, wherever they are.

  • Keep the font style clean: A sans-serif font is the easiest to read on the web. Serifs are the little hooks at the end of letters in fonts like Times New Roman and Courier New. Helvetica and Calibri are good sans-serif fonts.
  • Avoid tiny fonts: That will certainly cause eye strain and frustrate your user. Font size 12 or larger is optimal.

Blog usability means content usability

It used to be that content was king. It still is from the perspective of the user. You need to deliver that. But it’s not enough these days. Your readers want a good experience, too.

In 2012 and beyond the user is king, and so you need to design your blog with these usability elements in mind: navigation, speed, focus, display, and readability. It’s essential to get these right if you want to attract and keep more visitors and create a link-worthy blog.

So, what other elements of usability do you feel are important for creating a killer blog? Share your perspective in the comments.

Neil Patel is an online marketing consultant and the co-founder of KISSmetrics. He also blogs at Quick Sprout.

Beyond Blogging: Facing Up to Your Long-term Future

This is a guest post by Tyler Tervooren of Advanced Riskology.

What happened to all the railroads? Have you ever pondered that question?

In the 1800s, the railroad industry in the U.S. was booming. New businesses were sprouting up every year, and inventors were creating newer and more efficient locomotives. First it was steam, then it was petrol, then it was diesel. Times were good, and America had a bright, rail-based future.

So what happened? Why isn’t the country blanketed in rail routes and why doesn’t everyone hop on the metro-line in front of their house each day to go to work? Today, the railroad companies are a shell of what they once were. Why? Because the automobile came along and ran them into the ground.

But did this have to happen?

No. There were things railroad companies could have done to cater to the people who made their businesses possible, but instead they dug in their heels and said, “We’re in the railroad business,” and they stayed the course.

You’re not in the blogging business

Compare this story to Apple, today’s holy grail of technology companies. They started 30 years ago as a personal computer company, but today you could hardly pigeonhole them with a title like that.

Truth is, Apple’s computer line never gained traction like the PC did, but what they’ve done better than any other tech company is pay attention to the trends of what consumers want, and they’ve never been afraid to experiment with other products.

Thanks to that, Apple is responsible for the world’s most popular personal music device, smart phone, and tablet computer.

The rail empires of days past said, “We’re in the railroad business!” when they should have been saying, “We’re in the transportation business.”

Apple got this right by saying, “We’re not a personal computer company, we’re a technology company.”

When it comes to blogging and setting yourself up for long-term success, it’s probably a good idea to heed these stories and ask yourself what the real purpose of your work is.

Are you in the blogging business, or are you in the information business? Are you a writer, or are you an idea spreader that just happens to be writing right now?

The way you answer these questions can have a profound effect on your future, so they’re worth thinking about.

This is especially important if you make a living from your blog. If you’ve ever tried to earn money blogging, you know very well that—despite what anyone tells you—there is no blogging business model that “just works.”

You have to put in a lot of effort to find a model that works for you, and every so often, you have to change it to make sure it keeps working. No business in any industry sets up shop one day and says, “Okay, we’ve figured it all out. We’re done now.” And any blogger who thinks so usually enjoys a short burst of tremendous success and then disappears.

Be your own research and development team

If you’re the type of blogger who likes the idea of having a long-term impact, then you also have to play a long-term game. You have to constantly look for ways to stay relevant and find new ways to evolve the work you’re doing because what works today is in no way guaranteed to work tomorrow.

Essentially, you need to invest in your own research and development.

As a full-time writer myself, here are four ways I try to stay a step ahead of the pack and improve my own game on a regular basis:

1. Pay attention and listen to reader preference

The reason someone decides to read your blog is because they think what you have to say is interesting or useful. After that, the only reason is because that’s the only way you present information. Just because you choose to write doesn’t mean that your readers prefer to read—they may prefer audio, video, or something else entirely, like small group lectures.

The way people consume information is constantly changing. To make it in the long haul, your job is to regularly ask yourself if the way you’re presenting it is the best solution.

  • Read between the lines when people leave comments.
  • Look at the way they interact with different kinds of posts.
  • Pay attention to how other people in completely different industries deliver information.

How can you update or change the way you operate to better cater to the people who are giving you their attention?

2. Devote a portion of your time each day to new outlets

When you’re just starting out in the blogosphere, you want nothing more than to build your audience, find a formula that works, and get to a comfortable place. This is a nice place to get to, but once you’re there, realize that it’s a very dangerous place to stay.

As soon as you find a formula that works for you, be sure to devote some time every single day to exploring and testing out new ones.

When Google Plus launched in 2011, the first thing I thought to myself was, “Great, another social network that’s going to fail. Why waste my time on this?”

But since I’d promised myself to spend time every day testing new platforms and ways of working, I signed up anyway. And I’m glad I did! Google Plus isn’t going away any time soon, and by being one of the early adopters, I was able to establish myself there relatively easily.

Don’t be afraid of a new technology that looks like a time suck. Instead, devote an hour every day to playing with something that may never work out, and don’t feel bad if it never does.

3.  Always think bigger than blogging

The success of your work over the long-term, I believe, depends much more on how you see yourself and the work that you produce than the format you put it in.

The cold hard truth that we’ve learned over centuries but conveniently ignore in our own lives is that entire industries can disappear quickly and violently. What never goes away, though, is the idea and intention behind the industry. Look no further than the recording industry and the movie business to see this happening right in front of our faces.

Someday, the “blog” will cease to have any importance in the daily lives of people, but the good ideas that they used to spread will never die.

If you see yourself only as a writer or a blogger, your work will eventually die and become irrelevant. But if you see yourself as something more, as a creator and distributor of ideas and information, then you’ll be naturally inclined to evolve as necessary to keep creating and distributing those ideas.

4. Build relationships outside your niche

Have you ever noticed how you have the simple answers to all your friends’ problems, but you have a hard time finding solutions to your own? It’s because you can see other people’s problems from an outside perspective, but not your own.

The same is true in blogging. It’s important to build relationships within your niche—that’s a great way to build an audience—but it’s just as important to build relationships outside of your niche.

If all of your friends are in the same position as you, you’ll have a hard time finding creative solutions to any of the problems you face.

But when you surround yourself with people who are doing things much differently, you begin to see new and interesting ways to apply the lessons they’ve learned to your own blog.

This is not the end of the world…

My point here is not to scare you into believing the entire blogosphere is about to crash and burn, and everything you ever worked for is about to be flushed down the toilet.

What I really want is to encourage you to think about your blog, the reason it exists, and the long-term game you’re going to play to make sure the important work you’re doing is still relevant a year from now, a decade from now, a century from now.

I want you to ask yourself:

  • What am I building?
  • Why am I building it?
  • Am I only a blogger, or is blogging just the outlet I’m working on right now?
  • How will my message survive if blogging becomes irrelevant?

Get out a piece of paper (another industry slowly on its way out…) and write this down, it’ll help a lot!

The sky isn’t falling, your blog isn’t in danger, and there’s nothing threatening your existence at the moment. And that’s what makes right now the best time to think about these questions.

Tyler Tervooren spreads scary and unpopular ideas about life, business, and adventure at his blog, Advanced Riskology. Follow his updates from around the world on Google+.

A Scientific Approach to Writing Page Titles

This guest post is by Alex of Think Traffic.

We all know how important page titles are for SEO and just the general success of our blogs and websites, don’t we? Well we are told often enough, so we certainly should… But how many people actually give page titles the amount of attention they actually deserve?

Most clever bloggers spend a little thought on each page title—they think carefully about how to word it in such a way as to get both the search engines and the potential readers to pay attention. But let’s face it, if this is your method, all you are really doing is typing something that “sounds good.”

Today I am proposing a slightly more scientific approach to page titles.

Step 1: Keywords

Any diligent blogger will already have some vague keywords in mind for their post—if you want to get some nice natural organic traffic, you will need to rank. So decide on your phrase and obviously make sure it is getting some searches.

I would recommend just one phrase per post. By the very nature of blogging you will be writing more posts soon, so there really isn’t any need to cram in more than one key phrase. Also, the extra flexibility will allow you to write a better title.

Also, make sure your phrase makes sense for a blog. Don’t bother optimizing your post for “electric showers” because if someone searches for that phrase, they are almost certainly looking for a retailer and not a blog post (try it: search for “electric showers” and see how many of the results are blog posts)> People searching on this phrase want to buy a shower, not read about it. A better phrase might be “how to buy an electric shower”—that’s a much better fit for a blog.

Step 2: Look at competitors’ titles

The great thing about Google is that they will show you what works best before you even start. So the next thing to do is Google the phrase you want to rank for. In 0.003 seconds Google will conjure up a page full of sites which it has found to be relevant for that phrase.

It stands to reason that not only does Google consider these pages to have relevant titles, but these titles have proven to perform well in terms of clickthrough rates (since Google has recently admitted to using user behaviour as part of the ranking algorithm).

Look for words which are bolded and for any obvious phrases which come up more than once—the words in the phrase you searched for will be bolded of course, but so will any other words which Google thinks are closely related. Make a list of the phrases Google likes most and consider using these in your title.

So, going back to our example, if I Google “how to buy an electric shower,” I see keywords like “buying showers, buying a shower, mixer showers.” I also notice the title:

Electric showers: the basics – How to buy an electric shower – Bathroom & personal care – Which? Home & garden

This looks like a reasonable title, but it is way too long. This might be a good basic format to work from though.

Step 3: Look at competitors’ posts

Hopefully at least a few of the results will be blog posts. If you find that all of the results for your phrase are other types of sites you might want to reconsider your target phrase. Is this a sign that Google doesn’t think a blog is the right sort of site for this phrase? Maybe, maybe not. Think carefully.

In this case, I notice that for “how to buy an electric shower” the top two results are how-to style posts and so is one of the lower results, but all of the others are commercial sites. This makes me think that Google wants more blog style posts, but perhaps there aren’t enough good ones—definitely a gap to fill!

Assuming you find some blog posts, read them. Firstly, they will give you some ideas that could make your post even better. Secondly, you are looking to check that these posts are similar to yours (but hopefully not as good).

This stage is all about understanding what Google thinks is relevant for the target phrase; if your article is a lot different than the prevailing content, then consider which of the following is true:

  • Your post offers a new insight or angle that hasn’t been covered before (great, keep up the good work).
  • Your post isn’t really about the same thing as these posts (again, consider whether you are targeting the right phrase).

After a snoop around the top results I find that the number one post is actually just an intro which leads to a four-part post about buying a shower (the second result is one of these parts, too). There is a lot of good info here, but you could certainly improve upon it.

Additionally though, I suspect by splitting the post into four parts, the author is dividing their link juice. So if I can create one, long definitive post, it could do well here.

I also note that the other three parts of the post are: FAQ, features, and installation tips. These terms might also be helpful for building the title.

Step 4: Build a cracking page title

Okay, so you’re 100% confident that you have picked a highly relevant target phrase for your post, and you have a list of words that Google has told you it thinks are relevant to the chosen phrase…

Start by slotting your words together in the usual, obvious ways—ideally your target phrase should be the first word(s) in the page title, then follow up with some related words which add to the title.

Your page title doesn’t necessarily need to be written in full sentences because that isn’t what search engine users expect—make it concisem but not gibberish. The key is to catch users’ attention and convince them to click.

So let’s see what we get. I will start of course with our key phrase, and throw in a few extra words:

How To Buy An Electric Shower: The Basics, Features & Shower Installation Tips

I have included a few hooks that I liked from other titles and other posts, added the word “shower” for extra relevance, and of course my target phrase is the start of the title. I actually really like this, but unfortunately it is 78 characters long, so now comes the dilemma of which bit to trim. Remember, Google will only show 70 characters.

How To Buy An Electric Shower: Basics, Features & Shower Installation

69 characters! Okay, it’s not as good a title, but I am still pretty happy with that, and I now have some great ideas to go make my actual post even better. You may notice I have left out the word “mixer showers”—that’s because that is actually a different type of shower. However, I will probably at least mention them in the post and perhaps make my next post about them.

Step 5: Learn and improve

Writing a good title is more art than science. It is a skill. Hopefully the tips above will stop you from making blunders and point you in the right direction, but to be a real pro, you need to learn from past successes.

Once you have published a few posts and got some rankings, you can start to monitor your traffic. Set up your Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools if you haven’t already, and each time you publish a new post go and check out your data.

In particular, look for posts which are ranking well and have good click through rates (Google gives you all the data if you make the effort to look). This will give you a great insight into which posts have a) ranked well and b) do a good job of catching users’ attention.

So hypothetically with my bathroom related blog I might have five posts which I know are popular, about baths, showers, tiling, and so on. I would look in my analytics (traffic sources, search engine optimization, and landing pages) and filter results so I just see blog posts (or just ignore the data from other pages).

Here is a hypothetical screenshot:

If this were my blog, I would notice for instance that posts 1 and 5 are both ranking position 5 on average, yet post 5 is getting 50% more clicks per 100 impressions. Post 4 is ranked second and only getting 6% CTR, which suggests the title needs some work, whereas post 3 is in position 9 and getting 5%—that’s not bad, so this post probably has a good title.

By regularly studying this data you can pick out your most successful page titles. You will soon start to get a feel for what is a good CTR and you will notice which posts and titles do best. You can then try to emulate past successes and improve upon poor performers. You will soon be an expert!

This article was written by Alex and the Gang from Think Traffic. The SEO agency who care about ROI and not just rankings for the sake of rankings.

The Keys to Creating Unmissable Content

This guest post is by Jonathan Mead of Trailblazer.

Over 1.6 million blog posts are published each day. That’s an average is 18.6 posts per second.

That’s a staggering number. And with so much content being published, how do you make sure that yours gets seen? And not just seen, but commented on and shared?

Many people focus on the tactics of getting content spread. They put up the appropriate buttons, ask for sharing directly in their posts, solicit their network, and do lots of things to push their message. This method used to work very well.

Not anymore.

Cultivating a culture of sharing is important—by enlisting and asking for the help of your tribe—but it’s not enough. You have to create content that is based on pull.

In other words, when you create content that your audience is demanding, you start playing a different game.

The spectrum of unmissable content looks something like this:

  1. Unmissable: Everything you create must be given attention. There’s no other choice.
  2. Important: Relevant and important, but can be set aside to be looked at later (and potentially forgotten).
  3. Relevant: Your content is useful, and relevant, but it’s not important enough to take priority.
  4. Mildly interesting” Seems interesting, but there’s too much incoming to pay any attention.
  5. Noise: Considered spam or is completely irrelevant. Might as well be invisible.

So if nothing but unmissable content is acceptable, how do we get there? How do we make all of our content bookmarked, dogeared, and highlighted?

The first step is simple: stop

Stop creating content for the sake of creating content. That’s a narrow path with one destination: mediocrity.

Instead, create because you can’t hold your message back. If you’re feeling uninspired, don’t put out content simply to maintain a schedule. Write, and show up to hone your skills, but don’t publish something you don’t completely love.

Step two: keep your ear to the ground

What are your audience’s biggest questions? What patterns do you notice in terms of their biggest challenges? What are they thinking about when they lay their head down on their pillow?

In other words, What’s keeping them up at night?

Write about that.

And pay attention to what’s underneath their desire. Sometimes they won’t admit it. Sometimes you have to probe deeper, and use your intuition. However, it’s also important to…

Create feedback loops

When someone signs up to your email list, do you ask them what their biggest goal is related to your topic? Do you ask them what their biggest challenge or frustration is?

If not, you should do that right now. You’re missing out on some very valuable information.

You can also ask new Twitter followers and Facebook fans the same question. You can put a question form in your sidebar or on your contact page on your blog. There are lots of opportunities for setting up these types of feedback loops.

The key is to aggregate the data and review it. Once a week is a good rhythm. Pay attention to the insights you find and use them as a basis for your content.

Be a pattern interrupt

Listening isn’t enough. Creating from a place of inspiration is good, but it’s merely a requirement to not fail.

If you want to create content that is unmissable, you need to be a pattern interrupt. Your content needs to make people stop, and pay attention.

There are two ways to do that:

  1. Do what no one else is willing to do: This might include creating a definitive guide, going above and beyond to create a comprehensive resource kit, or by over-delivering on value in a very big way.
  2. Do what hasn’t been done: Every marketing technique that used to be extremely effective eventually becomes commonplace. If you want to stand out you must be on the leading edge, not simply riding the next wave. Doing this involves risk, but it also is an uncharted territory ripe with opportunity. (The leading edge is a scarcely populated place, after all.)

For example, last month we hired a video producer and director of photography to write and film a trailer for our upcoming product. This was a full-scale, movie-style trailer. No one had done this before with a product like ours.

Making the investment involved a considerable amount of risk. However, it paid off in a big way. We attracted more affiliates than ever, and sent a very big message to our audience: this is something worth paying attention to.

We didn’t know before hand if it would succeed or blow up in our faces. But we took a risk and did it anyway.

If you want to create content that is truly unmissable, you must dare to do what hasn’t been done.

Create because you can’t not create. Keep your ear to the ground. Walk the leading edge.

What do you think is the biggest key to creating unmissable content?

Editor’s note: Want to get even more attention for your unmissable content? Don’t forget SEO. Later today we’ll show you a scientific approach to creating page titles that’ll help you make the most of Jonathan’s advice.

Jonathan Mead helps people quit their jobs, and get paid to be who they are. He’s the founder of Trailblazer, the number one training on quitting your job to follow your passion.