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5 Ways Blogging Supports a Multichannel Marketing Strategy

This guest post is by Geoff Livingston of Marketing in the Round.

With so many marketing tactics to choose from, it seems off that more and more businesses elect to forgo blogging.

No, blogging is not easy. Blogging takes writing skills, creativity, and other centric behavior. It requires constant thought and value creation for readers.

However, given the world’s growing adoption direction of digital and increasingly mobile media, it’s hard to see how any business can avoid content creation. The easiest way to create content in a searchable manner remains blogging.

Blogging fits into a multichannel marketing strategy in four key ways.

1. Lead with blogs

If your business is truly a small online endeavor, your blog may simply be the leading driver of inbound marketing leads. In this case, you already understand the importance of blogging well and regularly.

For larger entities, some initiatives like new products and offerings require seeding. Interacting with community members via blogs and associated social networks offers the best way to begin a marketing initiative.

Blogging new ideas engages die-hard customers and loyalists in the conversation first. They are your word-of-mouth army. If the concept holds water, customers will engage, and perhaps even sharpen your offering with feedback and opportunities.

Then, as you deploy other marketing initiatives, you have already made your concept searchable, adding a foundation for long-term marketing initiatives.

2. Use blogging to support larger initiatives

I recently published a new book with Gini Dietrich on integrated communications, called Marketing in the Round. We discuss the many approaches a small business or entrepreneur can choose to lead, including blogging. Comparatively, advertising, media relations, social network-based activity, and direct marketing can all take precedence.

We recommend using tactics like blogging to support the four approaches to marketing.

Content—and specifically blogging—fulfills a valuable role in the marketing lifecycle. It helps you become searchable, it gives people something to talk about online that’s related to your business, and finally, it allows people to qualify you or your business.

Publishing content on a blog provides the honey that attracts the bees. With other initiatives driving interest, inevitably potential customers will search for information about you, either on Google, Bing, or Yahoo!, or through their social networks.

Use blogs to publish value-added content that continues the experience you’ve started with other marketing tactics.

3. Undercut the competition

Competitors. Can’t we live without them?

If your product or service has value, it’s inevitable that that competitors will arise or react to your offering. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can deploy blogging to counter competitive offerings online.

First, take a karmic marketing approach, and blog about larger industry trends, including what your competitors are doing right. Make sure you link to them with critical keywords.

Guess what? When they get searched, your blog should get sourced in the results. Hopefully, potential customers will click through.

Say your competition undercuts you by positioning you inaccurately. It’s certainly happened to me. Respond, perhaps not directly, but address the concerns and misrepresentations clearly. It’s important to state the facts here. Whenever the issue comes up, show people the blog post that offers a clear picture of your offering.

Perhaps you want to respond to a new competitive offering through innovation. Blog about potential weaknesses in the competing product and see what your stakeholders have to say. Perhaps they will give you insights you’d never have gained otherwise.

Again, take a karmic approach here, and don’t attack them publicly. Rather, speak to the issues their product presents.

4. Inspire word of mouth

So much of today’s conversation revolves around content marketing. Even this blog post discusses it at great length.

Content marketing represents a push to the marketplace. That’s not necessarily a good thing, as many people want to have a conversation with brands (even small ones), not receive messages.

Conversations provide word-of-mouth discussion of your brand. Peer discussion remains one of the most trustworthy forms of dialog a brand can produce.

If we step away from the blog itself, a business exists to solve problems, often with an idea that manifests itself as a product or service. Ideas provide a primary conversation topic online.

Use your blog as an idea virus generator. Literally use it to inject new ideas, concepts, and thoughts into the marketplace for larger conversation. Give people something to talk about, starting with your idea.

Let their conversation create the need and the justification for your product and services. In turn, you receive the benefits of a strong word-of-mouth conversation.

5. Content market with visual assets

Sometimes we’re get caught up in the blogger’s journey. As a blogger of seven years and a writer of 20+ years, I can identify.

But blogs are online publishing platforms, nothing more. You can publish just about any kind of content on a blog.

This matters in today’s online world. More and more people access the internet through smartphones and tablets. In turn, because touch interfaces hamper textual input, we’re seeing commenting levels drop. Smaller screens make reading harder, which increases the importance of publishing visual assets.

Your optimized blog already drives content into search. It should also serve new portable media users with visual content that gives them the information they need.

Integrate visual assets into your blog. Publish photos, infographics, charts, graphic design, and more. Make your blog a visual garden, and allow people to share and use these visual assets. In turn, word of mouth and search strength for your visual content increases.

Heck, you can even feature ads so long as you discuss them in a conversational, interactive way. For example, ask “What do you think of this creative?” Even let your customers choose the final design. Above all, make visual content engaging.

Conclusion

Because blogging offers so much strategic versatility, it has many uses in a multichannel campaign. However you choose to proceed with your blog, consider it a powerful tool within the larger context. Remember: blogs are not islands.

Geoff Livingston is an author and marketing strategist, and serves as VP, Strategic Partnerships for Razoo. A former journalist, Livingston continues to write, and most recently he co-authored Marketing in the Round, a book that shows you how to get more value from all your marketing and communications channels integrated together!

10 No-Nonsense Ways to Build Backlinks

This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti of Sparring Mind.

Many bloggers are very much averse to participating or learning anything about SEO, and truth be told, I think that’s a real shame.

Maybe my time with my SEO agency has made me biased, but I personally think most bloggers are missing out on a huge potential source of traffic by just plain ignoring how search engines work and what practices are most effective.

The truth is, SEO for blogs doesn’t have to be overly complicated or require “black magic” in order to work.

My “World’s Simplest SEO Formula for Great Rankings” is:

  1. Craft amazing content that’s built for readers, not search engines.
  2. Get great links to that content.

Okay, so SEO can obviously be a lot more complex than that, but if you’re a blogger just looking for the essentials, that two-step process is actually relevant.

The problem most bloggers run into is this: how do we actually get those “great links” to our content?

Today I’d like to break down a “no-nonsense” guide to attracting (and outright earning) some powerful links. We’ll skip stuff like forum profiles and social media bookmarking. The links we’re going after are going to be powerful and actually send us traffic. Let’s get started.

1. Check your competitors’ backlinks

If there is one great way to find good backlink ideas, it’s to check out what your competition is doing.

While “old faithful” (Yahoo! site explorer) is now a part of Bing’s webmaster tools, there are still a few great options around.

My current favorite is the Open Site Explorer, an excellent backlink tool created by the knowledgable folks over at SEOmoz.

With the free version, you can check where links are coming from (that is, domains and pages). While the premium offering gives you far more insight, you can generally get a good idea with just the free version.

Did your competitor get linked to from a publication/blog that covers your niche? Email the author personally and let them know about a piece of content that you created (or about your site in general) and offer to give them a story to help them out.

That part is essential. Emailing people with direct requests or not-so-subtle begging to “please link to me!” is not going to work.

Fixing a problem that they have (for journalists, this is generating new stories, for bloggers, new guest posts could fit the bill) is the key to getting a link.

You may also find other communities that have linked to your competitors: relevant sites, resource pages, etc. If your competitor can get a link there, so can you.

2. Create a site for readers, not Google

This may seem counter-productive, but hear me out.

As time goes on, search engines (notably Google) are beginning to become more and more in tune with following people, rather than with following links.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that links won’t matter in a few years (they will, for a long time), but I am telling you that the more you focus on creating a site filled with content that’s meant to be enjoyed by real people, the better your site will do in search results.

With Google recently making moves to punish “over-optimized” sites, you have to recognize that fact that a site built just to rank runs the risk of being penalized and losing all of its traffic.

Conversely, a site that has built an audience can withstand any rank drops because a thriving following does not depend on search traffic. Also, a site that is built with useful content and reader enjoyment in mind is going to garner natural links much more easily than a “built for search” site. Content for people generates discussion, and where discussion comes, links will follow.

3. Write for other blogs, and become a regular contributor

By now, you likely know all about the unique power of guest posting to give you a trifecta of goodness in the blogging world in the form of:

  1. traffic
  2. brand exposure
  3. links.

Better yet, if you are able to become a regular contributor to a large blog (either paid or for exposure only), you have the opportunity to build links on a very consistent basis, even to your oldest content.

I can give you examples of both: I am currently a hired content creator for HelpScout and DooID, as well as being a regular (unpaid) columnist for the BufferApp.

All outlets allow me to link to my previous work, and because I’m consistently writing for them, I can build links into deeper pages on my sites, including linking back to old posts in addition to citing my most recent content.

While this strategy is optimal, regular ol’ guest blogging every now and then works just as well. Better yet, I highly advise you attempt the “Guest Blogging Blitzkrieg” technique to build links.

What is that exactly? It’s writing numerous guest posts and attempting to get them published simultaneously, or very close together.

Bamidele Onibalusi, a freelance writer and blogger at YoungPrePro, as well as Kristi Hines, a regular contributor for KISSmetrics and blogger at Kikolani, both use this strategy—with stellar results.

Both contribute paid posts (freelance gigs) as well as guest posts (Kristi probably not so much anymore, I’m sure she has enough work to do!), and do so consistently, on numerous blogs, all the time. If you read marketing/blogging content regularly, you cannot miss their names, as they are everywhere.

This kind of exposure not only generates direct links (from their actual article submissions), but also creates buzz around their brand, and leads to people like me linking to them as examples!

4. Create a beautiful blog

Hold on just a second here… What in the world does blog design have to do with SEO?

Much more than you think.

Not only does a good blog design play a substantial role in increasing your conversions, a great looking (and streamlined) design will reduce your bounce rate, and while many have argued that doesn’t have a direct effect on SEO, it does increase your chances of people sticking around to actually read your content.

Additionally, research has found that people innately trust well-designed sites much more than poorly designed sites; and a site with trust is going to generate more links.

As for direct linking, many sites allow you to submit well-designed sites or even individual aspects of design. TheLogoMix allows you to submit any site logo and receive a backlink for it. Additionally, there are a number of design sites that allow you to submit your full site design to a showcase, and most of them will link back to your main page (CSS galleries and the like).

Lastly, if your site design is truly unique or useful, people may actually write a blog post about it (with links) for just this reason—because your site makes a great case study.

5. Implement resource pages

Not only are resource pages incredible tools for reducing your bounce rate, they also serve as excellent link bait to increase your rankings in tough topics.

I absolutely must point to Copyblogger as my demonstration for this example, as few blogs do things quite as well as they do, especially when it comes to resource pages. Their resources are extremely comprehensive, link back to their best posts on the subject, and target their most difficult keywords.

And considering they are ranking on the first or second page for terms like content marketing, SEO copywriting, and copywriting, you know that they are doing something right.

Think about the biggest topics that your blog covers. Now research a few keywords around those topics with the Google Keyword tool (remember to set it to [exact] searches) and see which terms have a fairly high search count. Then choose the ones you can realistically rank for.

If you’re having trouble brainstorming keyword ideas, try something like the free version of serpIQ to help get the creative juices flowing.

You probably won’t be able to rank for something like “diet”, but could you rank for a term like “paleo diet guide”? Doing just a little homework in this regard, and then making a few resource pages around those terms will result in a few amazing pieces of link-bait that thoroughly cover the topic, and attract a lot of links naturally.

6. Use embeddable images/widgets

This probably seems like the most boring suggestion in the entire post, so let’s get excited for a moment!

You know the humor/comic site TheOatmeal, right? Well, the guy behind that site, Matthew Inman, was actually a former consultant at SEOmoz, and he knows a thing or two about getting links.

In fact, he was able to rank his former project, an online dating site known as Mingle2, for extremely tough terms like “online dating” and “free online dating”, beating out sites like Match.com, eHarmony, and PlentyOfFish for their most sought after terms.

How? Well, among other things, Matthew is very good at creating embeddable content that people showcase on their own site. The thing is, these embeddable widgets also give a link back to Matthew’s sites.

He did this again for The Oatmeal with things like the “Are You Addicted to Twitter?” quizzes, where people could embed their own results. Beyond widgets, folks like the Mint.com content marketing team have used things like infographics with embeddable inputs at the bottom to rank for tough terms.

The reason things like this work is that people are much more likely to share a pretty infographic or a interesting widget than they are to just link to a random website. If you can give them something to share, they won’t mind using your pre-defined HTML and including your backlink.

7. Interview someone influential

When I first submitted my interview questions to Brian Gardner (of StudioPress), I had no idea what the response would be.

That was one of my very first posts to Sparring Mind, and although I knew about the power of interviews, I hadn’t ever reached out to somebody as significant in the WP community as Gardner before.

I shouldn’t have been worried, because not only did I learn that he and many other larger names are incredibly helpful and mostly willing to accept interview requests, it also lead to some significant exposure to my brand new site.

The success I saw here lead to more interviews, including ones with Alex Mangini of Kolakube, as well as Leo Wildrich of the BufferApp.

These interviews are great, especially for new blogs, because who doesn’t love being interviewed? This tactic lets you feature names far bigger than yours, and if you do a good job of asking insightful questions and drawing out great content from the interviewee, they are guaranteed to share the post with their following.

Even if they don’t directly link to the content itself, provided you’ve interviewed someone interesting (especially someone who doesn’t interview often), you’ll find yourself accruing links from people in their industry.

I found myself with a few links from social media sites I’d never heard of before when I published my interview with Leo about the BufferApp, and you can get your site in front of a new potential audience with the same method.

8. Create an exhaustive round-up

Creating round-up posts can be a great strategy for links. A round-up is essentially a collection of articles, resources, and actual products (books, etc.) that covers a topic in totality: exhaustive coverage is a necessity.

Two fantastic examples (one written by Kristi, no less) is The Entrepreneur’s Handbook, a collection of 101 resources for first time entrepreneurs, and the Leaving Work Behind 100, a collection of the best freelance/marketing blogs for people to get started with.

These round-up posts work so well because not only do they link out to a ton of people (who will likely tweet about the article, if not link back), they become “bookmark havens,” posts so large that people have to save and share them given the immense quantity of value that they provide.

If you create a round-up like the two showcased above, research a few keywords that you might be able to rank for before you title the post and publish it. For instance, if I was going to write a resource post for “going green,” I might look at a few search terms like “going green for beginners” or “beginner’s green guide” to see if I could feasibly rank for those terms.

Again, doing a little homework before publishing monster pieces of content like this can not only help you build links, but also bring in additional traffic from ranking well for highly relevant terms.

9. Utilize “crowdsourced” posts

Crowdsourcing is all the rage these days, but did you know it’s an incredibly effective SEO tactic for blogs as well? A “crowdsourced” post is a very interesting take on the traditional interview post discussed above. Essentially, instead of getting a lot of info from one interviewee, you’re going to collect small tidbits of information from multiple authority sources.

One clever example of this is how many hyperlocal websites, such as the Delaware Entrepreneur publication from my hometown utilize local business owners and interviews a ton of them at once to generate attention.

A more common example is the “roundup opinion” post that many blogs use to feature a bunch of experts at once (and hopefully get them to link to it). A successful execution recently was the Social Media Examiner prediction post for 2012, which featured 30 social media experts stating their predictions for the coming year.

These types of posts are a classic pieces of linkbait: the large number of big related names is sure to attract a lot of attention in your niche, so if you can pull one of these off, it’s likely to make a big splash.

10. Create a product

This is something that I feel a lot of bloggers get backwards (heck, even I’m slacking in this regard!). I honestly feel like the “build audience first, create product later” can be taken too far. I’m not saying you need a product from the get-go, but having something to sell and promote can often lead to more brand awareness.

Corbett Barr (a Problogger “blogger to watch in 2012“) from ThinkTraffic offers an interesting example of how this works. His latest course, How To Start A Blog That Matters, allowed him to land a few interviews as well as a few promotional posts on blogs promoting its release.

Corbett staunchly stands by his assertion (with data to back it up) that launching a product can lead to increased traffic for your blog, due to the natural discussion that a new product/course can generate.

This is especially true if you create a widget/resource that your niche can benefit greatly from.

One person who I feel has done this very well is Glen Allsopp from ViperChill, creating and launching both the free ViperBar plugin as well as his flagship premium plugin OptinSkin. Both plugins received big support from other WordPress users who got utility out of them, and both resulted in increased exposure and even direct links (especially from the ViperBar) back to Glen’s blog.

Consider getting your product out sooner rather than later, you could be missing out on some big promotional opportunities.

Over to you

At the end of big posts like this, sometimes we can get stuck in “information paralysis”—having too much in front of us and not knowing what to do next.

Now that you’ve reached the end:

  • Pick just one or two strategies from this post that you’re going to try this week.
  • Let me know which ones they are in the comments!

Gregory Ciotti is the founder of Sparring Mind, the†blog that takes psychology + content marketing and makes them play nicely together. Download his free e-book on ‘conversion psychology’ today for insights on influencing people online.

What George Orwell Taught Me About Blogging

This guest post is by Trevor Ginn of Hello Baby.

Having written masterpieces such as Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell is considered one of the greatest writers of all time. 

In 1941 he wrote the essay called Politics and the English Language in which he criticised the “ugly and inaccurate” contemporary use of English and offered six elementary rules for good writing.  The medium may have changed but these rules are as relevant to the blogosphere as they were in Orwell’s day.

If you want to be understood and read widely, using effective language should be your top priority.  The web is full of mediocre blogs, so make sure yours stands out.  Good writing matters and by following these rules you can rise above the competition and clearly communicate your ideas.

Rule 1: Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print

Familiar phrases such as “on the same page” or “think outside the box” come quickly to mind when writing.  However, using these hackneyed phrases will lead to boring blog posts and groans from your readers.  Take time to craft postings which are interesting, inventive and original.  Never resort to clichés.

Rule 2: Never use a long word where a short one will do

Using long words may make you feel clever, but they do nothing for the readability of your posts.  Your blog should be easy to read and aimed at a broad audience.  After all, nobody likes a show off.

Rule 3: If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out

Great blog posts never waffle but are short and punchy.  Your posts are competing with a myriad of other distractions both online and offline and so you need to get your point across with brevity and emphasis.  Less is almost always more.

Rule 4: Never use the passive where you can use the active

When you blog, you should use short, impactful sentences make your points.  To this end active phrases are shorter and more direct.  For example, “the man wrote the blog” is punchier than “the blog was written by the man.”

Rule 5: Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent

Aim to use plain, jargon-free English to appeal to the largest possible audience.  You should always aim to write for the average reader, although admittedly for technical subjects this may be difficult.  Do not drone on with excessive explanation but try to help people understand what you are talking about.

Rule 6: Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous

Above all, be sure to use your common sense!  These rules are easy remember but hard to apply and the key is to care about making your blog easy to read, accessible, pithy and cliché free.

Trevor Ginn is an entrepreneur who runs the online baby shop Hello Baby and ecommerce consultancy vendlab.  You can follow his antics on his blog or@trevorginn.

Use Expert Tips to Build Authority on Your Brand New Blog

This guest post is by Daniel Kidd of Best Money Saving Blog.

I’ve found out over the past couple of months that the hardest part of blogging isn’t thinking of things to blog about, it’s getting people to read them.

There are thousands of helpful sites out there (especially this one) that give you advice on how to build a readership, but the first couple of months can be a real struggle. I now know why there’s such a large amount of bloggers who give up after the first couple of posts—luckily, though, I’m not one of them.

My money saving blog has been around for just over two months, and at first, I was getting next to no hits. Lately though, it’s picked up a bit, thanks to one little change I made to a weekly blog post.

Solving the authority problem

When you start a blog that gives advice to people, no-one’s really interested in you if you’re unknown in the subject you’re blogging about. That’s why I decided to get help from known industry bloggers.

Every Friday, I decided to ask a number of finance bloggers (randomly) to give me one money-saving tip via Twitter. As well as asking those people, I leave the option open for anyone else to give advice, too.

I’m not asking them to give hours of their time like they would if they wrote a guest post. This approach is very quick to respond to, as they have to be on Twitter to read the question anyway. It also helps my social presence, because if a blogger with 5000 followers answers you, there’s a chance their followers will also give you a tip.

Once I’ve got seven or eight tips, I have enough content to make a decent blog post. The post is probably more appealing to readers than if I were to just give advice like normal. After all, I’m asking for tips from people who are more experienced in my subject—many are experts.

Giving back

The post thanks everyone personally and includes a link to each contributor’s blog (if they have one). When the post is published, I thank the contributors publicly on Twitter.

The majority of bloggers who participate always kindly re-tweet or put a link to the post on Facebook. Once again, this is great if they have lots of followers or fans, as I’m bound to get a few visits from their networks, too.

Think of the bigger picture here: not only does this tactic improve a young blog’s traffic, but it gets me talking to other bloggers in my niche, and making myself known. In future, if I’ve got a really great post I want to share, or I want to guest post somewhere, I won’t have to go out of ,y way to break the ice with influencers in my niche.

This tactic isn’t going to attract millions of visitors overnight (unless you’re very lucky), but it gives you a constant source of content, as well as helping you to interact. I’m going to try and get a post like this out every week, and eventually I hope that I don’t have to ask people on Twitter—that my mailbox will be full of money-saving tips each Friday morning.

Do you think this tactic could help you build authority around your next blog? Let me know in the comments.

Daniel Kidd, 26, from London, has been working in SEO and social media for the past three years but stupidly, only just started blogging at Best Money Saving Blog. He’s very passionate about white-hat SEO and proper social media promotion, and has a huge dislike for anything that involves spam.

Build Authority by Sharing Trade Secrets

This guest post is by Rich Gorman of Direct Response.

The tipping point for me, as a serial internet entrepreneur, was when I took up blogging. Blogging has made me exponentially more successful in my business than I ever could have been otherwise—but I know that’s not how it turns out for everyone. For every truly successful, cash-generating blog, there are probably a dozen more than never really seem to take off.

So what’s the difference? In a nutshell, the difference is authority. The bottom line is that anyone can sign up for a blog these days; having a WordPress account and throwing up an occasional post hardly helps you stand out from the crowd.

When you establish authority as a blogger, though, people within your industry sit up and take notice of you. Once that happens, you’re already on the inside—you’re an industry leader on the fast track to success, and you’ve got your blog to thank for it.

How does a brand new blogger develop authority, and become known as a true mover and shaker in his or her given industry? The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what industry you’re in—whether it’s online marketing, reputation management, or something else altogether. The key to becoming known as a blogger of authority is showing a willingness to give away trade secrets.

Personally, I’ve given away hundreds of trade secrets on my own blog, and I’m much better off because of it. That’s because when people visit my blog, they find useful, practical, make-money-in-the-real-world-now tips and techniques that they can’t find anywhere else. Immediately, readers see that I know what I’m talking about. And when they put these trade secrets to use and start making money from them, they’re obviously going to keep coming back to my blog for more.

But what does giving away trade secrets really look like? Here are three essential tips that have served me well, along with some examples.

1. Share actual trade secrets

If someone can conduct a quick Google search, or go buy a book, and find the same “insider information” you’re sharing, then guess what? It’s hardly a trade secret! The effect you need to go for is to make your reader say, “Wow—I couldn’t buy a book on this subject! This is truly revealing, and truly valuable!”

The best way to do this is to share insider secrets that you’ve actually come across on your own, and used yourself. Base your blog writing in your own experience. I once wrote a post about vertical monopolizing, where I shared some real, step-by-step techniques that have worked wonders for me—right down to the very URLS readers can visit to follow my lead. This is my story of success, written in a way that it helps readers make it their own—and that’s why it’s effective!

2. Give something away

You’re not really revealing trade secrets if you give someone half a blog post, then tell them to sign up for your services to learn the rest. This is not about teasing and tantalizing. Building authority as a blogger means you actually have to provide some value, right here and now, through giving away your secrets of success.

I did a post on media buys that more than fits the bill, and shows you what I mean when I talk about giving something away. This isn’t a post that suggests possible actions, or gives the reader some good places to start from. This post will hold your hand and walk you through every step of the process.

And that’s really what you need to provide to your readers. You need to give them the whole thing, and leave them with the unmistakable impression that you’re someone who gets your industry on a higher level. That’s what will keep them coming back for more.

3. Get specific!

For an example of what I’m talking about, check the post I did here. In this post I give the specific names, phone numbers, and email addresses of vendors I trust. I tell my readers who to contact, what to ask for, and even how to secure a discount!

By contrast, consider if I had simply said, “find some good vendors,” then sent my readers off to Google for their own contacts. This would have been slightly helpful, perhaps, but really, it’s information they could have heard from anyone. It hardly establishes me as an industry insider, or as a blogger of authority.

That, of course, is what all this is about: showing those within your industry that you’re a leader, not a follower, and that you’ve got original ideas that lead to immediate value. Giving away these trade secrets reveals that you get it, and that you’re confident enough to share it with others—all of which is essential for setting yourself up as an authoritative blogger.

Do you give away trade secrets on your blog? Le us know how this tactic has worked for you in the comments.

Rich Gorman is a veteran of the direct response marketing industry and an expert in reputation management and direct response marketing for companies large and small. Rich also operates the official blog for the Direct Response industry, Direct Response, where he shares his thoughts on Direct Response Marketing.

How to Be a Guru: 6 Paths to Blogging Stardom

This guest post is by Neil Patel of Quick Sprout.

Do you want to leverage content marketing?

I’m not just talking about guest posts or sharing content on social media sites here. Instead, I’m talking about the overall strategy that you can use to structure and develop your site’s content and offerings.

And develop your authority as a guru in your blogging niche.

When it comes to content marketing strategy, the key strategic question is: how much information should you give away?

Some people will tell you to give it all away—including your best content. Others will tell you that is suicide, and you should limit your free content to special reports and a few blog posts.

So what’s the best approach?

Well, in a great SlideShare presentation called How Much Do You Open the Kimono?, Jay Baer outlined six ways that you can think about your content marketing and how much information you give away.

He describes six content approaches that a marketer can take to successfully drive leads, increase the right kind of attention, build sales—and, for a blogger, position yourself as a guru in your niche. These six strategies can work for any business—not just a blog—but of course they can and do work for blogs. Specifically, you’ll find the later ones particularly relevant to your blogging efforts.

Since your blog is unique, not every strategy will work for you. Let’s look at the six positions in depth and see which one’s right for you.

1. No online thought leadership

This is a position in which you’ve decided that you will not have any thought leadership influence online. You’ve made this decision because you know through research experience that your target customer doesn’t consume content online.

This won’t be applicable to many bloggers, but since it’s one of the six strategies Jay explained, let’s look at how it works.

MarketFace is a good example of a company that uses this strategy. It’s a leader in customer experience consultation, having clients like Virgin, Sketchers, and Toyota. They work directly with the C-level management and do not believe that their time would be well spent creating online content, since their target audiences don’t use the internet to find information.

Here’s what they need to do then:

  • Generate word-of-mouth business: Businesses like MarketFace can use their current clients as advocates to generate leads. Obviously your work should be exceptional if you want people to refer you, and you want to depend strictly on WOM for business.
  • Create case studies for private consumption: Companies that employ this position create content don;t just share it with the public. They share these case studies with potential clients.
  • Work in a vertical market: If your business is involved in a vertical where there are a number of similar businesses doing specific and specialized work with the same customers, it’s easier to generate WOM referrals, and easier to dominate without working at online thought leadership.

What are the advantages of this strategy?

  • Zero time investment: Unlike the other online content marketing positions, this one requires zero effort, and zero investment in resources like time and labor.
  • Focus on long-form, custom and detailed content: When you don’t have the pressure to create content on a daily or weekly basis, you can focus on the production of in-depth case studies, research, and analysis that will satisfy the number-crunching demands of executives.

There are some disadvantages to this approach, namely:

  • Limited search exposure: If you are not creating content for online consumption, potential customers who do consume and use search engines will not find you.
  • Can’t build online influence: Even though executives may not use the Internet to search and consume content, many of their assistants do. So, if you don’t have a presence, even a minimal one, you will miss out on those opportunities.

If WOM and your vertical domination is keeping you profitable, then you may not need to worry about online influence. However, business and markets change, so it’s good to keep your eye on the horizon and question your strategy constantly.

2. Though leadership on social media

Thought leaders who are in this position will use Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook Groups, and leave blog comments on other people’s blogs to influence clients and potential customers.

In this case, you prefer the one-to-one interaction that these platforms offer. You may write one long blog post a month as a guest for other blogs, remain active on Facebook, and curate tons of information on Twitter, which would be enough to keep you in the minds of your customers.

However, you will establish your influence and authority by speaking at industry conferences, giving input for market studies, and being involved in research.

What are the pros with this type of thought leadership position?

  • No original content: Since you are building your authority by being an expert on other people’s content, products, and services, you don’t have to invest the time to create your own content. Think of an analyst who becomes an expert in a certain industry.
  • Leverage years of experience: Your years of work wisdom and experience allow you to become a consultant. Word of mouth helps generate business for you, while the occasional long blog post keeps you in the search game.
  • Become a trusted community source: As you consultant companies and work on studies and research projects, your name will gain authority.

Let’s look at the disadvantages of this position:

  • Limited search exposure: With such a small amount of substantial content being created for online consumption, you won’t be able to compete in search engines.
  • Lack a place to drive leads: Without a website or blog, you don’t have an online source where leads can find you, or you can direct prospects to.
  • Lack of experience limits you: Building authority as a consultant or analyst without creating content takes years, where content creation online can get you into the spotlight in as little as six months.

3. Selling thought leadership

Here, you’re selling your information in books, ebooks, how-to packages, and email newsletters by building a list with limited content creation.

The financial newsletter Motley Fool is a good example of a company that uses this strategy. While the Motley Fool guys have a vibrant online presence, their real content is hidden behind a checkout process.

How do they attract people to buy their products? Their free content gives potential customers a clear idea of the possibilities of what they can achieve with the company’s products. In other words, the content sells the sizzle. You have to buy the steak if you want to know how to harness those possibilities.

Here are the advantages to this approach:

  • Re-purpose content: You can take some of your already published content and create a free report out of it. This adds another stage to your sales funnel. However, for this strategy to truly work you have to make these quality packages. You must include a high volume of pages, only the best content, and superior design.
  • Recurring revenue: Selling your best content will allow you to build an additional stream of income that bolsters your flagship service, such as consulting or speaking.
  • Passive income: In addition to being recurring, this income is also passive, meaning you do the work once and it makes money for you through the life of the product.

While this has been a successful strategy for companies like Motley Fool, it has its disadvantages:

  • Upgrading difficulties: It may not be easy to migrate people from consuming your content for free to paying for new content. You have to figure out how to give away just enough content that people become interested in spending money to get the real product. In other words, the sizzle has to be so good that they can’t live without the steak.
  • Test exhaustively: Because you won’t know right off the bat where that line between sizzle and steak is, you will have to measure and test these efforts, which has costs in time and tools.

4. Walled garden thought leadership

The next strategy in Jay’s presentation is to place free content behind a mandatory-lead generation form.

The simplest example of this is the email newsletter. In fact, lots of marketers run blogs in which they share content on a daily basis, but promise in-depth, specialized information for joining a email newsletter list.

For example, Copyblogger offers the Internet Marketing for Smart People email newsletter. This is content that is specialized toward helping online marketers generate leads and convert those leads.

Copywriter Drayton Bird created an email newsletter that he used to share practical information, selling the sizzle. But he also promoted his products, like books and speaking events, to the list, too.

Here are the advantages of this position:

  • Generate leads: Depending upon the amount of information that you request, you may be able to use that information to feed leads to your sales team.
  • Easy to track: When you are collecting personal information, you can easily know whether a landing page is effective or not, allowing you to test and tweak elements on the page to improve conversion.

And now the disadvantages:

  • Can’t control lead quality: If you make the exchange the bare minimum—say an email address—you’ll probably get a lot of leads, but they won’t be great leads.
  • Can’t raise exchange requirements without harming lead volume: Now you can demand more than an email address from a submission form, but the moment you do your lead volume will drop. In fact, for every element you add, your lead generation numbers will decline.
  • Can’t share: Information locked behind a submissions form is much harder to share. Your readers’ only option is really to forward it to friends, whereas if you had the information online you would have multiple options at your disposal.

5. Give away what you know—but not the process

In this strategy, you give away your knowledge, but you don’t give away the information about how you got that knowledge, or what you do with it. You often tell your readers how to do things … but not how.

Confused? Here’s an easy example of what I mean. Let’s say a mechanic tells you that from his experience car oil should be changed every 3,500 miles. That’s good information to know. And it’s coming from an authority. The only problem is you have no clue on how to change oil. So you hire the mechanic.

People like Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk have built business based upon this approach to developing their positions as thought leaders. There strategy was simple: produce a ton of blog posts, videos, and presentations, accept every interview they can, maintain a heavy presence on social media, and be insanely approachable and available.

Here are some of the advantages of this approach:

  • Extreme SEO benefits: With so much content being put online, you will dominate the rankings for lots of searches in your industry. Those who use this approach successfully are often seen everywhere.
  • Social share goes crazy: The more content you produce, the more content gets shared and goes viral.
  • Extreme PR benefits: This heavy production of content, and constant presence on social media, will also lead to a growing presence in the public relations world. Media companies will start to seek you out as an authority because it seems that everywhere they look, they see you.

As you can imagine, there are some cons to this strategy:

  • Work your tail off: Nobody who has achieved success using this strategy is lazy. In fact, they are tireless: they are usually the first ones up in the morning and the last ones to bed. Burnout is a real threat as the moment you take your foot off the gas pedal, just a little your influence starts to drop.
  • Decrease in content value: There is the potential that each piece of content you create will cannibalize the last. How many videos, interviews, and posts can you do on your industry that won’t sound the same as the last ones, or like something your competitor has done?

6. Give it all away

Finally, we arrive at the thought leader who gives it all away. They give you the possibilities, and they even explain the process you’ll need to follow to reach them.

SEOmoz has built a great blog doing this. Each article will tell you the wonderful benefits behind a certain SEO technique, and then tell you, step-by-step, how to do it.

Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land is another example. And I try to do the same thing on my blog.

This type of strategy attracts both the do-it-yourselfers, and those who want someone else to do it for them either because they don’t have the time or don’t want to learn how to do it.

This position shares the same benefits as strategy 5, but it includes one more benefit:

  • No barrier to customers: This position removes any boundaries—real or imagined—between you and the customer. When a customer wants to work with you it is very clear why they want your expertise.

This position also has the same disadvantages as the one above in that it involves some really serious effort. But it includes at least two others:

  • Others can steal your content: If you decide you want to use this content strategy, and you do it well, you will become a target for scrapers who will try to make a buck off your hard work.
  • Diverts attention from core attributes: While companies like HubSpot or Mint.com used this strategy effectively to generate leads, attention, SEO benefits and the like, it puts a huge burden on resources, and can get you off track.

Which path is for you?

As I’ve shown you above, there are people and companies who have successfully used all of the above content marketing strategies to attain thought leadership positions, so there really isn’t one that’s better than the other.

Instead, you must know your core strengths and weaknesses, your business goals and objectives, and how you want to achieve them. Only then can you figure out which strategy will work best for you.

As you read these ideas, one probably jumped out as the path you’re taking. Let us know which one it is in the comments. And keep your eyes on ProBlogger today for more tips to help you build authority with innovative blog content.

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

Say Bye-bye to Blogger Body, and Hello to Better Health

This guest post is by Tania Dakka of TaniaDakka.com.

Awesome! You just finished that killer project you’ve been working so hard on all day! Congratulations!

But then you get up.

Ouch.

Your back’s killing you. Your body’s stiff. And you feel the pangs of a headache kicking in. That puffed chest is starting to deflate a little, isn’t it?

That’s Blogger Body.

Not managing the Achievement Addict disease that causes Blogger Body will eventually affect your production levels and quality. You’re wired to push yourself, so you push hard. Harder than you would push anyone else, because you think that’s the only way you can achieve your best.

That thinking isn’t flawed—it just needs a little tweaking.

You’re not alone

As bloggers, we love to get things done. We’re experts at hyper-focusing. And it feels good—really good—when we write master content we know rocks our readers’ worlds—even if it means hours on hours in the chair bent over our keyboards, drinking pots of coffee, and eating whatever we can get our hands on.

But, you’re bound to hit the wall sooner or later. The aching in your back that’s screaming louder than your three-year-old will become a relentless signal that can’t be ignored.

You have to take care of yourself—or your content will suffer.

You can do it

You can take breaks, and take care of yourself, and still produce great content—as a matter of fact, you’ll actually produce more of it! (Hey, look at that! A way to make more and greater stuff! Didn’t you just get goosebumps?)

Don’t think, “I can’t stop until I’ve finished.” Think, “These breaks are going to make this piece rock!”

A healthy body is your foundation for a clear and powerful mind that produces and creates. Here’s the deal. If you want them to give you more, you’ve got to give them more.

And with the right foods and an easy workout plan, you’ll be the unstoppable blogger you’ve always strived to be, writing posts that everyone wants to read.

5 Steps to your a better body and blog

1. Get back to nature

The optimal diet for a blogger’s brain/body boost is one rich in natural foods. What’s on the blogger’s “Yes” Foods List? Anything from the ground, or that has a mama—or any combo thereof.

Action: Start by adding in whole foods to each meal. The more you add, the less room you’ll have for “No” Foods.

2. Hydrate often

Waiting until you’re thirsty means your brain is already suffering. And, bloggers, what can a dry brain do for you? The rule used to be eight 8oz glasses of water a day, but it’s not enough. Guys: You need 13 cups a day. And girls: You need at least nine.

Action: Put a rubber band around your glass every time you finish a glass of water, to keep track of how much you’ve had to drink (um, this only works if you use the same glass all day). Strive to collect between nine and 13 rubber bands before bed.

3. Limit focus time to an hour and a half

Sitting for hours with no break leaves your eye glassy and thoughts befuddled. The maximum chunk of time you should lend to a project is an hour and a half. Then, take a five- to 15-minute break. You’ll refresh your mind and reinvigorate your drive.

Action: Set your timer and force yourself up when it goes off. If you’re worried about losing focus, write down your thoughts at the time of the bell and come back after step 4 to pick up exactly where you left off. This downloadable worksheet should help.

4. Work out

Yes, I said it. Don’t roll your eyes at me. It doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be done.

Action: When the timer rings, stand up and do ten to 15 Burpees. They’re a great whole-body move that, when done right, will pick up that heart rate. But if you find them too difficult, do the easier versions of the pushups for a while. When you can do the 15 of them (with correct form) in under two minutes, switch the challenge up and do three minutes of them at the end of each focus session.

Proper Burpee execution: From a standing position, drop into a push up position (don’t let your midsection droop when you go down—keep your back straight). Then, do your pushup and spring back to a standing position. End it with a jump with your hands raised overhead. Then, drop back into your next Burpee. Here’s a great video by Zuzana Light to show you visual learners how to Burpee the right way:

5. Sleep

This is so hard when you’re gears are turning 24/7 about your next big post, but without rest, you won’t power up so you can push through your blogging and your blog training. Spend five minutes doing a proper wind down before trying to sleep. Meditation or focused breathing are great relaxers for a blogger’s ever-running mind.

Action: Lying on your back in bed, close your eyes and take long, deep breaths. Inhale for a count of four and hold for four counts. Exhale for four counts. Do this until you feel the last of the stress of the day exhale with your breath. Then, let your mind drift off to dream.

Use these five steps to prime your body and mind to create the content your readers beg for and will want to share.

If you can’t do Burpees, what other exercise would you replace them with to get your heart pumping on your break?

Tania Dakka, Fit Freelancer, is dedicated to providing clients with copy that converts and writers the tools they need to survive (and even thrive) where life, fitness, and productivity collide. Sign up and get the help you need at TaniaDakka.com.

Boost Conversions Step 5: Reach All Your Audience Segments

This guest post is by Kate Swoboda of The Coaching Blueprint.

Go ahead—ask anyone, whether it’s a small business owner, a solopreneur consultant, or someone who’s determined to hit it big with their hand-made crafts:

What action would you like people to take, as a result of visiting your website?

(Note: this question may or may not make you a hit at parties, so proceed with caution).

Chances are, they’re going to all serve up the same answer: they hope that people will either buy something or book an appointment.

People have designed their business websites with one aim in mind, and that’s to get people to buy stuff—queue the series of squeeze pages and pitches and sales funnels.

It’s what we’ve been talking about here on ProBlogger all week. And it’s a worthy endeavor—I like making my rent payment each month, too.

There’s just one problem: not everyone who lands on your website is ready to buy. In fact, I’ll wager that most people aren’t, yet. What’s more? No matter what you do—no matter how much you “prime” someone to buy, or “remove objections” so that they’ll buy, a vast majority of the people who land on your site just ain’t buying, because they simply aren’t yet “buyers.”

A great many marketing sites out there will tell you to just ignore those people and move on to the person who’s ready to pull out their credit card.

Here’s an alternative idea: What about appealing to all of the different users that land on your site? How much more business would you get over the long haul if you took the approach that there’s something for everyone who comes to your website?

That’s what I want to finish up this series with today—to show you how to take what we’ve discussed about reviewing your offer, revisiting your conversion funnel, revamping your communications, and running A/B tests, and see how we can apply that advice to different user types, or segments, within your target audience.

What are those user types? I’m glad you asked.

Ideal Users, Resonant Users, and Careful Considerers

There are three basic categories of people who are landing on your website at any given time. When I work with people on website leveraging strategies, I refer to these types as the Ideal User, the Resonant User, and the Careful Considerer.

Most people are designing websites that focus solely on the Ideal User—the person who’s going to buy (now), while these same websites almost entirely ignore a call to action for the Resonant Users and Careful Considerers.

Since we know that sales conversions are notoriously low—that in some industries you’re lucky if you generate even a 2-3% conversion rate for your offering—why are we focusing so much on that 2-3%? It’s seen by some as a waste of time to focus on anything (or anyone) else.

But here’s the truth: this approach is leaving money on the table, particularly in service-based industries such as coaching and consulting, where trust is built over time. There’s another possibility that can not only increase revenue over time, it can create loyal clients and customers for life: design websites that offer something for each type of user, and over time, it’s entirely possible that they will become a Ideal User.

First things first: it’s important to know exactly what you want a user to do when they reach your website. Know these three:

  1. The action you’d like the user to take if they were your ideal user who “gets” you right away and loves everything you have to offer.
  2. The action you’d like the user to take if they resonated deeply with your message, perhaps even aligned with it and wanted to adopt it as a shared philosophy, but felt they didn’t have time/money/ability in that moment to respond to an offer you’re making.
  3. The action you’d like a user to take if they like what you have to say, but don’t feel super-connected—the people who fall in the “Hmmm, I’ll wait and see what I think” camp.

When you know these three objectives, you can create a website that provides something for each type of user.

Realistic is good

Let’s say I’m strategizing with a coach about leveraging her practice. If I ask her what action she’d like a user to take when landing on her site, she’s likely going to say: “I want the user to book a session.”

Problem? That’s what the “Ideal User,” is going to do. The Ideal User is the person who is ready to sign on the dotted line.

It’s good to be realistic. Consider your last three major purchases. Chances are, even you are not usually an Ideal User right from the get-go—you likely start as a Careful Considerer, a majority of the time.

Here’s an example of three actions a coach or consultant might desire each of their different users to take:

  1. The Ideal User would book an appointment.
  2. The Resonant User would like a blog post enough to share it with their followers, associating their name with your work.
  3. The Careful Considerers would sign up for the newsletter or follow on social media.

The people who book it from your website without taking action at all, even when you’ve provided multiple options? We’ll just say that those are “not your people” and leave it at that. (You already know there’s no point in fretting about the unsubscribes, the people who aren’t down for your message, etc., right?).

Where website design comes in

It’s website design that is a vehicle for appealing to each type of person.

Let’s continue with this example of a coach or consultant who wants new clients to book sessions. They have a blog. At the end of each blog post, they invite people to book a session. The buttons to sign up for sessions are big and bold. Sessions are open! Open! Open! Buttons are right here—book here! Click here!

Got it.

Problem: Their website design is only appealing to their Ideal User. Those big buttons are drawing all of the attention for “the next action to take,” without providing options for other types of users.

Let’s take the example from earlier, where the:

  1. Ideal User = signs up for a session
  2. Resonant User = shares a blog post
  3. Careful Considerer = follows on social media.

When I evaluate a coach’s website for a strategy session, I’m looking to see if they’re using the design to create ample opportunities for all types of users, since not everyone will be an Ideal User from the get-go.

For the Resonant Users: Is there more than one way that people can share blog posts? Are there hurdles such as signing up for a service that “allows” you to share blog posts? Is the coach directly asking people to share content, or just hoping the user will?

For the Careful Considerers, are there multiple places for someone to sign up for a newsletter? Is it clear what someone will get if they sign up for the newsletter? Do they know how often they’ll receive the newsletter? Is there a dedicated “welcome to the newsletter” auto-response?

Pulling it together

“Sometimes you don’t do one thing, 100% better. Sometimes you do 100 things, 1% better.”—unknown

This is just a piece of a much larger conversation. The best websites are those that have 100 different small, almost un-noticeable ways to engage users (the un-noticeable part usually happens when you hire a good graphic designer who can integrate elements without making them scream at your reader).

This isn’t about doing one big thing really well, or about cluttering up your website with endless ways for users to engage–this is about being clear on the specific, desired outcomes you’d like for the different people visiting your site, and then making it really, really easy for each type of user to engage.

Many people who land on your website will start as Careful Considerers. If you have great content on your site that provides value, they might become Resonant Users within a few minutes. It’s always possible that they’ll also convert to Dream Users pretty quickly, but realistically? They’ll probably hang out in the Careful Considerer/Resonant User zone for awhile.

That’s okay. That’s how I operate, and it’s probably how you operate, too, before you plunk down money or commit to time. Give those people plenty of clear options.

Your turn

Evaluate your website carefully—perhaps even ask some friends (only the ones who are willing to be honest!) to determine the top three actions for the three different types of users who visit your website.

Then ask: is your website making it easy for each type of person to take action?

And: How can you best meet the needs of the various people who come to your website?

That’s basically all this series has focused on:

There’s no sense in only appealing to a fraction of the people who are visiting your website—create your website as a space where there’s something for everyone to easily engage with, at different levels. When you create ways to engage beyond the small percentage of users who are immediately ready to spend money, that’s building a business for the long haul.

Kate Swoboda is a life coach, speaker and writer who helps other coaches to strategize with integrity and leverage their practices, beautifully. She’s the creator of The Coaching Blueprint, a downloadable e-program for new and emerging coaches who want to create a successful practice, and leader of the Blueprint Circles, small collaborative marketing Circles for coaches. She’s also looking forward to the upcoming 2012 World Domination Summit, where she’ll be leading a breakout session called “Entrepreneurs–Stop Letting Overwhelm Kick Your Ass!”

Boost Conversions Step 4: Run A/B Tests, Tweak, and Refine

This guest post is by the Web Marketing Ninja.

When it comes to conversion rate optimization, it’s easy to read about, and think about.

But when it comes to actually running a test, most people are at a loss.

It’s not that we don’t believe in testing; it’s that there’s barely enough time in the day to set up those key pages once, let alone set up variants, implement a test, measure, refine the pages, and test again. Trust me—I’ve been there!

But as we’re nearing the end of this series of posts about boosting conversions, I’m hoping you’re all fired up!

I’m going to use that motivation to push you to finally run that first test—a simple A/B test. In this post, I’ll run you , step by step, through a simple test that:

  • won’t cost you a cent
  • takes less than an hour of your time to set up
  • gives you that all-important glimpse of what testing can actually do for your blog.

I’ll bet once you’ve cracked that first A/B testing nut, you’ll become a testing junkie like me. And your conversion rates with never be the same—hopefully, they’ll be much better!

So let’s get testing.

1. Choosing a page

First things first—let’s pick a page to test.

In the second post in this series, Darren talked about reviewing your conversion funnel. That may have given you a few ideas about pages you could test—maybe they’re some of the pages you reworked after reading Tommy’s post yesterday.

My basic approach is, if you’ve got a sales or signup page that gets traffic, test that. (It’s likely to be on your list anyway.) If you don’t, pick your Contact page instead. Or, if you’re feeling brave you can go for the biggest bang for buck and test a “money page.”

2. Working out what to test

Our second step is to figure out what to test. When I’m looking at a page I want to test for the first time, I ask these six questions:

  1. Can everyone access it? We’re talking here about accessibility.
  2. Can everyone use it? Usability is the key for complex processes.
  3. Does it work? It should—on all browsers, mobile devices, non-javascript browsers, and so on. Don’t forget to consider page load speeds as well.
  4. How does it look? Does is communicate the mood you want it to?
  5. How well does is tell the story? Do the words engage users and drive the actions you want?

Ask these questions about any web page. and you’ll end up with a long list of stuff you can test, but for now, let’s start with a headline—a big part of telling the story, and probably a fairly strong element in any sales or signup conversion. It’s also something that Tommy was eager to test yesterday, in his third conversion goal, which was to get more high-quality leads.

As this is an A/B test, you need to come up with just one alternative to the page’s original headline. If one email can have over 500 different subject lines then I think we can probably come up with one.

Now we’ve got a page, we’ve got our original headline, and we’ve got an alternative headline. Let’s start our test!

3. Setting up the test

You can use a few different applications to run web page tests—some free, some not. To keep things simple, we’ll use Google Website Optimiser—one of the free options.

In order to use this tool, we first need to set up a couple of things.

  1. We need a publicly viewable version of your original page, and the one you want to test with the new headline. And you’ll need them at two separate URLS—it might be problogger.net/salespage.php and problogger.net/salespage1.php. These URLS will depend on the CMS or blog technology you’re using and your site structure, of course.
  2. We need access to a page that appears aftera user completes your goal action. So, in the case of a contact form, this page would be your “thanks, your message has been received” conformation page.If you’re testing a sales page, this can be a little more tricky. Ideally you’d have access to the page that confirms that the user’s purchase has been successful. If you can’t access that page, you might have to settle for the page that appears when someone clicks on of your Buy Now links.(Note that there are ways around this problem, however you might need some technical assistance to access them. In this case, I would recommend you look at a service like Optimizely/, but it’s not cheap. The upside is that once you set it up, creating tests is extremely easy.)

Once you’ve got all of that done, sign up to Website Optimiser. Once you’ve signed up you should see a page like the one below. Click the link to start your experiment.

Click the link

You’ll then be asked what type of test you want to run. Pick the A/B Test.

Select A/B testing

You’ll then be asked to get your test pages and your conversion page ready. We’ve already done that, so we can confirm and move to the next step.

Confimation

Next, you’ll need to enter a name.

Provide a name

Include the links to the original page, and the version you want to test.

Include URLs

Finally, paste in the link to your goal or conversion page.

Goal page URL

Once you’ve completed all the fields, click Continue.

The next step is the most technical. You need to put a special piece of code into your original page, your test page, and your conversion page. (You can read more about the code snippets themselves here.)

If you’re using WordPress, there’s a handy plugin that will allow you to do this pretty easily, called Google Website Optimizer for WordPress.

Once it’s activated you’ll see a spot under each page and post to enable testing—add your special code in there. If you’re confident with editing the tags on particular pages, great. If you’re not using WordPress, you’re not technically minded, and you can’t find a Website Optimizer plugin for your CMS, you might need to ask nicely for some help.

I’m going to move on, assuming that you’ve got the codes in place. Next, you’ll need to validate them:

Validate pages

If the validation’s all good, you’ll get a screen that looks like this:
Validation successful

Click OK, then click Next. You’ll arrive at the final conformation screen, where you can preview or start your experiment.

Preview the experiment

Once you hit Start, you can sit back and relax for a bit: you’re now testing! After a few hours some of your preliminary results will start to come through. When you log into Website Optimizer you should see your experiment listed. To see the results, click on the View Report link. The report shows you how the two pages are performing against each other.

Viewing the report

4. Deciding the winner

You can expect to see some wild fluctuations in the data initially, so it’s important not to decide on a winner to quickly—let the data smooth out over time. In the case shown above, the results came in pretty even—and this is a test I ran over four months!

Most testing platforms will have an algorithm to let you know how confident they are that one version is beating another. In the case of Website Optimizer, it’s called a “high-confidence winner.” In the case of slight changes, it can take a while for a call to be made. You can either wait, or pick your own moment and move on. It’s really up to you.

Personally, I’ve made calls on tests that have only run for three days, and waited for some that have run over months and months. As your experience in testing grows, so will your confidence in making calls.

What to expect from your test

Within your tests, you’ll probably experience one of three things:

  1. Your new headline wins.
  2. Your original headline wins.
  3. The result is too close to tell.

In the first case, you’ve hopefully got a great understanding of the progress you can make with testing.

If your original headline wins, you’ve actually also made a small step forward: you’ve proven that your current headline is better than at least one other option—but I’m sure there’s a bunch more to try!

If it’s a to close to tell results, then, as is the case if the original wins, it’s time to think up some new headlines.

So hopefully you’re all able to identify, set up, run, and report on a simple A/B test. Even better, I hope you’ve found it so easy that you’re ready and raring to start your next test. Because if you’re happy with good, then produce. But if you aspire to great, then produce, test, iterate, test again—and you just might get there.

And that’s the key point here: to continuously improve your blog’s conversion rates for paid or unpaid offers, you really need to have in place an ongoing system of refinement that’s based on trial and testing.

Once you’ve got a handle on that,  you’ll be able to go back and apply the four steps for boosting conversions—reviewing your offerrevisiting your conversion funnelrevamping your communications, and running A/B tests—more broadly, to every segment of your audience. That’s what we’ll be looking at later today, in the final part of this series. Don’t miss it!

Stay tuned for more posts by the Web Marketing Ninja—author of The Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing, and a professional online marketer for a major web brand. Follow the Web Marketing Ninja on Twitter.