6 Lessons for Writing Irresistibly Magnetic Blog Post Headlines

This is a guest contribution from Matthew Capala of SearchDecoder.com

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Many newbie (and sometimes even veteran) bloggers erroneously spend 95% of their time creating blog content and only 5% pondering titles. Unfortunately for these bloggers, most readers’ attention spans expire in seconds.

Unless you reel in your readers instantly, your well-crafted content goes largely unnoticed and going viral becomes impossible.

Set aside at least 15 to 30 minutes for choosing a magnetic title after crafting your post.

List three to five intriguing titles guaranteed to increase your CTR and page views. After carefully thinking through each option, select the one that inspires you like no other.  Ask your friends or followers for feedback.

Most importantly, test and learn from data you collect looking at engagement metrics, such as social sharing and page views.  Double down on best-performing headlines and keep testing new ways to engage your audience.

Garret Moon proposes re-writing your blog headlines at least three times to A/B test your headlines using Twitter and email marketing. If you are serious about blogging, invest as much resources and time as you can to headline testing and optimization.

6 Lessons for Writing Irresistibly Magnetic Blog Post Headlines

At SearchDecoder blog we did an in depth headline analysis looking at the most popular posts of 2013. The data included over 30K visits and 6K social shares.

Most of the content featured in the study that made the top 10 lists was generated by NYU students participated in the Inbound Marketing Clinic and couple recent grads who work with me at Lowe Profero. The objective of this post is not to brag but rather share data insights with the blogging community to get feedback.

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Top 10 Most Popular Posts on SearchDecoder Blog in 2013

Use Power Verbs

Use power verbs to goad readers into clicking on and sharing your content. Imagine yourself as a blogging commander, enticing to swift action with assertiveness. Start titles with actionable verbs like “Read,” “Download” or “Learn”.  Actionable verbs can be visualized and acted upon easily.

Keep things simple and never use a power verb in any spot other than the beginning of your title. Maximize the effectiveness of these action words.

The third most shared blog post on SearchDecoder, Optimize Your Click Through Rate on Google (Infographic) is a good example of using a power verb to drive action.

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Employ Colorful Adjectives

Colorful adjectives effectively magnetize eager readers to your titles. Consider using colorful words to appeal to the imagination. If readers can see what you wish to convey, you will generate high CTR.

Pull out a thesaurus. Scour the manual to find descriptive, entertaining adjectives to lasso readers’ eyeballs. Test words like “awesome,” “unstoppable” and “unconventional” for engaging your reader’s visualizing faculty.

The number-one most shared, read and commented on blog post on SearchDecoder, 10 Unconventional Keyword Research Tools to Include in Your SEO Toolbox, generated over 7K views, nearly 700 social shares and over 30 comments. Moreover, it got picked up by the editors of Moz Top 10.

Interestingly, the two blog posts I’ve published using the word ‘unconventional’ in the title made it to the top 10 most shared blog posts on SearchDecoder.com.

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Arouse Curiosity

Reading questions piques your interest. Interested web visitors set the foundation for viral blog posts.  Readers rarely scan question-themed titles without clicking through because inquiring minds need to know.

Brian Clark notes on Copyblogger that sharing benefits via insider knowledge is a timeless approach to crafting magnetic titles.

Asking questions or exposing industry ‘secrets’ compels clickthroughs because few can resist mystery. Observe the masterful novelist. Supreme writers craft cliffhangers filled with mystery and intrigue. How could you put down these page turners when each chapter ends with either a question or some other secret yet to be revealed?

One of the top shared blog posts on my blog, The 10 Secrets of Effective Bootstrap Digital Marketing for Startups, leverages this tactic. If you want to successfully run a startup, getting enough credible information is critical.

Crafting this title for the accompanying deck on SlideShare goaded readers to click through and share it on Twitter at a stunning rate, appearing on SlideShare’s homepage as ‘Hot on Twitter’ and boosting its views to over 7K.

Build Lists (Always)

Building list-themed headers is a surefire approach to crafting magnetic titles. In fact, 9 out of the 10 best performing posts on my blog included a list in the headline.

Testing various numbers in list headlines (I tested between 7 and 30) on my blog didn’t indicate a clear winner (statistically), however the number 10 performed best.

Readers need gobs of information to satiate their curiosity. The average web cruiser craves thorough content. Sharing 11 tips or 8 steps to solve a particular problem draws readers in because they expect to find a practical answer to their specific questions.

Jeff Goins notes how using obscure numbers in titles like 19 or 37 can appeal to readers. Experiment with different single and double-digit numbers to see which titles result in the most clicks.

The highest number in the list headline I used was 30 and it performed surprisingly well (contrary to the less is more approach). The 30 Awesome Free SEO Tools for Small Businesses headline was the 8th most popular blog post on Searchdecoder in 2013.

Use the Magic Words

“Quick,” “Easy,” and “Simple” are the magic headline words guaranteed to boost clicks pronto. Do you want to know the quick, easy or simple way to solve a problem you have been trying to address? Of course you do.

Appeal to the Internet culture of today by using these magic words frequently. However, make sure that the solution is quick, easy or simple to keep your credibility intact. Promising a simple solution to a problem but following up with complex instructions can damage your online reputation.

Add “lessons” to your ‘magic word’ list. People read blogs to learn, and no matter how ‘easy’ your advice seems, it is always a good idea to anchor your findings in data, interviews or case studies. The #5 best performer on SearchDecoder, 7 Lessons for Effective B2B Content Marketing via the Maersk Line Case Study, drew in eager students quickly.

Pick Up the Paper

Always learn from the pros. Read a newspaper or scour online news sites to find appealing blog post title ideas and become a trusted curator of information for your community.

Follow the example of the 8 Internet Books You Should Read in 2014 post that performed exceptionally well for me during the slow Holiday period in December. Whatever you are blogging about; there are tons of relevant books and blogs you can curate.

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Mine the web or your local newsstand for creative, proven titles guaranteed to increase blog readership. Taking a cue from some of the best title writers on earth is a simple way to create a viral post.

Curating content proved to be the most low-effort, high-return activity on my blog. The 8 Content Marketing Statistics You Need to Know title was the second best performer on SearchDecoder.

Headlines are visual

It’s a social media world. If you want to increase the sharibility and CTR of your blog posts, include eye-catching images and visuals which get populated on your homepage and social media feed. Spend time choosing the best ‘featured image’ for every headline.

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What didn’t work?

Using names of influencers in blog titles didn’t perform well for me. While the Q&As and interviews represent some of the best content on my blog, they underperformed in terms of traffic and engagement. Using Twitter handles and hashtags in the headlines didn’t perform well for me either.

What worked for your blog last year? I’d love to hear your best-performing blog post headline in the comments section.

Matthew Capala is a growth-focused Internet marketer and entrepreneur, who understands both the user and algorithm. He built SearchDecoder.com, a place for bootstrap marketing ideas for entrepreneurs. Matthew currently teaches a graduate class on search marketing at NYU, works as a growth consultant, while making the final touches to his upcoming book: SEO Like I’m 5. He is a dynamic speaker, trainer and blogger. 

All You Need to Know About Using Exclusivity for Better Product Launches

This is a contribution by our very own Shayne Tilley.

Image by Flickr user EricaStLeonards

Image by Flickr user EricaStLeonards

Launching products and campaigning can be fast-moving and complex beasts. There are so many layers, and even the best-laid plans can be scrapped in an instant as it all goes amazing well, or horrifically wrong…

Two promotional tactics we use in our product launches and special campaigns on both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School are the notion of “exclusivity“, and “limiting factors“.

I thought today I’d share with you the how and why of this approach, and what we’ve learned along the way.

So what do I mean by “exclusivity” and “limits” in the context of a launch or promotion?

Exclusivity:

Exclusivity is about creating a proposition that will not be available to the general public. It’s an offer specifically for you, because you meet some sort of criteria. It might be because you’re an existing customer. It might be because you showed early interest in a product. It might be because you are a newsletter subscriber, or a member of a community. It can be anything as long as you can define it.

By me giving you this offer I’m making you feel special. You’re acknowledged and rewarded and hopefully rightly so! This can then drive two responses:

1. the “nah-nah-na-na-nah!” response

We like to brag. Sometimes it’s about how much we paid for something, sometimes it’s about how little we did. When I make you this exclusive offer, it means when you take advantage of it, you’ll have something the chump next to you paid way more for and it’s only because you were you. It’s like winning without having to even play the game! Of course you’ll head to the checkout.

2. the IOU response

By giving you this exclusive offer you immediately think that you owe me something. I’ve taken the time to create this special offer and reward you for some reason. That I value you so much I’m willing to give you something that no-one else can have. The only way you can pay me back is take up the honour in which I bestowed upon you and head to that checkout.

An example we’ve used recently on ProBlogger.com:

We soft-launched the new ProBlogger Community in the last couple of weeks, and before making it available to all, we exclusively launched it to existing members first. We provided with exclusivity in two ways: offering members the chance get into the community early and establish themselves in addition to receiving a great price as a foundation member of the site. Why? Because no matter how great the content and site technology is, it’s the people there that make it special — and we wanted to ensure our loyal problogger.com members were part of the new site. A real win-win situation.

This idea of exclusivity has been one the tech start-up community has really embraced. Take Pinterest for example: it had an ‘invite-only’ sign up process for some time. You had to request access, and when you were given it, (because you’d been ‘approved’ by them), you are much more likely to actually use the service. There are secret back-door and referral systems built-in to make you feel even more special.  Whilst you’ll see what sound like legitimate reasons for this, trust me –  it’s a marketing tactic. One that’s designed to create an emotional debt with the product, person, or service you are using. Which makes you more likely to stick around.

And it’s quite effective.

Limited:

When limiting your campaigns, you are communicating some sort of restrictive factor. It might be stock, it might be seats, or it could be time.  By doing this, you are creating a sense of urgency. A sense that “if I don’t act now, I might miss out“. These responses are driven by our past – we’ve all missed out on something because we waited too long, and it made us feel bad.  It’s the desire you have to avoid that negative emotional trigger I’m pulling by limiting an offer in some way.

How we use this on Digital Photography School:

Every single new product launch we run will have a limit. For the most part, it’s in the form of an earlybird special. For a time-limited period, readers will receive a special discount, or a special bonus for a few weeks. Over the launch period, we up the focus on this to increase the urgency.  The first week we’ll focus on the product or offer and just mention that it’s Time-Limited.  The next week, we will announce the cut-off date with a little more prominence, and the final email we’ll send 48 hours before that date will be the core message of the product.

With this urgency we often see more sales on the last day than we did when we first announced the product. This of course goes up a new gear when we run our 12 days of Christmas Campaign, where each deal only lasts 12 hours.

It’s not about making the sale, it’s about closing it.

With both of these techniques, it’s not about making the sale. Your products benefit and the offer still needs to do that too (sorry). What limits and exclusivity will do is just give the potential customer that little extra nudge to head on through the sale process.

Digital vs Actual

These techniques have been around longer than the internet, and digital content is actually just an adaptation of what retail stores mastered a long time ago. If you’re selling a digital product, such as a book or a video course, then as long as there’s power you have an infinite amount of stock.  However if you have a service, or a course, or a physical product, you don’t just have time up your sleeve to use as a sales technique – you also have ‘While stocks last’ – just as powerful, maybe even more!

The ProBlogger team recently witnessed action that a stock/seat limitation can create. After putting a limited number of tickets (450) on sale for this years ProBlogger Event, within minutes, half of them had sold.  That creates a bigger, more urgent call-to-action, as people realised they only had a short time to make a call to attend or not. If they waited they’d miss out!

… and it snowballed.

This accumulation of momentum resulted in all tickets being sold out in 6 hours and a re-engineering of the event set-up for us to allow another 100 people to attend. Which sold out quickly again!

Time and its subtleties

If you can’t use stock as a limiting factor, then time will be your best friend – just like it is on Digital Photography School.

With time there are some subtleties in language you need to take into account.

Ends in two weeks‘ is much stronger than ‘soon

7 days only‘ is much stronger that ‘next week

In the next 48 hours‘ is stronger than ‘In the next two days‘.

When putting your copy and messaging together, you need to think about which time terms feel closer; and ensure that you are giving specific time periods rather than just writing generic terms like ‘soon’. As I mentioned earlier, we tend to get more specific and forthright as we get closer to the end.

Be prepared to shift gears

In your campaign and launch planning, you’ll have a nice start and end time for your offer. You’ll communicate that clearly as suggested above, but you also might find yourself in the situation where you need to change things up.  We’ve done so a few times when:

  • Our readers demand it: Because you have a limit and things change back to normal after it’s reached, some people will miss out.  If you have enough of them you might, ‘by popular demand’, bring it back if possible for a little while longer.
  • Because something broke: If something goes wrong, your website might crash – or in the case of us in the last product launch on dPS, our email provider went down – you’ll have people that missed out through no fault of their own.  In this case you’ll have little choice but to extend the sale for those that missed out.

Truth is better than fiction

These techniques are powerful motivators, and you might be tempted to ‘manufacture’ them. Which is essentially lying to your readers.  Now I can’t stop you doing that, but in the interests of a long-term relationship with your customers, truth is much better than fiction.

If you never intended to raise your early-bird price don’t call it an early-bird offer. If you’re thinking about putting up an out-of-stock sign on your product with a warehouse full of them, just don’t.

Eventually, people will figure it out.

When we put 450 tickets up for the ProBlogger event, we only ever intended to sell 450. As a result of what we witnessed, we were fortunately able to react quickly and find room for some more.  It’s that authenticity that help build the demand in the first place, and lying will break that over time.

So that’s my take on exclusivity and limits, and how we use there here at ProBlogger and Digital Photography School. I’d love to hear if you’ve used these on your own blog and how it went.

Shayne Tilley is the marketing guy for ProBlogger.net and Digital Photography School.  The author of the PB Guide to Online Marketing and a long time contributor to the blog.  When he’s not thinking of new and interesting ways to grow the ProBlogger sites, he’s either bashing up developers or hanging out with the swiftly.com team.

Beginner Week – Katie180′s success story

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The name “Katie 180” was gaining traction in Australian blogging circles before Katie Rainbird’s site was even launched. Two short months after she first pressed “publish”, Eden Riley, one of Australia’s best bloggers, pointed her out in the crowd of a Digital Parents conference. “If you want to know how to start a blog,” she said, “just go and read Katie180”. This caught the attention of one Darren Rowse in the audience, who quickly secured her to speak at his own conference later that year.

So how did someone who had only a handful of posts to her name get the attention of the Aussie big guns – something we all would have loved in our early days?

Well, let’s find out.

The Beginning

With a long-held dream of writing, Katie believed she could seamlessly marry her newfound nutrition knowledge with her love of prose. Eschewing the more traditional route of diet advice private practice, Katie took to the internet with her smarts and a burning ambition: Write. Be seen.

“Whilst studying nutrition I started planning to take my knowledge and put it to paper, so to speak,” she says. “Originally I thought about freelancing, but once I discovered blogging it was a real ‘ah-ha’ moment for me and I just KNEW that was the way for me to go!”

Without wanting to rush into things, Katie ensured her site was properly designed and she was finished her studies before launching. A far cry from some of us who blog first and ask questions later!

“Well I didn’t really wait long when you consider that I only decided upon blogging in my final year of college (two years ago),” she says. “I wanted to be qualified before I started blogging about nutrition, and I wanted it to be perfect – ha! But I set my mind to a New Year launch, and even though my blog design wasn’t up to my perfect standards, I hit publish on my first post on January 10th, 2013.

With all that time to tinker before birthing her blog baby, she did a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation. A list that looks a little something like this:

  • Firstly I applied to a call out for guest bloggers on an American based raw food blog, which was accepted and I posted for them with strict deadlines, word counts and of course, content – although I was a nutritionist I wasn’t a raw foodie so it tested my skills.
  • I attended writing and blogging courses held at the Australian Writers’ Centre.
  • I “collected” other nutrition or healthy/foodie types of blogs (even those I didn’t really like or align with) to get a feel for what was going on in this genre and I would take note of which posts received the most commentary or interaction.
  • I tested the waters with a Facebook group on my personal Facebook page, which was also called Katie180 and I would post there a couple of times a week: recipes, photos of food, summaries of nutrient actions and fast facts kind of stuff. It was quite well received and gave me a lot of confidence that so too would my real blog once I started it. It also provided me with an audience ready to follow me over.
  • I also did this with Instagram, I built up a following and a fair few people asked after my blog before it was even launched so I knew that I’d have readers there too.
  • I outsourced my blog design to a professional team and spent many months working with them on my logo, header, colour scheme, format etc.
  • Once I was blogging I quickly joined Twitter and set up a professional Facebook page and I’d plug every post across these two platforms plus my original Katie180 Facebook group and Instagram (even though that’s a bit cheeky but I wanted to catch readers any way I could!)

But with all that preparation and forward-thinking, Katie was still plagued with the concerns that any new blogger has: that no-one would read her blog. “That I’d put all this effort in and it would just be sitting there, sad and alone!” she says.

As usually happens, the excitement of starting a blog soon overshadowed those early-days concerns. Katie says it was a relief to have her voice heard, as was “breaking with convention insofar as my study path was concerned, not going into practice, not waiting around for people to come and find me, rather putting myself out there loud and proud!”

Before the Blog: What did she learn?

“The most important things I learned were from other bloggers (just from reading their blogs): to write in my own voice – be authentic, brave and passionate. To connect – respond, reply, interact across social media because that makes readers feel important and promotes loyal readership (and word of mouth.) To blog regularly – keep in their faces, keep relevant, be out there!”

Early Days: what did she learn?

“The number-one thing I learned was that it takes SO much more time than you think,” she says. “Imagine being asked at 5pm to submit an essay by 9am the next day – one that would entertain and inspire people and if possible include artistically styled photographs and full references to all sources of information. That’s kind of what writing my blog feels like considering I have young children and most of my writing is done after hours.

“Then there’s recipe sourcing, tweaking or inventing plus All the cooking, photographing etc.

And now?

“I work on my blog every day, even the days I don’t post – I’m replying to comments, emails and connecting via Facebook and Instagram,” she says.

“Another important point is that my target audience changed from who I imagined them to be to who they actually are and I began to write for them rather than bang my head on my desk wondering why my posts weren’t being received the way I wanted them to (the heavier reading/educational posts.) I don’t see this as a bad move because I have more readers now and, as such a bigger audience for when I do choose to publish longer articles.”

The basics: Design, Hosting, Content, oh my!

With an overwhelming amount of advice out there on how to get started, Katie cherry-picked the pieces that would work for her pie.

“I had read a number of blogs with posts focused on ‘What I learned this year’, or ‘How to start a blog’, and so on, and I knew that WordPress was preferred,” she said. “I wanted to give my money to an Australian company so I typed “blog design Australia” into Google and found The Blog Designers (clever name guys!) who were very friendly at my first phone call and had a set price of $500 for the entire job so that was that!” (theblogdesigners.com)

“I bought a domain name, I couldn’t get a .com so I went with .au. The team at The Blog Designers recommended a host so all of that techie/design stuff wasn’t in my hands, which took a major load off because that ‘aint my bag!

“My husband and I set up a company, Rainbird Media because he works for himself and via my blog I hope to also, so all these kind of costs can be factored in as expenses.

The next step: being seen

Blogging is never ‘build it and they will come’, more ‘get out there and be a part of the blogosphere’. How did Katie manage that in her early days? “Follow, ‘like’, comment, share, recommend, email directly, stalk – ha ha! It’s no different than how you connect offline,” she says. “You start hanging around and then you make small talk and if you hit it off then you have new friends.”

Looking back – what worked, what didn’t?

Hindsight is super-useful, and it’s no different with blogging. Looking back, Katie says the things she learned that she would do differently this time was to: “Write three months worth of posts and keep them in my drafts folder for rainy days. Do much more planning, recipe testing and photographing in advance. Learn about how to use WordPress, my camera and all the other gadgety bits that make blogs sexier for readers.”

Katie’s Top Takeaways for newbie bloggers

1. Know your specialty, you won’t be able to write with oomph unless you personally dig it.

2. Pay attention to formatting and punctuation. Take a writing course if you can afford to.

3. Hang out at other blogs, get a feel for how you’d like your blog to function and look like. Whilst you’re at it, make friends with the bloggers and regular readers/commentors because these are your people now!

4. Outsource design and tech support if you can afford it.

5. Allow time for it, because it’s going to take time, even if it’s “just” a hobby blog. But if your plans are to use it as a platform to earn money then treat it with the same respect you would an internship at the best job you could ever imagine!

You can read Katie at her blog Katie180 (including her post on how she started blogging), join her (very supportive and informative!) Facebook page here, tweet her here, or follow in Instagram here.

*We are also offering 50% off the ProBlogger Guide to Your First Week of Blogging for this week only! Enter the code BEGINNERWEEK at the checkout.

Content Week Case Study: Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster

Theme Weekcarly for pb theme weekIn 2008, Cartly Heitlinger was a freshman in college doing what most of us do in her situation – studying a subject they don’t like in order to get a degree they do. So she started a blog as part distraction, part creative outlet, writing about things she was interested in – study breaks and bows on shoes, to name a few.

Now, six years later, Carly writes a wide variety of posts on The College Prepster that revolve around fashion, lifestyle, shopping, her life in New York, and snippets about what she’s learned about blogging. Almost 2000 posts later, it appears she’s never been stuck for an idea.

For those of us who are dying to know how to keep our blogs interesting and fresh, I asked Carly to spill her secrets on how she found her groove, how she realised what her readers wanted most, and what are the kind of posts she won’t go near with a ten-foot pole. What she shares with us today are valuable tips she’s learned through trial and error – tips we can all use to inspire us to create useful and entertaining content no matter what our blog niche is.

carly in the beginningIn 2008 when The College Prepster began, it was Carly’s “little escape” that she could focus her energy on in between school stress, exams, and crew practice. She says the culture of blogging at the time was “actually pretty ideal”.

“There was NO pressure,” she says.

“No followers? No problem. Personal branding wasn’t a buzzword. Twitter wasn’t mainstream. Marketing dollars were still being spent in the traditional sense. The community of bloggers, (there were a handful in the same “niche” as me) was a lot closer and not competitive at all.”

So while there was no pressure, no competition, and no real need to be unique and stand out from the blogging crowd, Carly experimented with content she enjoyed writing and watched how it resonated with her growing audience.

“I really was just desperate for an outlet when I started; what I was writing about just sort of happened,” she says.

“For a while, I would blog about fashion (mainly products I liked) and quick little updates about my life. I was really young and quite busy with school, so I didn’t have that much to contribute. My content continued to evolve as both I and social media matured. I was able to share experiences and provide advice and work more closely with brands to produce exclusive content through the “College Prepster” voice.”

carly the evolutionThere are few blogs in existence that are exactly the same as what they were when they began. Over time, as we get more comfortable, more bold, more understanding of what works and what doesn’t, it’s natural to progress into new areas, to cut others, and find the winning balance. The best part of blogging is its flexibility, the ability of the author to test new things, to learn from their mistakes, and for their blog to evolve as they do.

The College Prepster has grown and evolved just as Carly has over the years, and while it stays true to its roots, it’s a much slicker operation these days, with a little more forethought into its content.

“I consider my blog to be a combination of ‘life and style’,” she says.

“So you might find anything from a recap of a fun weekend I had, new books or movies I loved, a personal style outfit, new arrivals or must haves from a favorite retailer, advice from a life experience, or simply just something interesting!”

The topics Carly features sit seamlessly alongside brands keen to reach her engaged and interested audience. From sharing fashion finds for the love of it, to collaborating with big-name partners, Carly ensures her posts are not just readable, but useful too.

“I always post products that I personally love and endorse. Some are paid features and I often make a commission off of the products, but it’s always things that I love!,” she says.

So what has the blog evolved into? And what resonates with her readers the most?

“I want my blog to be a place where people feel like they’re my friend and reading something they can’t find anywhere else,” she says.

“A blog entirely with only fashion photos seems too impersonal and a diary of just my life would be boring. I like to have a diversified content mix.”

carly what content“The real key is posting things that I find interesting or that I like. The right readers will follow,” Carly says.

“Writing about things that I think my readers will respond well to, versus listening to my intuition of what I want to post, actually has the opposite effect. You end up attracting the wrong audience!”

Right. so: diversify, go with your instinct, and stay true to yourself. What else?

“Readers who come back day after day respond very well to my “life event” updates. Whether I’m sharing a lesson I’ve learned or a fun day I had, they like following that plotline of my life. I get lots of new readers from Pinterest from fashion photos, organizational posts, and DIY/how-tos.”

Got it: Let people peek behind the curtain – they love connecting with the human experience. How has Carly seen that affect on her readers when she posts about personal stories?

“I think [writing more personal posts] is the key differentiator,” she says.

“It comes with costs (mainly a loss of privacy as readership has grown), but the value it adds to my blog is notable. Someone recently sent me an article about how blogs are dead and I almost had to agree. The market is saturated, the content is copied, and attention spans have gotten smaller! However, personal stories I think are getting lost or dramatized. (How many five minute Youtube videos have you watched about an inspirational video… only to move onto the next story next week?) There’s something to be said about a storyline that continues over the years. The College Prepster isn’t perfect, is relatable, and fails and succeeds. She has become a friend to the reader over the years! (It doesn’t stop at just the blog though, using other social media platforms to build out a more robust character is necessary).

“I love blogging about books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched. I love getting recommendations from other people, so those types of posts are generally great “conversation starters.”

But creating fresh, new, interesting content day after day, year after year can be difficult. What serves as Carly’s inspiration, considering she posts nearly every day (and sometimes twice a day!)?

“I find inspiration everywhere,” she says.

“But mostly I draw from my life experiences. I think this has actually allowed my blog to stand out amongst a rather saturated market and gain a loyal, very tuned-in audience. I’m not just showing a pair of new shoes, but instead talking about where I went in the shoes and what kinds of experiences I had.

Bingo.

Another of Carly’s hot tips is to step away from the mainstream ideas of what makes “blog content”.

“I think video, imagery, and writing all go hand and hand,” she says.

“I mean, look at Instagram. It’s really a mini blog (and should be treated as such!). It’s also important, from a business development perspective, to see where marketing dollars are being spent from a corporate level, namely Pinterest (photos) and YouTube (video). Writing certainly will continue to have its place, but it’s important to keep content fresh and “current.” If a photo or a video does the trick, then it does the trick. Content is content.”

So keep it personal, step outside the box, but also know what doesn’t work. What has Carly found doesn’t work for The College Prepster?

“As a rule, I don’t blog about politics or religion. That’s not to say that I don’t have opinions on these topics (I certainly do!), The College Prepster is just not the place. I used also lump personal relationships/my dating life into the off-limits category over time… but I’ve slowly relaxed a bit on that. I have a boyfriend, and while we share certain elements of our relationship online (mostly in the context of fashion and/or events we went to together), we keep it primarily ‘offline’.”

carly's advice“Write about what you’d want to read. (And don’t blog about something you’ve already read. There’s nothing more boring than reading blog posts consisting of photos I’ve already seen on another website!) I write as if i’m writing to my best friend!”

If you’ve found this case study as inspiring as I have, you might like to read more of Carly’s blog at The College Prepster, watch her (super-useful!) YouTube videos here, chat with her on Facebook, or Tweet her here.

 

How I doubled my unique visitors in six months (and tripled them in a year)

This post is from ProBlogger Team member Stacey Roberts.

Welcome to 2014, folks – a year we hope to bring you even more tips and advice to make your blog everything you want it to be! Let’s kick off with both feet in the direction of unique browsers, and how to get them to come to your website.

Diversify – it’s the advice you hear in all sorts of blogging situations. Diversify your income streams. Diversify your social media. Diversify your time. stats

When it comes to finding new readers, it’s also advice that works. Diversify the places you are seen, and it leads to fresh eyes on your blog. Of course, then you’ve gotta deliver the goods to keep them coming back, but you’re halfway there once you’ve found them in the first place.

If you’re looking to increase the monetization of your blog, then quite a few brands and advertisers are interested in unique visitor numbers. It is also the way most blogging talent agencies work out pay scales – so the more unique visitors that read your blog, the more money you can make.

Between March and September of 2012, I doubled the unique visitors to my blog, Veggie Mama. By March 2013, they had tripled. They doubled again in the following six months, and are on track to triple by March this year. How did I do it? Well grab a pen and paper, folks, I’m about to tell all…

How I doubled my unique visitors in six months:

Content is king

Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it a million times. Have useful, interesting, engaging content and the readers will come. But don’t be too quick to dismiss the advice – without this foundation, you won’t have much to work with. Create good blog posts that lure readers. Create good blog posts to keep them there. It’s the ultimate building block, and cannot be taken too lightly.

Be seen outside your niche

Expanding my freelance writing online was incredibly useful for having people click through to the blog. I wrote or was featured on blogs, news websites, parenting sites, recipe sites, business newsletters, and in newspapers and magazines. Some worked more than others (newspaper features weren’t great for converting readers, but parenting sites and other blogs were. So were magazines with a Gen Y/Digital Native readership), but all put me in front of people who had never seen or heard of me before.

 Don’t underestimate Pinterest

Pinterest is the second-highest referrer of traffic to my blog. And due to Pinterest’s nature, it’s often referring unique visitors. Not only have I made my site easily Pinnable (by adding intuitive “Pin it” buttons, and adding graphics to images/ensuring they are Pinterest-optimised), but I’m an enthusiastic Pinner. I pop on there most days and repin a few things, which keeps me in people’s feeds, and encourages them to follow me. It’s not “in the spirit of Pinterest” to Pin your own content, but as long as you’re not spamming everyone constantly, adding your own stuff from time to time is very useful. By making your site easy to Pin, then it doesn’t take much for your readers to add you to their boards. Then you show up in their follower’s feeds, and so on. “Ooh, that recipe/article/tutorial looks interesting,” they’ll say. “Let me click through to get the instructions”. And there you have a brand-new visitor.

Join online communities

This is especially useful with tutorial posts or niche posts. A lot of my traffic comes from including my crochet tutorials on Ravelry – a place for people to search for knit and crochet patterns, upload their projects, and chat with other crafty types. By including some of my posts (and ensuring they were optimised for maximum search results), it means that I have a constant stream of traffic on posts I wrote years ago, but are still very useful in certain situations. Apart from a few outliers, these free pattern tutorials are the still the most-viewed posts on my blog.

Be a good blog citizen

If you are friendly and engaging on social media, then it’s likely that you’ll show up in your readers’ feeds when they interact with you. I notice that when I have a popular Facebook status update that has generated a lot of interest, it comes with a bunch of new “likers” who have seen their friends engage with me, and have clicked over to check me out. Chat with your community regularly and not only are you looking after the readers you’ve got, but also being visible to new ones.

Be where others aren’t

You might have no clue about why Google Plus is still around, and you don’t understand why Vine is popular – but don’t let that deter you. New readers are everywhere, including underused social media platforms. I find it much easier to interact with superstar bloggers and influential people who are inundated with Tweets and Facebook comments, but are not so overwhelmed on Google Plus. It’s easier to stand out there, and you’ll certainly be noticed.

Switch to WordPress

This was probably the easiest and most fun way to increase readership. I moved from Blogger to WordPress when I realised how much simpler it is to optimise your site and posts for SEO than it was on Blogger. One plugin is all you need (I use Yoast), and you fill in a couple of boxes of descriptions and key words, and it’s done. It takes no more than a minute, and even gives you a rating of how SEO-friendly you’ve made your post (a green light means you’ve done all you can). Being SEO-friendly means you’re going to rank better in search engine results – and when someone is looking for a mushroom risotto recipe, well up pops your post, and you’ve got yourself a unique visitor. And how is SEO fun, you ask? Well, it’s not. But by moving to WordPress, I got a brand new design and all the changes and newness meant I was re-energised and motivated to play around and blog more effectively.

Collaborate with others

People with bigger readerships or social media networks than you aren’t to be feared or envied – they’re to be worked with! If you genuinely have a way to collaborate with a bigger blogger, or you partner with a brand authentically, then it’s a win-win-win situation for all – you, the brand or other blogger, and your collective readers. If someone they trust is recommending you, then their readers are likely to check you out. Word of mouth is still the best advertisement around!

You’ll notice that I haven’t addressed content sharing or virality, and that’s simply because none of that happened more than one or two shares every now and then. It’s definitely a way to get fresh eyes in the form of unique visitors to your blog, and I thoroughly encourage it (but don’t bo so strategic about it that you lose your authenticity and your connection with your readers), but it isn’t something that I ever tried.

There are, of course, plenty of ways to drive traffic to your site, but these are the ones that have worked for me to bring unique visitors to my blog. While I didn’t do much of it strategically at the beginning, I can see it has been the most useful to me over time. Here’s to the next six months!

What have you done that has driven unique browsers to your site? Any tips to share?

Stacey Roberts is the content ninja at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

How Posting a Humble ‘Selfie’ Grew Traffic, Shares and Comments on a New Blog

Two months ago my wife, Vanessa, started to blog.

It is something she’s been planning for some time and with a little encouragement and some design help from Shayne, we set up at Style and Shenanigans.

The blog is in its very early days and Vanessa is still finding her voice but I think she’s a natural. I’ve been excited to see her experiment with a variety of kinds of blog posts.

NewImageTwo days ago saw a new type of blog post on Style and Shenanigans – a post that I watched Vanessa put a lot of thought into. It was the first time she’d shown herself on the blog in a picture with a post called Everyday Style @ Shenanigans Central.

The post included a montage of humble selfie shots of an outfit she wore and a description of the different elements in the outfit.

I totally understand V’s hesitation with the post.

Putting a picture of yourself ‘out there’ for all to see is something I remember pondering for a few days, before I did  when I started blogging back in 2002.

Back then, I had to go and get an image scanned to be able to put my photo up so it wasn’t something I could do on the spur of the moment. I also worried about doing it. I was concerned about privacy but I also felt weird about having my face ‘out there’.

I think I’ve gotten over that… as a quick search on Google Images will show (although I didn’t post all of these shots myself and at least one have been ‘doctored’).

Selfies

While we live in an age of the ‘selfie’ – when people constantly photograph and share pictures of themselves – many new bloggers do worry about their first time.

It won’t be for everyone and you will want to consider issues around privacy and safety however, there are some definite benefits. You can see some of those benefits with Vanessa’s post this week.

V’s blog post statistics were notable for three reasons:

  • Firstly, it was a record day of traffic. While it didn’t go viral it was the best day of traffic so far on the blog and around 7 times the traffic of a normal day.
  • Secondly, the post got shared more than a normal post. Again, it wasn’t a viral post but a greater number of people shared it around.
  • Thirdly, the post had more comments than she’d had previously. I think this was related to more than the increase in traffic.

My reflection upon V’s post was that it was a post that people connected to, a lot more than previous posts. Because of that, it generated more interest and more engagement.

People relate to people. We’re wired to be drawn to others and respond to their faces and stories. It’s no wonder that by injecting some personal touches into a blog – it has a positive impact.

I noticed this same thing when I first started posting images and videos of myself in my early blogging. It felt weird at first – but it helped my readers connect to me.

A Surprise Benefit of Being Personal

I also think that it had another benefit for my blog. It made ME feel more connected too. I noticed this in particular when I started posting videos of myself, here on ProBlogger. The same was true when I first did video streaming chats and webinars.

There is something about creating content that is more personal that makes ME feel more engaged with my readers. Perhaps having been seen and heard by my readers – I feel a little more accountable to them.

Whatever it is, I feel like by putting myself out there and over the years my blogging has improved.

Have you posted pictures of yourself on your blog?

I’d love to hear about your experience of this. Have you posted more personal content on your blog? Pictures, video, stories etc?

Was it something you struggled with or just did? What impact did it have?

Case study: How I launched my first e-course and made over 5 grand – from a tiny list

This is a guest contribution from Marya Jan, blogging coach and trainer for small business owners.

Do you want to monetize your blog or start an online business?

Have you been blogging for a while and all you want to do is sell products or services and follow your passions?

If that’s the case, then what is stopping you?

If you are like most people, the one thing that is holding you back is the size of your list.

You might have heard this many times before, ‘money is in the list’. So you feel without having a decent sized list, you can’t launch your business, or monetize your blog.

You feel like you need thousands of people on your list before you can make an offer.

You have heard success stories from popular bloggers with 20K, 50K or even 100K plus lists and you think you too need to blog until you reach that stage.

Today, I am here to present a different perspective: The size of your list is important; there is no doubt about it. 5K list is surely better than a 200 people list.

However, there is one more thing that is even more important – list responsiveness.

How warm is your list?

What are your open rates like? How many people click through to view the content? How many people actually made it to the end and share it?

For example, 30% open rates of a 3K list mean 900 people are opening and reading your emails at any given time. That is way better than 3% open rate for a 15K list – 450. Now, I am not saying that the bigger the size of your list, the more useless it comes.

What I am saying is this: Would you be happy with 400 hot leads? 400 people who open your emails and are real prospects? If so, you could get a list of 1,000 subscribers and work really hard on nurturing your list so that your open rates are phenomenal – in the vicinity of 40%, rather than worry about growing your list and allowing it to go cold.

When you start thinking about having a warm list where people really like and trust you, and get huge value from you, then you don’t need to wait till you have thousands of people on your list before you launch your business. 

Don’t believe me? Then let me tell you my story.

Launch of an e-course

How to use your blog to build a highly responsive, super targeted list makes the premise of my brand new e-course that I recently launched – to my list only, aptly titled Get 500 Subscribers.

The target market for this course is new businesses who are relying on their blogs as a primary marketing tool for building their lists or want to start blogging. These people understandably don’t have huge marketing budgets so blogging makes the perfect lead generation tool for them.

This also targets those people who blog but they haven’t monetized because they don’t have the information.

But before that, some context as you might be wondering who am I to give you advice on this? I am a blogging coach. Formally, I hold a MBA-marketing, Bachelor at Law and Education degrees, and I started my own business last year. I offer coaching and review services and I also teach Blogging for Business courses in local adult education provides (that’s TAFE for people who are in Australia).

I, too, felt that I could not launch my services before I had a minimum of 2K subscribers. In fact, I waited for longer than that.

I did an internal launch to my list of 3K subscribers in July (by internal launch I mean that the course was released to my list ONLY).

There are a few reasons for that:

As a pilot version, I wanted to allow a specific number of people in to test out the material and organisation of info presented. I wanted to see what they thought of it and if they found it to be practical enough.

I figured if these people are blog subscribers, they are more likely to forgive the mistakes (like typos which I am notorious for) and other issues that I might have missed. I also wanted to get feedback on how to make it better.

Finally, I wanted to see how they went after going through the course. I wanted to see their results and write mini case-studies based on all the information made avaiable to me, for the main launch. This would also make great testimonials and tell others that the course really works.

Research phase

So, before I even started creating this course, I polled my list and asked them if this is something they might be interested in.

I said to them that there are number of blogging related courses on the market already and they boast of adding thousands of subscribers to your list. I had asked them what their numbers currently look like and what they thought is doable.

I was really surprised by the sheer number of responses I received. But the most surprising was the fact that my audience was clearly split between people who were thinking of monetizing or new business and people who did not even have blogs yet. This was certainly eye opening for me.

But people generally agreed that for anyone having less than 100 people on their list, 500 is a great number to shoot for. So that is what I decided to run with.

I also decided to do an e-course instead of an ebook because we all know how many times we buy an ebook, scan through it and never pick it up again. I also wanted it to be step by step process, logically organised and also not overwhelm them as there are so many moving parts to this process.

Needless to say, I did a thorough home work on the competitors to check out their products, price points and of course their sales copy.

Based on the demand, the information included (6 modules with multiple lessons) and accompanying worksheets, checklists, resources and templates, I decided that the price tag of about $300 seemed fair. For my list though, I gave them a hefty 50% discount as I wanted initial intake of members to feel like founding members of the course and help me tweak it along the way.

This gave the confidence to keep going every time I faced a setback.

Investment

For the set up, I purchased Premise from Copyblogger media ($165) and bought one hour of consulting to set it up. This had me hyperventilating at some points because I hadn’t thought I’d have such a hard time getting my head around it. ($100)

I bought ebooks on how to launch from Ittybiz ($200) and referred to all my resources and previously bought training on writing sales pages and email marketing.

I did not spend anything on packaging as I did not need cover design or any fancy elements. This meant I kept the costs low.

Sales sequence 

For my pre-launch content, I had been publishing related blog posts such as   Why You Don’t Need to Become a Popular Blogger prior to announcing the course.

I did the initial survey and kept my audience in the loop from the beginning. They knew that I was working on this product and expected it. I announced it via email a week before enrolment was to open.

I kept my launch period fairly short – 4 days.

I send 5 emails altogether. Here is a brief sequence in case you are wondering.

Email 1: Officially open for enrolment + bonus (Day 1)

Email 2: Reader questions answered (Day 3)

Email 3: Last day for enrolment (Last day)

Email 4: Few hours remain (Last day)

Launch mistakes + lessons 

Based on the survey I did earlier, it was clear that this course would appeal to 50% of my audience. 50% (of those who answered) don’t have even have a blog yet. This course is definitely NOT for them. (This also told me that I can also release a product aimed at beginner bloggers at some stage.)

I should have started an interest list.

I wasn’t confident enough to do that but would have been better because would have gotten the realistic numbers. I would have avoided some emotional stress. There were some unsubscribes which are to expected but I would have lost less people had I emailed to the people on my interest list only.

I could have built more context around the premise of my course (building a list of super targeted 500 subscribers) by doing more pre-lunch content pieces. I feel I rushed through this phase. I did a post or two but how many people read those?

I didn’t realise that it is a holiday in USA + July 4 long weekend when I was closing enrolment. I still can’t believe I didn’t pick up on that.

So many people launched in June-July. I am thinking early in 2014 for my main launch might be better next time

There was some initial confusion regarding the dates, I didn’t proofread launch emails properly and I am thinking this must have affected sales.

And this is what I did really well.

Because of the survey, I was able to choose a topic and create a product that my audience really wanted. I also ran this idea by trusted friends.

My friends (Henri Juntilla, Henneke D and Di Mace in particular) helped name the product. Initially, I was thinking of promoting it as School of Business Blogging but received concern that it might put people off as they might think it is too corporate or serious. Dodged that bullet – phew!

On my sales page, I got over 15% conversion rate which is HUGE. This is confirms that there is a demand for this course.

My goal was to make 5K and I exceeded that.

I need to bring this in front of the right (and bigger) audience next time.

I was told by my readers that my emails very convincing, despite the odd typo!

Unexpected findings

90% of people who joined became my blog subscribers this year (many in May 3013). This means that you don’t have to get people on your list for the longest time to sell to them. Sometimes people like what they see and buy soon enough

People who opened course notification emails (announcement, early access + official open) made up for 35% of my list, on average. Over 500 people never opened a single email of time. After the launch, I actually deleted and moved to an old people list. I wrote about this process on this post – Why I Deleted 400 Subscribers from My List.

I now realise that was probably attracting the wrong audience – meaning people who were just interested in blogging generally but not to use it for marketing and list building purposes. For this reason, I converted the ebook into a 10-part free e-course titled Blogging for Business. This has been converting really well and my open rates are up so I assume this was the right decision.

I could also use a re-brand. This is something I am working on.

Ration of women : men = 30:6. Well this wasn’t so unexpected. I seem to attract women who are in their late 30s and over as they know the reality of building a business and can see through the hype.

All in all, there were no major screw ups.

I learned a ton in the process, met expectations (yay!) and feel way more confident that ever in launching this course to public.

My next steps are to create more products, market more, grow list, re-brand and of course do the main launch of my e-course in 2014.

So back to you. Have I given you something to think about? Has my story changed your mind a bit?

When are you going to lunch your first product? Would you wait till you have thousands of people on your list or will a few hundred do?

Will you work on building the right list or focus on numbers?

What will it take for you to finally monetize?

Marya Jan is a blogging coach and trainer for small business owners. She is the creator of Get 500 Subscribers e-course and teaches Business Blogging short courses in real life. Don’t forget to grab her free 10-part Blogging for Business email course. Like her on Facebook, she is very friendly!

How I Stopped Waiting to Become a Writer, Quit My Job & Launched My Dream

This is a guest contribution from Jeff Goins of Goins, Writer.

It took me six years to become a professional blogger. And four and a half of those years were spent waiting.

For years, I read blogs, bought books, and watched videos about ordinary, everyday people making the colossal shift from day job to living their dream. I seethed with envy and bitterness as I saw friends skyrocket to success, living out their passions.

What were they doing that I wasn’t?

All the while, I waited. Waited for someone to pick me. Waited for permission. Waited to be good enough to start.

And guess what? Permission never came. Until one day, when everything changed…

The Conversation That Turned Me into a Writer

A few years ago, a friend asked me an important question:

“What’s your dream?”

“Don’t have one,” I said.

“Sure you do. Everyone has a dream.”

“Ah, I dunno… I’m living it, I guess.”

“Really? Hrmph.” And then a long pause — “Because, well, I would’ve thought your dream was to be a writer.”

As soon as I heard those words, something in me stirred. Something that had been there all along.

“Well, uh, yeah…” I gulped, “I guess I’d like to be a writer… some day. But that’ll never happen.”

I sounded so sure, so certain that at 28 years old, I knew where the rest of my life was headed. Shaking his head, my friend smiled.

“Jeff… You don’t have to want to be a writer…”

And then he said nine words that changed me life:

“You are a writer; you just need to write.”

Turns out that was all I needed. It’s really all any of us need: to believe we already are what we want to be.

So that’s what I did. I started calling myself a writer. And I started practicing.

Practice Makes Better

After that conversation, I started blogging, guest posting (despite my fear of rejection), and sharing my work with the world. At first, nobody noticed or cared, and that was just fine with me. Because I was finally doing what I was born to do: writing.

It was good to blog in relative obscurity, good to practice without the whole world watching. This is a foreign concept in our world today. Everyone wants to be awesome now, but the road that leads to mastery is rarely a densely-populated one.

At the same time, I had a daily routine. I was, as Seth Godin says, practicing in public. Putting myself on the line. Forcing myself to be creative. Every day by 7:00 a.m., I had to post something. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. And this expectation I placed on myself was just what I needed. It made me better, helped me find my voice.

That one year of intense writing taught me more than the previous six years of writing when I felt like it. The lesson I learned was this: frequency, not quantity, is what counts in getting to excellence. Some days, I wrote for 30 minutes, while others I wrote for two hours. But the amount of time didn’t matter.

What mattered was that I showed up.

And that’s what turned a hobby into a discipline — and eventually a profession.

“This is the… secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight.” —Steven Pressfield

How I Built an Audience of 100,000 Readers in 18 Months

Initially, nobody knew me. So I interviewed influential people and A-list bloggers, people I wanted to learn from and associate with. And after awhile, I became friends with these folks, some of which invited me to write on their blogs.

Still, there were no overnight successes. It took me six months to get a mere 75 email subscribers. But something amazing happened around that six-month mark: The week I released a free, 900-word eBook for writers, I had over 1000 signups in seven days.

There was power, I learned, in giving more than taking, being generous instead of greedy.

Eight months in, I had amassed an audience of a few thousand followers (through guest posting and my free eBook), and a book publisher asked me to write a book. Within 18 months, those 1000 emails had turned in 20,000, and I was regularly receiving over 100,000 unique visitors to my blog each month.

I wasn’t making much money yet, but I believed that if I helped people, there would be a way to make a living.

From Side Project to Full-time Income

That next year, my wife and I were expecting our first child, and we weren’t sure how we were going to afford it. She wanted to stay home and raise our son, and on my salary it just wasn’t possible.

Someone told me that once you had over 10,000 subscribers, you had a six-figure business. So I decided to give that idea a try, throwing together an eBook in a few days. I sent an email to my subscribers, telling them I was offering the eBook at an early discounted rate. With that first eBook, I made about $1500 in a weekend. At the time, that was about half a month’s salary for me, an entire paycheck. In two days.

I couldn’t believe it. The next few months, I played around with affiliate products and started making a couple hundred bucks a month doing that. The side income was nice, but I knew I had to do another launch.

My second eBook, which was just a rewritten version of the first one, made $16,000 in six weeks. After that, I knew there was something to this whole “make money blogging” thing. Buried in my blog was a business; I just had to find it. Later that year, I released an online course, starting at a low price and gradually raising it with each new class. Every time I launched it, I got more students than the last.

By the end of my second year of blogging, my wife was able to stay home to raise our son, and I was preparing to quit my job. When we did our taxes, we were amazed to see we had not only replaced our income, but tripled it.

What It Takes

Although I’d read all the success stories and heard all the tips, I didn’t realize how much work it would be to build a popular blog.

In my first year of blogging, I wrote over 300 posts for my blog plus 100 guest posts for other websites. To do this, I had to get up every morning at 5:00 a.m. and often stay up well past midnight. I quit most of my other hobbies and focused all my free time on writing.

It wasn’t easy, but I was committed to the dream. Having spent so many years in frustration, unwilling to do the work, I was ready to invest the time — even if it took years — to get the results I wanted.

People often ask me what one thing I did with that made all the difference with my blog. And of course, I can’t think of one. Because it’s a process, a whole hodge-podge of things I did that made it work.

No single strategy can help you to get to your dream. No solitary experience or choice will lead to your big break. Well, except for maybe one:

Don’t give up.

Don’t quit. Keep going. Never stop. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let go of the dream. You can do this. You will do this — if only you don’t stop.

That’s what’s missing with most blogs and with most writers. Every great story about some legendary entrepreneur I’ve ever read was rife with failure until one hinge moment when it all changed.

What made the difference? Why did Steve Jobs succeeded while thousands others in Silicon Valley didn’t? Why did J.K. Rowling become a worldwide phenomenon while many of her peers never will? And what can ordinary folks like you and me do to live extraordinary lives?

Don’t give up.

If I had to boil it down to three steps, I would say here’s what you need to do:

  1. Own what you are (i.e. writer, blogger, entrepreneur, etc.).
  2. Commit to the process. Do uncomfortable things, make friends with influential people, and keep practicing until people notice.
  3. Keep going. When it’s hard and scary and nobody things you’re any good, don’t give up. Persevere. In the end, we will be telling stories about you, but only if you don’t quit.

So what do you say? Isn’t it time you started really pursuing your dream?

You bet it is.

Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville. You can follow him on Twitter @JeffGoins and check out his new book, The In-Between.

How Interview Blogs Work [Case Study]

This guest post is by Janelle Allen of The Grand Life.

In September 2012, I launched my latest online venture, The Grand Life, where I interview creative professionals and entrepreneurs, and quickly realized that I had a lot to learn about building a successful interview site.

Although there are a few resources on interviewing, what I really needed was to chat with other interviewers who were willing to share their strategies and thoughts on generating traffic, converting subscribers and attracting revenue.

Fortunately, I secured interviews with the founders of three different sites, each with varying levels of success: Shelia Butler of Successful Women Talk, Tim Jahn, co-founder of Entrepreneurs Unpluggd, and David Siteman Garland of The Rise to the Top.

Each of these individuals shared tons of insight and helpful tips, which I now share with you.

A little background

Can you give us a quick intro about your site and it’s mission?

SB: The premise behind Successful Women Talk is to interview successful women and share their stories. About two years ago I started following some of people like Andrew Warner, David Siteman Garland, and I thought, “You know what? I needed a mentor and I didn’t have one. What better mentor for a woman than to have another successful woman that’s walked that path before her?” I just wanted to give someone else the idea—to show them that you can do it.

TJ: At Entrepreneurs Unpluggd our goal is to help early stage entrepreneurs move forward with their business idea or whatever it is they’re working on. Entrepreneurs Unpluggd provides advice and resources to help solve the problems that new entrepreneurs, and those thinking about taking the leap, experience in the early stages.

DSG: We work with online entrepreneurs. I call them mediapreneurs. A lot of times they’re creating some kind of media related to their business: a web show, a blog, a book. Some kind of form like that. We deal with a lot of experts and people that have a passion that they’re looking to turn into an online business—that’s really the types of people that come hang out with us.

When did you launch your site?

SB: I started the show in March (2012), so it’s a relatively new site.

TJ: We launched the site portion in the Spring or Summer of 2011, but we started with events in the beginning of 2011.

DSG: I started in 2008. When I started it was a different approach from a lot of people because my site started out as a local website. So 2008 and 2009, it was really for local entrepreneurs in St. Louis, Missouri, where I’m from.

Strategies for growing your site

How much traffic do you currently generate per month?

SB: I’m at around 1000 unique visitors each month.

TJ: I don’t know the numbers offhand. Right now our numbers aren’t anything huge. So that’s a goal going forward.

DSG: Our onsite traffic is somewhere around 100,000 to 125,000 unique visitors a month.

What are your top traffic sources?

SB: Organic is still my number one, then Facebook and then probably Stumbleupon or Pinterest; but Facebook and organic traffic are the biggest ones.

TJ: Twitter is the highest.

DSG: Google is number one, Facebook is number two.

What strategies did you use to attract readers when you started out?

SB: I had previously built a website and I knew I wanted to optimize the site for SEO as much as possible. I wanted the site to be clean; I wanted an opt-in option and to do video because it’s another way to market yourself. So those strategies and also trying to be different by interviewing women. I’m slowly but organically putting myself out there. I have Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. That’s been my strategy: putting it there and trying to be as SEO friendly as possible.

TJ: We focused on three things: Producing really good content. Everybody says that, but to us that means we produce videos for our events. We also have the interviews that I used to do.

And we also like to produce really good written content. So when it comes to a blog post, whether it’s one of our team members writing it or it’s a guest post, it needs to fit certain criteria and be useful in our eyes to be considered good, quality content.

Also, we’re constantly working on ways to promote our content in a higher way. We’ve been focusing on social media, in addition to constantly tweaking our email newsletter.

DSG: I’m one of those who likes to share everything transparently—everything that I’ve tried, attempted, worked, failed … whatever. When I started it was a different approach from a lot of people because my site started out as a local website. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have people elsewhere, but my focus was local interviews with interesting entrepreneurs. So I went on a local tirade to try to get people’s attention. Besides using social media channels and things like that, I made sure that I networked with all the major media sources in St. Louis at the time. St. Louis Business Journal and Small Business Monthly of St. Louis, St. Louis Magazine and Alive Magazine, radio, TV—anything local that would listen to me.

I was doing TV interviews and radio interviews. And honestly the way that I did it was no magic formula: I just emailed people or called them up [and said], “I’m 24. I’m starting this show. We’re interviewing entrepreneurs. Here’s the website. The mission is that I’m trying to encourage young entrepreneurship in the city.” And that led to a lot of early traffic. That was, believe it or not, one of the first of many, many strategies that I used to get it off the ground.

What have you learned from some of the strategies that you’ve used? Are there any unsuccessful strategies that you would advise people to avoid?

SB: I think the biggest thing is not to focus on the number of followers you have, but the quality with those followers and how much engagement you truly have with them.

At first I would beat myself up because I didn’t have ten thousand Twitter followers. But it doesn’t really matter because I’ve found that the people who love what I do continue to respond, continue to comment, continue to watch and continue to spread my stuff. I think that you need to put more value in the few quality people that you have and when you do that you gain traction.

I also started putting themes around my content each week, with the interviews I’d do. I think that helps because then I’d also link to articles that were related to my theme of the week or the person that I’m interviewing. Just trying to be more strategic about it.

TJ: What I’d recommend other people to work on is to figure out which channels apply to their audience. You mentioned things you shouldn’t do: a while back we were promoting to sites where our audience wasn’t hanging out, so it was pointless for us to take the time to share our content there. So take the time to figure out which sites are actually worth your time and have an audience that will actually be reading your content.

DSG: A thing that worked really well was we did live events. We did 85 live events in two years in St. Louis. Not big ones, but getting 30 entrepreneurs together for dinner and discussions or Rise Lunch, as we called it. These little branding opportunities were great because it gave people the touch and feel of the brand.

I think that if I were to start again from scratch, I don’t think I would focus as much on the local as I did in the beginning. I would focus on [building] critical relationships with other influencers in the space, which has always been a success strategy and that’s part of interviewing. I would do more book reviews on video and give credit to authors, for example. I would do more ways that you can connect with people. That’s really the best way anything spreads, not asking people, “Can you promote this for me?” It’s better to ask “How can I promote and help other people?”

Another thing that I want to emphasize is that I’ve always been obsessed with the design of the site. I love a high-end design. I’m not talking about spending millions of dollars here, but spending time and money and effort to really get that brand down. Everyone says content is king. I agree, but it’s really about what it looks like and how it makes people feel and your connection with a person and the audience.

How has your site evolved over time and how have the changes impacted your growth?

DSG: When I started, I didn’t know who it was for. I was going for young but I didn’t know the demographic that was going to happen. The way that I learned to evolve it was just from doing the interviews. I would interview people and think “That guy wasn’t that cool. I’m not feeling this.” So slowly, I would narrow and narrow [my target audience] down over time and I think that’s one of the keys to success. I’m not afraid to say “We’re going in this direction,” even though it may piss some people off.

Here’s the funny mistake that happened too: first [the focus] was entrepreneurship, then it naturally evolved to online entrepreneurship and where it’s at today is what I call mediapreneurship or lifestyle entrepreneurship. Between the shift from online to mediapreneurship, I knew something was missing. So a shift that I made very quickly was to go more broad and interview successful people in all types of industries. I did that—and honestly, I love those interviews—but it was off-brand. I knew something had to change but I should have gone narrow, not broad.

Then I figured it out and realized I was right about needing to change, but wrong on the direction. When I went narrow, that’s when I really started honing in on the topic and the types of people who were tuning in. That’s when it went to the next level in terms of everything: revenue, business model, traffic, community buyers–everything went in the right direction once we went that way.

Strategies for converting readers to subscribers

How many email subscribers do you currently have?

SB: I just looked and I have about 175 email subscribers right now. It’s a start. But it was more than what I thought, so I got really excited!

TJ: We have a little over 5000 or so. That’s something we’re always thinking about. We’ve found that people who are on the email newsletter are the most engaged and into what we’re doing.

DSG: One of my fun mistakes early on was to not focus solely on email. Now on my site you won’t find social media buttons or anything. We push everything through email. If I had done that when I started, we’d be doing this interview from my yacht.

Our email subscribers right now are somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000, and going up exponentially each month. By the end of next year, it could be close to 100k.

What strategies do you use to convert people to subscribers?

SB: I try to have a really clean site and focus on my opt-in box [locations]. At the bottom of every post, I have an opt-in. I also included a “free updates” page and I’ve gotten quite a bit of subscribers from that.

I’ve also started asking people to share, which is something that we as women have a hard time with: asking for things. I just launched my podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, so I put a Facebook post up asking people to subscribe. So, I’m going to ask and I think asking is really important.

TJ: We’ve played with different calls to action on our site. At the moment we have a welcome mat, which is a full page that you see when you first come to our site. If you’ve never been to our site before, you’ll see it and it will encourage you to sign up. It doesn’t force you (there’s a Skip this button), but it works very well.

There are some sites that implement that technique on only the home page, but we implement it on every page. We also have calls to action at the bottom of every post and at the top of every page.

DSG: First and foremost, you will notice if you go to my site—boom—right at the top there’s an email signup. I’m a big believer in using your real estate well. There’s also an email signup on every page and some of the hidden pages that people don’t use, but they should, like the About page. A couple other ways I do it: it’s always under every episode and I always verbally say it in each episode.

Another thing is that once you start putting things for sale and you start getting some really awesome customers, they start spreading the word. You end up with more word of mouth conversion when you start charging people for things. It’s a good thing.

Have there been changes or events that spiked your conversion rate or has it been slow growth?

SB: I think I’m too new to say. So far it’s been slow growth. But I have interviewed some well-known people lately and I get more followers from that. I’ve noticed that if I interview someone with a bigger following, if they share it, that makes a big difference.

TJ: The welcome mat definitely made a huge difference in terms of conversion rate.

DSG: Here’s a little lesson that definitely increased email subscribers: I used to say “Hey guys, you like this … you want more … blah, blah. Join The Rise VIP list and you’ll have more.” Now here’s where it gets interesting! I realized that’s annoying because people could be on another site, or they might be on iTunes or listening to it on Stitcher Radio. They’re going to look below and say, “What are you talking about?” So what I did was very simple: I just made a URL to therisetothetop.com/vip. The URL is just a sign up for the email list. So on episodes or anything that I’m doing where I’m talking or doing an interview, I just say go to rise/vip, where you’ll hear about new shows, etc. As long as they remember that URL, you don’t have to be as concerned about where people are watching or listening.

Another thing that helped was I changed from sending out a very generic automatic email when shows went up. It was an RSS autoresponder that went out whenever there was a new post. I completely changed that. Now I do a straight-up email like it’s coming from a friend. I send every single one myself and I get more emails back from people now. I include something funny about my day or weekend or whatever. That was a huge shift. It sounds small, but what ends up happening is people share that email. They’re like, “This is funny. Have you seen this? You should check it out.”

Strategies for building revenue

Are you currently able to fully support yourself financially from your site?

SB: I am not, but it is a goal. I do have another business, so I do a couple of things. I have gotten several consulting clients from the site.

TJ: It’s definitely something we want to make regular revenue from, and we are but we’re not making full-time revenue.

DSG: Absolutely. I just hired my dad who is a full-time employee.

How much annual revenue do you generate on your site?

DSG: We can’t release it fully but I can tell you that it’s over $300,000.

What revenue models did you use for your show when you started out and what lessons did you learn?

TJ: Sponsors and events. [In the future], we’re going to experiment with different ways of doing sponsors, maybe sponsored content or some sort of interactive content between the sponsor and our community, which only works if you have the right sponsors. The sponsors we seek and will continue to seek are those who have products and services for our community.

My co-founder and I are very data driven. We like to make decisions based on the data, so we pay close attention to which types of posts work and what kind of content works. When I say “work,” what it really boils down to is what your goals are. If your goal is to make money, there’s no point in doing anything that’s not going to make you money.

It only makes sense to do things that support your goals, right? So start experimenting with things. Try list posts. They traditionally work well in our industry, so try it and if it does well, try another one. If it doesn’t, try a different type of post until you start to build data on what works. We did videos for a long time. My interviews were about twenty minutes long. We’re going to experiment with cutting up the videos to see which lengths work. Will people respond to a five minute video versus a fifteen minute video? If so, then we’re going to make five minute videos.

DSG: When I was starting out it was all based on local ads and sponsorships and I learned that local ads and sponsorships suck. It kept me afloat, so I can’t rip it, but it’s not a sustainable model, because if you’re going to do advertisements and sponsorships, you’re now in the media mindset versus being an educator.

When you’re in the media mindset, it’s all about volume. You have to get more people in; you have to do more shows; you have to get more advertisements, but there’s a cap on how far you can go with that, especially if you’re in a niche. The more niche the better; however, you have a smaller potential audience. So, when you do sponsorships the challenge is that your revenue is controlled by someone else. If they wake up on the wrong side of the bed, if they’re going out of business, if they get bored and move on to something else–that could be a massive revenue hit to you if you don’t control it.

I still have sponsorships and advertising, but I can tell you that it’s not a sustainable business by itself. It just isn’t. You’re going to end up having pressure to grow more audience when that may not be the best way to go about it.

Let’s put it this way: I have made six figures from my first online product launch with an audience of less than 500 people who bought it. The reason is because I get all the revenue. I created it and it’s $495 dollars. If I went to a sponsor and said: “We’ve got 500 awesome people. Do you want to sponsor this?” They’d say no.

That was a huge shift because my goal at the beginning was that I was going to grow this and have sponsorships and that was the model. I can’t remember the moment when I had the awakening, but I think when I started learning more from other people I realized that my business model was flawed. Not in terms of revenue, but for long-term growth and potential. Now, I see us as a show and products and online events–which have been hugely successful—and we’re also going to move into having a membership component as well. It’s going to be a multi-faceted approach.

I think the number one takeaway is that people think that they’re just going to do a show and have these sponsors and advertising come in and sprinkle you with happiness. It just doesn’t happen. Once you get into that creation mindset and begin to charge people, I think that’s where it’s at.

Final thoughts

When it comes to hosting an internet radio show or having a site that focuses on interviewing people, what are two or three key lessons that people should absolutely do when starting out, in terms of successfully growing an audience?

SB: I think the best thing is that you’ve got to be authentic. I’ll give you a good example: I almost didn’t start a talk show because of my Southern (American) accent. I was really embarrassed by it and I thought that people would think I was uneducated or whatever the stereotype is, but I get the most positive compliments about my accent than anything. So be yourself and don’t be afraid to go out there and try something new.

Secondly, having a good look, design and brand is important.

Thirdly, be consistent. Sometimes it’s hard to post when you say you will. Even though I have a small following, they are a dedicated following and they expect something to happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I think being consistent is huge.

TJ: First, don’t do what doesn’t work. The argument there is that if I’m just starting out, I don’t know what doesn’t work. Well, that brings me to my second point: do it and iterate as quickly as possible.

We’re constantly iterating. It’s not always something big, sometimes it’s small tweaks. Go out there and just start doing it. You’re going to make mistakes and screw up and figure things out but that’s when you’re going to start building data to figure out what works and what doesn’t. That’s when you’ll be able to begin only doing things that work, because you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. You’re never going to get to that point if you don’t start.

My co-founder and I, when we want to do something, we just do it. We don’t sit down and think about it for a week and have a big meeting, we just do it. We get on chat and say “Should we do this? What’s the data?” If it doesn’t work, we learn that pretty quickly.

DSG: First thing: You have to spend some time and a little dough on the brand. One of the biggest secrets to getting people to say yes is that you actually look like you know what you’re doing.

Second, is not to start with the top of the mountain. Don’t try to reach out to A-lister type people because you’ll get pissed when they don’t respond. Start with people you know, people you can practice on. Build up your portfolio a little bit before you start reaching out to [A-list] people.

Third tip: When you start reaching out to people that are bigger, the best time to get someone is when they’re promoting something. A book is the best possible thing because the publishers pressure everyone to go promote their book. When people have something to promote, they become much more likely to be interviewed.

Bonus tip: I’ve done hundreds of interviews and I’ve never once asked someone to promote my interview. I know people that do it and they like to send a link and say “Please promote this,” but I like to come from a place that’s more about gratitude. When I interview someone, after the interview is up, I send a link, thank them and that’s it. Good things will happen from that.

Every time someone sends me a link and says “Can you promote this?” I don’t want to do it. Interestingly, anytime someone sends it to me and doesn’t tell me to promote it, I promote it. You don’t want to make people think that you only did the interview because you want them to send it out. You want to throw a party for the guest. It should be fun and easy.

What is one piece of advice that may be unconventional or that we just don’t usually hear that you would recommend people follow?

SB: I’ve been told and I’ve read that you can’t be too broad, but when I do interviews outside of my niche, they are sometimes my most popular ones—so try not to be too close-minded and think outside the box. Give people the benefit of the doubt and learn how to pull something out of the interview that speaks to your audience.

DSG: It’s not about bringing in as much traffic as you can. What it’s about is: At some point you’re going to start to get a little bit of love. You might have two fans, but you’re going to get a little bit of love. A comment. An email. A Facebook like; something like that. These early adopters become your superfans—take care of them. What do I mean? Respond to them. I respond to everything that I possibly can, even now. This engagement builds fans that spread the word for you.

Let me give you an example: a lady named Debbie. I didn’t know Debbie but she was having issues subscribing and she sent me an email saying “I want to subscribe but I can’t figure it out.” So, very simply, I went in and subscribed her and sent her an email saying “Hey, Debbie. I’m so excited to have you in and I want to apologize for the problems. It’s all set. You’re in!” I got the warmest, kindest email back, thanking me. I just did this because I wanted to help her, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff that Debbie has spread for this show since then. She’s our number one fan. She spreads everything. She buys everything. She attends everything. When I hosted a live event one time, she couldn’t make it so she sent a bottle of wine. People often wonder how you create these kinds of super fans; it’s by treating them as individuals.

Conclusion

Building a successful interviewing site takes more than just finding interesting people. You have to combine savvy interviewing skills with technical know-how and strategic marketing. Hopefully the strategies shared in this article will help you build a successful site. If you’re new to interviewing or thinking about starting, there are a few resources you should check out, namely Andrew Warner’s How to Interview Your Heroes guide and David Siteman Garland’s Create Awesome Interviews training videos.

Beyond that, I can only suggest you follow the advice you’ve read here: set clear goals, don’t be afraid to change directions, honor your fans and, above all, just start.

Do you do interviews for your blog? Share your own tips and advice with us in the comments.

Janelle Allen is the founder and author of The Grand Life, where she interviews creative entrepreneurs about creativity, freedom and work, with a focus on telling stories about work that matters. Learn more about her here and connect with her via Twitter.