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5 First Year Posts that Led to Over 6 Million Views

What sort of content should you publish on your blog to help you grow traffic in your first year?

There is no right or wrong answer to that question as each blog will be different depending upon the topic, your writing style and the purpose of your blog. However, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the earliest posts that I wrote on Digital Photography School and talk a little about how each contributed to the growth of the site.

What follows is a selection of posts that I published in the first year of Digital Photography School (back in 2007) and some reflections on how I think they helped grow readership on the site.

5 Posts on dPS that Helped Me Grow Traffic

Note: what you’re seeing here is how the posts look today. We’ve been through 3 redesigns in that time.

1. 15 Stunning Images Using Blur to Portray Movement

Early posts on dps

This post was the most viewed post on dPS in the first year (in that 12 month period it had 183,269 visitors). It was published about 8 months after the site launched and was one of the first times I experimented with what I later started to call ‘image collections’.

This style of post was a move away from the normal ‘tutorial’ type of posts that I did. While the majority of the posts on dPS were ‘information’ heavy this post was almost completely images (a series of 15 of them) and it highlighted the importance for me of ‘inspiration’.

One thing I’m glad I did in this post was to link it back to a previously written ‘tutorial’ that I’d written on the same topic (which I did in the first paragraph). This led to some decent traffic to that ‘information’ heavy post.

This post was something of a slow burner in terms of traffic. It wasn’t until 4 weeks after I published it that it suddenly saw a rush of traffic from StumbleUpon and Reddit (peaking at 27,000 visitors in a day).

Two years after I published this post I gave it an update and reposted it to the front page of the site. This resulted in another great spike in traffic to the post as at that time it was featured on the front page of Digg (bringing in 24,000+ visitors in a day).

In 2010, the post again had a spike of 15,000+ visitors in a day after being linked to from another large site.

This post has continued to get traffic every day. It’s not spectacular daily traffic (it has averaged 100 or so visitors per day over the last month) but when you think about the long tail life of this post it adds up. The post has been viewed 786,547 times since being published.

2. 4 Easy Photoshop Techniques to Make Your Pictures Pop!

Early posts on dps 2

This very early post (published 20 days after the launch of the site) was the one that opened my eyes to the potential of the site on a couple of levels.

Firstly, it was the first time the site saw a post go viral from any kind of social media after it was featured on the front page of Digg (which brought in 45,000+ visitors in a day and crashed our servers).

Secondly, the post was the first time I’d ever published a guest post. In the first year I did only publish a handful of guest posts and wrote 99% of them myself but this did change my opinion of the featuring other people’s voices on my blog.

Thirdly, this was the first ever post that we’d done on the topic of ‘post production’. Up until this point I’d always just published posts that were how to ‘take’ photos rather than how to manipulate and process them in photoshop. Later I went on to add a post production section to the site.

What is interesting to me about this post is that while it is now dated (as there are new versions of Photoshop out and new tools available to photographers) it still continues to get decent traffic. The post still regularly gets 200 visitors a day and has had over 1.7 million page views now despite me never really promoting it since the early days of the site (it’s almost all Google traffic).

3. 11 Surefire Tips for Improving Your Landscape Photography

Early posts on dps 3

This post is written in a style that has always been popular on dPS – the ‘list post’.

As the title suggests there are 11 tips in the post listed. Each point is 2-3 paragraphs long and then most link deeper into the site to other articles that go deeper on those topics. As a result a reader can get a good introduction to the topic but are encouraged to read more of the archives.

Scattered through the post are also great illustrative images for the points mentioned.

In later years I’ve included larger images and more of them – but this was an early version of this style of post.

This post did particularly well on StumbleUpon in the first year after it was published and saw around 148,000 visitors come to the site in that 12 months (half of which came from StumbleUpon).

Interestingly I noticed that as a result of StumbleUpon traffic (and a day that it did well on Reddit) we then saw a number of other larger blogs link to up to the post.

Lastly – for years I have used this post as a piece of ‘cornerstone’ content on the blog and have often linked to it when I mention Landscape Photography in other posts. By linking back to it so many times I was always driving traffic to this post in those early years.

Since it was published the post has been viewed over 1.3 million times – approaching 10 times more traffic than it got in its first year after publication!

This to me highlights the importance of extending the life of posts in your archives by pushing traffic back to them over time.

4. How to Photograph Fireworks

Early posts on dps 4

There are no prizes for guessing what time of year this post went live – that’s right – in the lead up to 4 July 2007 (about 6 months after the site launched). I actually published the post on 26 June to allow it to have time to be indexed by Google.

My theory was that there would be a lot of people searching for tips on how to photograph fireworks at that time, and I was right.

This post saw only a bit of traffic in its first week but on 4th July it saw 32,000+ visitors – almost all of which came in from Google.

I’ve updated this post and republished it on the front page of the site every July since 2007. It is the post that just keeps on giving. Here’s a screen shot of traffic to the site – with spikes every 4th July and New Years Eve.

Fireworks seasonal traffic

To this date the post has been viewed just under 1.5 million times.

The key lesson to me from this post was to consider when you can write seasonal content. We’ve done this a variety of times with Christmas Photography Tips and Halloween Photography Tips posts doing pretty well too.

5. ISO Settings in Digital Photography

Early posts on dps 5

All of the posts linked to above have had spectacular days of traffic but this post was quite unmemorable in many ways.

It was on a very beginner topic. I even remember wondering whether I should publish information this basic in those early days. It was a relatively short post on a niche topic that was a part of a series where I looked at the topic of Exposure and covered ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture.

Traffic to the post in the first year never rose above 800 visitors in a day and averaged only 150 per day.

But here’s the thing… this post is one of the most viewed posts I’ve ever written and has been viewed just under 2.4 million times since I published it.

You might be wondering when it featured on the front page of Digg or was linked to by a major blog… but the reality is that it never had a day of traffic over 5000 visitors (and that was just once). Here’s the traffic graph since the early days:

ISO

Where did the traffic come from? The vast majority of it was from search engines. Facebook is the next highest referrer of traffic and it only sent 17,927 views.

This is another example of a ‘cornerstone’ piece of content that must have linked to hundreds of times from other articles on the site when I mention the term ISO. I did this the same with the Shutter Speed and Aperture posts in this series (incidentally this 4 post series has had close to 6 million page views – I’m glad I wrote it).

The key lesson here is that even the most simple concepts are worth writing about. You might think a concept is too basic but there’s no doubt that others will want that information (another example of this was my ‘How to Hold a Camera‘ post that I almost didn’t publish but which has been viewed almost 600,000 times).

The other key lesson is that growing traffic to your blog is not always about trying to write shareable content that might go viral. This post is just a simple article that attempts to serve my readers. It wasn’t written with growing traffic in mind – rather it was written to serve my current readers.

I do believe that it is wise to write some of your content with ‘finding new readers’ in mind – but the majority of your posts should focus upon serving the readers you already have.

What Posts Did You Write in Your First Year that Helped You Grow Your Blog?

I have really enjoyed creating this post and have actually gotten some great idea for future posts on dPS from doing this analysis of old posts on the site.

I’d encourage you to dig into your own stats and see what you notice about your old posts that have gone well – I’d also love to hear about them in comments below!

Don’t Fall Into This Trap That Could Destroy Your Blog

NewImageLast week I spent time with a young blogger who was completely stalled with her blog (for the purpose of this post I’ll call her Sally).

Sally’s blogging had started with a bang and had put together 3 great months of content and had started to build a readership but then it suddenly all came to a halt.

I arranged to catch up for coffee to see what had happened and see if there was a way to get her moving again and she told me a story that I’m sure many readers will find familiar.

Paralysed by Comparisons

The reason Sally started blogging was that she had been a reader of another reasonably well known blogger. She had been so inspired by this established blogger that she simply had to start her own blog – which she did.

The problem that brought Sally’s blog to a grinding halt started a few weeks after her blog began when Sally began to compare her fledgling blog with her hero’s blog.

It started innocently enough with her noticing that this others blogger’s design just seemed to flow much better than Sally’s. However in the coming days and weeks Sally started to compare other things too.

Her hero seemed to blog with more confidence, she got more comments, she had a larger Twitter following, she was more active on Pinterest, she was getting some great brands advertise on her blog, she was invited to cool events…

Once Sally started comparing she couldn’t stop. She told me that she would sit down to work on her blog and end up on her hero’s blog and social media accounts – for hours on end – comparing what they were doing.

On one hand Sally knew it wasn’t a fair comparison – she had only been blogging by this stage for a couple of months and her hero had been blogging for over 4 years… but logic was clouded out by jealousy and Sally found her blogging beginning to stall.

She started second guessing herself. She would work for days on blog posts – hoping to perfect them to the standard of her hero only to get to the point of publishing them and trashing them instead for fear of them not being up to scratch.

Days would go by between posts and then weeks. Sally’s blog began to stall… and then it died completely.

The Comparison Trap

Sally isn’t the only blogger to fall into the trap of comparing oneself with others – in fact I’ve heard this story (or variations of it) numerous times. If I’m honest, it’s something that at times I’ve struggled with too.

I remember in the early days of my own blogging comparing my style of writing with other bloggers that I admired who wrote in a much more academic, heavy style of writing. I tried to emulate this over and over again and never felt I hit the benchmark that they set.

The temptation was to give up – but luckily I found my more informal and conversational voice through experimentation and persistance.

Comparing Is Never Fair

As I chatted with Sally last week a theme emerged in our conversation – the comparisons were simply not fair.

Sally knew this on some levels but needed to hear it again.

Her hero had been blogging for years. Sally had been blogging for months.

Not only that – Sally was comparing herself to tiny snapshots of this other blogger.

She could see her hero’s Twitter follower numbers, how many comments she was getting, how many times she Pinned on Pinterest and the instagram photos of this blogger at glamorous events – but she didn’t really have the full picture of this other blogger.

She didn’t know how many hours that blogger worked, she didn’t know whether that other blogger had people working for her, she didn’t know if that other blogger was actually happy with her blog or life and she certainly didn’t see the instagrams of that other bloggers boring, dull or hard moments of life.

I’m not saying the other blogger is hiding anything or doing anything wrong – just that the comparisons Sally was making were of everything Sally knew about herself (and her insecurities) with tiny edited snapshots of the life and work another person.

Run You Own Race

Sally is a remarkable person. I’d love to tell you her real name and story because she’s overcome some amazing things in her life, has some unique perspectives to share and has an inspirational story to tell.

My encouragement to Sally (and to us all) is run her own race. Yes she’s running beside others that at times seem to be running faster or with more flare… but nobody else around her has her unique personality, set of experiences or skills.

Nobody else can blog like Sally – so the sooner she gets comfy in her own skin the better.

Attend the ProBlogger Training Event Virtually

Are you looking for a little inspiration and guidance in your blogging as you head into the rest of 2013? The Problogger Training Event Virtual Pass could be just what you need.

In March this year when I announced the 2013 ProBlogger Event I did so quite nervously because we’d book a venue with 450 seats (up from 300 the previous year) in a new location.

I need not have been nervous – we sold 200 early bird seats in a matter of minutes and the remaining tickets to the Gold Coast (Australia) event sold out two months ago.

Since selling out I’ve had daily emails from people from around the world asking if there was a way that they could attend physically or get access to the training with some kind of a virtual pass.

Today I’m pleased to announce you can attend with the ProBlogger Training Event Virtual Pass. You can find out more about it here or pick up yours by clicking the button below.

What is the ProBlogger Training Event?

#PBEVENT (as it’s referred to by many) is held on the Gold Coast (Queensland, Australia) on 13-14 September. It is an event that is designed from the ground up to equip and inspire bloggers to build profitable blogs.

We fly in speakers from around the globe like Trey Ratcliff, Tsh Oxenreider and Amy Porterfield and add in some other great Aussie speakers like Shayne Tilley, Pip Lincolne and myself (see the full speaker list here) and then run 2 pretty intense days of training.

This year we’ve got 31 sessions planned (we run 3 streams at once during most of the days) on topics including:

  • Monetization Where to Start
  • Designing Your Blog
  • Blogging and Creativity
  • Creating Your First eBook
  • Launching a Speaking Career off Your Blog
  • How to Sell Stuff from Your Blog
  • Blogging for Beginners
  • Facebook Marketing
  • SEO for WordPress
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Building Community on Your Blog
  • How to Create Your Own Products to Sell
  • Video Creation on a Shoe String
  • DIY PR to Grow Your Blog and Brand
  • Creating a Professional Media Kit
  • Google Analytics for Bloggers
  • Growing Your Social Media Network

That’s just some of it! See the full schedule here.

What is the Virtual Pass?

Our Virtual Pass is designed to be the closest possible thing to actually being there live at this sold out event.

It gives you access to:

  • Over 30 hours of teaching about building a profitable blog. You get audio recordings of all 31 sessions of training (keynotes, workshops and Q&A lounge sessions). These recordings are yours to keep and listen to as many times as you like
  • Access to an exclusive one hour webinar after PBEVENT with the amazing Jonathan Fields
  • View all slides used in sessions at the live event (yours to keep).
  • Participate in a live and exclusive webinar with myself after the event for a post-event Q&A (and get access to the recording to listen to later)
  • A stunning, visual live social media feed, aggregating all Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ posts and more from live attendees and virtual participants in one place.

Audio files and slides will be available shortly after each session happens at the event on 13-14 September and will be yours to keep forever.

Grab Your Virtual Pass Today

Normally a package of teaching like this would be sold for upwards of $500 but thanks to our friends at Yellow Pages our Virtual Pass is available for you to purchase right now for the price of $249.99 USD. That’s just on $8 per session (plus you get access to the two webinars).

So don’t delay – take advantage of this special price and Pick Up Your Pass here.

9 Ways to Keep You Fresh, Inspired and Creative

Image by Rares Dutu

How do you keep yourself fresh, inspired and creative as a blogger?

I was asked variations of this question three times this week, so thought I’d put my mind to giving a public answer.

There are certainly times when I don’t feel overly ‘fresh’, ‘inspired’ or ‘creative’. However, I guess over the last 10 years of blogging I’ve begun to develop some rhythms and habits that enable me to keep consistently create content on a daily basis.

One of the things that I’ve intuitively done over the last few years is to put aside time each week for activities that help me keep fresh. These activities aren’t specific to blogging and I suspect they might be helpful for people working in many kinds of jobs – particularly those where you need to develop ideas and be creative.

Here’s a quick summary of the types of activities I try to include in my life each week:

1. Inspiration

When I’m not inspired, I find it very difficult to be creative or generate ideas.So every week, I try to build in moments to get in touch with my dreams. I put myself in places where I’m likely to be inspired. This includes everything from spending time with inspirational people, watching inspirational videos (I’m a TED addict), attending inspirational events, watching great movies and reading inspiring books.

2. Preparation

If I’m working on a big project (like a mega blog post, a presentation, or an eBook) I quite often feel quite overwhelmed with the process.

I find I can take some of the pressure off by setting aside ‘preparation’ time for the task of creating the project. I set aside time to research, read on the topic, talk to others and plan out how to go about getting the project done. This might sound a little like procrastination but I find by setting aside time for ‘preparation’, the quality of what I actually ‘create’ (next step) is much higher.

3. Creation

Each week I put aside significant time to ‘create’. For me, the creation is largely around creating content (blog posts, videos, eBooks, presentations) and because of the publication schedule I’m on creation needs to happen on a daily basis. I publish three blog posts per day across my blogs and I need to keep that schedule up.

For me, creation time is usually in the mornings. My Golden Hours are from 9-11am which is a time I protect from intrusions.

4. Completion

A few years ago, I went through a stage of creating a lot of content that would then sit unfinished for weeks, even months. I would get distracted by new things or lose inspiration along the way.

So I’ve started to build time to ‘complete’ into my week and I tackled the things that fall into this category. I often do these ‘completing’ tasks in the afternoons or evenings.

5. Interaction

I’m an introvert. I love people but they suck energy out of me so I naturally feel drawn to spending time alone. This works quite well for me as a blogger as I don’t need to be around people to blog.

However… while being around people takes energy from me I know that there are many benefits of spending time with other people. Sometimes my best ideas emerge in conversation and to grow my business, I’ve needed to bring in others to complement my skills and help me scale. Every Friday, I work in a friend’s office (it’s more of a man cave). Three to four of us (mainly people who are in my team) work side by side on that day. We spend some time working together in a meeting, but also time working on our own projects.

I love these days and often find amazing ideas flow out of them!

6. Mindless Activity

I recently asked my Twitter followers where they get their best ideas. I was amazed how many people said two things – ‘in the shower’ and ‘while walking/exercising’. I’m exactly the same.

I often get light bulb moments while I’m doing some kind of mindless activity. For me, it can be while I walk, shower or weed the garden! I noticed this several years ago so decided to punctuate each day with mindless activities. Most days, I take 15 minute walks 2-3 times a day. I also moved my shower from first thing in the morning to mid-morning.

I don’t schedule these activities for specific times each day but rather once I end something I’m working on, I will just do them then before jumping into the next activity.

7. Play

This one has a little overlap with some of the other activities. I like to set aside a little time each day to ‘play’. By play I mean numerous things including playing with ideas and problems (I journal, mind map and daydream) and playing with my kids (I often find doing lego or doing something creative with my boys stimulates ideas but is also fun time with the kids). I’d also slip photography into this category too.

Having a creative outlet that is not about creating something for the blog gives me a lot of energy.

8. Rest

Five years ago I was proud to say that I worked 60-70 hours a week on my blogging. While I often spoke about work/life balance, I was enjoying my work and so I worked hard – too hard. Unfortunately, I was setting myself up for a fall and came to a point where my heath suffered as I began to suffer from blogger burnout.

These days I not only teach work/life balance but practice it. I take more regular vacations, rarely work on the weekends and schedule a couple of hours off every Wednesday afternoon. I still work hard but I also prioritise rest and I see the positive impact it has upon my blogging (and life).

9. Self Improvement

Lastly, each week I attempt to do something that is not so much about creating content or improves my business but which improves me in some way.

Often we look at the early years of our life when we attend school or university as the ‘educational’ period of our life but I’ve found that if I’m not learning, not stretching myself or not working on doing something to improve skills or knowledge then I often become stagnant. As a result I like to take on mini-projects to work on who I am.

These might range from the fun, I recently took a Thai Cooking class, through to more serious and related to my work like reading a book, taking a course or attending a conference related to my work.

I’d love to know, what do you do to keep yourself fresh, inspired and creative?

Lost Your Blogging Groove? Kickstart it with this 2 for 1 Deal on ProBlogger eBooks

Can you believe that it’s almost the middle of 2013 already?

If you’re anything like me you started out this year with big dreams and intentions to deliver on some signficant goals with your blog.

However along the way to reaching ones goals often comes a lot of distractions and challenges to get you off track. Sound familiar?

If so – you’re not alone. A mid year slump is common with many bloggers!

Today I’d like to offer ProBlogger readers an opportunity that might help get your blogging back on track for the rest of 2013.

For the next 7 days we’re offering a 2 for 1 deal on ProBlogger eBooks.

Buy any ProBlogger eBook this week and you can choose another one that is of the same value or less for free – saving up to 50%!

There are 6 eBooks to choose from so the combinations of eBooks that you can pick up are many. For example:

  • if you’re a new blogger (or are about to start) – you might like to get our ‘Guide to Your First Week of Blogging‘ as well as ‘31 Days to Build a Better Blog‘.
  • if you’ve been blogging for a while but have stalled you might prefer ‘31 Days to Build a Better Blog‘ combined with our productivity guide ‘Blog Wise‘.
  • if you’re looking to learn about monetizing blogs check out our ‘Guide to Online Marketing‘ and ‘Blogging for your Business‘.

Choose your eBooks here.

But don’t delay, this offer ends in just 7 days from now.

How to Make Your Blogging Dreams Come True

“ONE DAY I’ll be a full time blogger!”

‘V’ – my wife – must have heard that statement 100 or more times in 2003-2004.

Me posing for my first ever press photo in 2003. Out of shot all my neighbours were watching on and wondering why I was videoing a guy taking a photo of me while sitting in my front yard.

It would usually be accompanied by a spread sheet and/or chart in which I showed her how the earnings from my blog had grown from $9 per month to $11 per month and me excitedly talking about how if things kept growing like that I’d be full time…. in 9 years time.

Back in those days I spent a lot of time dreaming about my future as a full time blogger.

I remember laying in bed at night, hoping  it would happen and wondering what opportunities might open up to make it a reality.

Those of you who have read the ProBlogger hard cover book know the story of how ‘V’ heard me talk about my ‘dream’ one time too many  and challenged me to take my blogging seriously.

In short, she challenged me to start treating my blog as a business ‘today’ rather than hoping it might be one at some point in the future.

Note: I wrote about this in my post ‘The #1 Reason My Blogging Grew into a Business

That challenge changed my mindset and was a huge part of making my dreams and hopes a reality.

We CREATE our Future

I recently came across this quote:

“The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.” – John H. Schaar

We don’t arrive at our future… we create it!

I wish I’d heard that quote back in 2003 when I began to experiment with making money blogging.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with ‘dreaming‘ of ones future. I just keep meeting bloggers (and people in other fields too) who seem to be stuck in the ‘dream’ phase.

The reality is that nobody really gets anywhere just by dreaming. There needs to come a time to ACT.

Just Do It

Do you dream of your blog one day being bigger, better, more profitable, or bring you better opportunities?

Just Do It!

Your future isn’t something that will just magically happen to you – you make that future.

So the time is now to begin moving in that direction through action!

Is it All Too Big?

Of course, giving the advice ‘just do it’ might be the kick up the pants that some people need to get moving but many bloggers I meet feel overwhelmed by all that lays ahead in order to create their dreams.

I often here one of two things from bloggers facing this:

  • There is too much to do
  • I want to do it perfectly

Both of these statements can cause paralysis and put your future on hold. 

Here’s my advice to you… (and I’m really writing this for me as well… because I feel both of those things too)…

Start With Something Small

Choose one small thing to start with that will move you toward your dream and do it to the best of your ability (tweet this).

Let’s break that down:

  1. Choose One Thing – if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the many things you need to do, you can end up doing nothing or trying to do everything, but failing. Doing one thing well, and then moving onto the next thing, will take you further than either of those options.
  2. Do a Small Thing – if you’re currently ‘stalled’ you need to get momentum so choose a smaller thing to get the wheels rolling. Achieving that small thing will give you energy to tackle the next bigger thing.
  3. Choose something that will Move You Toward Your Dream – it’s so easy to be distracted by tasks that seem like a good idea but aren’t really important in the scheme of your goals. Choose something that is directly tied to your ultimate goal (I’ll give you some examples below).
  4. Do it to the Best of Your Ability – if you only ever do things  you can do perfectly, you may never do anything! Do it as well as you can now and perfect it later. By starting you’ll learn so much and in the long run will produce something great.

What I’ve outlined above has been a strategy I’ve used many times over the years. Let me give you some practical examples.

Example 1 – Starting dPS

I put off starting Digital Photography School for a couple of years before I actually launched it (I’ve never admitted that before).

I had previously had a camera review blog that did well but I always dreamed of starting a more ‘tips’ related photography blog. I thought it’d be more satisfying to write and would have more potential to grow a relationship with readers.

I had every excuse in the book not to start dPS. I already had too much to do. I didn’t have the money to invest into a custom designed site. I doubted my own ability to write content on the topic. I couldn’t find the right brand/domain name…

The list went on.

However, I had the dream and one day I realised that if I didn’t actually start the blog that I’d never have any chance of arriving at that dream. So I started small.

  • I made a call on a brand and domain name – It wasn’t perfect but it allowed me to start
  • I started on GoDaddy Hosting – I knew it wasn’t the best option but it allowed me to start
  • I started with a free WordPress theme – it wasn’t as professional or customised as what I saw in my dreams but it allowed me to start
  • I wrote a handful of posts – I wanted to have more in my archives but it allowed me to start
  • I started with comments switched off to allow me to focus on creating more content – doing so fell short of my vision for a ‘community’ driven site but it allowed me to get moving

The design of dPS when it launched using a free theme.

When the blog launched I remember looking at it with a mixture of:

  • Dissatisfaction at all the things  I knew I could have done to make it better
  • Immense pride that I’d actually got the ideas out of my head and had finally implemented something

With the ball rolling, I was able to improve and grow what I was doing.

I moved to better hosting (and have done so 3 times now). I moved towards a custom design (we’re about to launch our iteration of the design). I’ve since published over 3800 posts and developed a team of writers. I switched on comments and added a forum area to build community.

The site is now 10 times bigger than any blog I had at the time I started it. It is still not perfect by any means (I have a long to do list) but it is a lot closer to my dreams than ever before.

Example 2 – My First eBook

My First eBook (now no longer available as we updated it)

I shared this story at the ProBlogger Event last year but don’t think I’ve written a post about it.

After a year of starting and then evolving Digital Photography School I began to see the opportunity to create a teaching product to sell on the site. I wasn’t sure at first what format would be best (eBooks, courses, events or something else) but knew there was an opportunity there.

I gradually settled on the idea of an eBook to test the waters with my audience but procrastinated and made excuses on why I should delay doing it for another 12-18 months.

Again my list of excuses was long and I justified my inaction with things like:

  • not having time to write and develop an eBook
  • not knowing how to set up a shopping cart
  • not knowing how to design or format an eBook
  • doubts about knowing enough about the subject matter

I put off the creation of that first eBook for a couple of years but managed to snap myself out of the paralysis and decided to start.

I decided to write the eBook about Portraiture – the topic my readers asked the most questions about and the one that I knew most about.

  • As I was time poor, I decided to get up 15 minutes earlier every day to create the eBook. I would have rather been able to set aside a week or two to work solidly on it but I had blogs to run and a newborn baby at home. I had some major sleep deprivation already so figured 15 minutes less sleep a day wouldn’t hurt! It wasn’t the ideal way to write – but it allowed me to start.
  • I decided to use some repurposed blog posts as the basis for the eBook. I’d rather have written it all from scratch but this approach allowed me to start.
  • I decided to outsource the design but kept it as simple and clean as possible to save on cost. I’d have rather had a beautiful/rich design but it allowed me to start.
  • I decided on a relatively simple and inexpensive shopping cart set up. I used e-junkie (aft) and synced it with PayPal. It wasn’t the most feature rich solution but was relatively east to set up and didn’t hold me back on launching.
  • I hada relatively simple launch. We launched it over 8 days with a pretty simple sales page and sales email to my list. I made a lot of mistakes in that launch and have a much more sophisticated process these days but I got the product launched!

I look back on the creation and launch of that eBook now with a mix of embarrassment at how simple it all was and pride at what I achieved as someone with no experience in creating an eBook.

It could have been A LOT better on many fronts but it was the beginning of something that has transformed what I do.

That eBook sold 4800 copies during its launch (bringing in a total of $72,000) which at the time completely blew me away (in the years after it sold a lot more) but the income from it wasn’t the best bit.

The most valuable part of creating that eBook was the lessons I learned in doing it.

That eBook and its launch became the template for future eBooks. I have now published a total of 12 on dPS, 6 here on ProBlogger and 1 on SnapnGuides.

The creation process of our eBooks has changed a lot (we no longer use repurposed content, now use editors, proof readers etc and have evolved the design quite a lot) and our launches are a lot more sophisticated but it all began with 15 minutes per day and doing the best I could!

More Quick Examples

This pattern of small steps towards big dreams is something that I could give you many more examples of.

Like how I got the ProBlogger hard cover Book published. It started as a draft for an eBook and some content that Chris and I had published on our blogs.

And how the ProBlogger Event was started. This has grown to be an annual event for 400+ bloggers but it started as a hastily arranged day for 100 bloggers in a dodgy suburban hotel.

Like how I developed 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. It started as a series of blog posts that evolved into a quickly produced eBook which grew again into the best selling ProBlogger eBook that we offer today.

And how I developed the ProBlogger Queensland Competition. It started as a crazy idea I got while sitting in an airport. I tweeted something and it ended up being one of the biggest campaigns I’ve ever done with a brand.

I’m certain that others reading this post would have more personal examples – I’d LOVE to see them in comments below.

Choose 1 Small Thing…

Let’s return to the take home advice…

Choose one small thing to start with that will move you toward your dream and do it to the best of your ability (tweet this).

I can’t emphasise enough how powerful doing this has been in my own business (and my life in general in other areas).

Give it a go – I can’t wait to see what impact it has for you! Please let me know what you decide to do and how it works out for you!

12 Blogging Income Streams [And the Story of My 10 Year ‘Overnight’ Success]

Today I was speaking with a blogger (I’ll call her Alice for the sake of this post) who was feeling a little overwhelmed with the idea of monetizing her blog. She expressed that as she looked at other blogs in her niche, everyone seemed to be doing such amazing things. She said she felt she’d never be able to compete.

Other blogs in Alice’s niche were running online courses, selling out hundred people live events around the country, selling ads to fortune 500 companies, authoring best selling eBook and more. The thought of even beginning to monetize her blog in these ways was completely paralysing Alice!

It is so easy to be overwhelmed to the point of paralysis when you look at what other bloggers are doing. I know this from personal experience!

My advice to Alice was to keep in mind that all those other amazing blogs started in the same place that she was – without any income streams at all.

Often it is easy to forget this and see a successful blog as always being what it is today.

By way of illustration, I shared my own story

When I started blogging, I did it as a hobby. I had no intention of it ever being more than that and there were no examples of people directly monetizing blogs.

Over the coming year and a half, my blog grew in popularity and the hobby became something of a passion and obsession. It also began to cost me money to run for hosting, domain, design etc.

Phase 1

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I began to dabble in monetizing with the hope of simply covering my costs. My first experiments were with Google AdSense and the Amazon Affiliate Program. The results weren’t spectacular but they were encouraging enough for me to keep trying. A few dollars began to trickily in but more importantly – I was learning a lot!

Phase 2

Over the coming months I continued to experiment with AdSense and Amazon. I vastly improved how I was implementing the programs (better ad positioning, writing reviews for affiliate products). I also began to think about how to drive more traffic to my blog. I even started a second blog (and then more followed)!

The results were that my income began to grow. I began to see my blogging as a part-time job and even began to wonder if it could one day be full-time.

Over the coming year I also began to also look at other forms of monetization.

Blogging Income 6

During this time I started promoting affiliate programs with other online stores. I also did something that terrified me but which became a great income stream, I picked up the phone and began to sign up advertisers directly. This was a period where I had to bite the bullet and start to treat blogging not just as a hobby – but as a business.

Again – these new income streams started small and were experiments. My first ad sale was for $20 for a month long ad. It didn’t bring me overnight riches but securing the ad taught me a lot and contributed to my overall income.

It was around this time I realised that while none of my income streams were enough to sustain me alone, a blog could actually sustain multiple sources of small income that could add up to something significant.

My goal was to go full time as a blogger. To do that I knew I needed to grow multiple streams of income and my blog’s traffic.

Phase 3

It was around this time that other Advertising Networks began to appear. I experimented with quite a few but the one I had most success with was Chitika. At the time, AdSense was my #1 source of income but putting Chitika on my site almost doubled that income overnight and allowed me to go full time as a blogger!

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Of course it wasn’t just that Chitika worked well. I’d also been growing my traffic, building reader engagement/community etc – but the extra income stream helped a lot.

Phase 4

It was around this time that I’d started ProBlogger as a blog along with a whole new range of income streams. I did monetize ProBlogger in the early days, using all of the above income streams but I found that ProBlogger was actually better to monetize indirectly.

By ‘indirect monetization’ I mean that ProBlogger began to grow my own personal profile and authority on the topic of blogging and I began to be approached to provide products and services that I could sell. The blog itself didn’t necessarily make money – but it enabled ME to make money as a result of the blog.

Blogging Income 6

For example, it was through ProBlogger that I landed my first paid speaking opportunity. I was asked to fly to Washington DC to speak at a conference – (all expenses covered plus a small fee paid).

Around the same time, I was approached to write the ProBlogger Book (the hard cover one that is now in it’s 3rd edition). This only came off the back of the ProBlogger blog.

Similarly, around this time I began to offer my services as a consultant to help people with their blogging strategy (a service I don’t offer any more).

Once again, these income streams started small (in fact writing a Book isn’t generally a big income stream for most authors) but they each contributed to the overall revenue from my blogging, which was now adding up to be a lot more than I’d ever earned from any other job (keeping in mind that I’d been blogging now for 4-5 years).

Phase 5

Most of the above income streams have continued to grow but other opportunities have presented themselves as new technologies emerge. While I’d previously been approached to create a hard copy book, we began to see the emergence of eBooks. While people previously had asked me to speak at their live events we began to see people delivering content via virtual/online courses and conferences.

Blogging Income 6

I began to experiment with creating eBooks and membership areas to my sites. eBooks have gone on to become my main income stream (both with ProBlogger eBooks and Photography eBooks). The main income from eBooks tends to come in fits and starts, when we either launch a new eBook or run a sale/promotion on one but even when we don’t have these events happening they still steadily sell each day in small numbers. Again, contributing to the overall revenue.

I also added the Job board here at ProBlogger.

The job board is an interesting example of what I’m talking about today. It has never been a spectacularly huge income stream but it has actually been a pretty steady source of income over the years. We generally see 1-2 new blogger jobs advertised every day and that $50-$100 per day in income adds up over time. I’ve not got the exact figures but I’d estimate that over the last 5 years it has brought in over $100,000! I’m glad I started it!

By this stage my income was growing to the point where I was able to bring on others into my team. This started with some very part time outsourcing of small jobs but in more recent times has enabled me to hire a number of team members to help run different components of my business.

Phase 6

The final income stream has become a growing focus of my team and I (although I have to say it’s not a massive income stream at this point) has been running events and conferences.

Our annual ProBlogger Training Event here in Australia has grown in number each year and this year we think it’ll probably turn a small profit. Having said that, my intent with these events is not to make a lot of money. Rather, it is about giving something back to the Aussie Blogosphere (it is also great for branding and gives me a lot of personal satisfaction and fun).

We’ve also started to run some smaller more focused workshops (our Email Marketing workshop in Melbourne still has a handful of spots left).

Blogging Income 6

My suspicion is that events will be something we’ll see expand a little in the coming years.

Final Thoughts

Let me sum up with a few thoughts, disclaimers and words of encouragement:

Keep in mind that all of the above has happened over 10 years. While today there are obviously 12 or so income streams (although I’m sure I’m forgetting something) they all started quite small and as experiments.

There have been moments where it did seem like I had rushes of income, those rushes were usually the result of several years work and investment of time and money.

I also would say that in each case, I started each experiment not really knowing what I was doing (on at least some level) but really seeing the experiments as a chance to learn. For example, my first eBooks were taking previously published blog posts and updating, completing and adding to them to offer readers a more convenient way to access my content.

At the time I had no idea if that would work and the design and delivery of the eBooks was fairly basic. In time I learned what did and didn’t work and was able to grow the sophistication of my delivery systems, design, authoring and marketing to the point that it’s become a fairly well-oiled machine.

The key is to pick something to try and to see whether it connects with your readership and to learn as much as you can while you’re doing it. Often you end up evolving what you do to the point that it is a better fit for you and your blog – but you’ll never get to that point without starting.

Update: I’ve since published a followup to this post that gives a split of the different income streams.

The Ultimate Guide to Making Money with the Amazon Affiliate Program

Today, I was looking back over some of my earliest attempts at making money from blogging. I realised that this month marks 10 years of me using Amazons Associates Program.

My Start with Using Amazons Affiliate Program

I first heard about Amazon’s Affiliate program in April 2003. I had been blogging for 6 months and was beginning to realise that this new hobby of mine was going to cost me a little money (for hosting, design etc).

I was newly married at the time and on a very tight budget. I realised that if I wanted to keep blogging, I needed to find a way for my blogs to pay for themselves. So began my hunt for ways to do just that.

I began to experiment with two methods of making money from my blogs – Google’s AdSense program and Amazon’s Affiliate program.

Of the two, AdSense has certainly earned significantly more money – however, Amazon’s Affiliate program has also been an important income stream.

10 Years and $420,000 later…

I’d love to be able to calculate exactly how much I’ve earned from Amazon in that time but their current reporting system only goes back as far as 2008.

However – after doing some reconstructing of my earnings I’ve put together the following chart of (the years 2003-2007 are based upon earnings numbers mentioned in previous posts here on ProBlogger but are not exact).

Amazon Earnings 2003 2012

This years earnings look to be tracking along at around the same rate as the last two, for the same point in the year.

Overall I estimate my Amazon earnings, since 2003, are around the $420,000 mark (USD) – although, as you can see, the bulk of it has been in the last 5-6 years.

So while it’s nowhere near my #1 income stream Amazon’s Affiliate program has certainly been important to me.

I share these results not because I’m the biggest Amazon Affiliate going around. I have no doubt I’m in the middle of the pack and that there are a lot bigger than me*. I share these results because, over the years, I’ve heard many many bloggers write off the Amazon Affiliate program as not being worth the time.

*I make this assumption based upon the fact that I’ve never ever been contacted by Amazon directly and I know a few other affiliates who have regular contact with Amazon and who’ve been assigned account managers over the years because they do so well from the program.

Why Many People Don’t Use the Amazon Affiliate Program (and Why I DO)

The usual reasons I hear people giving for not being an Amazon affiliate include:

  • The commissions are too small. They start at 4% and for most products can go as high as 8% depending upon how many products you see sold.
  • Because most people on Amazon buy low priced products like books, so 4% of a $10 product doesn’t add up to a worthwhile commission.
  • Because people have to make a purchase from you within 24 hours otherwise your affiliate cookie stops working.

The above reasons are all valid. There are other options that pay higher commissions (although not so many for the type of products Amazon sells), you can promote higher value products and there are programs that have longer cookies… but there are also some things I like about Amazon.

In 2007 I wrote a post titled 9 Reasons Why I AM an Amazon Affiliate and while the post is old, most of the points still are relevant today.

The main reasons I still am an Amazon Affiliate (apart from the obvious fact that it converts for me) are:

  • Amazon is a trusted brand – everyone knows Amazon. If someone were going to buy online, Amazon would have to be one of the safest options.
  • Commissions on higher value products – while 4% on a book isn’t a high commission, if you promote a high value product (like a camera) the commission can be decent.
  • People buy more than one item at a time – when you send someone to Amazon you earn a commission on whatever they buy, whether they end up buying what you sent them to or not. Many people load up their cart with numerous items so commissions can add up.
  • Easy integration – Amazon provides some good tools and widgets to help you integrate the sales channel into your website.
  • Holidays are boom times – Amazon runs some good seasonal sales. Thanksgiving to Christmas can be a particularly profitable time to promote.
  • Amazon has a wide array of products – Amazon is so much more than books these days. There are so many promotional options that most niches would probably find something relevant to their audience.

Obviously I’ll never argue that Amazon’s Affiliate program (or any other income stream for that matter) is perfect for every blog – but I do think it is worth considering.

20 Practical Tips to Make Money with the Amazon Affiliate Program

Over the years, I’ve written numerous Problogger posts on making money with the Amazon’s Affiliate Program.

Below is a compilation of some of these most powerful tips – based upon my experience  of working with Amazon’s program over last 10 years. I’ve updated them to make them as relevant as I can for 2013.

I’d LOVE to hear your tips and experience of using Amazon’s Affiliate Program in comments below, as I’m certain there is a lot more that I could learn!

1. Traffic Traffic Traffic

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Let’s start with the most obvious point – one of the biggest factors in the upward swing in my Amazon Affiliate earnings (in the chart above) has been the corresponding upward swing in traffic.

As with most methods of making money from blogging, the more eyeballs that see your affiliate promotions – the better chance you have of them converting.  Of course, this is a generalisation as not all kinds of traffic converts – but more of that in the next point.

Does that mean it’s not worth experimenting with Amazon’s Affiliate program if you don’t get much traffic?

I think it’s definitely worth using early on. While you won’t earn a heap, you will learn a lot and earning a few dollars (or cents) is better than none.

In the first 3 months of using Amazon I earned a whopping $31.80 (around 30 cents a day). Sure, it wasn’t much but I often wonder what would have happened if I’d let that minuscule amount discourage me and stop my from trying!?

So yes, experiment early but if you’re just starting out your main focus needs to be on creating great content and building traffic to your blog. In the long run, that is what will help you earn more from Amazon (and other income streams).

2. Loyalty and Trust Convert

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Another major factor in the increase in earnings has been the type of readership I’ve gathered on my blogs.

While I do get a fair bit of search engine traffic, I’ve found that in most cases (and there is an exception below) search visitors don’t sign up to the affiliate programs on my blogs. Loyal and repeat readers do.

The main reason for this is that readers who connect with you on a daily basis, over the long haul, begin to trust you (and your blog). When you make a recommendation, or do a review, they’re more likely to take that advice that someone who has give arrived from a search engine link.

3. The Intent of Readers Matters

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Another big factor in the equation of Amazon Affiliate conversions is the intent your readers have when they visit your blog.

Why are they there and where are they in the ‘buying cycle’?

I began to understand this in the early days of Digital Photography School. I looked at the growing traffic to the site but realised that my Amazon affiliate earnings weren’t keeping up with the traffic growth I was experiencing.

I realised that DPS was a blog that largely shared ‘tips on how to use a camera’. As a result, it wasn’t really attracting readers who were in a ‘buying mood’. In fact, I ran a survey and found that many of my readers had recently purchased a camera and were on my site because they wanted to learn how to use it.

So I began to add to the mix of content on the site with more articles relevant to people buying a digital camera. I wrote tips with advice on buying cameras, reviews of digital cameras and equipment etc. This culminated in a whole new section devoted to ‘cameras and gear‘.

Slowly this has attracted a new type of reader to the blog: readers who are researching their next camera purchase, readers who are more likely to click a link to Amazon and who, once there, are more likely to make a purchase.

If you want to attract search traffic that is more likely to convert, consider creating content that attracts people in a ‘buying mood’.

4. Relevancy Matters

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This is another common sense tip that many of us mess up. The more relevant your products are to your audience, the better chance you’ll have of converting.

  • Promoting iPods on a blog that largely talks about spirituality and you’re unlikely to make a lot of sales (believe me, I tried). Try promoting relevant books, CDs and DVDs instead.
  • Rather than promoting perfume on your travel blog try travel books, luggage and other travel products.

Amazon doesn’t work with every topic and sometimes it is hard to find a product that matches your topic. Try different products related to your topic and track which products convert best for your audience.

open-door1.jpg5. Get People in the Door then Let Amazon Do What They’re Good At

One of the great things about Amazon is that it is a site people are familiar with and trust and they’re very good at converting visitors into buyers. Amazon has honed their site to present people with products relevant to them (based upon previous surfing and buying habits) and over many years they have tweaked their site so converts really well.

As a result, I find that if you can people to visit the Amazon site (pretty much for any reason) a percentage of them will naturally end up buying something. The cool thing is that whether they buy the thing you linked to or not – you still earn a commission!

I have found that one size doesn’t fit all. Rather, specific types promotions of particular products work well with Amazon. I have also had some success by getting people in the Amazon door for other reasons. For example I’ve experimented a couple of times on dPS with running a posts that gave readers a hypothetical $1000 to spend on photography gear and asked them to surf around Amazon and choose what they wanted to buy. The result was 350 comments (a fun community building exercise) and quite a few sales and commissions!

While a ‘get people in the door’ strategy might seem to grate a little with my ‘Relevancy’ tip above – the key is to get people in the door in a relevant way.  In my case, I was getting my photography readers to go window-shopping on Amazon, for cameras.

Once they are there, the purchases they make might not be ‘relevant’ to your blog but their motivation to visit should be.

NYT-extended-list-715372.jpg6. Social Proof Marketing 1 – Best Seller Lists

People are more willing to make a purchase if they feel, they’re not alone – that others have and are buying with them. I’m sure there is an insightful psychological reason for this but from where I sit, buying seems to have become a communal activity.

One of the most powerful social proof marketing strategies I’ve used, when promoting Amazon affiliate links, is creating ‘Best Seller’ type lists for readers. These lists show readers what is currently popular, in terms of purchases in our community.

A good example of this technique in action is my Popular Digital Cameras and Gear page on DPS. I update this page every few months and prominently link to it on the blog. Those two actions together, convert readers to buyers really well.

To construct the list, I simply go through the Amazon affiliate reports/stats and find which products are selling the best from within my community. I then categorise those results by product and ‘Waahlaaa’ – we have a best seller list that shows what readers of my site are buying in the last few months.

Bestseller lists convert well because readers know that others in their community are buying these products too. I guess it’s Wisdom of the Crowd mentality but it works!

Another quick example of this was a post, 23 Photography Book Reviews [Ranked], where I ranked the top selling photography books in order of sales. I additionally linked each book to reviews we’d done on the blog.

Note: the key with these ‘best seller’ lists is to drive traffic to them. Two ways to do this is to prominently link to these pages from within your blog plus linking to them from within other posts. This second method means your post doesn’t just convert for a day or two.

Also be sure to promote them through social media channels because these lists of what is hot are often shared well.

Another Note: Another way to create a bestseller list is to look at the ones that Amazon creates. For every category on Amazon, you can rank products based on how they are selling (popularity).

For example – here’s the Camera and Photo best selling page (affiliate link) that ranks the best selling cameras and gear. You can even drill down further to look at best selling DSLRs, Flashes and Lenses.

These lists give you hints as to what products are hot to promote but you could easily pull them together into a list of products to feature on your own site.

7. Social Proof Marketing 2 – Reader Reviews

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I used to review all the photography books featured on DPS. It was mainly because I couldn’t find anyone else to do it and partly because I’m a control freak.

However, one day I had a reader offer to write a book review for me. I knew the reader so I was confident the review would be OK to publish. As with all my reviews, it had an affiliate link to Amazon in it. I was a little skeptical about whether the review would convert. I thought my readers might not respond as well to a stranger’s review of the book. I was wrong.

The review not only converted as well as my normal reviews – it did even better than normal!

This could have been for many reasons but one reason I suspect came into play was the way I introduced the reviewer. I didn’t build them up to be an “expert”. I introduced them as a ‘DPS reader’, a regular reader who wanted to share some thoughts on a book that had helped them.

I suspect the social proof concept came into play a little here. Readers saw another reader recommending something in a genuine way and wanted to get a copy for themselves.

Note: interestingly Amazon themselves uses reader reviews as a fairly major feature of their site. Why? They work!

8. Genuine Recommendations and Reviews

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Apart from my ‘best seller lists’ mentioned above, there are two main ways that I promote Amazon affiliate links.

The first is in ‘Reviews’ for products (the second I’ll cover below in the next point). These links are where I, or one of my writers, will genuinely test a product and give it the once over.

I insist my writers actually read the books, test the cameras and use the software products they are reviewing. I encourage them to be as genuine and unbiased as possible, to point out both the pros and cons of the product. While there’s some temptation to hype up a product and only talk about its positive points, a real review will help your reader relationship over the long haul and I find actually helps promote sales.

Review links work well because it’s usually people who are considering buying a product who really read reviews. It comes back to capturing readers with the buying mood/intent mentioned in point #3.

9. Informational Links

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The other type of Amazon affiliate link I use is when I’m mentioning a product in passing and/or a new product is announced. For example, when Nikon announced the Nikon D300s we immediately posted about the news because it was a notable and anticipated camera announcement. The camera was not yet available in stores and we were not able to get a review sample yet – but it was available for Pre-Order on Amazon so we linked to it.

There was no recommendation or review attached to the link but it was a relevant link for readers who wanted to know more (price, specs, pictures etc). Some readers even pre-ordered the cameras from that link.

Similarly, if we’re writing about Photoshop or another photography post-production software we’ll usually include a link to the software. Again it’s not a review link but rather an informational/contextual type link.

These don’t tend to convert as well in terms of sales but they do get people ‘in the door’ at Amazon that can help with sales from time to time.

10. Contextual Promoting is King

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One of the biggest reasons my initial attempts with Amazon simply didn’t convert was that I thought it’d be enough to slap a button on my sidebar, featuring a product or Amazon.

Amazon gives publishers a lot of these type banners or widgets but despite trying almost all of them, I had little or no success with using them. Instead – 99% of my conversions have come from links to Amazon from within blog posts about the products themselves.

By all means experiment with the widgets and buttons Amazon gives you. If they do convert, then more power to you but every blogger I’ve talked to that has had success with Amazon tells me that contextual links, from within blog posts, work best.

11. Promote Specials, Promotions and Discounts

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Amazon has hardly any products that don’t have a listed discount. Most books are as much as 30% off the recommended retail price and at different times during the year, Amazon runs other special discounts and promotions on different products or product categories.

Keep an eye out for these kinds of promotions because they can be well worth promoting (if relevant to your readership). In fact, last time Amazon had cameras on special, I promoted the sale to my newsletter readers and had readers emailing me to thank me for letting them know about it.

Another related tip is that when you’re writing a product review and Amazon has a listed discount – include a note about the discount. For example, in this recent photography book review I link at the bottom to Amazon and note that it is currently 36% off.

11. Multiple Links Per Post

When I used to write product reviews, I used to include just one affiliate link. For some reason, I thought that a single link would be enough and I didn’t want to run the risk of annoying readers with more links. However, one day it struck me that the reviews I was writing were quite long and by the time people got to the end of them, the link to Amazon was no longer visible.

At this point I started to experiment with a link at the top and tail of the review. I did some heat map tracking to see which links were the most clickable and also used Amazon’s tracking codes to see which one would ‘convert’ to a sale more often.

The results were interesting:

  • Both affiliate links were clicked quite a bit but the link under the article was clicked slightly more than the link at the top (despite being under the fold)
  • The link at the end of the review resulted in more conversions than the link at the top
  • The people who clicked on the top link still purchased (although not as many) but interestingly it wasn’t always the product I reviewed.  It was often related products

I concluded that having read a product review, people felt more informed to make a purchasing decision. As a result, if they did click a link after reading the review they were more likely to buy the product. Those clicking on the top link seemed to be more in a ‘surfing’ mode. They clicked on the link less because they wanted to buy it but more out of interest to learn more. Some bought the product and some bought other products once they were ‘in the door’ at Amazon.

These days I generally (but not always) use two links per review post.

  • The first link is usually on the first time I use the product name
  • The second link usually has a stronger call to action e.g. ‘check it out on Amazon’ or ‘get a price on XXXX’ or ‘buy your own copy of XXXX here’.

Live Example: Let me illustrate it with a quick video (from a few years ago) that also picks up my next point.

12. Link Images to Amazon

While doing some heat map tracking of where people were clicking on my reviews I learned that there was quite a bit of ‘click activity’ on images of the products, even when those images were not linked to anything.

Note: I use CrazyEgg for creating heatmaps – it has the option to track clicks on all areas of your page, even where there’s no link to click.

There’s something about an image that people are drawn to and that makes them click. I began to experiment with linking images to Amazon with my affiliate links, setting up a tracking code to test whether they converted. While they didn’t convert as well as text links, they did convert in some instances and to this day I still use this technique most of the time.

13. Buy Now Buttons

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This is a technique I’ve heard others having real success with but one I need to experiment with more.

It basically involves using a ‘buy now’ button in your post. I suggest placing it below a review as a starting point. I’ve written more about the technique here but the first time I heard this being applied, the blogger actually used the yellow Amazon Buy Now button in his posts. The familiarity of the button seemed to help increase conversions.

Again – it’s not something I’ve done much of but it could be worth a try!

14. Multiple Promotions Per Campaign

I’ve talked about using multiple links in a post but another way to increase conversions on a particularly hot product is to promote it more than once, over time. I only do this on very popular or highly anticipated products but it certainly works well.

The key is to find a number of different ways to talk about the product over a few weeks (or longer). I wouldn’t do all of the following for a single product but here’s a few ways I’ve done it on occasion in the past.

  • If a highly anticipated camera is announced by one of the manufacturers, I immediately publish a post announcing it. Amazon often has advance notice of these announcements and will usually have a page up for it where it can be pre-ordered on the same day it’s announced. I link to it immediately in my announcement post.
  • A few days later I might post a post asking readers what they think about the camera or one of its features. For example, I recently wrote a post asking readers what they think about the idea of a camera with an inbuilt projector after the release of the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj.
  • When the camera hits stores, I might post a short post announcing that it’s available.
  • When we get a review product, we’ll post a review of it with our recommendations.
  • We might, at some point, post some other reader reviews of the product if enough of our readers have it.
  • We might also compile a list of quotes from other sites that have also reviewed the product.
  • We might pull in and embed some videos from YouTube that show the products features.

Again – I would NEVER do all of these things with a single product but if it’s a significant product release and newsworthy over a month or so around its release we might cover it in 2-3 posts.

You know your readership best so tune in to where they’re at and whether you’ve posted too much on the same product. You don’t want to over do it but if it’s a product your readers are discussing and are interested in there’s plenty of ways to bring it up (and promote it on Amazon) more than once.

15. Focus Upon the Holidays

Amazon associates christmas

If you check out this I shared here on ProBlogger back in 2009 you’ll notice that the yearly 4th quarters were usually bigger than those proceeding them. The reason is simple – Christmas and Thanksgiving.

The only December that I saw a downswing was when Google temporarily de-indexed my first site for a few weeks. Every other year there has been healthy rises for the later half of November and all of December (the last few Decembers have been massive).

The upswing in sales around Christmas is partly natural as people are more in a ‘buying mood’ at that time of year. I like to take advantage of this by creating content that is specific to the holiday season.

Content such as buying guides, reader questions getting people talking about what they’re looking to buy or would like to receive for Christmas, lists of popular/recommended products etc.

16. Promote Related Products

One of the challenges I came up against when writing about cameras regularly was that while a certain percentage of my readers were actively shopping for a new camera, many readers already owned one. In fact, writing a ‘photography tips’ blog means you attract more people wanting to learn how to use a camera that they already own, rather than buying a new one.

As a result, I often do more promotions on ‘related products’ than cameras themselves. That means promoting lenses, flashes, memory cards and other photographic accessories as well as photography books (which is strongly related to my core ‘tips’ focus).

One great way to get ideas for related products to promote is to look at the stats/reports that Amazon gives you to see which products readers are buying. After a while you’ll start to notice that they’re not only buying the products you directly promote but other products as well. Some will be completely irrelevant to your niche – but many times trends will emerge that could signal other products that it might be worth promoting.

Let’s look at an example of this. Following is a screen capture of a small part of the orders on my Amazon account a while back. I have arranged them in order of how many were sold.

Hot-Products-Amazon.png

What you can see in this screen grab is that the #1 electronic item sold in the period was a Canon 50mm lens. You can see that in the ‘product Link Clicks column’ that people came to Amazon directly through a link from my site to this item – it’s something I promoted on DPS.

However look at the next most popular item (the Tiffen 52mm UV filter). You can see in the ‘Product Link Clicks’ column that there is a ‘0’ figure. I never promoted this product directly on DPS – yet 44 people bought it.

The next two items were things I promoted but the next 8 were things that people bought in number by themselves without me promoting them at all. To me, knowing which items people buy without my prompting is GOLD!

It’s possible that Amazon is promoting them heavily or that one person is buying a lot of the one product, or they just could be great products that almost sell themselves for one reason or another.

Whatever the reason, I’ll look into them further and see if they could be products I should be promoting somehow.

You can bet there will be a post on dPS soon that highlights some of these ‘hot/best selling accessories’ among our readers!

17. Promote Pre-Orders

I’ve already mentioned this one above but one of the things that I do is promote the ability to Pre-Order products on Amazon.

It doesn’t happen for every product but I find that Amazon will sometimes create pages for new products before they’re even available for purchase.

pre-order.png

When I post an article announcing a new camera I always check Amazon first to see if they’ve already created a page for that product. If they have, I make sure to mention that the product is already available for pre-ordering on Amazon.

For example a couple of years ago when Canon Released the Canon EOS 50D DSLR I used this technique. This post generated 10 sales of the camera before it was even available in stores. While two of them cancelled their orders later 8 sales of a $1000+ product certainly add up!

18. Track Your Campaigns

Until a bit over a year ago, I just promoted every single Amazon affiliate link with the one tracking code. I was lazy and while I saw which products were selling, I never really knew what links on my blog were converting and what ones were not.

Eventually I decided that I needed to know more about what was working for me so I started tracking campaigns. Amazon allows you to create 100 tracking ids (once logged into Amazon Associates you manage them at this link).

I didn’t realize there was a limit until a few years back when I hit the maximum. I wish Amazon would increase it! To be honest, I find their tracking system pretty messy and think it needs an overhaul however, it is great for testing what works and what doesn’t. Most of what I’ve written about in other tips in these articles was learned through tracking.

Because there’s a 100 tracking code limit, I suggest creating a few general tracking codes, one for each blog and perhaps one for each category on your blog. Then use other codes for major promotions that you’re doing. This way not every Amazon link will be tracked but important ones will.

Note: I’m told that Amazon do give more tracking codes if you email them but it’s a bit of a drawn out process. If you need more it’s worth a try (I know I’ll be trying).

19. Small Ticket Items Add Up

One of the most common criticisms I hear about the Amazon’s Affiliate program is that there are just too many small commissions. Getting a commission of a small percentage on a $15 book just doesn’t cut it for many people.  Some people use this to justify not using Amazon at all while others just promote big-ticket items.

While I agree that these small commissions are not much on their own – they do add up.

Yesterday I earned $506.03 from Amazon. It was actually a pretty good day, higher than average. One might think the higher than normal figure came from selling some big ticket items but that wasn’t the case. The highest commission for the day was a $21.34 commission. The vast majority of the sales were books sold from my list of photography books, which we promoted on social media recently.

The other beauty of getting lots of smaller ticket sales is that they go towards increasing the commission tier you’re on. The more items you sell (not the more $’s you refer – but item numbers) the higher % commission you make from Amazon.

amazon-tiers.png

In the screen capture above you can see that when you go past 6 items referred, you move from a 4% commission to a 6% commission. If you keep referring more, the commission increases. The only category of product not included in this is consumer electronics (frustrating for a camera guy!).

This means that if you refer enough small ticket items you can double your commissions.

Note: Amazon lets you choose two types of payment structures – ‘Classic’ and ‘Performance’. The classic one has a 4% flat commission – while the ‘performance’ one has the tiers. I’m not sure why anyone would select ‘classic’ so make sure you choose ‘Performance’!

20. Big Ticket Items are the Cream on Top

While I strongly advise promoting small ticket items to help boost your sale numbers and commission figures, it’s also worth targeting some bigger ticket promotions too.

In my experience, they don’t convert anywhere near as well as cheaper items but when they do, they can give your revenue a real boost. As someone promoting cameras that can sell for several thousand dollars, I’ve had single commissions in the hundreds of dollars range (even when the commission is limited to 4% on consumer electronics).

For example, last month I saw the sale of the Nikon D800 36.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) (yes that IS an affiliate link). It sells for over $2700 and generated me a $111 commission.

Here are a few more smaller but still significant ones from the last week:

amazon-affiliate-earnings

While these bigger ticket items are certainly not selling in as great a number as books – they contribute a significant amount to the total earnings of the month.

10 More Tips on Using the Amazon Affiliate Program

To finish off this ultimate guide I want to share 10 more general, overarching tips and principles I’ve found helpful when making money with Amazon’s Affiliate program.

1. Time is a Major Factor

As I mentioned at the start of this guide, the $420,000+ that I’ve earned from Amazon has come over 10 years.

While the last 5 years seen me earn over $50,000 per year from Amazon, it took 5 years of building to get it to that level – with the first 3 years really not earning much at all.

That was partly due to increasing traffic. It was partly due to my regular inclusion of affiliate links in my posts. I don’t promote Amazon in every post but in an average week I’d say I link to Amazon in at least 4-5 posts. That adds up to 200-250 posts per year and around over 2000 posts in the last 10 years.

These posts act as a doorway to the Amazon site. As the number of posts has increased, my blogs have begun to rank higher in Google and my loyal reader numbers have grown, the number of people going through these ‘doorways’ has increase– hence the escalation in earnings.

2. Start Early

I recommend that bloggers start to use Amazon’s Affiliate Program early. In doing so, you’ll be populating your blog with links into the store that may not convert brilliantly early on but which can potentially convert for years to come as your blog grows in popularity.

The other good thing about starting early is that you’ll learn a lot about affiliate marketing. Most of the lessons and tips that I’ve shared in this series of posts have come directly from my own experimenting with Amazon’s Affiliate program.

I knew so little in the early days and I made a lot of mistakes but each time I messed up I learned another lesson that has helped me to grow my Amazon earnings into a more significant part of my own business.

3. Experiment with Widgets and aStore

I’ve already mentioned that I largely rely upon contextual links to promote Amazon products. I find these offer the best conversion however, I do know of a few bloggers who’ve successfully incorporated a variety of the widgets that Amazon gives their affiliates to use.

amazon-widgets.png

Similarly – I know some readers who do pretty well with aStore, which is a tool whereby you create your own little online store using Amazon’s technology.

I’ve tried to use this a couple of times and have had a little success with my photography and ProBlogger bookstores but know I need to do more with it to take it to the next level.

I guess it comes down to experimenting with the tools and seeing what works best with your audience. If you’ve used some of these widgets I’d love to see examples of where you’ve had them work for you – please share links in comments below so we can all learn!

4. Transparency with Readers

There is always debate about the topic of transparency when affiliate marketing comes up. Should you disclose that your links are affiliate links or should you not?

 

The answer to this will partly depend upon your location. If you’re in the US, the FCC requires a disclosure – but in other parts of the world you are not required to do so.

Each blogger will ultimately have their own stance on this and it’s important to work out what sits well with your own ethics, the flow of your site and the law.

Being in Australia, I’m not required to do anything by the law (although I hear talk that there may be changes around this). I don’t disclose every single Amazon link on my photography blog in a direct way but do I have a disclaimer/disclosure page on the blog. When I’m doing a ‘best seller list’ always include a disclaimer on those posts as the whole page is filled with affiliate links. I have also written numerous times on DPS about how the links to Amazon earn us money and help the site to keep growing and be free.

I was nervous the first time I mentioned this to readers and expected a backlash however, what I found was that most readers not only accepted it, they encouraged us.

In fact, a few of our readers tell me that if they’re going to make some kind of purchase at Amazon that they always come to DPS to click on one of our links to do so! Transparency isn’t as scary as you might think (although this might depend upon your audience a little).

Here on ProBlogger I disclose Amazon affiliate links. That’s mainly because there are fewer of them and because my readers here are more savvy with the idea of affiliate programs (I don’t have to explain what an affiliate link is every time I mention one).

5. Don’t Hype – Put Your Readers First

When you engage in any affiliate marketing, always keep your readers’ best interests at heart.

I’ve been critiqued for taking this view over the years by groups of bloggers who seem to put the priority on ‘making money at all costs’. While you certainly can make money without a focus on quality content or building community and by hyping up the things that you promote – my approach has always been to put the reader first.

I do this because I want to build a solid reputation and a loyal readership of people who trust me. I’d rather make less money and still have a reader than make lots of money and never see the reader again. For me, this comes not only from my ethics but my belief that in the long term building a good profile and reputation leads to other opportunities for profit.

The problem with hype is that you set readers up with expectations that are beyond what the product you’re recommending can deliver. This might lead to a sale but it also leads to disappointment and anger – the loss of readers – damaged reputation etc.

6. Pick High Quality Products

This follows on from the last point but is worth stating on its own. The success (or failure) of your Amazon Affiliate Program hinges upon the products you choose.

When you promote quality, it is much easier to be both genuine in your reviews and recommendations which leads to conversions and commissions.

Wherever you can, test the products you recommend to ensure their quality (or find someone who can do it for you).

7. Be Bold

One of the recurring themes I hear from readers is that they worry about using Amazon links too much, asking “Won’t readers push back?”

I have always shared this concern but as you’ve probably picked up by now, the reader push back has been almost non-existent.

Perhaps this is because I carefully choose the products I promote or because I often promote these links in posts based upon reader feedback. I can think of less than 10 occasions when I’ve had people on my photography site question the links. In fact, as I said above, I’ve had more people give positive feedback about them than anything.

I guess there would come a point where too much promotion would get a negative reaction so you want to be a little subtle about your promotion but in general, I think readers can handle more than we might think they can.

Note: I think the line where readers will push back probably will vary from blog to blog depending upon their readership. For example here on ProBlogger I get a little more negative feedback from readers on affiliate promotions. I suspect ProBlogger readers are a little more tuned into the issue and suspicious of some of the affiliate marketing that goes on around the web.

8. Localized Audiences? Try Local Amazons

Another comment that sometimes comes is that Amazon.com doesn’t work brilliantly for blogs and sites with traffic from countries outside the USA.

A couple of reflections on this:

Firstly – it’s not completely true. I previously had a blog with almost completely Australian traffic and it converted reasonably well with Amazon. Amazon does ship some products to Australia and other countries (books, CDs etc) so if you’re promoting those products it can work.

Of course I always missed out on the bigger ticket electronic items that didn’t ship outside the USA. This was part of the reason I moved my efforts to starting Digital Photography School, which has a more global audience.

Secondly – if your traffic is localized to a country with its own Amazon store, join the affiliate program for that store and promote it. I know one of the UK photography sites does very well from promoting the UK version of Amazon. I also know one blog that adds two links to every post he does – one with the US and one with the UK store.

I’ve also heard that some people use geo-targeting tools to look at where a reader is from and serving them a localized link for them.

9. Topics Convert Differently

One forum I came across was discussing my previous articles and a number of people reported that Amazon didn’t work on their sites (doubting whether I was telling the truth about my earnings). When I delved a little deeper, and looked at their sites, the reason for their lack of success with Amazon became apparent – their topics.

Some topics will naturally fit with Amazon better than others. In the end, it comes down to the fact that Amazon is a product related affiliate program so it only works when people buy stuff. If your blog is on a topic that doesn’t have any natural connection to people buying stuff it is going to be an uphill battle.

In my experience, it’s product-related blogs that tend to do best with Amazon. Most blogs probably have at least some possibilities (for example here on ProBlogger I occasionally link to a book that relates or a computer or electronic tool that I think might be useful to bloggers) but the reality is that this blog will never convert as well on Amazon as my photography site.

10. Keep an Eye on Amazon

My last tip is to keep an eye on what Amazon is doing. I mean this in two ways:

1. Learn from Them – be a regular user of Amazon. You don’t have to be an active buyer but surf the site regularly and pay particular attention to the way that THEY are promoting products on their site.

Amazon has spent years perfecting the art of online selling and you’ll learn a lot about online marketing by observing how they do it. They constantly test different ways of promoting products and have evolved their site quite a lot over the years. See what widgets they use to promote related products, watch how they use reader reviews, and see the way that they describe products.

You’ll also be in a better position to pre-sell the products you recommend if you look at the page you’re sending people to before you do it.

2. Watch for Opportunities – earlier in this guide I mentioned that you could tap into a number of promotions Amazon on their site. Some of these are promote directly to their affiliates. For example, they send out emails to affiliates semi-regularly, promoting their latest promotions. They also have a blog where they do likewise.

If you read the blog and get the emails you’ll see promotions where they are offering discounts to readers but also where they’re giving bonus commissions for some items or categories of products. Not all of them will relate to your niche but over time some will.

However, there are other opportunities they don’t promote to us as affiliates but which you can still tap into. For example, today I was surfing on Amazon and came across their Camera Deals page.

The page is a sales page promoting any deals that they’re running on digital cameras. On the page are some pretty decent deals that are worth promoting on my photography blog.

This is just one of many promotions that Amazon is always running on their site. Keep an eye out on the site for what they’re doing that relates to your niche and you’ll find some good stuff to promote.

The more you keep an eye on how Amazon are promoting products to their readers the better informed you’ll be about how YOU can do the same thing.

Share Your Amazon Affiliate Program Tips

This brings to an end my ultimate guide to making money with the Amazon Affilate Program. I’ve shared everything that I’ve tried  but what about you? Got any tips to add?

7 Strategies for Growing Community on Your Blog

This week on ProBlogger we’ve been looking at the topic of building community on a blog. We started by identifying 9 benefits and 3 costs of community on a blog and then looked at 5 stages of building community on a blog. Today I want to dig deeper into some specific things to DO to build community on your blog.

Across a Crowd

1. Write in a Conversational Voice

This tip fits into the ‘it’s not rocket science’ category of blogging tips (as do many blog tips) – however as simple as it sounds I regularly see bloggers falling into the trap of talking ‘AT’ readers rather than blogging in a conversational voice.

The art of good conversation is as much as being ‘interested’ as it is about being ‘interesting’. Good conversationalists ask questions, pause to allow others to speak and listen to others when they are speaking.

ships, night, passing and all that...

Good bloggers similarly often write in a more conversational way and in doing so invite readers to respond.

Every bloggers needs to find their own style and voice but I’ve found a number of things have been helpful in writing more ‘conversationally’:

I write like I speak

y best blog posts often start out as me writing an email to a reader answering a question. Alternatively I will often imagine I’m talking to someone as I’m writing – which leads to a post written in a more personal way.

I tell stories

I don’t do this in every post but I find that when I weave some kind of personal angle into a post that it seems to draw readers into recounting their own stories. The story need not be long or highly personal story – it could simply be sharing how you did something in your business (you’ll see me do this below when I talk about how on dPS we added a Flickr Group to dPS as an intermediate step on the way to starting a forum).

I use personal language

When you talk to another person it is common to use words like ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’. Conversely when you write in a theoretical language these words often disappear. Check out the top 20 posts on ProBlogger in 2012 and notice that over 50% of the most read posts this year had personal words in their titles.

Share Opinions

One of the most powerful ways to get some kind of a reaction from readers is to share you opinion. Doing so will automatically trigger your readers to think about their own opinions and whether they agree with you – and more often than not you’ll find at least a few of them will let you know if they do! Tread a little carefully here – opinion pieces can cause debate and depending on the tone of your writing and the topic can lead to heated conversation!

2. Invite Interaction

Part of writing in a conversational tone is to invite others to participate in the conversation. While some of your readers will comment without any kind of interaction you’ll be surprised how many more will interact with you with a simple call to do so!

Individual Protection

Inviting your readers to interact with you can include numerous things such as:

  • asking readers to comment (and not just at the end of posts… you can signal right at the beginning that you’re interested in other people’s thoughts on a topic (as I did several paragraphs above).
  • asking specific questions – I find the more specific your questions are the better better responses you get (i.e. instead of ending a post with a general ‘what do you think?’ guide your readers with a more specific question about your topic or give them some alternatives or examples to help them make that first comment.
  • write posts that are purely questions – one of the best ways to get responses is simply to write a post that is little more than the question itself. These ‘discussion’ posts can be gold (for example recently to wrap up a week of content on the topic of Pinterest we finished the series with a discussion post on the topic.
  • Setting a Challenge – on dPS we do a weekly themed challenge for readers to go away and take a photo on a theme and then to come back and share what they did (here’s an example of one we did on the theme of ‘Nature’). This not only gets a good number of comments – it gets readers DOING something quite involved which is a sign of real reader engagement. Another recent example would be our recent Group Writing Project here on ProBlogger.
  • Polls – perhaps the simplest method of getting a first time reader out of passivity and doing a little something is to run a poll on your blog. Having them simply choose from a couple of multiple choice options and clicking ‘vote’ may not seem like much but it signals to your readers that you’re interested in their opinion or experience and takes them a tiny step down the road to engagement and community. The other thing you can do with polls is once they’ve voted ask them to tell you why they voted as they did. For example on dPS we asked readers if they’d ever taken a photography class and then at the end of the post invited them to tell us what class it was and how they found it. 161 people added a comment. While this was a small % of those who’ve voted in the poll it was a higher number of comments than an average post on the site.
  • Tell Readers about the Community – while we’re talking about polls, the other thing I’ve found useful is to not only run a poll but to post the final results of a poll too. For example in this post we shared how many of our dPS readers are looking to buy a new camera. In doing this readers see where they fit in to the diverse membership of your community and you remind them that they participated. The other good thing about showing results is that you signal to your whole readership that others are engaging with you. In that example above we mentioned that 28,000 people responded to the poll – great social proof!
  • Invite Interactions OFF your blog – community does not just need to happen ON your blog for it to be worthwhile. In fact some of the best community discussions I’ve seen among my readers have happened on our dPS Facebook page or on my personal Google+ page. People are trained by these social networks to interact – so it can be a great place to begin conversations and relationships that may lead to ongoing community.

Regular invitations to your readership to interact will gradually draw more and more of your readers out of passivity and into an interaction with you. Even a small first step towards community could lead to a passive reader becoming super engaged which as we’ve seen previously can have many positive benefits.

Further Reading:

3. Consider a Dedicated Community Area

Blogs have community built into them to some degree by allowing comments to be made on any post. Many blogging tools now not only allow comments but allow threaded comments which enhance the experience and allow mini-conversations to happen in an easy to follow way.

However if there may come a time on your blog where you want to give readers the ability to not only respond to what you or your writers have to say – but also to start threads of new conversation.

To do this you’ll want to consider some kind of dedicated community area.

There are a number of ways to do this. On dPS I first did this by starting a ‘Flickr Group‘ where I invited readers to share photos and start conversations. dPS being a photography site and Flickr being full of photographers this not only gave our readers a place to interact but also helped us to find new readers.

For dPS the Flickr group also gave our readers a taste of community and whet their appetite for it to the point that they began to ask if I would consider starting an actual forum area – something I did (see the dPS Photography Forum here) after I saw that there was enough demand to kick it off with enough active members.

Blog to foum

A forum comes with its own advantages and challenges.

In short forums benefits are:

  • Increasing Reader Engagement
  • Builds User Generated Content
  • Increases Page Views per Visit
  • Appeals to different types of readers

However the challenges of forums include:

  • The challenge of moderation (they can take a lot of work and are often targets of spammers)
  • The challenge of having enough critical mass to make the forum active enough to be attractive
  • The technical challenges – as with most self hosted blogging platforms forum platforms need maintenance and upgrades and can be a challenge to manage.

Further Reading on Forums: check out 10 Mistakes that Will KILL a Forum (or blog) and 6 Tips on Adding a Forum to your Blog.

Other options for community areas on a blog include setting up off site community areas such as:

Of course with all of these options you’re really at the mercy of other companies who have control over the hosting and upkeep of your community. You also lose some control over features etc.

Add to the conversation: If you’ve had experience with other types of community areas on your blog (or other people’s) I’d love to hear about them in comments below.

4. Use Interactive and Accessible Mediums

While we’re talking about using different types of social media lets touch on a range of other tools that you can use to help build community on and around your blog.

A number of years ago I experimented over with using Ustream to connect with my readers. I set up a ProBlogger channel and on a fairly regular but impulsive basis used to jump onto it to do Q&A sessions with readers.

It has been a year since I ran a Ustream chat but the times I did it I got a lot of positive feedback from readers as it allowed them to not only interact with me by asking questions but allowed them to see and hear my responses live.

Today there are a number of other such options available to you – perhaps the most popular of which is what Google+ offers with their hangouts.

I’ve not run a hangout myself yet (there are only so many hours in the day) but have attended many as a viewer and think that they’d be a great way to give readers a more engaging experience of you – particularly now that they can be live streamed and synced with your Youtube channel.

One of the best people I’ve seen doing hangouts is Trey Ratcliff who is brilliant at it!

The other option on this front is to experiment with running webinars – something I’ve done more and more over the last year.

Webinars

I use GoToWebinar (to which I am an affiliate) to run ProBlogger webinars and while mine have only been me talking to slides or me interviewing guests (audio only) I’ve had more positive feedback about our webinars than I have about most other things I’ve done in the past couple of years here on ProBlogger.

GotoWebinar have also just introduced Video conferencing also for 100-attendee webinars (soon to be adding it for larger plans too) so that those attending can see you live.

5. Run Projects and Challenges

I’m often asked what the ‘tipping point’ for ProBlogger was – the moment that the blog really took off. There were a number of these but one was the first time I ran the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (31DBBB) challenge.

31 Days to Build a Better Blog is today our best selling eBook but it didn’t start out that way. It actually began as a series of blog posts that I put together over a month in 2005.

The idea started as a joke with a fried but was one that wouldn’t go away and so on the spur of the moment in the early hours of a night when I couldn’t sleep I posted that we were going to run this challenge where I’d give readers a little teaching/theory on an aspect of blogging every day for 31 days and would also give them a challenge to complete that related to the challenge.

I didn’t really expect it to take off too much but the next morning I awoke to a lot of comments on that post and people emailing to say that they were excited. The following 31 days not only saw increased traffic on the blog but readers engaging in a deeper way than they had before.

I ran 31DBBB over the next two years again and each time we saw readers becoming more and more engaged with the site.

What I realised through these projects is that giving people a common task to work on over a period of time gives them a shared experience that draws them closer together.

Since 2005 there have been many such projects run around the blogosphere. In fact inspired by 31DBBB Nester from Nesting place runs an annual ’31 Days of Change’ project on her blog in which bloggers are invited to run a ’31 Days’ series on their blogs.

Last year Nester saw over 1200 bloggers run 31 Days Challenges over the month of October (just a few pictured below)! That project is growing every year and I suspect it is because bloggers who join are discovering the power of running such a project on their blog.

There are many other challenges you can run. Check out FatMumSlim’s Photo a Day Instagram challenge for example which is participated in by many thousands of people. Similarly Fox in Flats runs a Style Dare a Day challenge that is always popular.

Add to the conversation: If you’ve run a challenge like this – please tell us about it in the comments below so we can learn about it!

6. Real Life Events

One of the most powerful ways of building community with your readers is to actually meet them – face to face.

I know this is full of all kinds of logistical challenges but IF you can meet your readers – take the opportunity because face to face interactions and a real life shared experience certainly seems to speed up the building of community.

I first experimented with this in the early days of my first blog when I didn’t have a heap of readers but when I posted that I would be in London on a holiday and asked readers if they wanted to meet up for a drink. I had 3 people show up for a beer – not a large crowd but the first time I’d met readers face to face.

Now almost any time I’m in a new city I’ll try to tweet/post out a time and place to have a meet up. Sometimes we get a good turnout and other times it is small – but every time it gives me an amazing opportunity to meet readers and build relationships with them (and for them to meet one another).

The other way I put myself out there to meet readers was to attend events that I thought my readers might be attending. In the early days for me this was about buying a ticket for popular events just like everyone else but in time it meant accepting speaking invitations when they came for the events I knew my readers were attending.

Over the last 4 years I’ve of course had opportunity to not only attend other people’s events but to run my own ProBlogger Training Events here in Australia. This started relatively small with a hastily arranged 100 person event but each year it has grown – to the point that our September Gold Coast event sold 200 Early bird tickets in a couple of hours.

The added bonus of our real life event is that a virtual event runs alongside it both in the selling of virtual tickets but also through the hashtag for the event. While not all ProBlogger readers are able to get to Australia in person the event hashtag last year saw a lot of readers engaging with one another and the ProBlogger brand and created a real buzz.

What I notice after running an event or meeting people face to face is that in the days and weeks after we meet in person I’m much more likely to see that person engaging with me on social media and on the blog. It’s one of the fastest ways to build deeper engagement.

The perfect example of someone who has run hundreds of real life events around the world is Chris Guillebeau who when launching his books has done meetups in every state in the US and for his recent book every continent around the globe. I was fortunate to go with him to one of these events in Melbourne and was amazed at the enthusiasm his readers turned out to the event with – it’s no wonder Chris has had such a massive impact upon so many.

7. Put Your Readers in the Spotlight

Newsign

Way back in 2006 I wrote a very short post encouraging bloggers to ‘Make Your Readers Famous‘.

At the time it was a bit of a throw away idea and not something I’d pondered too much but in the last 7 years it has been something that I’ve seen the power of many times.

The idea is simple – put your readers in the limelight on your blog. Most blogs keep the blogger on the stage with the microphone and the readers inn the audience – but what would happen if you allowed your readers onto the stage?

The answer to that question is that readers will take real ownership over your blog and become a lot more loyal to it if you allow them opportunity to share the limelight.

Most bloggers use their blogs to build their own profile – but when you use your blog to help your readers to build their profile and achieve their own goals something special can happen.

Here are a few ways that you can make your reader famous that I’ve previous published (updated for 2013):

  • Promote a comment to a Post – sometimes readers make incredibly insightful and wise observations and tips in the comments of your blog. While they will be read by a handful of people in the comment thread – why not pull it out and use it as the basis for one of your post – highlighting the wisdom in it and the person who made the comment.
  • Write a Post about a Reader’s Blog – visit the blogs of those leaving comments on your blog and pick one that you resonate and that is relevant to your readers. Write a link post linking to that blog highlighting the best posts and what you like about it.
  • Send Your Readers to Comment on Someone Else’s Blog – write a post that links to someone else’s great blog post and instead of asking your readers what they think about it on your own blog ask them to head over and comment on it on the other person’s blog. Shutting down the comments in your own post and saying that you’ve left a comment on their blog already can help make this more effective.
  • Give Readers an Opportunity to Promote Themselves – run a project or write a post that gives readers an opportunity to promote themselves in some way. For example on dPS I wrote a post asking readers – do you have a photoblog?‘ As I wrote the post I thought I’d add a line inviting readers to share a link to their photoblogs. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning when I woke up to 250 comments on the post and a whole heap of emails thanking me for giving readers the opportunity to highlight their work.
  • Run a Reader Poll and Highlight Answers in a followup post – have a post one weekend where you pose a question to your readers. Then in the week that follows do a followup post where you add some of your own thoughts on the question and pull out some of the best comments left by readers. Alternatively you could survey your twitter followers on a topic relevant to your blog and then highlight their responses as a blog post (example of this).
  • Invite Guest Posts – often ‘guest posting’ is talked about solely as a way to get free content for your blog. While this is nice – one of the things I love about it most is that it puts the microphone in the hand of someone else and lets someone who would normally be constrained by the comments section have a little more power and influence on the direction of your community for a moment in time. This can have a real impact upon the person doing the post – but also upon your readership as they see someone like themselves featured on your blog.
  • Invite your Readers to Promote their Social Networks – a fun project I ran here on ProBlogger a number of years ago was to have a ‘social media love in‘ where I invited readers to share their social media accounts with us here on the blog. Readers left comments sharing their Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, StumbleUpon (and more) accounts and we compiled all the submissions (over 700) into lists so readers could all follow one another. It was a massive amount of work but helped our readers grow their profiles.

There are many more ways to put your readers into the spotlight and help them out with their own online projects and goals. Please let us know below how you’ve done this type of thing on your own blog!