Close
Close

21 Ways to Make Your Blog or Website Sticky

Does the traffic coming to your site come in a Yo-Yo like cycle of ups and downs that never really seems to go anywhere in the long run?Glue

Yesterday I wrote about a common problem that many bloggers face – spikes of traffic followed by flat-lines and promised a follow up post today on how to break this cycle by building ‘sticky’ sites.

My point yesterday was to encourage readers not to see spikes in traffic as the ultimate goal but as a stepping stone to ongoing growth.

What is a ‘Sticky’ Site?

A sticky website is one where a first time reader arrives and finds it difficult to leave.

Not because the site owner captures them in a ‘RickRoll’ or a series of windows asking them if they REALLY want to leave – but because something about the site motivates them to explore it further – and more importantly to make a decision to (and takes some steps to ensure that they) return again to it.

21 Techniques to Make Your Site Sticky

The following 21 techniques are ways that you can make your blog or website more sticky. They come from my own experience of blogging over the last 5 years. As a result of basing this on personal experience I’m going to show you quite a few examples of what I’ve done (after all i know my own sites best). I’d love you to add your tips and show examples of what you’ve done in comments below to make it a more useful resource for readers.

1. Make Your Invitations to Subscribe to your blog Prominent

One of the most important things to do is to have a prominent call to action for readers coming to your blog to subscribe to it.

In fact I’d recommend having more than one invitation – one prominent one above the fold and prominent in your sidebar or navigation area and then a second one below your post. This means that people are triggered to subscribe whether they have just arrived on your blog or if they’ve just finished reading a post (a ‘pause point‘).

This is what I do on my blogs and my tracking shows that both get a fairly even number of people using the two options.

prominent-invitations-to-subscribe.jpg

By the way – if you’re not already subscribed to ProBlogger’s RSS feed – here it is!

2. Educate Readers about Your Subscription Methods

One of the most read posts here on ProBlogger is my ‘what is RSS‘ post which I have below my Subscription link. It’s there simply to educate readers on what RSS is and in doing so sell them a way to connect with my blog. Interestingly enough – quite a few other bloggers around the web now link to the page to educate their readers too.

Similarly – I occasionally will write a post on my blogs that invites new readers to subscribe. Sometimes I think we mistakenly assume that all of our readers have been with us for a long time and all know how to use our site – however many of your newer readers might not know the full story.

Here’s one of these posts that I ran on DPS last year. The day after I did this my RSS subscribers jumped considerably. It was just a matter of educating my newer readers of the blog on how they could connect better with it. You’ll also note that at the end of the post I asked readers to let me know how they follow the blog. This was for two reasons:

  • Firstly I wanted to involve older readers who already knew all the information in the post. It somehow seemed to make the post more relevant for them as it invited them to participate.
  • Secondly it was about social proof and showing newer readers how others used the site. I think the comments section reflected some of this.

3. Good Blog Design

I’ve always believed that a good blog design is an important part of helping readers to decide whether they’re going to hang around and track with your site over the long haul.

Readers make judgements about your site within seconds of arriving at it – if they see something cluttered and confusing they’ll be less likely to want to return.

Good design highlights your content, helps people navigate your site well and creates a good impression – and first impressions matter!

Keep your design simple, familiar and obvious and you’ll be on the road to a sticky site.

PS: A common mistake that I see bloggers making is to crowd out their content with too many ads above the fold. If a reader arrives at your site and has to scroll to see the content you’ll increase the numbers of people who simply hit the ‘back’ button on their browser.

4. On Site Branding

Work hard at building a brand that is attractive and draws people in.

First time readers should know what your blog is about at a first glance. Use your blog’s title, it’s design, taglines, post titles, about pages, logo and navigational elements to communicate what your blog is about.

Also – do something to differentiate the brand of your blog. It could be a logo, image, color scheme, blog name….

5. Make Your Blog Personal

One thing that I’ve seen a number of bloggers do really well over the last year or two is brand themselves well on their blog. While it’s not essential to have a blog that is centered around your personal brand I find that when you do add a personal touch to your blog that it can connect with readers in a powerful way.

personalize.jpg

The fact is that some readers are more interested in connecting with a person than a collection of content.

Adding your photo, writing in a personal tone, using video/audio and including personal details and stories of how you engage with your topic can give your blog personality which will draw some of your readers into a relationship with you.

6. When you get a rush of traffic to one particular post….

When the spikes in traffic come along you need to be ready to act (and act fast – because they can be momentary).

  • Add invitations to subscribe to your feed within your post. Something along the lines of ‘enjoy this post? Get more like it by subscribing to….’ can work really well.
  • It can also be worthwhile adding links at the end of your post to ‘further reading’ on posts that are getting lots of reader to them.
  • Sometimes when you get a spike it can even be worth writing a ‘welcome’ post. For example if I get a mention in a mainstream media publication that sends significant traffic I’ll often do a post that welcomes people but also gives them a ‘tour’ of the site (example).
  • Another clever move is to quickly write up a followup article to the one that is getting all the traffic. For example – if this post suddenly got a burst of traffic I could quickly write a post ’10 more ways to make your blog sticky’ and then add a link to that post at the end of this one (update: actually I wrote one called 7 more ways to make your blog sticky). This shows readers that you’ve got more to say on your topic than just one post. Every extra page view is a step closer to them subscribing (if the pages they view are good quality).

These ‘hot posts’ are really important to optimize (learn how to optimize popular posts).

7. Get Interactive

Getting someone to DO something on your blog means that they’ve invested something into your blog and increases the likelihood that they’ll return.

Interactive blogs are often also sticky ones. Interaction could include

  • Comments
  • Competitions
  • Polls
  • Projects and Memes

As a result it’s worth spending some time Learning how to get readers to comment on your blog – and exploring other ways to make your blog more interactive. Get your readers involved as much as you can!

The other bonus for ‘giveaways’, ‘special offers’ and ‘competitions’ is that when you do them regularly some readers will subscribe because they don’t want to miss out on future giveaways. The current competition might not interest them but they sure want to know when you do one in future.

8. Add a ‘subscribe to comments’ feature to your blog

This draws those who comment back to continue the conversation and increases the chances of them becoming loyal readers.

You’ll find that only some readers will ever use this – but even if just a few do you’ve had a win.

subscribe-comments.jpg

I have this enabled here at ProBlogger (I don’t have it on by default – those leaving comments have to choose to subscribe because I don’t want to inundate them with comments) and at any given time there are several hundred people subscribed to comments on posts. I use this subscribe to comments plugin to run mine.

PS: just be aware that if you get a lot of unmoderated comment spam it can be a little embarrassing to have this feature – I learned the hard way.

9. Respond to Comments

This is a particularly effective way to draw readers back to your blog – particularly in the early days when you don’t have a lot of readers commenting to follow up.

There are two main ways you can do this:

  • respond to comments with comments
  • respond to comments with emails to the comment leaver

Showing those that comment on your blog that you’re interacting with them can make a real impression and will often draw them back time and time again.

10. Offer alternative ways to subscribe

subscription-alternativesSome readers will respond well to your prominent invitation to subscribe via RSS (see #1 above) but others will be more open to connecting in other ways.

I generally offer three subscription methods:

  • RSS
  • Daily email updates (RSS to Email)
  • Weekly newsletter (summary of the blog from the last week plus some exclusive content)

More recently I’ve also been offering readers the ability to track with my blogs via Twitter and send my latest posts to my Twitter account via TweetBurner.

Why so many options? The answer is simply that each reader has their own systems in place to consume content and connect with websites – so offering a variety of methods increases the chances that you’ll be doing something that they are familiar with.

11. Promote social media connecting points

Similarly – some of your readers will respond very well to your invitations to connect on other social media sites.

For example I have some readers on DPS who are Facebook junkies. They refuse to subscribe via RSS or email but religiously read my blog by following my Facebook profile which pulls in my latest posts.

Another small group of readers here at ProBlogger follow this blog through Technorati’s favorites feature. While I prefer to read blogs using an rss reader like Google Reader – their rhythm of reading content revolves around Technorati. As a result I’m happy that I promoted my Technorati profile (you can favorite ProBlogger here).

While you might not see the sense in people following your blog in some of these social media sites others do and at the very least promoting them can potentially reinforce your brand.

Social-Media-1

12. Highlight Your Best Content

A great way to convince readers to become loyal is to get them reading more than one of your posts (especially if they are your best posts). You can do this by linking to other posts within your content but also suggesting further reading and ‘best of’ posts around your blog.

For example – here at ProBlogger on my front page the ‘best of ProBlogger’ section is one of the most clicked upon parts of my site. This small section of the site sends people deep within the blog to some of my best work – hopefully resulting in quite a few new loyal readers.
Best-Of-Pb
At DPS I have a small section on my sidebar called ‘Digital Photography Tips’ which is a list of ‘sneeze pages‘ (or compilation pages of my best posts in certain categories). Again – these are there simply to draw people deep into the site and get them viewing some of the best the site has to offer (and hopefully to convince them to subscribe).

Best-Of-Dps

13. Create Momentum With Your Content

AnticipationWhen you give readers a sense that you’re creating more content that they’ll want to read you give them a reason to subscribe.

For example when a reader reads the first part of a series of posts on a topic that they find useful you can count on them wanting to read the rest.

I wrote about this in a post on creating a sense of anticipation on your blog.

14. Consider Removing Dates on Old Posts

This one could be a little controversial but I find that when old posts are not dated that it doesn’t create a ‘oh this is old’ type reaction in your readers.

I’ve seen this numerous times here on ProBlogger where posts written back in 2005 have attracted comments like ‘this is old’ or ‘out of date tips’ – even when the content has been of a ‘timeless’ or evergreen nature.

Personally I think that you should consider the type of blog you have before doing this. For me it works on DPS where I’ve never had dates on posts – but not here at ProBlogger where I have a topic that is more time specific (I’ll write more on this topic in coming days).

15. Give Incentive to Subscribe

 IncentiveOver the last few days I’ve had a small competition going on Digital Photography School where I’m giving 3 subscribers to my newsletter there a copy of a great photography book.

1500 new subscribers later (and counting that small incentive is one of the best $50 I’ve ever spent.

Give away a book, free ebook or report, download or some other incentive to those subscribing to your blog’s feed or newsletter and you could give some readers the little extra incentive to connect that they needed.

It need not be anything expensive (or that costs you anything at all) – just make it a small bonus and see what impact that might have.

16. Keep Posting Frequency Up

One thing that I do as a blog reader deciding whether I’ll subscribe to a blog or not is to head to the home page and see how often they’ve updated recently.

There’s nothing more frustrating as a reader than to find some great content and be hungry for more only to find that the blogger hasn’t update in 3 months.

I don’t think you need to update every day – but something in the last week shows that your blog is up to date. You can also highlight this by showing your most recent posts somewhere in your sidebar.

17. Create an Engaging About Page

About-PageAnother thing that I often do when I go to a new blog is to look at it’s ‘about page‘.

I like to know who is behind a blog, what their goals for it are, how it started and other information about what the blogger is on about.

This is an opportunity to sell your blog to and make a connection with prospective readers who are going out of their way to find out more about you – so use it to tell your story and draw readers in to journey with you.

PS: whatever you do – don’t let your about page be the default about page that comes with your blog.

18. Add a Community Area or Forum

One of the best things that I ever did with my photography site was to add a forum.

I cannot express to you just how sticky that area of DPS is!

While readers come to the blog once a day to read new content – some of them come to the forum ALL DAY – racking up literally hundreds of page views a week.

Forums won’t attract all of your readers (I suspect they attract some personality types and not others) – but they will connect with some and help make your site a lot stickier.

19. Social Proof

Feedburner-Subscription-Conters-2Does your blog have readers already? If so (and even if it’s just a few) highlight this in any way that you can and you’ll show other first timers that they’re not the only one reading your blog.

People attract people and a site that is obviously being read by others will draw others into it.

This can be difficult in the early days of a blog when you don’t have a lot of activity – but as it builds show it off.

Highlight new comments, show subscriber numbers when you have them, quote readers comments, find a way to slip your stats into a post occassionally etc.

It’s a bit of a snowball effect – once you have readers they’ll bring others in.

One thing that I occassionally do at DPS on my subscribe page (a page dedicated to talking readers through 3 subscription options) is to not only highlight the options but to tell people how many people are using them. In this way those considering subscribing get a sense that they’re actually becoming a part of something that has momentum and thousands of others joining.

20. Target Readers with Specific Messages

Here are a few tools and plugins out there that enable you to present specific messages to certain readers coming to your blog based upon where they’ve arrived from and if they’ve been to your blog before.

  • LandingSites is a WP plugin that shows readers arriving from search engines related posts on the search term that they’ve searched for.
  • What Would Seth Godin Do is a plugin that welcomes new readers to your blog with a special message and invitation to subcribe.

Got any other plugins and tools for targeting readers with specific messages? Feel free to share them in comments below.

21. Sticky Content

Lastly (and most importantly in my mind) – the key to sticky sites is sticky content.

You can have the best designed site in the world with lots of the above features – but unless readers who come to it find something that connects and brings them life in some way – you’re unlikely to get them back tomorrow.

Writing engaging content needs to be your number one Priority.

What Have I Missed?

As I wrote this list the ideas just kept coming (I originally set out to write a list of 10 points… then 20…. then I just had to slip in one more) – but I’m sure there is more to say on the topic of sticky sites.

What would you add? What have you done on your site to add stickiness?

Looking forward to hearing your ideas in comments below.

PS: Welcome to StumbleUpon readers

This post has gone crazy on StumbleUpon today. If you’ve surfed in from there thanks for dropping by. If you’ve found this post helpful I’d appreciate you stumbling it. You might also find future posts on ProBlogger helpful – so don’t forget to subscribe (you know I had to do that on a post like this!)

Lastly – this post has led to some great conversation in comments below which has triggered a lot of other ideas for creating sticky blogs in my mind – so I’ve written a followup post – 7 More ways to make your blog sticky.

Do Your Visitor Numbers Look Like This?

Visitor-Numbers-1

“Darren, I have been blogging for 6 months and have tried to build traffic through social media, networking and buying reviews. I have attached a screen capture of the last 2 months of traffic (above) where you will see I have some good days in traffic, but it always flat lines days later.

The spikes all come from social bookmarking campaigns, links from other blogs or paid reviews – but my normal days of traffic are no higher than months ago. Help!?”

The above excerpt came from an email from a ProBlogger reader recently who is faced with a problem that many bloggers struggle with.

It’s literally a roller coaster ride – both in terms of traffic numbers but also emotions as you watch with hope your traffic rising on a good day only to see it flatline the next.

Like the blogger above mentions (he wished to remain anonymous) the spikes in traffic can come from any number of sources including:

  • a post being featured on a social bookmarking site
  • a paid review on another blog
  • organic links from other sites
  • being mentioned in mainstream media
  • a seasonal burst of traffic from search engines

Tomorrow I’m going to write a post that gives 20 practical tips on how to combat this spike/flatline trend but today I want to start with one ‘lesson’ for those of you who have traffic charts like the one above. It’s a lesson that our blogging friend above has already learnt.

Getting a Spike in Traffic is only Half the Strategy

If there’s only one thing that I’d like to get across in this post it is that we need stop seeing the sudden burst in traffic as the ultimate goal and to start seeing it as a stepping stone to sustained blog growth.

This is a lesson that some bloggers never seem to learn – so recognizing the problem is actually a breakthrough.

I know the temptation to see the spike as the end result and have fallen for that temptation myself on numerous occasions – however to pop open the champagne to celebrate your good fortune at this point is to miss an incredible opportunity – the opportunity of recruiting a percentage of the readers coming into your blog as regular readers.

How to Build a Sticky Blog

With our first lesson in mind tomorrow I want to move us forward by looking at the concept of making our blogs ‘sticky’ (you can read the next post in this series here).

The word ‘sticky’ might be a strange one to associate with a blog but it’s a good one because it describes the idea of making readers ‘stick’ to your blog beyond their first visit. It’s all about making spikes in traffic have a lasting impact rather than give cause for momentary celebration.

I hope you’ll join me tomorrow when I propose 20 techniques for building a sticky blog.

update – read the next post at 21 Ways to Make Your Blog or Website Sticky (I thought of an extra one to take it to a list of 21 instead of 20).

Get Up To $100 as a BONUS from Chitika

chitika-bonus.jpgI’m excited today to announce an exclusive special offer for ProBlogger readers from Chitika (my own #2 income earner) that could be worth up to $100 for some of you.

If you’ve previously not been accepted into Chitika or have a site that is product focused and didn’t work well previously this will be especially beneficial to you. Read on to find out why.

If you are not already a Chitika publisher and sign up today they are willing to double the money that you make with them in your first six weeks (until the end of August) up to the value of $100.

For Example:

  • If a publisher earns $80 between now and August 31, Chitika will match them $80, making their total payout $160
  • If a publisher earns $600 between now and August 31, Chitika will match them $100, making their total payout $700

This promotion is open to any NEW publisher with Chitika who signs up with THIS LINK.

Previously Not Accepted as a Chitika Publisher?

If you have previously applied to Chitika and were not accepted into the program Chitika have recently opened up their program more and you are welcome to reapply.

Don’t have a ‘product related’ site?

Since adding their new ‘premium ad unit’ to their range Chitka’s ads now not only do well on ‘gadget’ or ‘product related’ sites – but are converting well on sites of all kinds of topics. At b5media we’ve added them successfully to hundreds of our sites on all kinds of topics (most of them not product related at all). For example – check out this mini case study from a finance related website – Bankaholic.

This promotion is exclusive to ProBlogger Readers and runs from today (Monday 14 July) through to 31 August – 2008.

Again – to be eligible you need to sign up here.

10 Ways to Optimize a Popular Post on Your Blog

Over at the ProBlogger Room on FriendFeed Keith asks a good question that has stimulated a whole stream of thought for me. He asks:

“If you have a blog post that clearly outperforms all other posts (more than double the traffic in my case) do you capitalize on it by writing more posts on the same topic?”

When a post on your blog does better than others there are numerous things that I’d encourage you to consider doing – only one of which is writing more posts on that topic.

KEY LESSON – The first thing to realize is that ‘hot’ or popular posts on your blog are not only important because of the traffic that they are currently bringing in – but they’re actually more important because of what they could potentially do to improve and grow your whole blog. Most of what follows is about leveraging a hot post to grow your blog.

10 ways to Optimize a Popular Post on Your Blog

1. Analyze the Source of Traffic

The first thing that I’d highly recommend you do when you realize that one post on your blog is attracting more traffic than others is to spend some time analyzing the source of the traffic. Where it’s coming from will determine what actions you need to take next.

  • Is the traffic coming from search engines? If so, you’ll want to do some SEO on the post. You should also do some analysis of what keywords people are searching for that drives them to the post.
  • Is the traffic coming from social media? If so, it’ll be more temporary so you’ll want to act fast and concentrate on converting visitors to subscribers.
  • Is the traffic coming from another blog or site? If so you’ll need to act quickly, concentrate on getting subscribers but also build a relationship with the other site.
  • Why does the post work? – this is an important question to ask yourself, particularly if you’re looking to write more posts like it. Is it the title of the post, is it the topic, is it the voice you wrote it in?

The more information you have on where the traffic is from and why it’s landing on your post the better equipped you’ll be to decide which of the following strategies you should take next.

2. On Page SEO

If point #1 shows you that traffic is coming to the post from search engines you are in luck. Search engine traffic is wonderful because it has the potential to send your post traffic every day for years to come. However don’t just sit back and feel good about yourself – ask yourself how you can take the traffic to the next level and drive even more search engine traffic to it!

One of the things you will want to do is optimize the post for search engines even more than it already is. Obviously you’ve done something right in terms of SEO – but how can you improve it even more?

Knowing the keywords that the post is doing well for in SE’s is important here. Once you know this you can highlight them to the search engine bots by bolding them, adding them to your post to increase keyword density, adding images that have those words as their name and in alt tags, adding them in headings etc. Don’t ‘stuff’ your post with the words – but finding ways to naturally build them into your post can help it rank even higher for those words.

Again – don’t over do this. You’re already ranking well so just tweak the post a little.

Read more about on page SEO at Search Engine Optimization for Bloggers.

3. Off Page SEO

The other thing you can do to attempt to boost the search engine ranking of the post is to build a few incoming links to the post. Search engines see incoming links to a page as like a ‘vote’ – the more votes the higher it’ll rank (in general).

Note: The best type of incoming links are ‘relevant’ ones (ie from sites on a similar topic) and ones with the keywords that you’re trying to rank for in the link.

The first way to get some extra incoming links to the post is to link to it from your own blog/s. Find other posts on similar topics and link to this post from them. You don’t need to link to the post from every page on your blog – but do find at least a few other posts to link up to it from.

The second way to get extra incoming links is to submit the link to other bloggers. You might do this by pulling a few favors with other bloggers or by emailing them to suggest the post might be relevant to their readers. Don’t spam people and do keep the links relevant to the sites that you’re submitting them to – but any links you get can help give the post an extra boost.

Lastly – another source of links can be social media sites that you are active on. Even just tweeting the link in a relevant way to readers can add a little Google Juice. I’ll write more on social media sites in my next point.

4. Submit it to Social Media Sites

If the traffic to your post is coming from a social media site like Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit or Delicious you’ll need to act a little faster to optimize the post. I’ll suggest some ways to do this below – but first you might want to see if there are some ways that you can ‘help’ the post become even more viral on social media sites.

For example – if the post is on the front page of Digg there’s a chance that it could also be growing on StumbleUpon or Delicious. Check this out and vote up the post on those services. Send the links over to others to give it their vote too.

You might also like to add a link or button to the post itself if it’s doing well on social media. For example – if I notice a post is starting to build momentum on Digg I’ll add a Digg button to it. This can often be enough to tip it over the edge and onto the front page.

5. Add Options to Subscribe

This one is important whether the source of traffic is search engines, another site or social media as it focusses upon converting your new visitors to the page into ongoing readers of your blog.

When I have a ‘hot post’ I’ll often add a link to the post that says something like ‘enjoying this post – get more like it via our newsletter’ and link to a page giving the blog’s subscriptions options. These links can do very well at the end of posts.

6. Add links to the post to other pages on your blog

Drive people deeper into your blog by adding links to other pages on your site. You can do this within the content of the post itself or at the end of the post as ‘further reading’.

The key is to make the link to your best posts and to posts that are relevant in terms of content to the hot post.

7. Optimize Page Loading

Hopefully you won’t need to do this because your page will already be well optimized – but if you’re getting ALOT of traffic (for example from Digg or some other large site) your loading times might slow down – particularly if you have a lot of large files that need to load.

I learned this the first time I got on the front page of Digg on a photography related post where I had 20 large images that needed to load. The page didn’t crash but I burned through a heap of bandwidth that day and probably lost a lot of readers who got frustrated with the slow loading images.

8. Monetize the Post

Personally this is not something I do straight away as I like to work first upon converting readers into subscribers – however if you have one post with a lot of traffic it could be wise to add monetization streams to that post.

For example – if the post is doing a lot of impressions you might want to add some CPM ads to the page.

Another technique is to add relevant affiliate products to such ‘hot posts’.

I would avoid adding too many of these to hot posts as you could end up putting readers off. My personal approach is to monetize sites by converting people into regular readers and letting their continued visits to my blog make money over a longer period. Sure you might be able to earn a few extra dollars by stuffing such pages with CPM ads – but those visitors will be less likely to return in future.

9. Improve the Post

Some bloggers resist updating their blog posts – but I think it makes a lot of sense to not only add new posts to a blog but to improve old ones. I’m not just talking about editing posts for SEO benefits – but editing and adding to posts so that they become more valuable to readers.

Here’s the thing – if you’ve got a post that is attracting thousands of readers to it but it’s and ‘average’ quality post – you’ll have a lot better chance of converting readers to be loyal if the post is of an ‘excellent’ standard. So look over such hot posts and see if there are ways you can improve them.

10. Write More Posts Like it

Finally – we’re onto Keith’s question and the idea of writing more posts like the one that is ‘hot’.

I think that this is a good idea – on a number of levels.

  • Extend Ideas – write an update to the post, or another one that takes the ideas to a new level.
  • Related Topics – if there are other topics of a similar nature write posts on these.
  • Target Other Related Keywords – write posts that target related keywords to those being searched for to find the first one.
  • Similar Voice – sometimes it’s not the topic that you write that attracts people but the way you write it. For example I chatted to a blogger recently who had an avalanche of traffic to a humorous post that they’d written (the first time they’d ever written in that style). They began to write more of these types of posts and saw continued success with it.

If you write a followup or related post to the first – make sure you add a link to it on your hot post.

What Have I Missed?

In this post I’ve shared 10 things that I do to popular posts (I should say that I rarely do all of them to the one post – each will be more important in different situations) but what have I missed? What else do you to to popular posts on your blog?

Why I Use Aweber To Deliver My Newsletters

Yesterday I announced the re-launch of the ProBlogger Newsletter (there have been 500+ new subscribers added to the list from last time bringing it to a total of around 16,000 – the first newsletter will come out next week) and since doing so I’ve had a number of questions about why I use newsletters, ‘how’ I deliver newsletter (AWeber), why I’ve chosen the tool that I have and why I have chosen a service that isn’t free.

Rather that responding to each person individually I thought it’d make a useful post for others considering adding a newsletter to their blog.

Why Do I Use Newsletters?

This is a common question and one that understandably puzzles some bloggers. Afterall – we’re all told that RSS is the best technology and email is dying…. or is it?

Back in 2005 I wrote a post titled Why Email Newsletters Can Improve Your Blog – I don’t tend to link back to posts that are three years old but my reasons for starting to use newsletters are still valid today:

  • Increased Readership
  • Promotion of Posts
  • Build Community
  • Improve Your Blog
  • Drive Sales
  • Email is familiar and Easy to Use

All I’ll really add to the list is that on the days that I send out my photography newsletters my blog comes alive with extra visitors, many more comments than normal, participation in polls, ad performance, affiliate sales and more.

If I happen to miss sending an email one week (or I’m late) the activity is not there and I get emails from readers asking where it is.

Which Tool Do I Use?

Let me start with the easy question – which tool do I use?

AWeber

I’ve been using AWeber to deliver my photography newsletters since last year.

Why AWeber?

Regular readers know my painful story of having to switch from a free newsletter service to AWeber so I won’t rehash it all here (you can read the full version here) – but the long and short of it is that I invested a lot of time and energy into building my newsletter list up over years with a free service only to find that it became unreliable and ended up suspending it’s service – leaving me with no way to get my newsletters out. At this time I began to investigate other services and after the recommendation of many friends and readers decided to switch to a paid service.

In addition to being convinced by the recommendation of others it was the feature list that attracted me to AWeber. Since signing up they’ve upgraded their service and feature list a couple of times – it’s always a good sign to see a company improving and developing.

Some of the features that I enjoy:

Unlimited lists in the one account – some providers charge per list. So I have a photography list (two actually) and a problogger list.

Unlimited emails – some services charge per email that you send. I can send as many as I want each month to as many lists as I want.

Autoresponders – put together a sequence of emails that you want to send readers so that when they sign up for a mini course they get them sent out in an order and timing that you choose. For example on my photography site I’m going to put together a 10 part free mini-course on the basics of photography that will get sent out to readers once a week over 10 weeks. It’s a great way to connect people into your course and add value for readers.

Deliverability – this was a big one for me. Using my last free service I was getting very high numbers of bounced emails and emails being labeled as spam. It wasn’t unusual to see 20-30% of my emails not even getting delivered. My last 5 emails with AWeber had between 0.1 and 2.6% of emails undelivered. This means literally thousands of readers are getting emails that previously didn’t.

Text and HTML Emails – I like to send HTML emails to my photography readers as they are a very visual bunch. AWeber just added 27 new templates to the ones they already had. As someone who is not very design capable these save me a lot of time and I’ve had a lot of great feedback from readers. For those readers who can’t get HTML emails there is the option to send a text version too.

Analytics – AWeber has more ways to track the activity of your subscribers use of your newsletter than I’d ever experienced before. Not only can you track which links in your newsletter get clicked (very very handy) it allows you to

  • split test different versions of your newsletter to see which works best
  • to see how different web forms on your blog perform
  • to track what time of day readers open emails and click links
  • to send emails only to certain subscribers (based upon what they’ve clicked previously)
  • to track where on your website readers are going after they click on a link

The list goes on…. and on….

In fact there are so many ways of tracking readers and testing how your emails convert that it takes time to apply them all.

Blog Newsletters – I’ve actually not used this feature yet but it is handy to know that it is there. It allows you to turn your RSS feed into a newsletter. While you can do this with Feedburner (the service I currently use) AWeber gives a lot more control – it allows you to send these updates not only daily but weekly, monthly etc and to have more control over how they look.

Customer Service – Even before I switched to AWeber I was impressed with the support that they offered. They helped me transfer my previous lists across (it was a bit of a process and they do have to have some safeguards in place to stop Spammers using their system – but we got there) and have answered every question I’ve had of them – usually within hours. They have a live customer support instant messaging service which operates most hours which is very helpful.

Free Trial – There are a lot more features that I’ve not mentioned (and to be honest have not even discovered or tested yet) – but you can test them all for yourself. AWeber offers a free month long trial so you can play with them all to your heart’s content. This is how I got a feel for AWeber before signing up.

Why a Paid Service?

I asked this question of my friends who used AWeber and other paid newsletter services for a long time. There are so many free tools out there available to bloggers that I totally understand why we’re wired to ask it – however for me it came down to this:

  • Newsletters are a Core part of my business as a blogger. They’ve become so valuable that I cannot afford not to have them.
  • I cannot afford to have a service that disappears at some point or becomes unreliable in it’s uptime.
  • I cannot afford to have a service that doesn’t deliver a high rate of email.
  • I wanted a service that I could email and say ‘I’m paying for this – so fix it’.
  • I wanted a service that had high standards and that didn’t get taken over my spammers (one of the reasons my last service became unreliable).

For me this meant I went with AWeber. I can understand why others choose not to pay for a service or go with other options – but for me the arguments and my previous experience said it all.

As mentioned above – Aweber’s model is not to charge per email or per list that you have – but it’s based more upon subscriber numbers. For me this made sense. I wanted the flexibility to send as many emails as I want to my multiple lists. I have also found that as my subscribers grow in number that the list becomes more profitable for me – so I can justify the extra expense when I jump up a price bracket.

Have Your Say?

AWeber will not be for everyone. Some have had good experiences of free services, others have chosen different ones and for others a newsletter is not something that they choose to use. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the topic of newsletters as an extra feature on your blog.

Do you do them? What service do you use?

UPDATE: Also check out Get Response – many bloggers I talk to have had great things to say about this service. They’ve got a similar feature set to Aweber and some great new features.

The Importance of ‘Pause Points’ On Your Blog

Over the last week I’ve run some Crazy Egg heat map tracking on two posts on Digital Photography School (both of which got to the front page of Digg and got a lot of traffic) that both highlight to me a very simple method of increasing the number of pages that people view when they visit your blog.

Let me illustrate with a screen capture of the heat map from my post – How to Avoid Camera Shake:

Related-Articles.png

What you’re looking at above is the ‘hottest’ zone on the post. It is the most clicked upon part of the page. This section of the page was clicked on just under 2000 times over the duration of this test. The full page had just under 6000 clicks.

What stands out for me is that the section of the page you’re viewing above is a long way from the top of the post. While the general rule is that people click more on links at the tops of posts – this section of the page is only viewable once you’ve hit ‘page down’ 7 times!

The first two links in the section are links to my subscription page and a byline link to the author of the post – but the other five are all internal links to other articles on the blog. This means 1800 or so of the visitors to this page viewed at least one other page on the blog.

The ‘Further Reading on Camera Shake’ links were ones that I manually added to the post and the ‘Read more posts like ‘How to….’ links were automated links generated with a WP Plugin.

Lets look at another example

In this test (on a post on ‘Jowling‘) I’m showing you the same section of the page. This time I had to hit ‘page down’ 5 times to get to it. Again it’s low on the page and again I’ve got the automated links as well as two others in the ‘A Couple of other things….’ section.

Once again – this is the hottest part of the page in terms of clicks with around 1600 clicks (all internal) out of 6500 clicks on the full page.

related-articles-2.png

Why do readers click links so far down the page?

It might seem a little odd that links so far down a page would be clicked on at such a high rate – but the reason that it happens is quite logical. These points on the page are what I call ‘pause points’. They are parts of a page where readers pause and make a decision on what to do next.

These sections are all at the end of articles – a point where readers end one activity and look to do another one. Many readers simply hit ‘back’ at this point or head to Google to search for something else – however when you give them something else to do or read you have a decent chance of convincing them to stay on your site.

Other Things to Do at Pause Points

There are of course other things that you can do in these ‘pause points’ on a blog including:

  • Advertising – this is a ‘hot zone’ in terms of CPC ads
  • Affiliate Programs – I don’t find they convert as well as CPC ads here but they can work
  • Social Bookmarking – many bloggers run social bookmark buttons in this spot to encourage readers to vote for the post
  • Subscription Invitations – this is a great place to get conversions from first time readers to subscribe to your blog

Really any key conversion goals that you want to achieve can work in a ‘Pause Point’ – although when you put too many options in that point for readers you probably dilute the conversion rate. What else do you put in ‘pause points’?

10 Ways to Let Your Blog Go and What to Do About It

Let-Your-Blog-GoHave you let your blog go? It’s easy enough to do – this series of posts explores 10 ways that bloggers ‘let their blogs go’ and what they can do about it.

The season here in Melbourne is changing (some say it changes every day) and we’re slowly moving into Winter. This is the season that many of us ‘let ourselves go’ physically – less exercise, more comfort food, wearing clothes that cover up the flabby bits…..

It happens almost without you noticing and then suddenly summer hits and you go to put on that T-Shirt and shorts and BAAAM – it hits you in the face – you’ve let yourself go!

The same thing can easily happen with a blog. No one plans for it to happen – but gradually over time you let things slip, become a little complacent and then fall into a lazy free falling downward spiral.

Over the next 10 days I’m going to look at 10 common ways that I see bloggers ‘let their blogs go’.

My hope in doing so is not to induce guilt but to shine the light on some common problems that bloggers face and make some constructive suggestions on how to overcome them.

Stay tuned for the first post in this series in the next hour or so and bookmark this page because as I add new posts to the series I’ll link to them here.

  1. Lack of Posting
  2. Getting Off Topic
  3. Becoming a Self Centered Blogger
  4. Great Content… Bad Titles
  5. Letting Comment Spam Take Over Your Blog
  6. Excuse Posts
  7. Becoming a Negative Blogger
  8. Having a Lack of Original Content
  9. Becoming Obsessed with Any One Aspect of Your Blog
  10. Stretching Yourself Too Thinly

How Batch Processing Made Me 10 Times More Productive

Today I want to share a technique that has increased my productivity levels incredibly.

stress.jpgimage by estherase

“How do you fit so much in?”

This is a question that I’m asked a lot.

Yesterday I kept track of the work that I did. It included:

  • Researched & Wrote 5 blog posts (2500 words) – Planned a future series – Edited 3 guest posts
  • Moderated 150 comments (Lara did the rest)
  • Read 300 emails – replied to and wrote 50 emails
  • Twittered 30+ times (including private messages) – Plurked 50+ times
  • Participated in a b5 training chat (1 hour)
  • Read (scanned) my RSS reader (600+ feeds)
  • Used StumbleUpon, FriendFeed, Digg and other social media sites
  • Took 4 Skype calls – IM’d around 8 others
  • Oversaw the upgrade of DPS forums
  • Did an email interview to promote the book – Arranged to do a radio interview later in the week

It was a reasonably busy day (on top of all that I did the normal dad/husband things as well as managing to go out for beer with a mate) – but not untypical at all. In fact last night I went to bed at 11pm – I often work for another hour or two.

So how do I get it all done day in day out?

The technique that I’ve been using more and more is what I call ‘batching’ or ‘batch processing‘.

It’s not a new concept by any means and I’m probably not using the terminology correctly – but it’s what I call it.

Batch Processing 101

In my understanding of the term ‘batch processing’ it was always used to describe systems (usually computerized ones) where data was collected together for a period of time before it was processed. Instead of doing every small ‘job’ as it arrived jobs were ‘queued’ or collected until the computer was ready to process them all at once. This meant that the computer could do these ‘batches’ of jobs all at once when it would otherwise be idle.

My First ‘Discovery’ of Batch Processing as a Blogger

My own ‘discovery’ of batch processing was quite intuitive. I’d not heard of the term until this last term but when I did I realized that I’d already been doing it to some level.

I’ve written numerous times before about how I apply the principle to writing blog posts.

batch-writing.jpgimage by Karsoe

I generally set aside Monday mornings (and usually Wednesdays also) for writing posts. I take my laptop – camp out in a cafe – spend most of the morning off-line (so there are no other distractions) and just write. My goal is to write at least 5 posts that I can then use later in the week. Quite often I’ll write as many as 10 posts in a 5-6 hour period.

Having these batches of posts in reserve means that during the week my time is freed up to engage in other blogging activities. Of course I supplement these batched posts with others during the week but having the bulk of my writing done in one go enables me to be more efficient. It also means that my posts quite often build on one another as one will spark another idea. If I get on a roll it’s amazing how much can be written in a short period of time.

This was my first taste of ‘batch processing’. As mentioned above – I started doing it intuitively (I think the first time I did it was when the internet went down at our house for a week and I had to go to the library to use the public computers to post for short periods of time).

My Messy Life

The problem was that while batching my post writing helped free up the rest of my week – that the rest of my week was a jumble of activities – I ran from one task to another and never seemed to get anything done. My life felt like a traffic jam with tasks coming from all directions.

traffic-jam.jpg

A typical day would see me checking email 30 times a day, moderating comments as they hit my inbox, being interrupted by IM throughout the day, reading RSS when I remembered to do it between using social media sites and writing extra blog posts. The result was that my inbox had over 10,000 unread emails, I never cleared my RSS Reader and that I would get to the end of most days feeling like a nervous wreck.

My mistake was feeling compelled to deal with things as they came to me.

This only worsened as my blogs became more successful and as I took on more commitments (writing a book, speaking engagements etc).

Batching Everything

Over the last six months I’ve taken batch processing to the next level and applied it to many aspects of my blogging.

I have discovered that most of the activities that I do in my work can be ‘batched’ in one way or another. I have discovered that many ‘urgent’ things can wait and in fact to make them ‘take a number’ and ‘get in line’ brings order to mess.

queues.jpgimage by BenJTsunami

Siphoning off time for bursts of focused activity around a certain task means that I’m less inclined to flip from one thing to another. It means that I finish tasks. It means that I free up more and more time for the things that are important to do – not just the things that seem urgent.

Different activities need to be ‘batched’ at different intervals. Some are weekly (like my Monday morning writing sessions), others are every other day (like reading the bulk of my RSS feeds), others are daily (checking vanity feeds) and others I do for short sharp bursts multiple times a day (reading my A-list of of RSS feeds for breaking news, checking email).

Some of the tasks that I Batch Process

By no means are my processes perfect. I’m still a fairly impulsive guy so don’t have a set routine that I follow every day. I’m also fairly flexible and shift things around a lot – but here’s a list of some of the activities that I batch process and a short description of how I do each one:

Writing Posts – I’ve already described my weekly rhythm for this (Mondays and Wednesday mornings) but I also set aside other shorter times to write on a daily basis. This usually happens late morning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and in these times I aim to write a shorter post for the day (often more news related).

Email – I’ve written previously about how I overhauled my inbox using Gmail but batching my use of email has helped me even more than the systems I put in place to filter my inbox. I generally do a very quick scan of my inbox first thing in the morning to look for anything genuinely urgent – but then do most of my processing mid morning and then in the evenings. Of course I scan it a few other times a day in case there are urgent emails (or if I’m expecting something) but attempt to get it right down to 0 every day (I don’t always succeed).

RSS Reading – I have two rhythms of reading RSS. I check my A-list folder in Google reader numerous times a day (my A-list contains just a handful of blogs that often break news in my niches). The rest of my RSS reading happens in less frequent batches. I do try to do it every day in one ‘batch’ but quite often I’ll only get through half of it and so ill do the 2nd half the next day. I tend to do this in 30-60 minute batches.

Twitter/Plurk/FriendFeed – These social messaging sites can be a time sucker if you let them so I tend to only allow myself to do them in 5-10 minute batches. On an average day I probably have 4-5 such ‘batches’. The reason that I do this numerous times a day is that it helps me to connect with different groups of people in different time zones.

Social Bookmarking – other time sucking services including Digg, StumbleUpon (especially) etc – I tend to do these for short sharp bursts – usually at the end of the day.

Editing Posts – At DPS I have a great team of bloggers who write weekly posts for me. They have taken a lot of the load off considerably when it comes to writing posts – but I still edit them (formatting pages, checking spelling and grammar, layout etc). I tend to do this in the evenings – but lately have tried to do 2-3 days worth at a time. So I allow incoming posts to queue up and then process/edit them in a sitting.

Instant Messaging – my old habit was to leave IM clients on all day every day and to respond to people messaging me as the messages came in. As a result I was constantly being interrupted. These days I have stopped using most IM clients and focus upon Skype and Gmail chat but don’t leave them on at all times. And when I do have them on I don’t always respond to IM’s straight away (I turn the sound off). Instead I let a few IM chat requests come in at a time and then respond to then all at once every hour or so.

Comment Moderation – I now filter all of the comment moderation emails that come in to an email folder dedicated to capturing them so that they never hit my inbox. I then moderate them periodically in batches throughout the day. The frequency between moderation batches changes depending upon what else I’m doing but also what is happening on the blog. For example if I’ve done a reader question post where I get lots of answers I moderate more regularly to keep the conversation flowing.

Book Writing – while I was writing the book I found it very difficult to fit it in to what was already a full day. As a result to get my part done I put aside extended periods of time just for writing. This included a few mornings at cafes but also one weekend away where I booked myself into a bed and breakfast down the coast and did nothing but write for the whole weekend.

focus.jpgimage by margolove

The list could go on

There are very few (if any) tasks associated with my work that I don’t batch process (or at least attempt to). As I’ve mentioned above – my system isn’t perfect – I still have days when I’m less disciplined and return to old messy habits – but in general I find that batching my day into different activities means I’m being more focused and as a result more productive. As a result I tend to fit a lot more in than I used to and am able to achieve more.

A Word About Personality Types

Perhaps batching works best for me because of my personality type – I know some would resist it because they work best when they’re able to be very impulsive and have freedom to jump from one thing to another.

I used to think that I was this way – I thought I could be more creative if I approached each day like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book and flitted from one thing to another as my impulses led me. However I found that this kind of approach only worked for me when I didn’t have as many things to do.

When life gets busy I need systems and structure to keep on track. In fact putting boundaries in place around different activities allows me to be quite impulsive and creative in those times rather than getting stressed because of all the ‘urgent’ things that I need to do distracting me.

What about You?

Do you batch process tasks in your blogging (intuitively or strategically)? What would you add to my list of tasks? What ‘urgent’ things take up your time that might not be that important (candidates for batch processing)?

Did You Find this Post Helpful? – Subscribe to ProBlogger for More Like It.

How I Make Money Blogging – Top Income Streams Update

How I Make Money BloggingOnce every 3 months I update my Make Money Blogging page here at ProBlogger with my top income earners for that last quarter. Today I made the update for the last three months (March to May 2008).

My top income earners for the last quarter were:

  1. AdSense (previously #1)
  2. Chitika (previously #2)
  3. Private Ad Sales (previously #4)
  4. Amazon Associates (previously #3)
  5. Miscellaneous Affiliate Programs (previously #7)
  6. Shopzilla (previously not in the list)
  7. ProBlogger Job Board (previously #6)
  8. WidgetBucks (previously not in the list)
  9. Miscellaneous Ad Networks (previously #8)

I’ve included where it was previously ranked in my income streams so you can see how things have changed (and where they have not. AdSense and Chitika continue to dominate although Private Ad Sales have been making a move, as have affiliate programs.

You can read a complete description of each one and how I’ve used it in the Make Money Blogging post.