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When You Don’t Have “One Reader”: Writing for a Diverse Blog Audience

“Write for one reader” is advice we hear often in the blogosphere, and it can be a useful way to get a consistent voice going on your blog.

But the longer you blog, the more likely you’ll be to get to know your readers, and the more diverse their needs may seem. Or perhaps you’re blogging in a niche whose readers, while they’re united on some fronts, have deeply divided opinions on certain aspects of your topic.

Difference

Image courtesy stock.xchng user mzacha

This kind of diversity can be particularly common among readers of blogs in the religious, political, and “cause” niches—areas where people feel really strongly about the topic, and have a deep appreciation of what can be the many complex aspects of the topic.

That said, I’d guess that plenty of blogs would reach audience segments with differing—perhaps conflicting needs. Meeting the needs of those segments is a challenge that every blogger faces.

What if you don’t have “one reader” that you can keep in mind as you write? What if you have three, or four—or more?

Today, I’d like to talk about a strategy you can use to meet the varying needs of a diverse blog audience. It has three key steps:

  1. understand
  2. match
  3. meet.

1. Understand

The first step—and perhaps the most important—is to understand the different audience segments you’re writing for. Have a think about your readers, and note down the ways you think they vary.

For example, if you’re writing a travel blog, you might be juggling the needs of armchair travellers who want a vivid story and glowing shots from around the globe with those of pragmatic travellers who really need practical advice and inspiration to help them get out there and see the world.

You might have more segments than just two—that’s fine. Once you’ve worked out what basic factor differentiates them from other readers on your site, it’s time to delve a bit deeper. Look through your blog comments (or those on other blogs or forums in your niche) and try to track down some key facts about each segment:

  • Their attitudes: Consider their motivations or reasons for holding certain opinions.
  • Their media preferences: Your blog may in fact unite readers who might not otherwise come together online. But even if it doesn’t, different segments will likely use different media within (and beyond) your niche. It’s a good idea to make a little profile of their media usage habits, as far as you can work them out, as this can give you insights into other opinions, preferences, or expectations they may have.
  • Their post format preferences: There may be little difference between segments’ preferences for different formats, or there may be a lot. Do certain segments prefer list posts, or vlog posts, or opinion posts? Does your podcast subscription list equally represent your audience as a whole, or has it attracted more readers from a particular segment?

All you’re tying to do here is get a feel for what makes these different segments tick—what interests them, and why.

2. Match

Once you understand each segment a bit better, you can consider how your brand serves the needs of each one.

You might be able to see, for example, why different reader types respond in certain ways to particular topics you’ve covered on your blog, or why they react in certain ways to your interactions on social media. Ideally, you’ll be able to point to actual examples of posts on your blog that work—and don’t work—for each segment within your audience. I’ve visualised that matching of your brand, your blog topics, and your segment’s needs in the diagram below.

A diverse audience

Don’t just look at posts on your blog, though—it’s a good idea to also at the other media you know this segment’s readers use, and do the same there.

Hopefully, this exercise will help you come up with a list of topics and messages that your brand can use as a basis to form deep, lasting, loyal relationships with the readers in this particular segment within your niche.

3. Meet

The last step in this process is to make sure you meet each segments’ needs through your activity on and around your blog.

You created a list of topics above, you know what aspects of your brand resonate with each segment, and you also know how they like consuming your content. The trick now is to create a list of potential posts that look at the topics of interest through the lens of your brand.

Now you can drop those post ideas into your content schedule, so that you can make sure you’re meeting the needs of the important segments within your larger audience. If you want, you can probably come up with some more targeted, specific ways to address them through social media, through your current (or new, targeted) email sequences, and perhaps—for large segments—through your product strategy too.

This way, you can make sure you’re diligent about meeting the needs of each subsegment within a diverse blog audience, without undermining your blog’s brand or making any group you want to serve feel left out or forgotten about.

Celebrate diversity

I think that perhaps the best way you can go about addressing sub-segments of your readers very specifically is to get excited about the diversity your blog has attracted!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of blogging is how it opens up doors to connect with people we’d probably not have met otherwise. Those relationships can be so rich and rewarding—don’t miss the opportunity to connect with key segments in your broad audience.

Does your blog have a diverse audience, with a few—or more—different segments? Tell us about them, and how you’ve tackled them, in the comments.

5 Tools for Harnessing the Power of We #bad12

Today is blog action day, and this year’s theme is “The Power of We.” But for some of us, harnessing that power is a major challenge.

Construction

Image courtesy stock.xchng user srpatel

One of the most common complaints of bloggers I speak to is that they want to collaborate more effectively with their audience members, customers, or readers, but also with other bloggers in their niche, industry leaders, mentors, and more.

To me, collaboration is as much about attitude and personality as it is about process. That said, tools can make a big impact on how well we collaborate. So many of us work alone, or with collaborators in different cities, regions, or timezones, that collaborative tools are a necessity.

So in this post I want to show you five common tools that we use to help us collaborate here at ProBlogger, and to show you how we use them. While we’re not exactly pushing the envelope in terms of the way we do things, I hope that these ideas might help you try some new approaches with your own collaboration, and prompt you to share your own tips with us in the comments.

1. Email—and email redirects

Like many bloggers, all my blogs’ email addresses were funnelled to my own email address for years. But as my blogs grew, that arrangement became less and less feasible—I became swamped with email, and managing reading and responses became a massive burden.

Despite that, I really believe email is a useful collaboration tool. It’s had some pretty bad press in the last few years, but it has many advantages—including the fact that it doesn’t require you to coordinate time with the person you’re emailing (like a call or IM does), and that most email programs store email, providing a handy archive of conversations that, again, aren’t always available for real-time conversations.

One thing I’ve done recently is to set up email redirects to various members of my team, so that they receive the emails they need to respond to directly, rather than having me forward them on. It sounds elementary, but for the solo blogger, handing over that level of control can be daunting. I’d recommend it, though—once you’ve trained up your team members so that they, and you, know what to expect from each other, this is a good way to streamline your processes.

It means that the people who approach my blogs as writers or collaborators get a quicker, more personal response, but it also means that I can spend the time I used to spend sifting email collaborating with others. For me, more efficient email management means I can focus on opportunities to collaborate.

2. Basecamp

My team uses Basecamp quite a bit, particularly in the process of creating products. For example:

  • To-do lists: we might use these to set and manage tasks associated with product development
  • Projects: we use the discussion-thread-style “Projects” to manage discussion around projects, though it’s often supplemented by email
  • Whiteboards: these can be handy for scoping and brainstorming product ideas and topics as a team.

Again, one of the benefits of Basecamp and tools like it is that your collaborators don’t need to be online simultaneously, so you can get a lot done without having to fit it into everyone’s schedules at the same time. It also provides an excellent record of the evolution of product ideas, strategy, or whatever you’re using it to discuss.

Combine Basecamp with something like Dropbox for exchanging really large files, and you have a good system for creating products collaboratively, wherever your colleagues are located.

3. Google Docs/Drive

Google Docs—or Google Drive, in its new incarnation—is another good tool for collaboration on posts (with authors and content managers), sales content (with marketers), and more.

Like email and Basecamp, Google Docs allows for solid collaboration over elapsed time, but importantly, it has a great real-time editing feature, that lets you collaborate with others simultaneously on the same document.

This can be especially handy in high-pressure situations—when you’re trying to nail your sales copy in the hours leading up to a product launch or announcement, for example. You might combine Google Chat (or some other IM tool—or even a live phone or Skype call) with real-time editing to explain your copy tweaks to your collaborator as you make them, then watch as they tweak your tweaks!

This can also apply to your collaboration with authors on posts, or even with your accountant on your budget spreadsheet. If you haven’t tried real-time editing yet, have a look and see how it might fit your collaborative style.

4. Skype and Call Recorder

My team uses Skype a fair bit, not just for meeting calls, but also as an instant messenger tool. Despite being slightly notorious for sound quality issues, we find Skype pretty reliable for collaborating in real time. Since most of my team members work from home, we can also usually arrange to meet within reasonably short notice if we need to. (Though if Skype’s being flaky, you can always try a Google Hangout instead.)

One of the tasks that Skype’s proved very handy for is content creation. We’ve used it, combined with the tool Call Recorder, many times to interview topic experts for blog posts and products we’ve created.

Recording interviews like this can give you a lot of material that you can reuse in posts and other content you’re developing—with the interviewee’s permission, of course. And that’s material you’d never remember from an unrecorded conversation, or be able to get through an emailed, Q-and-A-style interview.

5. Social media

You may not have been expecting this one to be on the list! But social media can be a great collaborative tool.

I’ve mentioned before that I use Google+ to engage with readers and others through longer form content than I can post on Facebook or Twitter, and Jade mentioned recently how we’re engaging with potential DPS contributors through Pinterest.

Engagement is the first step in collaboration. I’ve found a good number of authors through social media collaboration—and not just by contacting, or being contacted by, those people myself. Often my team members will spot something or someone on social media, DM me about it, and spark a collaboration that way.

The other advantage of social media has been as a collaborative content creation mechanism in itself—on G+ I’ll post an idea or perspective, get feedback and input from my connections on that network, build on those extra ideas, then use everything I’ve learned as the basis for a post on either ProBlogger or DPS.

I have a hunch that some bloggers still see social media as a promotional platform, and—at most—somewhere to engage with individual readers for a short period of real-time before they disappear into the ether again. But if you let it, social media can fit into your collaborative toolset in a really productive, rich way.

Harnessing the power of we

These are just five tools that my team and I use to harness the power of we on an ongoing basis. If you’ve heard about certain tools, and think they might be helpful for you, but haven’t give them a try yet, I’d really encourage you to do so.

You don’t have to commit yourself to them for life, but if you can just give them a go, you might discover that they do a lot to help you harness the power of we with collaborators around your blog.

What tools—or other offline approaches—are you using to harness the power of we in your blogging? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

We’re Spending the Week On Your Blog!

It’s Monday—the start of a new week on your blog—and I wonder what challenges you’re facing.

Woman_writing_in_the_agenda

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Jan Willem Geertsma

If you’ve neglected your RSS or social media feeds over the weekend, you’ll likely find plenty of good advice there—advice that you feel you really should try out if you want your blog to be its best.

But before you become overwhelmed by all the things on your weekly To-Do list, let me tell you what we have planned for the week ahead.

This week, we’re focusing not on promotion or social networking or reaching the right readers or affiliate programs or SEO.

We’re focusing on you and your blog. Entirely.

A week on your blog

Imagine if you could put aside all the other, external things you usually do to keep your blog humming along for a whole week.

Imagine if you could instead spend the next five days really honing your approach to blog design, content, and your own productivity.

If you’re anything like me, you rarely spend this much time focused exclusively on your own online presence. I know I normally slot the tasks of content and design around other things, mainly to do with product development, reader engagement, and promotion.

While I don’t think any of these elements exists in a vacuum—they all interplay thought our blogs and our lives as bloggers—I do feel that sometimes it’s good to take a break and really home in on our blogs themselves.

Stepping back

Blogs evolve over time. Each day we learn new ideas to try, and we want to see what the produce.

But ongoing blog tweaks can be a curse as well as an aid. If we never step back, the tweaks we make to our designs, our interfaces, our content, our structure, and our brands overall can slowly erode the sharp focus we began with. That can be more than unfortunate—that can undermine your ability to maintain and grow reader loyalty.

So if you’ve spent the past months in the trenches, head down, backside up, working hard at a tactical level, then this week’s posts will hopefully help you step back and look critically at some key elements of your blog.

We’ll have posts on landing pages and logos, on voice and audience, and on making the most of the time you dedicate to your blog. We’ll mix writing and design tips with productivity advice.

The aim? To help you focus on the thing that matters most—the thing that keeps you attracting readers, converting subscribers, and selling products: your blog itself. And to help you take stock of where you’re at, and where you can improve to make your brand more coherent and powerful.

We’ll kick off later today with a post by the Web Marketing Ninja which is designed to help those with bigger blogs whose growth has stalled. He’ll show you how to look closely at your online presence and face up to the tough questions: why has your blog stalled, and what do you need to do to get it going again?

Before we get to that post, I’d love to hear about the challenges you’re facing in building an online presence on your blog. Share them with us in the comments.

How I Fast-tracked My Blog to 10k Subscribers and $15k Revenue in a Month

This guest post is by Alex Becker of Source Wave Marketing.

Tracks

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Thoursie

When I first got into blogging, gaining any sizable amount of engaged subscribers seemed like a slow, tedious task. As bloggers, I am sure you know the popular ways to get people to your site:

  • guest posting
  • participating on forums
  • SEO.

But when your blog is brand new, getting featured on a site with a ton of traffic is next to impossible. Creating a solid reputation on a forum takes time. SEO is a popular tactic but also takes a long time. To put it bluntly, if you are new to blogging, the deck is not stacked in your favor.

This is why I decided to use another method to grow my blog: product creation.

“Wait, what?!” you might be thinking. “Making products as a way to grow your blog/brand? Does that even work?”

Well, my blog is just over seven months old. It has an email list of just over 10,000 people and brings in a total of $15k+ in revenue monthly. So yes, product creation is a super-effective and underutilized method to grow your blog. But before you can put this method to use on your blog, you need to understand why it works so well.

Why blogging and making products is like pouring gasoline on a fire

Ironically, the easiest place to get traffic you can capture is not on other websites. It isn’t on Facebook or Twitter. It is the massive email lists people have in certain niches.

But I am not just talking about any big email list. Getting a monster blogger or magazine to feature you in their email list is pretty tough, and oddly enough, they do not even have the best traffic.

Blogger and news lists: the hard way

A huge blogger might have 10-30k emails. The funny thing is that many of these are worthless because these are what we call “freebie chasers.” These are people that joined an email list for free and are only interested in one thing—more free stuff. They are also commonly not committed to a niche.

Now this blogger is going to make you jump through hoop after hoop to get featured in his or her list. While you can traffic from the list, it’s going to be very hard unless you also have a big reputation (which 95% of bloggers do not).

We want to focus on one and only one type of list: the massive email lists that other product creators have. And here’s why.

Product creators’ lists: the easy way

Think about the owner of a successful Clickbank product or information products. Even small-time product creators routinely have email lists of 5-20k. Bigger names can easily have 20k-100k. That’s a lot of people, folks.

Here’s why their lists are so valuable: every single person on their lists has loaded up their PayPal accounts and paid for information in the niche they’re selling in. As they say, money talks. And when these people have put money down, they’re telling you a couple things:

  • They are very interested in the niche.
  • They participate in the niche.
  • They are comfortable spending money in the niche.

This is exactly the type of person you want coming to your site and joining your list.

The ironic thing is that product creators are far less stingy with their lists than many others. This is because they usually have their list for a much less honorable reason than most straight-up bloggers. Most product creators (not all of them) use their list to promote other products and make an affiliate income.

This means one thing to you: if you have a product that will make them money, they will throw a tidal wave of traffic your way.

This is why they are such a great resource. They have one simple button you need to press to get access to “buyer” traffic. In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to push that button.

My product creation blueprint for blogging

I understand your thoughts right now: “What if I’ve never made a product before?”

Don’t panic. You don’t need to create a mega-product, nor I am not telling you to put crummy material out on the market. However, my father always told me “Keep it simple, stupid.” Sometimes something small and simple works insanely well. In fact, for this method, we want small and simple.

For example, one of the first products I made with my partner was a list of the most reliable Fiverr sellers, which we sold for five bucks. This simple product has sold over 6,000 copies, earning us over 6,000 subscribers.

So just keep in mind that you are totally capable of doing this. With that being said, let me walk you through the steps I used to create a product and blow up my blog, and then how I used my blog to create sales.

Step 1. Find an idea for a short product and make it happen

The first thing you want to do is find places online where your targeted visitor hangs out. These will usually be forums or Yahoo Answers-type sites.

The sites are so valuable because there you will see your visitor tell you exactly what they want. Look at the questions and problems that are getting the most focus. Then, make a product to solve these problems. Simple, huh?

Step 2. Make a juicy offer for product list owners and their customers

One of the best ways to get product creators interested is to offer 100% commission on your product. Remember, we’re not trying to make money: we’re trying to get them to hand over their traffic. You have to remember your motives, first and foremost.

We also want to make a product that’s cheap enough to convert very highly with their list. If you make, say, a $50 product, not very many people will buy it. However, if you produce a $5 product, the interest will, naturally, skyrocket.

Step 3. Find big list owners

This is fairly simple. Look around your niche and find information products. I guarantee you the owners of those products had a way to collect the emails of their customers. Email these product creators and pitch them on your product. (Hint: Be sure to mention the 100% affiliate commission!)

Step 4. Collect the emails

Now that you have a product creator blasting your product with traffic, it is time to collect the traffic that converts. (Remember, keep your product cheap for maximum conversions. More conversions means more emails.)

You can easily collect and manage these emails through a server such as Mail Chimp. After a person purchases your product, redirect them to an opt-in form that they must fill out to get access to the file.

Step 5. Treat your new subscribers like gold

Now that you have the emails of these people, it is time to deliver value, and really wow them with your brand.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that most of these people are used to being abused with affiliate offers whenever they get forced onto a product email list. This your chance to step up and do something different. Differentiating yourself will be what makes you so successful. Treat them with respect and earn their trust.

Constantly link them to cool things that are happening on your blog. Bombard them with value.

I did this by providing free weekly webinars, sharing my most potent internet marketing secrets for free and taking every chance I get to make personal connections with my readers. I also never asked for anything in return. Remember these words: what can I do for you?

This is the secret to turning a list of people that randomly bought your product into a community of friends and colleagues that trust you and like you enough to invest in your business.

Step 6. Use that trust in you and your brand to grow a profitable business

The funny thing about this is that most people would assume the next step is, “spam them with affiliate offers!” No way! That’s very, very bad.

The simple truth is that you will now have a community of buyers who trust and respect you. If you maintain that trust, they will invest in offers your promote and be eager to be a part of any business you create. So why push them away with spam?

A great example of someone who’s used the trust he’s developed with an audience is Pat Flynn of the blog, Smart Passive Income. By always having his readers’ best interests in mind, Pat has become not only a very rich man, but an internet marketing icon. Do not ever underestimate the power of a trusting audience.

The results

My partner and I have used this traffic generation method on our blog, and, in under seven months, we’ve created a thriving community in an extremely competitive niche. On top of this, any business we launch is an instant success due to the trust we have built with the subscribers we gained from product launches.

In fact, the last premium service we launched from our blog sold completely in under one hour. That is the power of combining buyer traffic from product launches with the amount of trust quality blogging can generate.

You were meant to make products

As a blogger, you are undertaking a role as an authority on information in your niche.

To me, creating products and being an authority go hand and hand. When you create a good product (remember, simple can be good), the people that buy it will naturally be interested in your blog. This is because authority figures make products and authority figures blog. Period.

By making products, not only do you get access to hoards of traffic, but you also become an authority.

This is why I encourage every ambitious blogger to break out of the “strictly blogging” mindset and spread your message through as many formats as possible. Remember, it’s important to differentiate.

Of course, creating a product is not going to be an easy 6-step process, but niether is growing a massive brand. I do promise one thing, though: If you take the ideas presented in this article and run with them, your blog will become a red-hot source of awesome faster than you ever thought possible.

Alex Becker is the co-founder of the Source Wave Marketing and owner of multiple online SEO services.

Kickstart Your Stalled Blog Content, Part 1: Six Steps to a Fresh Post

Just starting a blog? Longing to revive an old, forgotten blog? Or just feeling guilty because you’ve let your blog languish without a post for a little too long?

Typing a post

Image courtesy stock.xchng user tikideputy

If your blog’s fallen behind your ideal post frequency, you’re in luck. Today, I’m going to give you a six-step plan for kickstarting stalled blog content. The work we’ll do today takes just 40 minutes in total, but you can split it up in to five- and ten-minute blocks if that’s all you can fit in.

Then, over the coming week, I’ll check back in with you periodically to see how you’re going—and provide some more tips for staying on track along the way. Are you ready to kickstart your content? Let’s go!

1. Take stock: readers, niche and blog: 10 minutes

First up, let’s take stock of what’s going on on your blog, in your niche, and with your readers. A good way to do this is to start by looking at the leading sites in your niche—not just blogs, but all sites and other media (press, for example) that your target audience might use.

Look closely at:

  • current news, events and trends
  • what readers are linking and sharing
  • what readers are worried or concerned by
  • where your niche seems to be headed in the short- to medium-term.

Do this now, and in ten or fifteen minutes’ time, you should have a pretty clear picture of what’s happening in your niche—an essential step if you’re reviving a blog you’ve left to languish for a while.

Next, visit your own blog. What topics have you covered most recently (even if that was a while ago)? Where does your blog sit relative to the competition, and to readers’ interests?

Hopefully, this review will give you a clear idea of some gaps in niche coverage that you can fill on your blog. It might also spark your ideas or opinions on topics that are important to your niche and audience right now. We’re off to a good start!

2. Think of three questions readers are asking: 5 minutes

After step 1, you’ll probably be fairly clear about the kinds of things readers are trying to learn or get information on.

Take a minute to write down three questions they’re asking. You might like to write them as if they’re questions you’re tying into Google or some other search tool, or you might just narrow down to fairly specific topics.

These questions don’t have to be actual questions you’re seeing readers ask in blog comments. They might be suggested through the interactions your audience is having on social media, or questions other leaders in your niche seem to be asking, and which are getting some attention from readers.

What you’re really looking for here are audience needs that aren’t being fully met by the content that’s available in your niche right now.

3. Write answers to those questions: 5 minutes

You’ve got a list of three questions; now answer each one in a sentence or two.

In those answers, make sure you’re 100% clear on the meaning of what you’ve written (it’s all too easy to jot down a one-sentence answer and find out later that it was full of holes!), and that you know why you answered the way you did.

Being able to rationalise your points of view will be essential when it comes to writing your next post!

4. Choose one Q&A to expand on: 10 minutes

Hopefully, you’ll find at least one of the questions you’ve identified really interesting. Pick that one, and note down a bit more about it.

You might get into the reader question in a bit more detail, or jot down the logical components of your answer—perhaps just in bullet points or using keywords.

The object here is just to get clear about the nature of the question, and the key elements of your answer. You might also have a think about some of the content you’ve seen on the topic online (if you have seen any) and identify what’s missing from that content. Should you cover those points in your post? Where would they fit?

You might notice now that you’ve got a brief outline for a post. You have a topic, a question for the post, and an answer split into a number of elements. Not bad for a half-hour’s work!

5. Write down what’s different about this advice: 5 minutes

You might be tempted to skip this step. Don’t.

Here’s where you clarify for yourself what your post will provide that no other content on the topic does.

This isn’t just an informational question—though of course knowing what advice or detail your post will offer uniquely is important. But let’s not overlook what you bring to the equation as well.

Perhaps your post will hinge on your own personal experience of the topic, and will provide unique insight from that experience.

Perhaps the approach will be different—maybe all the coverage so far has come from one side of the industry, or of a debate. Perhaps you’re going to provide another perspective from a completely different viewpoint.

Or maybe you’ll use a different format from the rest—one that makes the issues more approachable and digestible, and helps readers understand the topic more easily.

6. Schedule writing time, editing time, and a publication date: 5 minutes

This is the last step for today! You’ve just created a plan for a unique piece of content that responds directly, and uniquely to readers’ needs.

All you need now is the time to write it.

Check your schedule and set aside three blocks of time:

  1. 40 minutes for writing
  2. 30 minutes for editing, on a different day
  3. a publication date.

Commit to these dates and times—make them non-negotiable. Tell us when they fall in the comments, if you like. What I’d love is if you could fit them into the next week, because I’m planning to check back in with you on Tuesday and Friday to see how you’re going.

On those days I’ll be providing tips to help you keep your content kickstart on track, so it’ll be great if you can work along with us. If not, that’s fine—I’d still love to hear when you’re planning your writing, editing and publication in the comments.

Don’t forget to check back on Tuesday, when I’ll reveal some of the tricks I use to blog when I have no time in my schedule. Hopefully, they’ll put you in good stead for keeping the content rolling on your blog long after you’ve kickstarted it back into action. See you then!

How to Write Your Most Popular Post

What was your most popular post this week?

I asked this question on Twitter on Thursday, and got some interesting responses. The people who tweeted back blog in a range of markets—from personal blogs and finance blogs, to fashion blogs and craft blogs. And their readers are have differing needs.

Put yourself in the picture

Put yourself in the picture

Among the posts were how-tos, reviews, personal stories, opinion—all kinds of approaches. And the ideas discussed are as diverse as yellow pants, Excel spreadsheets, and portrait photography.

Yet all of these were these bloggers’ most popular posts.

The message here?

There is no perfect post formula

If you’ve been blogging for a while, you’ll have seen that a concept or approach that works one month might flop the next. While much of the advice we see online seems to suggest that repeating what works is the path to blogging success, most of us know it’s not that simple.

Each new day brings a slightly different world, and we have to continually adapt to meet the needs of that world, and the readers who inhabit it.

What worked yesterday may not work quite so well today. So while we can rely on some “formulae” or “secrets”, we have to continually evolve new ones, and test them, and see how they work, so that we’re evolving at the same rate as our market—maybe even a little ahead if we’re lucky.

In doing that, many of us develop reader personas—ideal views of the person we’re trying to reach through our blogging. While we all understand that there’s variation, these personas can make our blogging clearer, more consistent, and give it a stronger voice.

Still, it’s important to see the lesson here, too.

There is no ideal reader

While it’s good to picture an “ideal reader” and write and blog with them in mind, I like to remind myself that that person doesn’t actually exist.

All readers are different, as all people are different. We have unifying characteristics, but they’re usually outweighed by the differences. It’s the combination of similarities and differences that makes us unique. While as bloggers we can focus on the similarities, and use them to define our readership, if that’s all we look at, we miss a big opportunity to connect.

Each person experiences things—including your blog—in a unique way. This was very clear in the posts we recently published by bloggers who joined me in Queensland, Australia, earlier this year. We all attended the same blogging workshops, and we all shared a lot of the experiences that Queensland Tourism made available to the group.

Also, all of the attendees were bloggers who were interested in visiting Queensland, and had the abilities to win the competition we ran to find our attendees.

Yet if you read those posts—and we gave all the bloggers a similar “brief” for the series we put together—it’s clear that each person took something unique from the experience. NOt only that, but they applied what they learned in completely different ways with their blogs and readerships. No two bloggers are alike—not even in these five examples!

There is only one you

We’ve published a few posts recently that have made this point, including The Secret to Crazy-happy Blogging and Unconfidence: The Essential Ingredient to Crazy Stupid Success.

While the world may change and your audience may evolve, there’s only one you.

You—your unique way of seeing the world in which you blog, and interpreting it for your readers—are the glue between your blog and your audience. I know it’s more common to see the blog as the medium between yourself and your readers, but just for today, I’m asking you to see it differently.

See yourself as the reason readers are coming to your blog.

You’re the reason they’re reading, following you on social media, and using your blog to buy products, connect with others, share their experiences, and engage.

While none of us wants to get too ego-bound, I think bloggers can be more likely to overlook this point than focus on it. And that’s to our detriment. While your blog’s not about you—it’s about your readers—you’re the reason your blog is popular.

You’re the reason your most popular post is popular.

Success is down to the work we do, as individuals. So just for today, don’t look at others’ work to find some commonality, technique, or formula that you can apply to your blog to achieve popularity. Instead, think about yourself, and your readers, and know that the approach you create to meet their needs and solve their problems is unique to you. You’re popular with your readers because you are the person you are. And that’s worth making the most of in your blog.

Why I Switched Blog Hosting Companies (and Who I’m With Now)

One of the most common questions I’m asked about how I run my blogs is, “What web host do you use and recommend?”

Synthesis hosting

Over the past ten years I’ve used around eight different hosting services, ranging from the very early days of relying upon free host Blogger, through to my more recent use of Amazon’s Web Services. The challenge has always been that my blogs have constantly changed in terms of what they require, given new designs, added features, and growing traffic.

As a result, we’ve had our fair share of nightmares: numerous periods of blogs crashing due to load problems, and a couple of security issues that required a lot of time, energy, and money to resolve.

Synthesis Managed WordPress HostingIn the last six months, I’ve made a switch in the hosting of all of my blogs, which has resulted in the most stable period for my blogs in the last decade.

The switch was to move over to Synthesis—a managed hosting service created for WordPress users by the team at Copyblogger Media.

A number of things attracted me to Synthesis:

  • It’s designed for WordPress: All of the hosts I’ve used over the years were certainly WordPress-compatible, but when problems arose and I sought support it sometimes became apparent that WordPress was just one of many many platforms that they could work with. As a result, functionality and processes were sometimes were clunky, and to get set up well, I often had to bring in experts. The Synthesis team knows WordPress inside-out. Not only have they designed a service that works with it from the ground up, they’ve been very supportive in helping iron out some bugs I’d not been able to resolve previously.
  • Genesis support: I had recently moved ProBlogger over to the Genesis framework, which is also created by CopyBlogger’s StudioPress team. While they’ll host non-Genesis sites, their familiarity with it gave me confidence. I’m moving dPS to Genesis in the short term too, so I’m excited about having everything running on compatible and well-synced systems.
  • Security: I’ve had my fair share of security attacks over the years, so finding a secure host was key for me.
  • Support: I’ve got people on my team who are able to offer support on some levels, but the Sythesis team have added to this incredibly—particularly when it came to migrating from my old host to their services. Being in Australia isn’t an issue, either—their support desk is open 24/7 and their response time is super-quick.
  • Expense: This is the first server switch that I’ve done where I ended up paying less than I was with the previous service. While I’m sure you can get cheaper services, for the features you get, I find this service very reasonable in comparison to what I was paying. View their pricing plans here—plans start at $27 per month.

All in all, my blogs are now faster, more secure, and more reliable, and they’re experiencing just a fraction of the problems that they were on other system. I sleep a lot easier these days with Genesis and Synthesis!

Disclaimer: I am a proud affiliate for Synthesis and Genesis. They are two of the few services I use and have no hesitation in recommending.

Seven Traffic Techniques for Bloggers—and Metrics to Measure Them

Over the last couple of months here at Problogger.net, we’ve taken a tour of the traffic techniques that are essential to bloggers. While not all bloggers use or focus on all techniques, the ones we’ve covered probably make up the core traffic tools used by bloggers today:

Traffic

Image courtesy stock.xchng user angel_ruiz

I’ve used all of these methods myself, and I daresay that the longer you’ve been online, the more of them you’ve tried. The thing with traffic, though, is that it’s easy to focus just on our total traffic figure, rather than considering whether the traffic we’re attracting is right for our blog, or how it affects our other metrics.

So today what I’d like to do is point out a few alternative ways to consider your traffic levels. Taking a more holistic perspective of how your traffic is reaching your blog can open our eyes to new possibilities not just for promotion, but for reader retention. Let’s see how that can work.

Search engine optimization metrics

Most of us spend a little time each week looking at the content that’s attracting the most search traffic to our sites. we might analyse that content, to try to work out what we’ve done right, or the keyphrases searched on, to see which ones we’re ranking well for. But here’s a slightly different take, that looks at the keyphrases that generated the lowest bouncerates, as a way to get to know your readers better.

  1. Open Google Analytics, and go to Traffic Sources.
  2. Select Search, then Organic.
  3. In this list, you’ll see some of your older posts, but you might also find some more recent ones that have attracted a large amount of search traffic. I think that looking at these posts can give us a good idea of the information our target audience is currently searching for—the problems they’re having right now. To find that out, click on the newest post that’s in the list.
  4. Analytics show you a page dedicated to search traffic for that post. Select Traffic Sources from the Secondary Dimension dropdown, and choose Keyword in the list that appears.
  5. You’ll see a list of all the keywords searchers used to come to your site, along with other information (visits, pages per visit, etc.) for each one.

This is where things get interesting. We know that these days, fewer and fewer visitors land on our sites’ homepages—most are entering our blogs through deeper pages (check your stats to see how this works on your blog). And we also know that many people who come to our sites through the search engines may not be in our target audiences.

As an example, this post attracts a lot of search traffic to ProBlogger, but since he material’s of interest to such a wide range of users, we can immediately guess that only a small portion of those readers are going to stick around. The bounce stats on that piece reflect this.

That doesn’t mean the piece doesn’t target my desired readers, though. In among the high bounce rates are some lower ones, and by looking at the language that those people used to find the post, I can get some valuable insights about how the people who stick around phrase their searches on this topic. If I take a look at a few other high-traffic posts, I can start to form a clear picture of how these users search.

For example, that post I mentioned above, on setting up an email account that uses your domain name, got the lowest bounce rate by people searching with the phrase, “how to set up personal email on gmail.” When I compare this with some of the higher-bounce rate search phrases, like “use gmail with my domain,” I can start to get a hint about the types of people that that content satisfies. When I look at the other low-bounce rate phrases that were used to find other high-search-traffic posts, that picture really starts to take shape.

I could use this information to:

  • see if I can lower bounce rates for similarly formed search phrases on other posts by including key phrases that are written more like these ones
  • review the success of this topic with my current readership as a way to work out if these searchers fit with the larger audience I’m trying to attract, and…
  • …if so, consider dropping in some more content around this topic, using the low-bounce rate key phrase, to better meet the needs of current and potential users
  • see if I can use this kind of language to target more engaged traffic with other techniques, like search or social media advertising.

If nothing else, by reviewing low-bounce rate organic search phrases that searchers use to reach my blog, I can get a feel for the kinds of keyphrases—or, more broadly, topic-specific language, that might attract people who are more likely to be satisfied by the site as a whole. I wonder how this could work on your blog?

Content marketing metrics

Most bloggers are well versed in the process of reviewing their stats after a guest post publication on another site, to see how the post performed, and get ideas about what works, and what doesn’t, and how we can make our content marketing more effective over time.

But if we look at referred traffic levels only, we may not get the full picture of how effective our content marketing effort was. What about social shares and the quality and quantity of comments? Compiling a collection of relevant metrics for each guest post into a tracking sheet that contains information on all your guest posts can help you build up an understanding over time of:

  • which types of content work where
  • how (e.g. they’re readily shared, or the host site has a massive audience that always generates a spike on your site), and
  • why (are your headlines particularly great, is it that you always choose the right format, that your information stands out from the crowd, or something else?).

Taking your subscription levels and bounce rates into account as part of that ongoing analysis can help you get a hold on the other side of the equation: how well you’re managing the traffic that your content marketing generates, and where you can improve.

Looking at pure traffic levels can really limit your understanding—and the efficacy—of your content marketing efforts.

Online advertising metrics

At their most basic, online ad metrics are something we look at to assess the impact of our campaigns. If you use advertising as a traffic generator, it’s pretty easy to assess whether it’s working: just look at your ad service interface.

Once you know what’s working for you to generate traffic through ad networks, why not look to apply that knowledge in buying ad space directly on other sites in your niche? Invest the time honing your visuals and ad CTAs to suit the ad networks, and you’ll have a head start when it comes to creating ads specifically for the readers of peer sites in your market.

Those successes might also play into other traffic generation techniques—keyword selection, for example, which can play into strategies for SEO and content generation. But perhaps you’ll also start looking at tying advertising to some of the other traffic generation tactics you use. Advertising on a site as your guest post is published there is one example. Advertising your subscription offering or downlaodable, free whitepaper is another.

Subscription metrics

It’s easy to look at a rising subscription level and think “great!” but to get a clear picture of what’s going on, I like to consider it in light of overall traffic levels—and the proportion of that traffic that’s new and returning.

A typical increase in my subscriptions is good … unless traffic increased by more than usual over the month. On the other hand, a disproportionate rise in subscriptions when traffic growth has remained normal presents other questions. In both cases, I’ll want to investigate further—to see where subscriptions are or aren’t coming from, and work out if there’s something I should tweak to try to improve the figures.

These questions work well in conjunction with some of the other traffic stats we’ve been looking at. If my review of low-bounce rate search traffic suggests certain language or key phrases could catch new visitors’ attention, I might try a different call to action on my subscription page. If they’re coming from a certain other sites—perhaps as a result of content marketing efforts or backlinks—then I might offer a relevant free download for new subscribers next month, and see if that helps boost conversions.

Ultimately, reviewing the ratio of subscriptions to new traffic often prompts us into some kind of action, and in a way that looking at conversions alone may not.

Social media metrics

Analytics’ Referrals screen gives you access to a good deal of information about all referrers—including social networks. Again, looking at these stats alone is okay for finding out which of your posts is getting a lot of clickthroughs, but there are a lot of variables that can affect click in social media, including how the information is resented by those who share it. So I prefer not to take that information on its own.

Instead, I might compare the clicks Analytics has recorded on individual links through a given social network (e.g. Twitter) with the shares I’ve tracked for that article, to get an idea of a shares-to-clicks ratio. For those that got the most clicks, I’ll also compare those stats with overall traffic to the article for the month. This is a good way to get an idea of which kinds of content perform well in social media, perhaps even over a longer time.

As an example, a post that generated a lot of clicks through Twitter in the last month was Neil Patel’s Guide to Writing Popular Blog Posts, which is nearly a year old. A deeper investigation shows that the post was reshared at the start of the month, causing a traffic spike that lasted for a period of days as that initial retweet was re-shared.

So social media metrics aren’t just about what’s trending—they can also be a good indicator of posts that could provide you with strong traffic opportunities over the longer term, and perhaps provide material for use in other formats too.

Backlink metrics

Their SEO potential aside, organic backlinks offer a real opportunity for the blogger who wants to give their content marketing efforts more punch. For example, looking at your referring sites for the last month can alert you to sites and sub-niches that are relevant to yours, or of growing importance. It can also show that content that’s hiding in your archives is getting attention from others—and may be worthy of more attention from you, too.

This month, I found that this very old post, RSS vs. Atom: What’s the Big Deal? had been linked to from a tutorial on making an RSS feed of your Facebook updates. Although that tute was publish more than a year ago, it’s obviously had some traffic in the last little while—and some of that has flowed through to my blog!

How can I use this information to boost traffic?

  • I could do some interlinking and updating to try to reduce bounce rates from the new traffic coming to that post, and encourage more of these new users to look at other content I have on related topics.
  • At the very least, I could include a link to my own RSS feed in the article, since these users are obviously interested in the kinds of tips that we talk about here on ProBlogger, and are comfortable with RSS.
  • I could compile a Facebook marketing guide using evergreen content from my blog and use it as an incentive to encourage these visitors to subscribe, so I can try to increase their repeat visits to the blog.
  • I could create more content on that topic, specific to that audience need, and send it to other sites in that niche as guest posts (containing more backlinks of course).
  • I could ask the post’s author if he’d like to revamp and “republish” the post on my site as a means to attract even more attention to it.
  • I could offer the site that linked to the piece a sponsorship package for that article, and others like it on my site.

These are just a few ideas‚ but the options are almost endless for each niche and topic area. While bloggers may feel that they’ve lost control over backlinks following the last Google update, backlinks are obviously still worth paying attention to as an indicator of what your audience—and those in related niches, feel is valuable about your blog. And as we know, value is the way to build strong recurring traffic over the longer term.

Networking and collaboration metrics

Of all the traffic sources we discussed, this one’s probably the most difficult to track in aggregate. While you can count traffic generated through a guest-posting collaboration or a shared effort like a cross-blog competition or carnival, it can be difficult to gauge the full traffic benefits of these efforts even in the short term—let alone over longer timeframes.

It’s true that for some of the collaborative opportunities I mentioned last week—writing book, for example, or running a highly localised event—you can do some forms of analysis. You can track the time it takes to organize and run the event, and compare that with the income and subscriptions you generate from it, and traffic levels immediately following that effort.

But I think that often, the number don’t tell the full story here. These kinds of collaborative efforts can have far-reaching effects over the longer term, and often that impact can be subtle, or difficult to attribute directly to the event you ran eight—or eighteen—months ago.

So one of the ways I “measure” the impacts of these efforts is to think about how energised I feel by doing them. If you’re engaged with your blog’s audience, you should get a good feel for their response to these events and ideas. Are they excited? Are they telling others about it? Are they asking you questions about it and engaging with the products of your collaboration wherever they can? How does their response make you feel? Are you as excited as they are? How does your collaborator feel?

Answering these questions should give you at the very least a rough idea of the long-term potential of a joint effort with your blog’s readership.

What traffic metrics are you keeping an eye on?

The world of traffic generation involves a galaxy of metrics. But in truth, with all the other things bloggers have to do, few of us pay very focused attention to the details of our metrics all the time. For most, a general overview, supplemented by a few key metrics, may be all we go on most of the time.

I’d love to hear which metrics you’re paying the most attention to at the moment, and why. Are you looking at your referrers to gauge the impact of your social media efforts, or a guest post you’ve just had published? Are you working hard on SEO, and keeping an eye on your organic (or paid!) search traffic levels? Tell us what you’re watching in the comments.

Who’s the Boss of Your Blog?

Who’s the boss of your blog?

Neat desk

Image courtesy stock.xchng user furnishu

Who calls the shots, makes the hard choices, and keeps things moving in the right direction?

If you’re thinking, “me!” you might be falling prey to the kind of philosophy that prevents many bloggers from reaching their full potential.

Readers rule

What are your favorite blogs? Narrow the field to just two or three, and have a think about why you like them so much.

I have a feeling that when you look closely, you’ll find that each of your top blogs is one that you can relate to in some deep or essential way. That doesn’t mean that the topics have to be serious. Maybe your favorite blog is a humour blog. If that’s the case, I’ll bet you see a sense of humour and the ability to see the funny side of things as an essential part of who you are. I can well imagine that you love to laugh.

And I’ll also predict that your favorite blog delivers on that need every week. That it doesn’t just meet that need in tried and tested, proven ways, but that it edges off the expected path, too, to meet that need in even deeper ways you don’t anticipate, but find that you love.

How do they do that? And how can you achieve that with your own audience?

The answer isn’t just to get to know your readers. It’s not even to put readers first.

The secret is to let your readers rule.

Make readers the boss

Making your readers the boss of your blog can take something of a mindshift. The easiest way to start is probably to think about what good bosses do in the workplace. I’ve had plenty of bosses in my time—some good, some not so great—but in this exercise, try to think about a boss you really enjoyed working with. Picture them, and remember why you liked them so much.

The best bosses I had did several things.

  • They set goals and targets I needed to meet.
  • They helped me stay on track.
  • They stretched and challenged me by setting standards and expectations.
  • They gave me the help I needed to meet goals.
  • They reviewed my performance and helped me identify areas where I could improve, while also recognizing my hard work.

If you think about it, your readers can do the same things for you as a blogger.

Let them set targets

As well as looking at your blogging goals from a perspective of what you want for your blog, why not let your readers set targets for your blog, too?

Let’s say you decide that this year, you want to launch your first paid blog product. Before you go any further, turn to your blogging bosses. What challeneges are they facing right now? What tasks do they need you to help out with? What thinking would they like to delegate to you to make their lives easier?

If you look at your readers in this light, you’ll probably find more opportunities for product development than you ever expected. Not only will you identify the obvious needs but, just as with a real boss, you’ll be bale to intuit other, related areas where your help could benefit them—”If they need help with a, then they’ll probably be happy if I looked after b for them as well” thinking.

Let them help you stay on track

The more you spend time with your readers, the more real, and pressing, their needs will become for you.

Like the boss who keeps walking past your desk with an eye on your monitor to see if you’ve finished that report she’s waiting on, your audience can be a major motivator driving you to get that product finished, get that blog post written, get that new idea launched, attract more readers for them to engage with, and so on.

If you really want to make your readers the boss, tell them what you’re planning and working on. This way, you’ll be fully, publicly accountable to them as you would your boss at work. If you don’t deliver, you’ll have them to answer to—what a motivator!

Let them challenge you with standards and expectations

By making yourself accountable to readers, you automatically set expectations within them about their importance to you. That’s the most basic standard you need to meet—the expectation you’ve set through what you’ve promised them.

But again, spending time with your readers—looking at what they like and don’t like, understanding their standards for what’s helpful, useful, high-quality, and relevant, for example—can help you understand where they’re coming from, and what you need to do to perform.

It’s one thing to know that your boss needs you to report on something. But does he need that report in a spreadsheet or a slide presentation? Does he need multiple printed copies to circulate for discussion in a meeting? And what level of depth does he require in the reporting?

Similarly, your readers have expectations about what’s good, and what’s outstanding; what you can deliver, and what they can get from you. At the very least, you should understand those expectations so that you can asses whether or not your actions are enough to meet them. But once you know readers’ expectations and standards, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to exceed them.

Let them help you meet your blog’s goals

A good boss will give you everything you need to get your work done. Whole the standard to which you do that work might be up to you, your boss should at least provide the essentials—and be around to give you advice and direction when you need it.

Make readers the boss of your blog, and they can fulfil the same role. Need a designer? A translator? Opinions on something you’ve planned? Beta testers? Ask your readers first.

Not only does this approach involve readers more deeply, giving them opportunities to “buy into” your blog, but it can produce some surprising results and act as a fast way to obtain information you’d never have found otherwise.

If you’ve heard the term “crowdsourcing,” you’ll know that seeking help from an audience (or crowd) is an excellent way to innovate really smart solutions. You can apply that philosophy to your blog today by making your readers the boss, and seeking their help and direction when you need it.

Let them help you identify areas where you’re doing well, and can improve

If your readers are boss, they’re the best people to help you understand where you’re at, and how you can improve your work to suit them—and achieve greater success.

Inviting feedback directly, after a sale or conversion, through a feedback form on your blog, or even through a specially designed, periodic survey, is a great way to get a clear picture of how your readers feel you’re tracking.

But your ongoing involvement with them should give you an intuitive, gut feel for those kinds of answers, too. In the real world your boss will have a list of performance indicators she needs to meet, and similarly your readers will have real, felt needs that they’re conscious of. They’ll be able to see clearly whether you’ve met those or not.

But on a deeper level, we want our bosses to find us good to work with, a great team player, and an asset to them. This isn’t the kind of information your readers are likely to give you outright—you’ll need to infer it from the way they treat you and your blog, by looking at stats and comments and social media and backlinks and a host of information that, when you boil it down, lets you know what you’re doing well, and where you can do better.

Only by making your readers boss will you be able to approach that assessment with an open mind that’s not tainted by your own ideas about your performance. And the answers might just surprise you!

Who’s the boss of your blog?

Are you still thinking that you’re the boss of your blog? Or do you see merit in making your readers the boss? Do Have you already made your readers the boss? How has that changed the way you blog?

I’d love to hear your take on this idea in the comments.