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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.

How Often Should You Blog? (Hint: The Answer Might Surprise You)

This guest post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.

Writing

Image courtesy stock.xchng user GinnyLynni

If you’ve been blogging for a while, you’ve probably come across advice to blog every day.

Perhaps you feel that you must blog every day—and you’re reluctant to even start your blog because you know you don’t have that much time.

Or maybe you’re already blogging, and doing your best to get out a post every single day—but you don’t seem to get many comments or tweets.

The good news is that you almost certainly don’t need to blog every day. In fact, you may well find that posting just a couple of times a week works better for you.

But before you dismiss posting daily altogether, here’s why it could be a good idea.

Why posting every day might work for you

Some bloggers do best when they’re in a steady routine—and you might be one of them. If you find that posting once or twice a week quickly ends up as posting once or twice a month, then you might actually find it easier to post every day. That way, you can build a strong writing habit.

Another reason for posting daily is if you’re writing a news-focused blog in a fast-moving niche. One weekly post just isn’t going to work if you want to be on the cutting edge of what’s happening.

There are also some SEO benefits to quickly building up a lot of posts on your site: all else being equal, the more pages you have, the more opportunities a reader has to find you through search engines. (Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that in practice—one high-ranking post will generally bring you much more traffic than five so-so ones.)

If you’re going to post every day:

  • Keep your posts short and to the point.
  • Plan ahead, so you don’t end up publishing sub-standard content when you’re in a rush.
  • Vary your post types: try video posts, or image-heavy ones, for instance.

Why one, two or three posts per week is usually better

Over the past couple of years, there’s been a shift in the blogging world. More and more prominent bloggers-on-blogging are moving away from daily posting—and reassuring their readers that you don’t have to post every day in order to be successful.

Five years ago, there weren’t so many “pro”-style blogs around, and readers were eager for content. Today, with a wealth of blogs to choose from, readers quickly get burnt out.

I once surveyed readers here on ProBlogger about the reasons they unsubscribed from RSS feeds, and the number one answer was “posting too much.” Respondents expressed that they developed “burnout” and would unsubscribe if a blog became too “noisy.” —Darren Rowse, You MUST Post Every Day on Your Blog [Misconceptions New Bloggers Have #2]

As a reader, I much prefer blogs that post once a week or even once every two weeks—but always say something genuinely useful—than blogs that post every day just for the sake of it. If you look at the blogs you read in depth versus the ones you skim, you’ll probably realize that you feel the same way.

As a blogger, posting once or twice a week lets me write in-depth, carefully constructed posts—ones that are more likely to get links and tweets. I also get more comments per post this way, and have the time to engage with readers over several days of commenting.

If you’re only going to post twice a week:

  • Look at which content on your blog is most popular, so you can make every single post a successful one.
  • Experiment with longer posts, perhaps 1,000+ words.
  • Focus on evergreen content, so that each post will stay relevant for years.

Finding your perfect blogging routine

As bloggers, we all have different skills, personalities, and constraints on our time and energy. Don’t force yourself to stick to someone else’s blogging routine—it won’t necessarily work well for you.

Your perfect blogging routine might be one post a week, or one post a day. It might involve writing posts when you’re feeling inspired, or writing posts to a set schedule. You might use a content calendar to help you plan ahead with all or some of your content—or you might have differently themed posts on certain days of the week or month.

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to blogging, and what’s important is that you find a routine that you can stick to over the long term—not one that leaves you burnt out after a few weeks.

Don’t worry that readers will get upset if you change your posting frequency. I’ve chopped and changed on different blogs—and I’ve never had a reader complain that they wanted five posts a week, not three, or that they wanted my posts to be on Mondays and Thursdays, not Tuesdays and Fridays.

When you’re experimenting with your blogging routine:

  • Don’t change things too abruptly: try going from five posts per week to three posts per week, for instance.
  • Consider surveying your readers to find out whether they’d like more or fewer posts.
  • Experiment with writing posts ahead of time, or with creating a content calendar.

Blogging shouldn’t be a chore: if posting daily isn’t working out for you, it’s probably not working well for your readers either. Today, take a look at your blogging routine and see whether you want to make any changes—and leave a comment below to let us know what you decide.

Ali Luke will be leading day-long blogging courses in London from September 2012. If you’d like to learn more about blogging, with hands-on exercises and one-to-one support as part of a small group, book your place today. (Numbers limited to 8 people per session.)

Traffic Technique 5: Social Media

We all agree that social media networks offer a number of benefits to bloggers. We can build a following on these sites, make new friends and connections, and share, collaborate, and interact in real time.

Social media: a tug of war

Image courtesy stock.xchng tam_oliver

This is great—and there’s no doubting that sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, and SoundCloud offer us a real opportunity to connect.

Yet in terms of traffic, many of us struggle.

Getting traffic through social media might seem like it’s about getting users to share your content. But that challenge in itself raises all kinds of issues:

  • titles, images, calls to action, and presentation
  • targeting
  • how you respond to social network visitors
  • what social search could, to should, mean to you
  • your involvement and presence on these networks.
    • We’ve discussed many of these issues in detail on the blog, so today I’m interested in going a bit deeper with the discussion and looking at social media at a more fundamental level.

      Where will you share?

      We all know about shiny object syndrome, and have felt the temptation to join the latest social network simply because everyone else seems to be getting on board. This is definitely a case of reactionary blogging—simply doing something because we don’t want to be left behind the mainstream. It’s usually not the best way to go.

      Thinking about your audiences—that is, your current audience and your desired audience—and where they hang out online is the best way to choose the social networks where you’ll have a presence. But that’s not the only thing to look at.

      We also need to consider where we can best dedicate our time and how much we can take on. It’s all too easy to be overwhelmed, but I know that the more I focus my efforts, the better off I am.

      So before you launch yourself onto the nest social media platform, consider whether you’ll reach your target audiences in that space. If not, it might be best to hold off until you feel it’s worth your while.

      What will you share?

      This seems like a fairly basic question. What will you share? Well, your content, right?

      That might be fine in most cases, but if you find your audience on a particular network represents a particular subsegment of your desires readership, perhaps you’ll shape your updates—and the content you share—specifically to them.

      The idea of a social network being a mass communication medium through which we update our followers on everything we blog may change as the shape of social networking changes from mass networks to niche networks.

      So perhaps we should be prepared—by experimenting and trialling this for ourselves, starting now—to shape the information you share specifically to your following on a given network.

      This will likely affect the traffic our social media updates generate in and of themselves, as well as the traffic they generate through resharing.

      How will you share it?

      There’s good old, tried and tested, low-budget organic social sharing: creating an update (text, images, and/or video) and sharing it through the social networks of your choice.

      But now we’re seeing a bounty of other sharing options flood onto the market:

      These tactics can of course be used individually, but if you have a strong following and presence on a particular network, you might look at using them together, in a sort of campaign-style approach to gaining traffic.

      In any case, it’s safe to say that you no longer have to slog it out updating your status with lonely links: there are plenty of tools that can help you get more bang for your buck when it comes to sharing—and gain more traffic and, ultimately, build your audience as a result.

      That said, since they began, social networks have been important points of connection—so sharing all the time, rather than balancing those efforts with other forms of engagement (like responding to the work of others, curating broader information for your followers, making genuine connections and helping others out, and so on), is a fast track to failure.

      In this way, social media really does mirror real life. While social networks are great places to share, if your sharing is to be effective, it must be tempered by true engagement and a genuine interest in others.

      How will you manage the traffic?

      So, let’s say your social media efforts have been successful and your latest update is sending masses of traffic to your site. This is great news! If, that is, you’re prepared.

      Momekh recently pointed out the benefits that can be gained by building targeted landing pages for your social network visitors. He did this through the his network bio, but if you target your content—and share it—to certain specific networks (rather than blanketing all networks with the same update), you can take his advice a step further.

      This can be a great way to build upon the engagement you’ve established through your persona on a given network, and use that to make people feel at home on your blog. Why not create an article targeted right at your Pinterest followers—something that speaks to them directly, and includes a call to action for them to join or subscribe to your site? Then, share it on that network, with a targeted, specifically Pinterest-y update, and see what happens.

      The results of this kind of targeted communication might just surprise you.

      Of course, there are other techniques you can try. As you may have seen, sometimes I’ll include hashtags in posts and their titles, to encourage and frame a discussion about them on Twitter. I’ve found this a really great way to help readers to connect off the site, in a different forum.

      If those posts are shared, they can also help people who are new to ProBlogger get a feel for our community in a forum with which they’re familiar and comfortable. And once they start to feel an affinity with my brand, they’re probably more likely to at least follow the ProBlogger Twitter account, if not bookmark the blog or subscribe to the RSS feed.

      Do you track the results of your social media efforts? I’m intrigued to hear how you’re handling the task of generating traffic through social media—and what you do with it once it gets to your blog. Share your expertise with us below.

The Power of Personal

This week, we’ve got a couple of intriguing blog posts coming up that deal with bloggers’ personal stories.

Obviously, personal stories tend to do well with blog readers. But look around, and you’ll see that personal stories have become a mainstay of the media more generally.

Personal

Personal stories are big

We have reality t.v.—real stories about real people (admittedly in some pretty outlandish situations!). We have the social media explosion, where anyone and everyone has the opportunity to “go viral” and enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame. We even have a whole generation of people who are reputedly more self-assured—and self—promoting—than ever before.

Personal stories are big—and not just online, or among bloggers. So if you’re yet to experiment with the power of personal on your blog, now’s the time to commit to it across the board.

But blogging is inherently personal, right?

Blogging might have started as online journaling, but I think we’d probably all agree that it’s come a long way since then.

If you’re blogging as an employee for a company, you may not consider what you do to be very personal. If you’re running a news-style blog, you may feel that your job is to report facts objectively, not tell stories.

So, depending on the kind of blog you run, you may find it difficult to inject a personal element into what you do.

Personal isn’t always about you

What if you are writing blog posts for a corporation? Or what if you’re just shy about revealing too much of yourself?

How can you get personal without making it about you?

Simple: put the personal focus onto others:

Personality-rich post formats

Personal posts don’t just have to revolve around topics—certain post formats seem to do a lot to help us create a personal connection.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The personality roundup: A roundup of personalities within your niche—with images and links—is a great way to give a human feel to any blog.
  • The interview: I mentioned this above, but your interview could use video and audio too—and be the better for it.
  • The image post: Images do speak a thousand words. The great thing about them is that a good image will elicit emotions from your readers, so often you can say less about yourself and more about your niche—and still create that personal connection.
  • The irreverent post: Reporting the facts in chatty language is another good way to create a personal feel—provided it fits with the tone and thrust of your blog.

Are you using the power of personal?

Are you confidently creating a sense of personal connection through your blog, or is it something you struggle with? what techniques do you use? Share your tips and advice with us in the comments.

Transfer Your Blog From WordPress.com to WordPress.org Part 1

 This guest post is by Ayelet Weisz of All Colores.

WordPressIt was finally happening: I was about to embark on the trip of my dreams—and I wanted to write all about it.

I decided that a travel blog, shared initially with family and friends, would be a great experiment to see if I felt comfortable with the format of blogging that I’d wanted to try for quite some time. I did some research and found out that WordPress was a highly recommended platform. I read about the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, yet I wasn’t up for all the technical mumbo-jumbo that I thought comes with launching a site on WordPress.org, even if it allowed me to monetize the blog.

I opted for WordPress.com, thinking I could always transfer later if I decided that was the path for me.

Transferring from WordPress.com to WordPress.org looks easy at first

I read blog posts about it, I read explanations about it on the WordPress website, I watched videos on YouTube. And they all said roughly the same thing: all you have to do is follow these very simple steps, and then your blog is exported from WordPress.com and imported to WordPress.org.

What’s the big deal?

The basic process is supposed to go something like this:

  1. Log in to your WordPress.com dashboard.
  2. Choose “Tools” on your left-hand sidebar.
  3. Under “Tools”, choose “Export”.

There, choose the material you’d like to export. You can choose to export only your posts, for example, and create brand-new pages at your blog’s new home. Or you could choose to transfer the pages, yet start fresh on the posts front. You can also choose to export all the content at once—posts, pages, media files and comments.

Since I wanted to transfer everything in my blog to its new location, I chose All Content and clicked on Download Export File.

Selecting All Content

The file was downloaded pretty quickly. The file—an XML file type—appeared at the bottom of my screen.

The file downloads

My blog’s name is All Colores and the URL I had at WordPress.com was http://allcolores.wordpress.com . That’s why you see it in the image. When the download ended, I clicked on that box to open the file, which contained lots and lots of lines of code. Who knows how to read that?

Later, since I wanted to import this file to my WordPress.org blog, I needed to know where this file was saved. You’ll see soon that I needed to select it from my computer and upload it. But I didn’t know where that code was saved! It looked as weird to me as writing from right to left will probably look to you. What’s a blogger to do?

The solution is simple—at least in this case—so savor it: click on that arrow you see and choose to view the file in a folder. A folder will open up with a list of files, and the file you need will be marked—like magic! This is what you will see at the bottom of your screen:

What appears on screen

(Note: You might not see Hebrew on your computer—unless you have an Israeli computer like I do…)

You can make a note for yourself or memorize the location where this file is saved. I decided to copy it to my desktop, where I don’t have many wandering files and it would be easy for me to pick up during the import process.

Important: Do not delete your site from WordPress.com, at least not yet. You might need it later in the import process.

Big Deal #1: Get a domain and server, and install WordPress.org

You’ve exported the file and you know where it’s saved—congratulations! Now … where do you move it to?

Getting a domain is the easy part. That’s the www.YourSite.com URL. Just Google around for best domain sellers and you’ll find plenty of recommendations. I got mine at NameCheap, as I got a personal recommendation for that store, and it included some free protection with its regular sales price.

Next, Google for recommendations on a web host where you can host your site. If you plan on writing lots of posts and including many media files, it is best to find a host with unlimited space. It won’t necessarily cost you more. Another aspect to consider is that some hosts will allow you to use a large or unlimited number of domains. This is important if you dream of launching a network of blogs. Hosts will sometimes offer a one-click installation of WordPress, which will make your life a bit easier, yet I suggested finding YouTube videos that will guide you until that one click. For me, Hostgator has been the perfect fit these past few months, and I am also satisfied with its customer service.

Big Deal #2: The blog crashes after you’ve finished installing

Note that it’s best to do this process a few days before you actually plan to start working on your blog. While your site will usually go live right away, sometimes it can take up to 72 hours for all the systems of cyberspace to cooperate and recognize your blog. If your blog does crash in the meantime, you will not even have access to write posts.

For me, it took almost 48 hours. Those 48 hours plus all the technical challenges that followed added up to days. Remember, I had no idea what I was doing and therefore researched almost every move as I went along. Those days were days I cleared to write content for my blog before a busy month started, and instead, I found myself dealing with technical mumbo-jumbo. So register and install in advance!

This whole ordeal of domain, server, and installation processes scared me immensely back in July, when I launched my blog. Little did I know that you can find great how-to videos on YouTube. Just doing it would have you done with these challenges in almost no time—rather than taking days off your writing time. If you’re reading this and haven’t launched your blog yet, stop right now. Go get yourself a domain and a host. Trust me, the worst in this post is yet to come.

Once that’s installed, you’re ready to begin importing your blog

You can now access your dashboard from http://yourdomain.com/wp-admin. So access it and log in. Once you do, it’s time to start the importing process!

Follow these steps:

  1. Click on Tools on the left sidebar.
  2. Choose Import.
  3. Your screen will look like the image bellow. Click on “WordPress” at the bottom of this list.

Importing your blog

This is what I saw when I clicked on “WordPress”:

A plugin is needed

My Dashboard was darkened and I was required to install a plugin that would enable the importing of my blog to WordPress.org.

As with any plugin on WordPress.org, after you download it—which usually takes a second—you must activate it before it will work. The screen for activating the plugin will appear right after the download is complete. But if you accidentally closed your browser or clicked on something else, worry not: you can always access your downloaded plugins on the left-hand sidebar of the Dashboard. Each plugin that you activate can later be de-activate and even deleted here.

Downloading the plugin

I decided to follow the advice of WordPress and the YouTube videos I watched: I downloaded the plugin and clicked on Activate Plugin & Run Importer. Within a second, the plugin was activated. That’s right—no installation nightmares! How good is that?

Finally, you get to upload your file (good thing you know where it’s saved). Import it and then start working, right?

Importing your blog file

Wrong. This is where all the trouble begins!

First, I was concerned my blog might be too large, as it contained almost 2000 photos. WordPress asked me to upload a file with the maximum size of 64MB (64 megabytes). I looked at my saved blog file to see how big it was. The number I got was 2989. That’s way bigger than 64! But wait—this figure had different letters next to it: KB. That would be kilobytes.

What does this mean? I asked Google. It turned out 2989 kilobytes equaled 2.9 megabytes. If you scroll back up, you’ll see this information was given to me when it was time to save the file. Paying attention to details is important. What’s 2.9 megabytes compared to 64 megabytes? I was about to find out.

I uploaded my file…

Big Deal #3: My blog’s file version was outdated

This is the message I received when I tried uploading my file: “This WXR file (version 1.2) may not be supported by this version of the importer. Please consider updating”.

The file version warning

Well, I did consider it. However, first, I couldn’t figure out what a WXR file was. I thought it might be the file I just uploaded—that seemed to make sense, yet that file was an XML file. Could a file be both XML and WXR?

Second, I couldn’t figure out how to update the file. I searched on my WordPress.com dashboard and on Google and couldn’t find the answer.

WordPress tip: For any challenge you might be experiencing, type it into Google and you’ll find plenty of message board discussions that were started by people with similar challenges. Many of these discussions take place on WordPress forums, which will start showing up many times once you Google your challenge.

I found message board discussions regarding my file version challenge. I just didn’t find solutions. When I did find message board answers that seemed to be offering a solution, the language they used was too technical for me to understand and know how to implement. I didn’t have the background or experience necessary to do it.

Whether it was the “right” thing to do or not, this is what worked for me. I don’t know if this will work for you too. What made most sense to me was that the above-mentioned comment referred to the file I just uploaded. I mean, it wasn’t there before, it appeared the moment the file finished uploading and it mentioned a file! Unable to discover how to update its version, I decided to go along and use it anyway the way it was. After all, if the file “may not be supported”, it may be supported. WordPress did not obligate me to update—it simply recommended it.

For me, this worked. I had a bunch of technical challenges that you’ll read about tomorrow, and they may or may not have resulted from this decision. Nonetheless, the fact is my blog is up and running on its new domain as you read this. Therefore, this is the place to smile: there is hope!

Before you click Submit…

It’s important to notice two elements on this page before continuing to the next screen.

First, you can assign user roles and positions to posts during this import. If you do this, you might need to handle more settings manually later on. Since I am the only author of my blog, I decided to leave this space blank and avoid dealing with settings. If you have more than one writer, you will likely want to explore it further.

Second, you need to choose whether to download attachments. If you leave the box “download and import file attachments” (right above the Submit button) empty, your photos and videos will not be imported to your WordPress.org file. Do yourself a favor, check that box.

Then click Submit.

At last, you can breathe

WordPress is importing your blog file! Yay! Celebration time, right?

Import problems

Wrong!

That’s right: there were problems with this step too. Don’t worry—I’ll show you what the problem was, and explain how I solved it tomorrow in the second part of this series. In the meantime, if you have any WordPress.com to WordPress.org war stories to share, we’d love to hear them in the comments!

Ayelet Weisz is an enthusiastic writer and translator from Israel. She celebrates the everyday and extraordinaire joys of life through travel on her travel blog, All Colores. Follow her adventures on Twitter and sign up to her RSS Feed.

Traffic Technique 4: Subscriptions

From the marketers’ point of view, subscriptions are a loyalty mechanism—they’re the first technique we’ve looked at that’s most often used to build repeat traffic from people who have already visited your blog, and like it.

dPS subscription options

If they like it so much, why do they need to be reminded to come back? Well, we’re all forgetful—and we know it! By subscribing, we can make sure we never miss a post from our favorite blogs. We stay up to date on all the news, perhaps even becoming part of a community, making friends, and connecting with people.

Subscriptions can take a number of forms, but the three most common are probably these:

  • email newsletters (which, as I’ve mentioned, have been invaluable to me in growing my blogs and making money from them)
  • email autoresponder sequences (for example, a course broken into instalments and emailed weekly)
  • a forum or membership area of your site
  • RSS feeds.

Of course, subscriptions aren’t just for loyal readers—they can also be used to engage brand new readers, which makes this traffic tactic very versatile.

The one thing that you will need, though, if your subscription call to action is going to work, is that the reader has to see it, and to do that, they’ll need to be on your blog.

Your blog: the proof of your subscription’s value

Whether you attract would-be subscribers to your blog through search, content marketing, advertising, or some other technique, it’s important to remember that your blog is the most common reason those people will subscribe.

Sure, they might like what you have to say on Twitter, or enjoy your pins on Pinterest, but they don’t need to subscribe to your blog to stay up-to-date with your news on those platforms. When you think about it, asking a subscriber to add a new subscription to their list—given the plethora of memberships we all have these days—is a pretty big deal. So we need to treat it as such.

As we’ll see in a moment, a subscription is a great opportunity for bloggers to meet audience’s specific, deep needs. That said, if your site doesn’t already deliver on those needs—or their precursors-in some way, you may have trouble gaining those subscribers.

Your first job is elementary: make sure your site looks professional, trustworthy, and responsive to would-be subscribers. Does it reflect their values, interests, and needs? Does it speak to them clearly and directly? Can they see at a glance the kind of value they’ll get from your blog?

If so, you’re onto something.

Your next step is to get that subscription call to action in front of them, and make sure it touches on those needs you’ve already helped them identify. This comes down to copy lines and subscription boxes—but don’t overlook tactics like providing informational pages about your subscription offering, and sample content from the subscriber material, to further entice users.

Remember: you want to make it a no-brainer for them to subscribe. Don’t leave them guessing the value they’ll get from you. In my experience, your best bet is to show it to them.

My latest project, SnapnDeals, is a really simple example. The home page header tells you the site’s purpose—what it offers you. A little scrolling shows you a sample of the details of that offer. And at the page’s bottom, you see this subscribe box.

SnapnDeals signup box

It’s very simple, but as you can see, when you get to the subscription box, there’s no doubt as to what you’ll get in the subscription. The call to action just drives that home.

On the other hand, the dPS site offers two kinds of email newsletters, and we’ve developed a brief informational lightbox to explain the differences between them.

dPS signup box

Within the context provided by the homepage, this information gives a clear idea of what’s included in the subscription.

dPS homepage

For this reason, in-context signup CTAs tend to do very well on my sites. But if you’re having trouble converting readers to subscribers, see our series on conversion optimization for help.

Beyond the signup

Many bloggers focus heavily on getting the subscription. That’s fine—it makes sense—but to grow your list, you really need to deliver consistently outstanding value through the subscription itself.

Moreover, to generate blog traffic from those subscribers, you need to give them no-brainer reasons to click those links you’ve included in the email or RSS feed and come through to your blog, or spend more time clicking around your forums and engaging with the others they find there.

When we look at subscriptions from the blogger’s point of view, that’s what we see: subscription packages give us the opportunity to deliver content that’s really outstanding. It needs to be outstanding to make the subscription worthwhile and meaningful for your readers in the first place. But a subscription offer gives you the chance to get more deeply into topics that are particularly important, deep, complex, or interesting to your readers.

To take this one step further, if you want your subscribed users to actively use that subscription, your subscription material needs to continually reward them for subscribing. It has to anticipate their questions, preempt their needs, and solve problems they don’t even know they have. That sounds like a big challenge, but if you’re the kind of blogger who loves engaging with readers and knows what they want, this will become almost second-nature to you over time.

The easiest way to fulfil those needs is to encourage your subscribers to look at more of your content—through links, cross-references, and ongoing discussions through your posts and in the comments (if you have those turned on). Subscriptions give us a forum to reformulate and recast our existing content by showing readers how it meets needs they weren’t aware of, or, together with other pieces from our blog, provides insight they seek.

Finally, if the subscription is time-limited (for example, your offer is a series of four emails that teach subscribers how to do something), you should really aim to follow it up with something that’s even more compelling at the end of that timeframe. Don’t just let readers languish after the subscription material ends: you have an engaged audience at your fingertips. You could:

  • send them a survey asking for feedback on the subscription
  • up-sell them to a product or service that relates to what they’ve just learned
  • cross-promote another subscription product or offer that may interest them.

Don’t be satisfied with the fact that you know have this person’s email address on your list—keep rewarding them for subscribing with more and more value, and they’ll keep coming back. In this way, those valuable subscribers can form the bedrock of traffic from which you can build new visitor numbers, and traffic growth, upon.

Do you use subscriptions to grow traffic to your blog? Tell us how in the comments.

SoundCloud: for Bloggers, Not Just Musicians

Have you tried podcasting on your blog?

SoundCloudNot long ago, Carol Tice wrote a couple of posts on the topic for us, covering the benefits of podcasting and how to get your first podcast up and running.

I know Carol advises against using a hosted service for your podcasts, but after listening to this podcast on—and about—SoundCloud, I began to wonder about the hidden benefits of using a service like this.

The podcast is an interview with Evan Tenenbaum, SoundCloud’s Audio-content Manager, and although it’s pretty basic, it is a good introduction to what the service offers for writers.

Why give it a try?

This podcast really reminded me of what we bloggers know only too well: online services that make technical tasks easy really do reduce barriers to entry.

By the end of the podcast I was thinking, this service really makes sound recording and distribution easy. If you wanted to try your hand at podcasting, this would be a great way to do it. Record something and link it from your blog. Simple. There’s no real learning curve and no commitment—if you decide you don’t like it, don’t do it again.

Also, since streamed podcasts like these don’t require downloads onto users’ computers, tablets, or phones, they set low barriers to entry for the user who’s never listened to a podcast before. So this kind of technology can work well on both sides of the equation.

As the podcast reveals, SoundCloud is its own community—like YouTube—so by hosting your podcast there, you can reach an audience whose attention you might struggle to get otherwise. Users share links to material within the platform, so it’s yet another way to build a profile and a following that you could easily lead back to your blog.

What do you have to say?

Some bloggers tend to shy away from ideas like podcasting, because they don’t think they want to make it a regular part of their blog offering.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be. As Evan suggests in the podcast, you could use SoundCloud to give your readers a sample of your latest ebook or training course. You could use it as a faster, more personal way to create a blog post than laboriously writing it all out in text. And as in the case of the example SoundCloud file I’ve linked to in this post, you could us it to record a quick interview—a great way to add value to an every text-based blog post.

Depending on your niche, there could be any number of possible applications for this kind of technology.

So rather than thinking of using SoundCloud as something you need to “take on” and “adopt” in your blogging, why not just give it a try and see how it sits with your next post?

Or are you already using SoundCloud to add value to your blog? I’d love to hear what you think of it in the comments.

Blog Comments: 3 Bloggers Discuss the Issues

One of the things I love about Problogger.net is the value of the comments my readers make here.

Commenting

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi

Although the days when I could reply to many of those comments are now, sadly, long gone, I do read comments on the blog, and frequently get ideas and inspiration from them. Not only are they encouraging, they’re one of the best sources of thoughtful, spontaneous insight I have.

Not all bloggers feel this way—you probably know of at least one or two big-name bloggers who don’t allow comments on their blogs. And it’s certainly true that comments come with a range of challenges:

  • time: it takes time to wade through comments, sift the diamonds from the dross, and then compose thoughtful replies
  • trolls: there’s no shortage of trouble-makers online, and it can be wearing to have to deal with trolls on a daily basis
  • critics: some bloggers find criticism made in comments difficult to handle in such a public sphere
  • stalkers: while this problem isn’t often discussed, inappropriate comments can be a problem—especially if they persist
  • spammers: if you’re an experienced blogger, you probably rolled your eyes when you read that word!

Of course, these aren’t the only issues you need to consider in terms of comments on your blog. Which commenting system will you use? Will you set standards for accepting and rejecting comments? How can you use comments to enhance your blog—and your blogging?

The articles

We’ll be answering three of these questions today and tomorrow, in a series of posts that explore the issues of:

Before we get started, I’d love to hear your approach to blog comments (Do you have them on your blog? Do you comment on many others’ blogs?) in—you guessed it—the comments!

Weekend Project: Write Posts that Hold Readers to the End, Part 1

This guest post is by Peter Sandeen of Affect Selling.

Do you know why most of your blog’s visitors quickly scroll down your home page, read a couple of headlines, and go back to watching cute kitty videos on YouTube?

Reading

Image courtesy stock.xchng user svenic.

And why those who begin reading a post, only read the first two paragraphs before leaving to read their favorite blogs—blogs which might not even be as good as yours is?

There are two principles behind the solution.

The principles are simple, but not necessarily easy. But when you do get them right, you’re much closer to your goal of having the most popular blog in the world, and getting an email from Darren Rowse asking if you could read his guest post idea for your blog (I’m still waiting for this to happen…).

If you write posts that don’t get read, you’re wasting your time. Your audience can’t grow, AdSense will keep making you $0.08 per month, and your email list’s reach will stay limited to your mom and your dog (for whom you created an email address to have more subscribers).

If and when you start to use these principles in your posts, you’ll see a shift in your audience; they’ll share your posts on social media, they’ll leave comments, and they subscribe to get more of your content.

Here are the principles you must know, to have any chance of making it as a blogger. Just understanding them will get you leaps and bounds ahead of other bloggers in your niche.

The headline captures attention

The headline is the most important part of any post. Why? Because people either read your posts or leave your site based on your headlines.

In other words, publishing a post without a great headline won’t do you any good.

There are three things you need to get right in the headline.

  1. The topic.
  2. The angle.
  3. The placement.

When you get all of these right, your headline will capture your audience’s attention and get them to click it anxiously, waiting to read the post.

1. The topic of the headline

The most obvious topic of your post isn’t nearly always the best topic for the headline.

For example, let’s say you write a post about weight loss—more specifically, about “man boobs.” You have two headlines to choose from:

  1. How to Lose Weight
  2. How to Get Rid of Man Boobs

Which one will attract more attention from the target audience for that post?

Grabbing attention is not just about being specific: it’s about using what your audience wants to know more of. Weight loss is such a general and common topic that most people wouldn’t dream of reading another post about it, even if they’re somewhat interested in it.

“Man boobs” on the other hand (I promise I won’t say, “man boobs” anymore), is specific—it’s probably not something anyone has read 100 posts about previously.

What if your topic is actually something general like “weight loss,” with no more specific focus? Well, you’ll get the answer to that in tomorrow’s post, so remember to check back…

2. The angle of the headline

Did you think it’s enough to just pick the right topic to feature in your headline? Figuring out the topic is just the start: you need to find the right angle for it too.

What is an “angle” in a headline? It’s the way you present a topic. For example: “Basics of landing pages” isn’t really that interesting. What about Stockmann-Syndrome – Don’t Try this (Landing Page) at Home?

The first headline may point to the same content as the latter one. But there’s an important difference: the latter is unlikely to make you think, “I’ve already read that.” Instead, it makes a promise to deliver something new to an old topic, or at least to be entertaining.

There are also really important differences between the words used here, even when they’re basically synonyms. For example, “How to” implies simple and easy-to-use-use content made for non-experts, while you can use “Learn to” with more complicated topics, and when your audience is better educated about the topic. “How to Build a Helicopter” sounds like a joke, but “Learn to Build a Helicopter” sounds like there’s something to it.

And one more mistake you can make is to ask a question people will answer, “No, I’m not interested in that.” Copyblogger did that some months ago, and they wrote an interesting post about the mistake.

3. The placement of the headline

What if you saw the headline, “How to Be a Good News Anchor,” here at ProBlogger?

You might click through to see what the heck it’s about. But you’re not here to learn about building a career as a news anchor. On the other hand, what if it said, “How to Look Authoritative on Video”? You’d be much more interested, right?

The context of your headline changes how people react to it and what expectations it creates. Sure, you won’t write a headline that far off the mark, but smaller details make a huge difference as well.

Can you write a headline that gets clicked?

If you’re up for it, leave a link to your best headline (or just tell us what your headline is) in the comments below.

Keep in mind, this is just the first principle. You’ll get people to start reading your post with a great headline, but getting them to read to the end is a different goal. We’ll look at that in the second post in this series!

101 Headline Formulas is a FREE eBook that’s Not Just a Great Swipe File; it also explains what should come after each headline to keep readers reading to the end. To learn Persuasive Copywriting, how to build High-Conversion Landing Pages, and understand the practical application of the Real Principles of Effective Marketing, check out Affect Selling by Peter Sandeen.