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Traffic Technique 1: Search Engine Optimization

If you’re one of the thousands of bloggers out there who’s trying to generate the right kind of blog traffic, you’ve probably felt a bit bewildered at some point.

I know I have. Some days I’ve sat down at my computer and literally haven’t known where to start in building more traffic to my blogs. It’s easy, too, to fall into the habit of using the same old techniques over and over—not because they’re the best ones for you, but because they’re the ones you know and are comfortable with.

So, starting today, I’d like to take you on a little tour of some of the main traffic generation techniques.

Through the tour I plan to explain a bit about each technique so that if you’ve never really encountered it before, you’ll have a basic grounding in it. Then I’ll get into some of the more specific quirks of that traffic method you may want to take on board as you consider using each technique.

I’m aiming to cover seven topics in this series, which will run once a week, starting today, with the grand-daddy of all traffic sources: search.

Types of search traffic

Searching

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Leonardini

Search is the grand-daddy of traffic—and for good reason.

Firstly, it’s the primary way for bloggers to reach readers who have never heard of us, let alone visited our sites. Search engines “qualify” the traffic they send you, since they’re based on keyword and keyphrase searches that reflect individual users’ specific needs.

Search—and search advertising—can also be a good way to build a perception of authority around your brand: if readers searching at various times for topics within your niche keep seeing your site in the search results, they’re likely to get the idea that your site has a lot of information on that topic. This can make search a good way to stay top-of-mind with visitors who have been to your site a few times, but aren’t loyal readers yet.

Search can also alert existing readers to new material on your site—and to sub-topics that they didn’t already know you covered.

The right kind of search traffic

To attract the right kinds of search traffic, most of us follow a few golden rules:

  1. We avoid black-hat search techniques: we don’t try to scam or trick the search engines.
  2. We get to know the user we’re trying to target through search: by looking at the comments these readers leave on our blog or others, through our analytics, and by using the Google Keyword Tool—among other methods.
  3. We create content around the topics our target users have an interest in: and we incorporate the keywords they’re searching on.
  4. We do what we can to boost our online profiles: through a combination of guest posting, social media, encouraging backlinks to our blogs from other sites, and facilitating sharing and recommendations from others.

So while it seems like search is a technical topic—and I know that makes a lot of bloggers shut down before they even get a chance to look into it more deeply—in a lot of ways, I think on-site search optimization is, in large part, about relationships. The more people who talk about you and link to your blog, share links to your posts, and engage with you in various ways, the more authority you’ll have—and the search engines love authority.

The other thing I feel with search is that it’s all too easy to go overboard trying to optimize your site in a zillion different ways to attract the “perfect” searcher (or search), and to boost your search rankings.

Sites that use these kinds of focused tactics are exactly what Google updates like Panda and Penguin try to push out of the search results. Every update tries to remove “over-optimized” sites, since the search engine obviously wants to present results that legitimately, inherently comply with its algorithms—not those that are manicured and preened to match the algorithms.

The message from those recent Google updates is: don’t try too hard. I honestly believe that if you choose some good keywords and focus your content on those—following the golden rules above—the rest really will pretty much take care of itself.

Choosing keywords

Given the apparently infinite range of keywords searchers use, it’s often at keyword research that bloggers get overwhelmed, throw up their hands, and give in.

The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to focus your efforts on identifying keywords that you can adopt and build content around for the long term.

If you’re prepared to put in the time and energy to ride the cresting wave of a new fad or trend—and take the hit when that wave breaks, or a new trend catches everyone’s attention—that’s fine.

But if you’re simply out to build a strong, lasting brand as an authority in a less time-sensitive niche, look for keywords with:

  • longevity
  • a reasonable number of searches (when compared to similar keywords for your niche)
  • not too much strong competition from others in your space.

While every industry changes and your niche will inevitably evolve, the secret to ranking well in search is, as I mentioned, authority. Authority isn’t just about peer and reader respect. The search engines, of course, also look at the amount of quality content you have around particular keywords. They prefer to see that that content has been built up over time.

The upshot is that you need to be able to commit to some basic niche- and reader-relevant keywords that you can weave through your content, as well as other digital assets like navigation labels, link text, image captions and meta data.

Use your analytics and the Google Keyword Tool to find the keywords people are using to discover the kind of information you want to cover, and that they’re currently using to get to your site. Choose three or four keywords you want to rank well for and can commit to, and go from there.

As your blog’s authority rises in the eyes of search engines, you’ll be able to rank better for topical, less lasting keywords as well. That’s where your trending of fad keywords come into play.

On dPS, we have a strong ranking for basic keywords that relate to amateur photography, and we’ve established some strong authority (in the eyes of the search engines) around those keywords, and within our niche generally. So when a new lens comes out and we review it, we might rank well for the lens’s name as a keyword, because we’re already ranking strongly for the more basic, or generic niche keywords.

Finally, a strong keyword focus can help you more easily—and intelligently—select keywords for advertising, if that’s a route you decide to go down.

Satisfying searchers

The other side of the freelancing coin is, of course, what happens when those searchers click through form the search engine to your site.

If you’ve done your target audience research well, you should be able to produce content that truly does meet their needs. That’s great—but after they’ve read it, will they simply hit the Back button, or close the tab?

Landing page quality is very important for these searchers, and it’s an ongoing challenge for bloggers. The “landing page” will in many cases be an internal page of your blog, not the home page. We need to optimize our content page layouts so that they keep reader attention, drawing people through to more content that relates to their expressed need.

There’s a basic philosophy that says that the more a reader is compelled to do on your blog—the more they engage with it—the more likely they’ll be to come back. So there’s a common suite of tactics that blog owners use to prompt readers to action, which includes:

  • invitations to make comments, or rate the content
  • calls to action to share the content via social media or email
  • encouragement to comment on the content
  • suggested further reading on the same blog
  • links to more information about the blog
  • invitations to subscribe the blog via email or RSS

Of particular note is social search integration. The more shares you can encourage on individual pieces of content, the better your blog’s search rank will likely be in the long term, and the more visitors it will draw overall—both through search and social media.

What’s your SEO strategy?

As you can see, my approach to social media is pretty straightforward: it’s based on building authority through content and community, not the more common, technical SEO tactics.

But what about you? How would you describe your SEO strategy? What’s given the biggest boost to your search traffic? Share your stories with us in the comments. And look out for next week’s post, when we’ll look at content marketing in detail.

Weekend Project 1: Fix a Mess of a Multi-topic Blog

This guest post is by Natalie Webb of Leave Me to My Projects.

You started your blog because you were passionate.

You wanted to write about everything you love. You wanted to inspire people with your passions and your well-rounded knowledge in all of your areas of expertise. You wanted to put yourself out there and bring real value to the lives of your adoring readers.

Mess

Image courtesy stock.xchng user shelead

The love spiral would continue until the internet was throwing money at you like a pre-fame Channing Tatum up on stage. And yet…

Your traffic numbers are decent, but people aren’t sticking around on your blog. They aren’t interacting, with you or each other.

They certainly aren’t subscribing. Your readers aren’t connecting, and you aren’t helping.

So you scour the big meta blogs (blogs about blogging) for advice. They all tell you that to be successful in the blogosphere, you need to niche down and specialize. Micro-niche, even.

Here are five posts by very savvy and successful bloggers that will tell you all of the reasons why you should pick a topic and stick to it.

It makes sense, right? Less clutter, more focus. It’s business 101.

But let’s get real, shall we?

You. Don’t. Wanna.

Anyone who has caught an episode of Hoarders knows they these people don’t set out to have the mess in their homes eat them alive. They really do have the best of intentions. They love these belongings so much they cannot bear to part with any of them.

Although real-life hoarders are an extreme example, in a way, you understand them. You love each of your topics like one of your hoarder feral cat children. You know that to have a happy, balanced blog and life, you need to simplify and get back to basics.

But again, you don’t wanna. Your blog is you. It is your home, where you keep all of your most precious projects, ideas and musings. So you plod along, scattered and disorganized, believing that your passion will shine through and earn you a loyal following.

But it’s not going to happen. Blogs without focus do not have sticking power. They will not encourage readers to engage, and they will not make you money.

After all, how is anyone going to connect to your blog and stick around if they aren’t even sure what you do? Are you even sure?

If you suddenly found yourself standing in an elevator with Darren and he asked you what your blog was about, would you be able to tell him before your short ride was over? More importantly, would he exit those doors interested in knowing more?

If you cannot sum up your blog—what it is about, what you do and who you are—in a nice, succinct elevator pitch, you probably have a big, idea hoarding mess of a multi-topic blog on your hands.

I’m here to help you clean it up. That’s right. You can have your blog, and make it work, too. Consider this your intervention.

Let’s get to work

To make your multi-topic blog focused and relatable, I will walk you through five steps:

  1. Taking a blog inventory
  2. Creating a customer avatar of your ìOneî reader
  3. A little self-analysis
  4. Keep, Sell, Toss
  5. Finding your unifying thread.

After that, we get to put it all together. Are you ready? Here we go.

1. Take an inventory

Before you can figure out what you need, you have to figure out what you have. Start by making a list of all of your main topics or categories. Now go through your posts and find out two things:

  • Which categories seem to be most popular with your readers? You can use post comment counts, page views, or whatever metric works for you.
  • Which categories are the most filled out? While you may love all of your topics, there are bound to be some you do not write about as often as others.

Rank your categories in order from best to worst, but do not ditch any under-performing categories just yet.

2. Weed out your one perfect customer/reader

Much has been written lately in blogland about messaging and customer avatars. The idea is to write as if you are writing to only one person in the world.

Even if many of your real live readers do not precisely match this avatar, your messaging is clear, focused, and personal. That is what makes a blog great to read.

Danny Inny over at Firepole Marketing wrote an incredibly insightful post about this, complete with a beautiful checklist for finding your one perfect reader. You can get it for free by tweeting or sharing the page, and I highly encourage you to do so.

This is the sticking point for a multi-topic blog, isn’t it? Because you have so many topics, you have essentially been writing for everybody! How are you going to be able to narrow down your ideal reader traits to a single avatar? Relax, you don’t have to. Initially.

Instead, pretend that you have split each category of your blog from the previous exercise up into its own niche site, independent of the others.

Write out a customer profile for each niche, using Danny’s checklist. Do this for each of your main topics. Make a spreadsheet if you like.

Now look for similar customer traits between each of your niches. Do you see any patterns jumping out? Age, marital status, kids, interests, professions? Make a list of any traits that occur more than once, and how often.

At this point, you can start constructing your overall reader profile—the kind of reader that really does love and connect with all of the random things you write about.

But we’re not done yet. Now it’s time to breathe life into your ideal reader.

3. Analyze yourself

The common thread to pulling an unorganized blog together, surprisingly, is often found in you.

Pull up Danny’s customer profile sheet again. Fill it out again, answering these questions for you personally.

Using both your own profile and the list of most common traits, you can begin to cobble together a much more accurate profile of your ideal reader.

After all, you are writing this blog based on your own passions and experiences, correct? Why shouldn’t your ideal reader include a bit of yourself?

You see, that’s where the connection happens.

4. Keep, sell, toss

Now it’s time for the hard part. Just like any hoarder rehab, you are going to have to let some things go.

Keep: Set your new reader profile and your Inventory from Step 1 in front of you. Do any of your best-performing topics fit your reader profile particularly well? Good! Those are your absolute keeper topics.

Sell: If you have the time (and understandably, not many of us do) consider splitting off a topic or two that does not fit your blog into a separate blog.

Toss: Now you have to get ruthless. You’re going to have to do some soul-searching and figure out which extraneous topics you can let go. Chances are there will be one that you just can’t bear to part with. In that case…

5. Find your thread

Maybe that is your thread.

Perhaps you write a blog about crafts, DIY, cooking, gardening, hair, beauty, photography, wellness, and more. You have gotten rid of your Haute Couture and Blogging sections, but the one you cannot bear to let go is video games. Your love of MMORPGs is too intense.

Things just got real specific, folks.

Maybe your thread is craft-loving fantasy geeks. And boy are there a lot of them out there. Just look at anything Felicia Day posts on social media.

Put it all together: picture your publication

Everything is falling into place now. All the junk is cleared away, and the hoarder house is clean. Now you just have to put it all together so that you don’t lose your way ever again.

With what you now know about your reader and your topics, it’s time to find your message.

Your blog is an online publication. Start treating it that way. Sure, it may be personal, but it’s also your business (or so I would assume—you are reading Problogger, after all).

Publications, like books and magazines, have to have a flow, a layout, or in the case of magazines, an editorial calendar.

Right now I only want you to picture your blog as a book. It doesn’t matter if you want to write a book eventually or not. For this exercise, you do (and after this, it might not be a bad idea!).

Why a book and not a magazine? Magazines are ongoing, with constantly updated content, and are certainly more akin to how a blog works. But books have permanence. They can stand the test of time. And isn’t that what you want your blog to be?

  • What is the title of your book? Maybe a subtitle too!
  • Mentally (or physically) design your book cover.
  • How would you divide up the chapters and sections?
  • Write your book jacket copy. What is your book about, and how can it help that ideal reader of yours?

And now, just like on any good A&E show, the big reveal.

  • Your book title? That’s your new tagline.
  • Your book cover? That is what your pages should look like.
  • Your chapters and sections? Let them guide how you organize your site’s pages and menus.
  • You jacket copy? That’s your message.

Extra credit: guest posting

Even after all of this, I know there are some topics that you will have trouble letting go. Take heart, because you don’t have to.

When you have items that you don’t have room to keep in your home, what do you get? A storage locker, a.k.a. guest posts.

Keep writing those posts on topics that you love, but do not fit with your blog. The trick is to keep your overall message in mind when you write—not your ideal reader, but your message.

The idea with these guest posts is to pitch them to blogs that you enjoy, but are not the ideal reader of. This post is one such example.

I’m sure the ideal Problogger reader is not a 29-year-old barber stepmom, obsessed with Martha Stewart, wishing she lived in Rivendell. And that reader almost certainly does not frequently sport a peacock-colored mohawk. And yet…

What it all means

Like hoarders, we bloggers can get so used to the mess we see around us that we lose all objectivity as to the impression our blog makes on new readers. With every additional topic you cover, it gets exponentially more difficult.

The key is focus. If you follow the process I have outlined in this post, I guarantee that you will arrive at a clear and accurate customer avatar, strong unifying thread and clear, compelling message.

Tomorrow I will be back to show you five blogs that have mastered the ability to convey a clear, strong brand while juggling a wide variety of topics—and I’ll clue you in to their five secrets to killing it in the Pinterest niche.

What struggles have you had with focusing your multi-topic blog? Share in the comments below!

Natalie is a truly Edward Scissorhands living in a Martha Stewart world. A Chicago-based writer, barber and obsessive DIYer, she blogs over at Leave Me to My Projects about her adventures in the DIY lifestyle with loads of how-tos and inspiration. She also spends way too much time on Pinterest.

4 Simple Growth Strategies Any Breakthrough Blog Can Learn From Pinterest

This guest post is by Mike Holmes of the Simple Strategies for Startups blog.

You don’t need me to tell you about Pinterest do you? I’m pretty sure you’ve heard all the media outlets singing its praise:

  • the fastest growing site
  • its user base is mostly female
  • its breakthrough rise from obscurity
  • how marketers are using it
  • how marketers CAN use it
  • how its a step forward in the evolution of social media
  • …and etc.

Pinterest LogoI mean we’ve talked about it over here too, haven’t we?

But what else can we as bloggers and businesspeople learn from this recent phenom? Namely:

1. Have a greater purpose

When CEO Ben Silbermann created Pinterest, he did so with the purpose of making something “timeless.” Like most great entrepreneurs, he created the company out of his own interests, passions, and purpose.

Throughout history, truly great companies answer these question: Who are we? And what are we about?

In fact, purpose is the catalyst for all great companies and organizations.

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple he came back to a mess: little to no market share, declining revenue, and a business almost on the verge of bankruptcy. He turned the company around simply by focusing on what the company had long overlooked: its core purpose.

According to Jobs:

“Apple was in serious trouble. Apple had to remember who Apple was because they’d forgotten who Apple was.”

We all know how that ended up!

Companies like Wal-Mart, Southwest Airlines, Charles Schwab, and BMW are all purpose-driven. In fact, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, repeatedly stresses the importance of companies having a core purpose. These entrepreneurs make money (in fact, they make a ton) but they set out to “change the world” in some way or other.

I know this sounds like some touchy-feely-cry-me-a-river-nonsense! I understand that.

But purpose is anything but nonsense. It’s a viable business strategy—an immutable law. And those companies, entrepreneurs, and bloggers that practice it always rise above the crowd!

2. Have a great product

Not an okay, good, or not-too-bad product. But a great product!

From the very few interviews there are with Silbermann, you can feel his obsession with the quality of the site:

  • He and his team spent a lot of time agonizing over the site’s five-column layout, producing almost a dozen fully-coded versions before settling on the one that is live today.
  • According to him, he’d rather spend time working on the site than giving interviews. The site is incredibly addictive because he obsessed over every detail.

For the blogger, this boils down to writing epic content (thanks again, Corbett Barr!).

But maybe that’s not for you. I mean, you could just follow the crowd, make an okay product, and write ok content.

You could do that.  You won’t get noticed that way, but you could do it. It’s totally up to you!

3. Forget the mainstream: go after those who want it!

Pete Cashmore noted early on that Pinterest didn’t take the mainstream route to success:

“The web-based pinboard, which launched almost two years ago, barely got a mention on Silicon Valley news sites until six months ago, when early adopters suddenly realized that a site with millions of monthly users had sprung up almost unnoticed by the tech press. That’s because Pinterest didn’t take the usual route of Web-based startups: romancing early adopters and technology journalists before attempting to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption. Instead, Pinterest grew a devoted base of users—most of them female—who enjoy ‘pinning’ items they find around the Web.”

That was totally unheard of. And yet this strategy produced better results than a thousand press releases.

It was the strategy used by early hymn writers. While the majority of church attendees didn’t see the value of the songs, the hymn writers focused all their attention on those that did. Ultimately the majority came around.

It’s the strategy used by great salespeople, startups, and game changers. For instance:

  • When an unknown author named Tim Ferriss decided to promote his book, he focused his efforts. He called successful authors and asked them how they promoted their books. They gave him two answers: radios and bloggers. Since radio was losing its influence he decided to rely on bloggers. He went to a blogger event, met the ones he wanted to meet, established relationships, and then asked them to do a review. They did. And with the book becoming the #1 New York Times, the #1 Wall Street Journal, and the #1 Businessweek bestseller, the rest is history.
  • When Mel Gibson decided to market The Passion of the Christ, he focused his efforts. When he approached movie executives about producing the movie nobody wanted to go near it. So Gibson decided to fund it himself using $30 million of his own money. Not having much money left to marketing (it usually costs $40 million for marketing, he only had $15 million) he tried an unconventional approach: letting pastors see it for free.  They started small–showing only a few pastors, but it grew exponentially. One of the final screenings was at Willow Creek Church. After the showing, Bill Hybels took the stage and spoke for the 5,000 pastors in attendance: “All right, what do you need us to do?”  And with $611,899,420 in gross sales, the rest is history.
  • When a Baptist preacher named Rick Warren decided to market his book, Purpose-Driven Life, he focused his efforts. Years before he wrote his first book, Purpose Driven Church and followed it up with a website: Pastors.Com. The membership of the website grew to 85,000 pastors who saw Warren as trusted advisor. He enlisted their help with the PDL book–asking them to conduct the “40 day campaign” in their churches. And 1200 agreed to it. He gave away copies of the $20 book for $7 to churches and congregations that agreed. Within two months, those spokespeople pushed sales to $2 million, then to 30 million copies by 2007 … and the rest is history.
  • When an pop artist by the name of Lady Gaga found success it was through focus. She did everything she could to break through: schmoozed the music execs, performed wherever she could, had doors slammed in her face, begged to have her music played on the radio, was cut from a label, and was told she wouldn’t make it. But the turning point for her was her acceptance by the gay community. Once they accepted her, they championed for her, and she championed for them. And the rest is history.

Why do we spend the bulk of our time trying to get people who don’t like us to like? And in the meantime turn our backs to those that love us?

  • Rick Warren didn’t market to atheists.
  • Mel Gibson only showed screenings to conservative Christian and religious groups (even refusing to include those that initially criticized the film).
  • Timothy Ferriss didn’t go after those interested in a nine-to-five lifestyle.
  • Not once did Lady Gaga try to win over those who adamantly opposed her. She focused all her attention on her “monsters.”

It doesn’t make any sense does it?

Well, with 20 million users and a $1.5 billion valuation, it’s evident Silbermann understood the power of fans.

4. Remember: service is the best form of marketing

In the beginning, Silbermann said he personally wrote to the first 5,000 users, gave them his cell phone number, and even met many of them for coffee. He asked them questions, listened to their concerns, and went above and beyond for them.

Whoa!

Sometimes in the middle of our social media, SEO, and direct marketing efforts we forget that great service is still the best form of marketing.

There are six primary reasons people stop doing business with a company:

    1. 1% die.
    2. 3% move away.
    3. 5% develop other relationships.
    4. 9% leave for competitive reasons.
    5. 14% are dissatisfied with the product.
    6. 68% percent go elsewhere because of the poor way they were treated by employees of the company.

Case in point: when Patton Gleason went live with his online startup, the Natural Running Store, he outhustled his competitors in terms of service:

      • He created personalized videos that thanked customers for their purchase.
      • He created videos that told customers their shoes were on the way.
      • He put handwritten notes in the shoe boxes.
      • He sent follow-up emails asking about his or her training plans.
      • Instead of having an FAQ page, he sends out a two-minute video answering the customer’s questions.

naturalrunningstore.com

Because of this, Natural Running Store receives a ton of organic traffic, customer referrals, and endless praise.

And this is with Gleason admitting he doesn’t know how to sell.

You’ve all heard the story of how the Blog Tyrant became a true fan of Darren? You didn’t? For shame! “What happened?” you ask. Well, I’ll just let the Tyrant tell you:

“I once sent Darren Rowse an email telling him that I was having problems leaving a comment on his site. I told him not to worry about it too much as it was obviously working fine for everyone else. He replied in about ten minutes telling me that every single one of his readers were important to him and then tried to problem solve the issue with me. Instant fan for life.”

My friends, we’ve entered a new paradigm: marketing is the new selling and relationship building, engagement, and delivering new and innovative content is the new marketing.

High five for Silbermann!

What can we learn?

Right now we don’t know what’s in store for Pinterest. Right now, they’re flying as high as a Facebook IPO. They’re on top right now.

But if history has been any kind of teacher we’ll find more lessons in their story as the days go on. Good or bad.

What do you think? Are there any other lessons we can learn from Pinterest, or other startups like them?

Mike Holmes is an author, speaker, and serial entrepreneur who leads a small movement of world changing startups. You can find out more about him on The Simple Strategies for Startups Blog

Five Blog Business Models That’ll Make You Money

One of the great things about the blogosphere is innovation, and the fact that there is an almost unlimited number of ways you can make money blogging.

One glance around the web shows such variety in terms of the way bloggers approach their audiences and provide them with value.

Building blocks

Image courtesy of stock.xchng user danzo08

The thing is, all that choice can be overwhelming. Those looking to being monetizing their blogs can be put off by the profusion of choices. Those who are thinking of extending their current monetization strategies can often fall back on tried and tested—but not necessarily optimal—methods simply because it’s so difficult to navigate the information around new ones.

So this week, we’re going to look at some of the more common blogging business models in depth.

The five six blog business models

Starting today, six pro bloggers will explain the ins and outs of the business model they’re successfully using to monetize their blogs.

Their insights will give you valuable ideas about how different business models might work with your own blog, niche, and audience.

Here are the business models we’ll cover—and the individuals who’ll share their experiences with us. Each day I’ll be updating this list with the link to the current days’ post, so you can bookmark this post to access them all:

  1. Landing public speaking gigs through your blog, with Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion
  2. Selling your print book through your blog, with Kevin Cullis of MacStartup
  3. Selling electronic products, with me, focusing on dPS
  4. Affiliate marketing, with Anshul Dayal of Nichesense
  5. Selling training and courses, with Jules Clancy of The Stone Soup.

Update: we’ve just received a bonus post for the series:

I’ll also be supplementing these articles and interviews with resource lists for further research for those interested in finding out more about that business model.

I hope you’ll find this advice useful, and that it inspires you to look at your blog’s money-making potential in a fresh light.

Before we begin, let us know if you’re already monetizing your blog, and how. Share your strategies with us in the comments.

The Blogger’s Essential WordPress Guide: 13 Top Tutorials

Over the last couple of months, we’ve taken a close look at WordPress here on ProBlogger.

WordPressI know that many readers do use WordPress—either the free or paid version—and it’s the content management system of choice for many high-profile sites. I’ve been using it for years, and I’d have to say that it’s served me really well over that time.

The articles we’ve published have covered many of the essential aspects of blogging using WordPress, from choosing the service that’ll suit you and weighing up different themes, to securing, posting to, and making money from your WordPress blog.

In case you’ve missed any of these great posts, I thought I’d compile them all here for easy reference.

Getting started

  1. WordPress.com or WordPress.org? Which one’s right for you?
  2. What you need to know before you start a WordPress blog
    Security
  3. Set safe, secure user roles on your WordPress blog
  4. Secure your WordPress blog without touching any code
    SEO
  5. Essential SEO settings for every new WordPress blog
    Themes
  6. How to select your first WordPress theme
  7. Install your first WordPress theme
    Plugins
  8. Install your first WordPress plugin
  9. 19 Essential WordPress plugins for your blog
  10. 5 WordPress plugins to help you make money from your blog
    Posting
  11. Use email to post to your WordPress blog
    Making money
  12. 9 Ways to make money from WordPress … without having a blog
  13. Premise 2.0 released: complete digital sales and lead generation engine for WordPress

Thanks to all the contributors who put in the work to help us get our heads around these finer points of WordPress, including Matt Hooper, Karol K of ThemeFuse, Anurag Bansal of Techacker, Eric Siu of Evergreen Search, Louise of MoneySupermarket.com, and Sean Platt of outstandingSETUP.

Of course, while this CMS dominates the blogosphere, there are many solid alternatives to WordPress (and no, I’m not talking about Blogger!). If you’re looking for a change for some reason, give them your consideration.

Do you have a favourite WordPress tutorial or resource that you can add to this list? Share it with us in the comments.

Conversion Optimization: Our New Series

Of all the topics that bloggers ask me about, conversion optimization is among those at the top of the list.

Sale sign in a shop

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All of us have conversion goals of some sort. It doesn’t matter whether you’re aiming to make money blogging, or you’re in it purely for pleasure, you’ll probably want to grow a subscriber list at the very least! Some of the blogger’s most common conversion goals include:

  • grow signups to an email subscription list
  • attract Facebook fans and Twitter followers
  • boost downloads of free products, whitepapers, and samples
  • increase sales of products and services.

These days, competition within the blogosphere is only getting stronger, and readers are only getting more savvy. Most of us have  good data on our blog usage, but of course boosting conversions isn’t just a matter of statistics.

From your audience to your offer—and everything in between—there’s a lot to consider. So we’re dedicating ProBlogger to the challenge of boosting conversions, with a series that’s been put together by some of your favorite experts.

This series assumes that you have some kind of conversion goal, and some tools in place to make that happen—even something as simple as a Sign Up form in your sidebar. We’ll take you through five steps to improving those conversions, as we look at:

  1. Reviewing your offer.
  2. Revisiting your conversion funnel.
  3. Revamping your communications.
  4. Running A/B tests, then tweaking and refining your marketing.
  5. Reaching all of your audience segments using this process.

Before that, I’d like to hear from you. How are your conversions looking right now? What tactics have you used to improve them? What’s worked—and what hasn’t? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

Build Blog Products That Sell 6: Tell the World

This guest series is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

Wallet

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi

Welcome to the final installment in our hexalogy, concerning how to sell blog products in an era when people are reaching into their pockets and finding mostly lint. So far, we’ve discussed how to plan out products drawn from your expertise, create them, distinguish yourself from your competitors, test-market, figure out how much to charge, and find a clientele. If you’re late to the party, check out the previous parts of this series, right from the start, before going any further.

Say you’ve done all of the above. Now, the only remaining step is to get the sale. Sounds obvious, but all the preliminary work means nothing if you don’t close. You need to tell people to buy, rather than just crossing your fingers and hoping that they might.

It’s not just writing…

There’s a certain finesse required with this. You don’t sell in the same voice in which you entice, cajole, or inform. Lots of bloggers have trouble making the transition. If you’re going to put yourself out there as a seller of “you-branded” content, you don’t have the luxury of stumbling through and hoping that your sales pitch falls on receptive ears.

At this point, considering how much you’ve put in, selling yourself is mandatory, not optional. You have to use language forcefully, more forcefully than you do in your blog posts. Burrow into your prospect’s head, and by extension, your prospect’s wallet.

Focusing on the benefits

There’s a timeless axiom in the advertising business: People don’t want a bar of soap, they want clean hands.

The benefit of the product is far more important than the product itself. When you instead start focusing on the product—which, granted, you expended considerable effort to create—you’re not exactly empathizing with your clientele. It’s supposed to be about them, not you. No one cares how many hours you spent interviewing people for the DVD series you’re selling. Nor could anyone be less interested in how many pages your ebook is. (Beyond a certain point, of course. If you’re going to charge $329 for a three-page ebook, it had better contain the GPS coordinates for the Ark of the Covenant.)

No, cost-conscious buyers—any discerning buyers, really—want to know the answer to the universal question:

What’s in it for me?

How are you going to make your readers’ lives easier/simpler/richer? State how you’re going to do it. Yes, it’s great that you poured your heart and soul into your work, but that doesn’t necessarily make it sellable.

The human tendency is to concentrate on oneself, rather than other people. Which makes perfect sense—of course you’ll brush your own teeth and wash your own windows before doing the same for your neighbor. But if you want other people’s money, you have to force yourself to think about them first, as unnatural as that might sound.

Here’s an example of what not to write to get people to buy your products. The example is technically fictional, but it’s a composite of other bloggers’ calls-to-action:

“Starting today, I’m running a discount on my latest project. You can get my 36-page, 8,459-word ebook for just $11.99. This ebook, Car Noises And How To Diagnose Them, is the result of many months of research, and is now being made available to you for a special introductory price.”

Wow. Thanks for doing me the favor of offering to take my money. This is like the employee who walks into the boss’s office requesting a raise, and the first point he cites is how many hours of uncompensated overtime he puts in. Or that he has a baby on the way. You need to give your employer, or anyone else in the position of enriching you, a reason for doing so. Again, concentrate on the end users here. Without them, you and your product are nothing.

Here’s an alternative sales script, one that focuses on the buyer. It’s longer, but it also (hopefully) appeals to the buyer’s senses:

“Your car makes an unfamiliar noise. So naturally, your first reaction is to drive to the nearest mechanic, and waste maybe half an hour in the waiting room, putting yourself at the mercy of a professional whose livelihood rests on finding as many things wrong with people’s cars as possible.

For the love of God, don’t. Stop throwing your money away. That knock you hear doesn’t mean you need a new $1400 transmission assembly. It means you need to spend a couple more dollars on higher-octane fuel. That ear-splitting undercarriage rattle can be quieted in seconds, with the appropriate ratchet and a quarter-turn of your wrist.

My new ebook, Car Noises And How To Diagnose Them, breaks down the most common, least pleasant sounds that can emanate from your car. It tells you where they originate, what they mean, and how to prevent them. Some will require a look from a technician, but you’ll be amazed how many won’t. Fix them yourself instead, and you’ll save untold time, money and aggravation.

Car Noises And How To Diagnose Them includes sound files of dozens of the most common noises, along with complete directions on how to locate and assess them. Download it here for just $12, and I’ll include a mobile link for iOS and Android (because very few car noises occur when you’re sitting in front of your computer at home).”

Obviously that sales treatment isn’t going to be suitable for your blog and its products, but you get the idea. People are more budget-conscious these days than they’ve been in some time. They will part with their money, but you need to give them a compelling reason to.

Drawing the line

This doesn’t mean you should be penning advertising copy with dubious assertions. (“Scientifically proven to regrow hair!”) Quite the contrary. If there’s ever a time to be honest, it’s when you’re explaining to your readers what your products can do for them. Your readers will respect you for it, and if you give them value, they’ll spread the word.

For an established blogger, creating products that extend that blog can be a rewarding way to engage your readers and foster an ever-growing audience. For an up-and-coming blogger, selling a worthwhile product can cement your reputation as an authority in your field all the more quickly. Creating blog products takes plenty of time and effort, and while selling them in a rough economy can be a challenge, it’s such challenges that separate the average bloggers from the remarkable ones.

Say what your product’s benefit is (not what your product is, what its benefit is.), and sell.

Key points

  • Understand that writing sales copy is different than blogging.
  • Don’t write about yourself.
  • Don’t write about your product.
  • Write about your product’s benefits.
  • Practise makes perfect: keep trying to improve your sales writing skills.

That’s it for our tour of the tricky business of building blog products that sell. How are your products selling at the moment? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].

Build Blog Products That Sell 5: Finding Customers

This guest series is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

Cash crunch

Image courtesy stock.xchng user sqback

History dictates that the current economic malaise will eventually end, but we’re still waiting for some unambiguous signs. That’s why for the past few weeks, we’ve been learning how to create products that are inspired by (and that tie into) your blog, and how to plan to sell them to an audience whose collective disposable income isn’t quite what it used to be.

So finally, after approaching this scientifically and methodically, you’re there. You’ve created a product built on the expertise your readers have expected from you and your site. And you’ve priced that product (or series of products) at a level that will generate income without scaring off too many potential buyers. Now all you have to do its open up the storefront and watch the money roll in.

If only.

The good news is that at this point, most of the work is done. But you still need to build your clientele beyond its traditional bounds. To amass your army, if you will.

Flipping the switch

After you’ve created products and made them available for purchase, a radical shift occurs. Whether you realize it or not, you’re now (at least) 51% entrepreneur and (at most) 49% blogger. The set hours that you spend updating and freshening your blog every week are now secondary to your sales efforts. Once you’re committed to creating and selling your product, people will identify you with it, for better or for worse.

If your product is, say, a collection of spreadsheets you can use to organize your home and eliminate clutter, then sink or swim with it. Henceforth, home organization will be your blog’s primary focus. Even though you may love collecting miniatures, and have occasionally blogged about it in the past, your days of doing so are now over. Apple used to sell stand-alone digital cameras. Not anymore.

You’re now a salesperson, and the more seriously you take your new job, the better you’ll do.

For generations, your typical commission salesperson was given a list of leads and an admonition to break a leg. If the new hire didn’t work out, no big deal. There would always be plenty of others willing to step in. Unfortunately, your incipient business doesn’t get that same luxury. The sales staff is you, as is the product.

And your current audience, regardless of its size, is limited. Some of your longtime readers might buy out of a feeling of allegiance or mild obligation. If they do buy, it probably won’t be because they’d been dying for someone to create whatever it is you created. And while your loyal readership may have given you the impetus and spawned the idea for your product, they’re not the only ones you’ll want to buy it.

So where to find a lasting and larger clientele? It involves expanding your horizons, but not in a rote way.

Finding customers

If you blog long enough, eventually you’ll be approached by similar bloggers offering you various stratagems for mutually benefitting your sites. A link exchange, a guest post exchange, and so on. Those are all well and good, if you enjoy the novelty of exposing your blog to an audience that is already loyal to another blogger who operates in the exact same field of interest that you do.

One fellow personal finance blogger, who seems to be an awfully agreeable fellow, recently offered to create a discreet badge allowing me to sell my products on his site, and vice versa. I trust that he accepted it as a business decision and didn’t take it personally when I told him I wasn’t interested.

Why not accept the exposure? Among other reasons, his blog has fewer readers than mine does. Many of those readers of his already read my blog anyway. Besides, what’s to stop him from making a similar offer to other bloggers with greater readerships than his, diluting the impact of his agreement with me?

Also, to put it kindly, he’s not an authority. He’s a guy with a blog, and a relatively new one at that. My products will be an afterthought on his blog, as his would be on mine. That won’t do.

A passionate evangelism

In selecting and pursuing offsite promotional opportunities that will actually help you find customers, you need to be a passionate evangelist for your product. Whether you’re considering buying ad space, using email marketing, social media promotions, or even creating a physical promotional freebie to give away (which we’ll cover on ProBlogger later today), you need to advocate strongly for your product, all the way.

My products need to be advertised in a place of prominence, because I care about them. Not just in and of themselves, but for a more pragmatic reason: it sounds obvious, but every item I ship makes me wealthier. I don’t want the seminars I hold and the ebooks I create to be just another offering in a catalog, vying for attention with someone’s unreadable treatise on dividend investing and the overpriced collection of Visio diagrams that someone else slapped together.

I want my products to stand front and center. I also want to remind potential buyers that no one else’s work can substitute for what I’ve created. If you want to know The Unglamorous Secret to Riches, no one else has it. If you want to know how to get out of whatever unhealthy relationship you have with your employer, that outspoken guy who runs Control Your Cash is the only one who’s going to show you how.

Just another vehicle

That’s why you have to acknowledge the limitations of your own blog. Most of your buyers aren’t there. They’re on unrelated sites, where it’s your job to get their attention and show them what you have to offer. It takes time. In my case—and you can apply this to your own situation—it means posting regularly at major, well-established blogs in my area of concern. It means guest posting at general-interest blogs where I know I’ll reach a diverse and erudite audience. My business model is predicated on the following belief: if people like anything I have to say, once they find out a little bit more, they’ll like everything I have to say.

Which means your blog becomes just another vehicle for selling your product(s). Once you sell to someone unfamiliar with your blog, you then sell that buyer on your blog itself. Anyone who buys your product should immediately become a subscriber. Now that buyer knows where to find your entire oeuvre, including the subsequent products that you’re doubtless working on.

Key points

  • Once you launch your product, you’re a salesperson. Be prepared to put your product first.
  • Recognize that the bulk of your buyers should not come from your own site: if you’re to give your product the best chance of success, you’ll need to sell it to people who have never visited your blog … so far.
  • Be choosy about the promotions you use.
  • Become a passionate evangelist for your product. This will help you sift the great promotional opportunities from the not-so-great.
  • As your promotional efforts gain traction, you’ll begin to see your blog as just another vehicle for sales. Importantly, those customers are becoming subscribers … which will help when it comes time to sell your next product.

Still, buyers in 2012 remain wary. They have less money available to spend in an ever-growing market. With more vendors making their products available for sale every day, the successful sellers aren’t necessarily the ones who shout the loudest or the most frequently. Instead, the ones making sales are the ones who communicate the most effectively. Next week, we’ll find out how they do it.

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].

Build Blog Products That Sell 4: Price Your Product

This guest series is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

If you’re late to this particular party, we’ve been spending the last few weeks examining ways to monetize your blog in an era when readers are holding onto their wallets more tightly than ever.

Checkout

Image courtesy sotck.xchng user Dioptria

Sure, you can make money by selling ads if all you care about is revenue. Any link farm can do the same thing. But by extending one’s blog into different media, a diligent blogger can create and sell products that no one else can duplicate.

The process we’ve stepped through so far has been fairly straightforward. First, coldly assess what makes your blog distinctive. (If the answer is anything other than “Nothing” or “I don’t know”, proceed to the next step.)

Next, create something identifiable with your blog and your style—a video lecture series, ebooks, online classes, personal coaching, podcasts, whatever. Budget the requisite time to create your products, plan far enough in advance that your blog won’t be compromised in the short run, test-market your products, then make them available for sale. Couldn’t be easier, right?

This is precisely where many would-be entrepreneurs get smacked in the face with the harsh truth of the marketplace: putting a dollar figure on that product.

How much should you charge?

Not to turn this into a university-level economics lesson, but the tricky thing is to set a price that maximizes revenue. Sure, you can sell your ebook for 10¢ and theoretically reach the widest possible audience. But if you could charge three times the price, and still retain half your audience, wouldn’t that make more sense?

Ideally you’re doing this to turn a profit, which isn’t necessarily the same as generating as much revenue as possible. You also need to factor in your expenses. Otherwise, this is just a pastime or a vanity project. Creating products certainly requires time, and possibly requires materials.

That means that before you sell your first unit, you’ll already have spent money that you’ll need to recoup.

Say you’ve spent 30 hours writing a plan for a coaching program you plan to sell via your blog. Is $20 an hour a fair assessment of your worth? (That is, could you have earned that much doing something else?) Then you’ll need to sell a single copy for $600. Or two for $300 each. Or three for $200. Or…

You can see where this is going. It’s tempting to lower the price as much as possible, in the hopes that every reduction will attract more buyers. That’s largely true, but a) the relationship isn’t linear and b) there’s a limit—otherwise, you could give your product away and an infinite number of people would use it.

Finding the balance

How many unique visitors do you have? If you don’t know, Google Analytics can give you an idea. What proportion of those are invested in your blog and read it regularly? And what proportion of those will cough up a few minutes’ worth of wages in exchange for the promise of you enriching their lives somehow?

On the flip-side are blogging entrepreneurs who charge too much for their services. They’re like the commission salesman who wanted to get a job at Northrop Grumman, selling B-2 Spirit heavy bombers at $1 billion apiece. (“People have been slamming doors in my face all week, but I get 10% of each sale. And all it takes is one.”)

To avoid this, you need to find a comfortable medium between how much you’re willing to accept, and how much your product can realistically benefit its user. That sounds obvious, but most sellers don’t even bother weighing those variables. They just conjure up a price and hope for the best.

What does your product do … for whom?

Be honest with what your product can do. It won’t make the blind walk and the lame see. But will it show readers how to declutter their lives once and for all? Can it teach them how to change their car’s oil and tires themselves, instead of relying on costly technicians? Can it help readers travel to strange places inexpensively, and does it include an appendix that will teach those readers how to keep their cross-border hassles to a minimum?

Then say so. You don’t have to work miracles. You just have to make some aspect of your readers’ lives easier, less complicated and/or more fulfilling.

More to the point, remember who you’re selling to: your readers, not yourself. No one cares how much asbestos you inhaled in the mine, they just want the diamond. It’s a cardinal rule of civilization that results count, not effort.

One famous globetrotting blogger has recently diversified, and now sells a guide that ostensibly tells artists how they can throw off the shackles of poverty and start making money. He’s certainly appealing to his clientele’s emotions—what’s a more accurate stereotype than that of the starving artist?

Never mind that this blogger is not an artist, and that his background consists of little more than that educational punchline, a sociology degree. His blog’s sales pitch details how many painstaking hours he spent writing how many words and conducting how many minutes of interviews in the creation of his guide, as if any of that matters to an artist who just wants to know how to locate buyers for her decoupage and frescoes.

Keep scrolling down and you’ll find out that for just $39, you’ll receive “15,000 words of excellent content”. No one buys this kind of thing by volume. Xavier Herbert’s Poor Fellow My Country runs over 850,000 words. That’s 90 times longer than Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which sold far more copies and was far more influential.

Don’t hide your price!

That brings us to another thing not to do: treat the price as fine print. Which is to say, don’t build to a crescendo and make your readers sift through paragraph upon paragraph of hard sales copy before finally deigning to tell them how much your product is going to cost them. To do so is insulting. It’s the tactic of someone who has something to hide.

(There’s one exception to this rule. That’s when you’re using the late-night infomercial strategy, saving the price of your product until the very end because it’s so shockingly low. That almost certainly doesn’t apply in your case. You’re not an experienced marketer with a reputation, hawking indestructible knives and superabsorbent towels that suck up ten times their weight in liquid. You’re a blogger looking to turn your followers from loyal readers into paying customers.)

Getting back to the real blogger in our example, if you spend another $19 on the deluxe version, he’ll throw in three more audio interviews. There’s nothing quantifiable here, just a collection of messages that differ by media. (Incidentally, I asked this blogger how what kind of volume he does. I wasn’t expecting an answer and didn’t receive one, but it was important to make an effort to see if his methods worked.)

Given the choice, I’d rather take my chances giving my money to a blogger with authority and experience, who’s offering me something believable, and who’s not afraid to tell me how much it’ll cost me and how much it’ll benefit me. Is that you?

One more thing. If you’re creating a series of products in which each builds on the previous ones and no individual product can stand alone, you’re putting yourself in a fantastic position. You can give away the first and then start charging with the second. If you do, that’ll give you an accurate gauge of how many people are legitimately interested in your product, as opposed to just being curious.

Accounting for expenses

Once you make the decision to sell, and to price, you’ll have to account for expenses you’d never imagined. Maybe you’ll need to move from a shared host to a dedicated one. Or pay for a business license in your home jurisdiction. Or hire a graphic designer after concluding that your own Adobe Illustrator skills are wanting. A few hours of planning and estimation now can save you weeks of frustration down the road.

Speaking of quantifying, here’s a sample budget (in PDF) that you can adapt for your own use. Be conservative with your revenue estimates, liberal with your expense estimates, and you can get a better handle on how much you should charge when your products finally make it to market.

You might also find the formula presented in The Dark Art of Product Pricing useful. It integrates many of the considerations I’ve outlined here but, like this post, that one can’t definitively tell you what you should charge either. Ultimately, that’s up to you.

Key points

  • Cover your expenses. Don’t set your prices so low that you’re losing money on every sale.
  • Don’t set your prices so high that you need to camouflage them, either. Be direct.
  • Honestly assess what your product can do for your customers.
  • Explain to your customers what they’ll get for their money.
  • Like anything else, first plan, then execute.

Next week, we’ll discuss how to increase your potential clientele beyond its traditional bounds.

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].