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Highlights from ProBlogger Event 2012

Last weekend, over 300 bloggers converged at Etihad stadium in Melbourne to attend the annual ProBlogger event.

Image by Marija Ivkovic

We had dreamed a lot bigger this year. This was the first year that we held the event over two days. It was the first year we had two different “streams” of content, and the first time we uploaded the presentations shortly after the sessions had finished for virtual attendees.

I think it was pretty successful. People loved how many different niches were represented—we had speakers from travel, cartooning, business, food, photography, fashion, parenting, and more. People also enjoyed having direct access to the team that has helped me grow my business revenue over the past two years.

From little things big things grow

This turned out to be the accidental theme of the two days. I started my keynote on Friday by telling the audience about my early experiences as a blogger—including the story of my now defunct printer blog (which I had no passion for … and as a result couldn’t sustain)!

I think the attendees appreciated hearing from people at different levels of success in their blog. We heard from bloggers who were focused on building a part-time business around other responsibilities. We also heard from bloggers who had enjoyed a lot of success within two or three years of starting their blog.

I think Elle Roberts said it best:

It is okay to shift, change, and maybe even completely flip your direction. You need to give yourself permission to stay true to who you are what you want today and stop holding on to what you wanted when you started your business.

Many bloggers told us that they felt reassured after attending as well as having specific “action steps” planned to complete after they had recovered.

One of my favorite moments of the event at the end of Day 2 when we all went out into the 40,000 seat stadium to think about the impact we can have as bloggers – Image by Danimezza

Take small actions every day

Something else that really resonated with people was the idea of finding small blocks of time each day and using them to do an activity that improves your blog.

I spoke about how I created my first ebook by finding and using 15-minute blocks after the birth of my first son. Many people tweeted their own suggestions and followed up with blog posts:

Image by Marija Ivkovic

Chris Guillebeau was one of the standout speakers. He received so many compliments on his kindness and sincerity. It was a real honour to share this event with him.

The PBEVENT Team!

The day 1 networking drinks at Maha were another highlight. As you can see, we had a lot of fun catching up and posing for pics courtesy of Smilebooth Australia.

The Virtual Pass

This was the first year we made the presentations available almost live, and this was something that all attendees really responded to. People loved not worrying about missing information and being able to participate in the conversation virtually.

We also had 100+ others attend the conference from around the world virtually—it was great to see so many tweets coming in from participants in places like Serbia, South Africa, America, Canada, New Zealand, and of course many from around Australia.

It really added an extra element to the event, and is something we´ll look at expanding on next year.

The virtual ticket is still available if you are interested.

It includes 21 hours of great blogging teaching, all the slides used by presenters, and a recording of an hour-long Q&A webinar that I recorded with attendees after the event.

Get your Virtual Ticket here.

Do it in a Dress

I ended the first day by wearing a dress to the final session. Yes, a dress. The goal was to raise enough money for ten girls in Africa to attend school.

Image by Misho Maranovic

We hit our target. You can still donate here.

Our 2013 Event

This year’s event was a real success, but we’re already looking forward to next year. We’ve just finished our debrief as a team and there are some further improvements and new features of the event that we’re looking to add.

Interested in coming?

Leave your email below and we’ll let you know where and when it’s on:


Note: your details will be kept private and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Reviews of PBEVENT from attendees

There have been a flood of blog posts about the event this year. Here are just some of them—enjoy!

Thanks to our sponsors!

Thanks so much to our partners and sponsors at PBEVENT who helped make the event so great!

Lenovo, MYOB, Holden, Yellow Pages, Curtin University, Social Callout, Blurb, Coldflow, Zendesk, and Oz Blog Hosting.

Also thanks to World Vision Australia for helping out at the event with volunteers.

Image by Marija Ivkovic

Selling Without Website Broker? You’re Leaving Money on the Table

This guest post is by Jock Purtle of brokercorp.com.

So you want to sell your blog?

Your site is probably making more than $3,000 per month and you know that it might be worth a decent amount of money.

It's a deal

Image copyright Rido - Fotolia.com

Recent sales like that of the Huffington Post give you confidence that your content-based site has value to other webmasters or investors. And with the growing move of advertising dollars to the web, you could be the next person in the sights of cashed up buyers.

You have collected all the basic information that you think might help sell it, like domain age, monthly revenue, monthly expenses, growth trends, time to run the site, unique visitors and page views, income sources, and income proof.

You think you’re ready to sell, and are looking forward to a big payday.

You’ve heard of sites like flippa.com and you are thinking about listing the site yourself. However, have you considered using a website broker?

There may be some hidden benefits that you have not accounted for when selling your site this way.

What is a website broker and what do they do?

Full disclosure here: I am a website broker, so I can answer this question in full. A website broker is a business broker for websites. They help webmasters sell their ebusinesses. They evaluate the website, and position it to sell for the highset price possible for the vendor.

Here’s a list of general tasks that a website broker performs:

  • determine an appropriate value
  • compile a business memorandum
  • prepare a marketing strategy for the sale
  • interview, educate and show the website to potential buyers
  • assist in negotiation
  • assist with due diligence
  • draft and present offers
  • control information flow
  • protect sellers’ confidentiality
  • look after paperwork
  • help complete the sale (including contracts and funds transfer)
  • provide after-sales support.

What’s involved?

Website brokers assist in the entire sales process. When selling a site, the brokerage process is similar to that of a real estate agent. There is an agreement between the agent (website broker) and the vendor (website seller) for selling an asset (the website).

A broker will normally do their own due diligence before listing a site for sale, to make sure it is saleable in the current market. Once both parties are happy, and the seller gives instructions for the broker to sell the site, the broker will then prepare a sales memorandum (sales document) to be used to market the site and create competition between buyers. This document contains the website financials, traffic stats, and a general overview of how the website works.

Buyers then view this document and decide whether they want to make an offer for the site. They sign a letter of intent (LOI), and then get a set period for final due diligence. Then, if all parties are happy and a price is agreed on, contracts will be signed, the seller will receive their funds, and the buyer will take ownership of the website.

Why would you hire a broker?

Brokers normally have a unique method of selling a site. This includes specific marketing channels that the average webmaster doesn’t have access to, like a network of buyers, subscriptions to business classified sites, and investment firms.

Generally, a website broker will fetch higher multiples than auction sites or owner listings. If you look at our websites for sale you will see the general asking price is around multiples of two to three and a half.

An example of this is a site we recently sold. The owner was a single mom who built up a great blog about parenting. It had over 4000 pages of unique content, 30,000 monthly uniques, a strong community with lots of repeat traffic, and was monetized through advertising and affiliate sales.

The site was getting to a point where the business was putting pressure on her family time, and she wanted to sell. Her 12-month net income was $25,203. She came to us thinking that the site was worth about $30,000. We eventually sold the site for $68,000.

How long does it take?

It normally takes about two months to finalize a website transaction. However some sites can take a week and some six months—it really depends on the site in question. The longest part of the sales process is normally the due diligence and the back-and-forth between buyer, seller, and broker.

Some buyers need more time than others. If buyers request things like tax returns or older financials, it usually takes a little while longer.

How much do they cost?

On average, a broker will charge around 10% of the total selling price for handling the sale of your property. Some charge more, some charge less, but that figure is a good signpost to run buy.

This fee is due after the site is sold, and you have the money in your bank account.

Do they charge fees up front?

No. Brokers work on 100% commission basis. If you don’t get paid, they don’t get paid.

What type of sites are good for a website broker?

The best sites to sell through a broker are those valued between $50,000 and $5 million. That’s generally a site with $2,500 or more in monthly revenue.

What happens if they can’t sell my site?

A typical exclusive agency agreement lasts around 90 days. Good brokers will provide you with a 30 day out clause that basically means that in the first 30 days if you aren’t happy with them you can cancel your agreement, no questions asked.

Have you ever used a website broker, or bought a site sold through one? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

Jock Purtle is a Senior Broker at Brokercorp.com. They are a full-service website brokerage specializing in website sales and acquisitions. Jock is currently offering a free website valuation at http://brokercorp.com/sell/.

7-point Checklist For Bloggers Who Want to Create a Profitable Blog

This guest post is by Peter G. James Sinclair of Motivational Memo.

Before I aggressively started to build my Motivational Memo blog at the beginning of this year I had already owned a web design company for over seven years.

During that time I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly in web design, and now that I have entered the blogging industry I continue to see the same mistakes being made by many bloggers.

So use this quick checklist to analyze your own blog.

1. How well is your blog structured?

  • Have you clearly identified your audience?
  • What’s in it for the client when they come to your blog?
  • Do you have a call to action?
  • Is your blog outstanding? What do you do differently from others?
  • Do you sell the right things—most profitable and easiest to deliver?
  • What are the best things you are doing in your niche?
  • Have you a clear purpose for each web page?
  • What action do you want your visitors to take?
  • Do you provide quality information?
  • Are you building a list?
  • Are you selling a product or service?
  • Are you gathering referrals?
  • Are you building a relationship with your readers?
  • Have you built credibility and authority in your niche?
  • Have you promoted your success through a Press, Awards, or Featured-in page?
  • Do you realize that you are building an asset that you can sell?
  • Do you know that you need more than one website if you want to make money from blogging?

2. How good is your written copy?

  • Do you write headlines that are benefit driven?
  • Does your writing stand out amongst the crowd?
  • Do you provide proof either through testimonials, comments, featured articles, endorsements, and statistics—in text, audio, and video format?
  • Is your call to action clear?
  • Does your offer provide great value?
  • Does every page have a benefit-laden headline?
  • Do you demonstrate how you stand out in your niche?
  • Do you use proof of claims you make about products/services?
  • Do you provide one call to action with clear instructions per web page above the fold?
  • Do you make no-brainer offers even for opt-in?
  • Are you enthusiastic without hype, but rather provide enthusiasm with substance?
  • Do you write the way you speak?
  • Do you avoid jargon?
  • Do you use a double-readership path—provide headlines and sub headlines that make it easy for readers to skim your piece before reading the entire article?

3. How descriptive is your domain name?

  • Is your domain name clever, quirky, or meaningless?
  • Have you used your business name, unless you are well known?
  • Have you used your personal name, unless you are well recognized?
  • Have you used a .net where there’s a .com site available?
  • Have you used the Google Keyword tool to identify some of the keywords people are searching for on the Internet in your niche?
  • Have you chosen a domain name that grabs your attention through clear communication?

4. How professional is your layout and formatting of graphics?

  • Do you use white writing on black or colored background that makes it hard for people to read?
  • Do you have a cluttered or confusing layout?
  • Is your top banner large or complex and slow to load?
  • Do you use big blocks of text?
  • Do you write text in all-capitals?
  • Do you provide captions (where appropriate) on photos that are keyword rich and benefit-driven?
  • Do you use too many fonts, colors, and sizes?
  • Is your blog quick to load?
  • Do you have a clean, simple, narrow banner at the top of your blog that creates the right feeling on your site?
  • Do you break up text with sub headings, bullet points, and photos?
  • Do you have a white background and use colored headlines and black text?

5. How easy is it for your potential customers to buy?

For blogs to make money, there is usually an attached web page that will promote products, courses, etc. So you might need to analyze these pages as well.

  • Do you provide an obvious way to buy online?
  • Do you use a secure payment processor?
  • Do you provide a number of ways for people to purchase—credit card, ClickBank, PayPal, or even for some an printable form, depending on your demographics?
  • Do you provide a money-back guarantee?
  • Do you allow for payments in customers’ local currencies?
  • Is your offer obvious, providing clear instruction for buying above the fold?
  • Do you use a recognized payment processer?

6. Are your visitor details being collected?

  • Is your opt-in above the fold?
  • Do you provide an incentive for visitors to provide their name and email?
  • Do you ask for too much information?
  • Do you have our opt-in on your sales pages, and did you know that if you do this you could reduce sales by up to 75%?
  • Do you communicate regularly with those who opt-in to your blog or newsletter, and did you know that responsiveness will halve after each three months of no communication?
  • Do you get at least a 25% opt-in result?
  • Do you offer something customers desperately want in return for their name and email?
  • Do you make it easy and obvious to opt in above the fold—a single opt in requiring minimal details?
  • Do you use an automated way to follow up?
  • Do you make offers to your list—your own products/services or others in return for an affiliate commission?
  • Do you give twice as much as you ask by providing good value?

7. How well are you marketing your blog?

  • Do you believe in the concept of “build it and they will come”?
  • Do you only using one or two marketing methods?
  • Do you only use online-to-online marketing?
  • Do you outsource the marketing or manage the outsourcing properly?
  • Do you test, monitor, and fine-tune?
  • Do you use out of date marketing methods or only use the latest craze in marketing?
  • Do you use multiple marketing methods—free and paid, tried and tested, and new?
  • Do you use offline-to-online marketing?
  • Do you understand your marketing strategy well enough to train others to help you?
  • Do you collect stats on results weekly, or per campaign?
  • Are you marketing to your existing list—email, social media, sms, hard mail, etc.?
  • Do you use SEO, Google Adwords, Google Places?
  • Do you use paid traffic, Facebook PPC, banner ads?
  • Do you build or buy lists in your niche or even pursue joint ventures?
  • Have you ever thought of buying an offline list and developing an online list?
  • Do you write guest articles for other blogs in your niche and even other niches?
  • Do you submit articles to directories?
  • Have you used offline free publicity?
  • Do you seek out referrals?
  • Do you interact regularly through social media—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn?
  • Do you run competitions?
  • Do you give things away to your database?
  • Do you conduct surveys?
  • Do you partner with online thought leaders in your niche?
  • Do you help your readers to engage one with another?

So there you have it. Tick off all the things that you are doing well, and then begin to implement all the things that you could do better. You will be amazed at the results.

Peter G. James Sinclair is in the ‘heart to heart’ resuscitation business and inspires, motivates and equips others to be all that they’ve been created to become. Receive your free copy of his latest eBook Personal Success Blueprint at http://www.selfdevelopmentmastermind.com and add him on Twitter @PeterGJSinclair—today!

Monetizing Your Blog with a Clean Design, Tribal Headhunter Warriors, and Fine Art Nudes

This guest post is by Glen Allison of www.GlenAllison.com.

This is a case study outlining my three-step website development and the graphic design aspects of my blog monetization.

As a visual artist, when I finally decided to start monetizing my blog, one of my primary concerns was to maintain the clean graphic design of my website without the clutter of “in-your-face” advertisements screaming at the viewers, whom I didn’t want to overwhelm with my monetizing endeavors.

Naga warrior

A Naga warrior

I’m a travel photographer and during the past couple of years I launched three related blogs: one for travel stories, another for fine art photos and one for lighting tutorials to describe my portable lighting setups for shooting unusual tribal characters in exotic, remote locales. Why three blogs? My goal was to build website traffic as fast as possible in an effort to increase my Google search rankings. My website has an embedded ecommerce feature using a Photoshelter platform to market my travel stock photos. High site traffic is crucial to these sales since I’m competing with the world’s largest stock photo agencies, several of which I’m also a contributor.

My three-step website development strategy for blogging, augmenting traffic, and monetizing is as follows.

Step one: redesign

My primary blog audience is other photographers, who are not going to be my main stock photo and fine art customers but these photographers will serve as a base to build readership that will augment my website page rank.

Initially I created three WordPress.com blogs but since they functioned as entities separate from my main website, the traffic they generated wasn’t aggregating toward the SEO of the main site I ultimately wanted to promote for stock photo licensing. My first step was to completely redesign my website by moving away from a Photoshelter readymade template into a design that incorporated the Photoshelter eCommerce and the three blogs into the site architecture in the background of my one primary website. By applying a few SEO strategies, my page rank rose from zero to one during the first year.

Step two: targeted social media

After wetting my feet and honing my skills with these three blogs my target shifted toward augmenting site traffic by using social media, primarily Twitter, where I created three separate but related accounts. Then I started following the followers of a few well-known photo pundits of portable location lighting since I decided to use my Stroborati lighting blog as the primary traffic driver to my website.

Photographers seeking lighting tutorials would be my targeted audience and I chose to follow the followers of top lighting photographers in the industry, who had more than fifty thousand Twitter followers themselves. At first I tried to do this manually and believe me it was the world’s worst nightmare. What a boring, time-eating task.

A couple of months ago I discovered TweetAdder and soon automated much of my Twitter activity. What a godsend this software has been. I programmed it to follow eight or nine hundred followers daily for each of my targeted groups, one for each of my three Tweeter accounts so I wouldn’t be following the same people with each account. Now I’m getting three or four hundred reciprocal followers daily. I’m not using an overly aggressive campaign so building up my own huge following will take several months.

I’m also a novelist and, yes, I blog well-written quality content with dramatic photos from my travels to keep the viewers coming back for more.

I set up TweetAdder to automatically send a thank you message to each person who followed me back and in this message I suggest they might be interested in seeing my Stroborati blog where I feature location lighting setups for fierce Naga headhunter tribal warriors and fine art nudes. I also include links to those blog pages. Naturally this message attracts curiosity. Just about everyone who follows me winds up hitting my site. Remember I’m following a highly targeted audience that is keen about lighting details. My unique, eye-catching photo subjects peak viewer interest since most lighting tutorials on the Internet cover rather mundane subjects by comparison .

I might add that if any new follower sends me a direct message with questions, praise or comments, then I immediately correspond with them one-on-one in an effort to create personal interaction. As a result, my time spent on social media endeavors has skyrocketed. I must also manually fill out the captcha info for all the TrueTwit validations.

In only two or three months, however, my page rank jumped from one to three. So the social media campaign was really paying off.

Step three: monetization

In retrospect I should have installed my site monetization prior to my blitz social media campaign, but better late than never. So I spent the last month signing up for affiliate relationships with Amazon and a couple of top online photo equipment dealers and several companies selling Photoshop third party plugins, products that would interest my targeted audience.

I also developed several of my own Photoshop action sets that I sell from the site as well. Before I knew it, I had a slew of monetizing links and immediately realized I had to minimize the clutter. As an image artist it’s extremely important to me that viewers have a stimulating visual experience when they visit my site.

I decided to include AdSense and have placed three discreet, 125x125px, ad blocks on each blog page: one at the top left corner of each blog post and one in the bottom left corner plus one in my sidebar. I chose a color theme for the ads that matched the design of my website and I only use text ads with small black text and with no blinking photos, which I find extremely distracting.

AdSense automatically selects ads in context with topics in the blog post and the selections are often amusing. For my fine art nude lighting tutorials from Bangkok, the AdSense bots frequently make surprising choices like, “Date Sexy Thai Women” or “Thai Girl Massage.” Oh, well, at least I’m getting lots of clicks for hot chicks.

For my Amazon links I initially used their default, somewhat garish colors for text and prices, which adds clutter. So I decided to mute this visual assault by toning down the text colors and deleting the price info altogether.

In the text of my lighting blogs I mention the photo gear I used for that particular setup. In the past I created links for this gear back to the manufactures’ sites so my viewers could learn more if they desired. Now I’ve changed all those links to have my affiliate code embedded. Also at the end of each blog post I added small, clickable photos of this gear (with no text but viewers can hover the images for info) and each is now linked to Amazon for my affiliate sales. Here’s a sample blog page.

Many of my viewers are interested in the awesome array of photo and lighting gear I travel with and the specific software I use to create my dramatic images. So I set up a “Gear Links” page and a “Software Links” page both with clickable sample photos of the items, each embedded with my Amazon affiliate code. And while I was at it, I created a “Glen’s Favorite Photo Books” page. You will see that eliminating the prices streamlines the page design with minimal eye flicker, especially with so many items to peruse. The links for these three product pages are listed near the top of my blog sidebar to make it easy for viewers to find them.

When I include fine art photos in my blog posts, the images are linked to RedBubble where viewers can purchase prints, calendars, greeting cards and posters. Another monetizing feature that’s not in your face.

And finally, in my blog sidebar I’ve included the small but intriguing cover photos of about a dozen great photo books by famous photographers. There are no prices showing and no text, just a cleanly designed column of exciting book covers to draw attention as the reader scrolls through my blog post. If they want more info about a specific book, they can hover over its cover photo.

Am I potentially reducing my click rate with these toned down design choices? Probably, but design is more important to me while still incorporating passive income opportunities. In the first month I sold fifteen books through Amazon with a conversion rate of approximately one in eighty clicks. My website is currently getting about 12,000 hits per month.

Augmented site traffic will surely increase my newfound passive income endeavors that don’t scream out at the viewer. I certainly don’t want to run people off with my overnight, blitz monetization campaign.

Glen Allison has embarked on his second marathon 10-year, nonstop vagabond odyssey across the globe to photograph extraordinary destinations. His images have been published more than 60,000 times in most of the world’s leading travel publications. Visit his website, www.GlenAllison.com and follow his escapades on Twitter.

Reading Blogs for Fun and Profit

This guest post is by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.

How much time do you spend reading blogs? A few hours per week? Maybe even a few hours per day?

I spend at least an hour per day, and sometimes more. You have to, if you want to keep up with the happenings in an online community.

Now let’s do some math.

Let’s say that you spend 90 minutes per day reading blogs. Weekdays only, so that works out to seven and a half hours per week. Thirty hours per month.

Three hundred and sixty hours per year. Yes, that’s right—three hundred and sixty hours per year. That’s fifteen straight days of blog reading.

If you’re spending that much time, shouldn’t you be sure that it isn’t going to waste?

Reading blogs

Copyright Ana Blazic - Fotolia.com

The first thing we need to do is figure out why we even read blogs. Putting entertainment value aside (yes, I know it can be fun, but we’re professionals, right?), I think there are two main reasons we do it: to learn, and to build relationships.

Other than entertainment, these are the two reasons that we read blogs. Either we’re trying to learn something, or we’re trying to build a relationship with the blogger or their community. Ideally, we’re trying to do both.

Well, if we’re going to spend this much time trying to learn and connect, maybe we should think about how these processes really work!

How learning works

Learning is one of those things that we all do all the time, but never stop to really think about. There are a few steps to a learning process:

  1. You’re exposed to new ideas and information.
  2. You filter out the information that isn’t relevant to you (this is something like 95% of what’s going on around you at any given time!).
  3. You encode that information in long-term memory, so that you can remember it later.
  4. You integrate that information with your understandings and worldview, so that you can apply it in appropriate situations.
  5. You remember it at the right time, and adapt your behavior based on the new learning.

Reading the blog posts is just Step 1—exposing yourself to new ideas and information.

To really learn something, and get as much as you can out of what you’re reading, you still have to make sure you don’t filter out anything important, encode it in a meaningful way so that you can access it later, learn to apply it in your life, and actually do so.

Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

Repetition, association, processing, and meta-cognition

There are a few principles that you can harness to your advantage when you’re trying to learn new things; repetition, association, processing, and meta-cognition:

  1. Repetition. This is what it sounds like—the greater the number of times you hear something, the more likely you are to remember it. I’ll say it again: the greater the number of times you hear something, the more likely you are to remember it. This is how we all learned our multiplication tables as kids.
  2. Association. We learn and remember by drawing associations between the new concepts that we’re trying to learn, and older concepts that we’re already understand. This could mean thinking about how the new idea is like an old idea, or how it’s different, or how it is connected. For example, in what way is Peter Pan like an entrepreneur?
  3. Processing. The more you think about something, the more likely you are to remember it; by turning an idea over and over in your head, you get to know it that much better. Thinking through scenarios and applications of the things you read about is a good way to improve the learning.
  4. Meta-Cognition. Meta-cognition means thinking about thinking. In other words, paying attention to your thinking processes—things like your assumptions and your feelings as you explore the new ideas that you are reading about.

Okay, okay, obviously you aren’t going to spend three hours on every blog post—and you don’t have to. There are simple tricks that you can use to apply these principles, and I’ll share them with you in a little while.

But first, let’s talk about how relationships work.

How relationships work

Relationships… connections… community… These are some of the hottest buzz-words of social media. But do we ever stop to think about how they really work? How do you build a relationship with someone?

I think there are four important things that are required:

  1. Show that you know them. Relationships depend on familiarity and understanding—you have to feel that someone really knows you in order to have a relationship with them. That’s the difficulty in connecting through blog comments—you’re just one in a hundred, and the comments all start blurring together.
  2. Show that you think and care about them. When a relationship is genuine, we care enough about someone to occasionally think about them when they’re not around. By the same token, we like to see that someone else has been thinking about you—that’s why we get such a kick out of a simple @mention on Twitter.
  3. Show that you’re making an effort. Real relationships take effort, because before we emotionally invest, we want to see that someone is in it for the long haul. This means that a single blog comment is not enough to build a connection, and even a dozen might not do the job. It just takes more.
  4. Actually being helpful. As well as we know someone, as much as they care about us, and as hard as they may try, we will quickly get tired of someone who wastes our time without ever being useful (or fun to be around). We may tolerate this sort of thing with family (because we have to), but we won’t do it in the blogosphere.

And now for the 64-million-dollar question: how do we do all these things while reading blog posts, without having to turn it into a full-time job?

Funny you should ask…

How to improve learning and relationships

Now it’s time for the fun part, where I outline the strategies that you can actually use to improve your learning and build relationships while you do your regular blog reading.

I won’t lie and say that this takes no extra time, because it does take some.

Honestly, though, it doesn’t take much more, and it multiplies the benefits that you get from the reading. Try them for a week and see for yourself!

  1. After reading a post, take a moment to think about who might benefit from it, and send it to that person. You’ll remember more, because you took the time to think about how the content was relevant to someone, and you’ll build relationships by showing someone that you thought of them. You can get extra credit by sending it to them on Twitter and @-mentioning the blogger, too.
  2. After reading a post that you like, explain the gist of it to someone else. You can do this via email, over the phone, or in person, and you don’t have to do it right away—you can even do it with your family over dinner. Whoever you talk to will appreciate your sharing, and you will remember much, much more of the post.
  3. Leave a comment explaining how the post was insightful for you, when you’ve seen an example of whatever is being described, and how it relates to your life. You can even write a whole response post. The blogger will appreciate the well-thought-out comment, and you will remember a lot more of the post for having drawn these associations.
  4. Bookmark the best posts that you read. Once every week or two, spend 30-60 minutes re-reading the best posts, and really savor them (I try to do this every other weekend, when I write our Best of the Web posts).
  5. Keep a journal of good ideas that you come across. Just write them down, but don’t rush to implement them. That way you avoid shiny object syndrome, but still have the repetition that helps you remember. For extra credit, you can review the journal every few months and pick out two or three of the best ideas to implement.
  6. Whenever you finish reading a post and take an action based on what you’ve read, take a moment to think about why. What did the blogger do to get you to take an action? What worked for them, and how could you apply it in your own work and writing?

These strategies, when taken together, only add a small amount of reading time to your day, but they will help you learn dramatically more, and build more and better relationships—which is what it’s really all about.

Over to you: if you had to pick just one of these strategies to implement for a week, which one would it be? Do you have a good tip for learning and building relationships while reading? If you do, share it with us in the comments!

Danny Iny is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the definitive marketing training program for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-marketers. Visit his site today for a free cheat sheet about Why Guru Strategies for Blog Growth DON’T WORK… and What Does!, or follow him on Twitter @DannyIny.

Creating Great Content for Today’s Social Web

This guest post is by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting.

Welcome to an increasingly social landscape on the Web.  Social media started this shift from information to conversation, and now with the search engines increasingly using social signals to determine what to show searchers it’s a trend that, as a publisher, you have to get on top of to write and promote great content.

This post will discuss the movement of Bing and Google towards social search, and how that affects the organic search landscape. Then I’ll provide some tips on how this impacts your writing and promotion of your content.

Search and social integration

The integration of search and social media is already here.  Back in October 2010, Bing and Facebook announced plans for tighter integration. As I learned when I interviewed Bing’s Stefan Weitz, Bing is already using Facebook signals as a ranking factor:

“… if any of my friends anywhere have liked any (relevant) link across the entire world wide web, I am going to inject that link into my results page.”

Stefan refers to the notion of boosting a search result just because one of my friends Liked it.  But that is just the beginning, as we also can see that Bing is making use of the wisdom of the crowd, as per this example search on the New York Post:


Even if none of the 54 people that Liked “15 Best Dresses” are my Facebook friends, Bing thinks the article’s popularity is still noteworthy enough to show it to me.

Google does not have as close a relationship with Facebook, but is making use of other social services such as Twitter, and recently launched Google+

The bottom line is that social signals are a ranking factor in the search engines’ algorithms, and you can’t ignore this.

The social media revolution has much broader implications

We don’t know exactly how the Web will continue to evolve, but we know that more major changes are coming our way.  To get a perspective on why this is, consider the three major stages of the Web’s evolution so far:

  1. the initial failure of the Dot-Com Bubble from 1998-2000: too much focus on a land-grab mentality without understanding how to make money in the process
  2. the combined revolutions of ecommerce (Amazon, EBay, et al) and getting instant access to all the world’s information online (Google): this second stage is still unfolding and the third stage is already underway
  3. the social media revolution: this is driven by instant and continuous access to your friends, and the ability to communicate and engage simply.  Texting, Facebook, Twitter are the current driving forces, but more are to come.  People love these short communications so much that email is becoming passé, and the idea of making a phone call seems unnatural to many teenagers.

What has come with this third wave is a new way of communicating and a whole new emphasis on relationships.  People are beginning to associate online familiarity with your personality and who you are, and with trust. And trust sells, trust engages, trust makes people come back.

The implications of this on how you approach your writing are profound.  And, chances are that the importance of this social approach to writing will only become more important.

Impact on your writing: three critical concepts you must adhere to

1.  Build relationships with your audience

Social networks like a personal approach.  They want to see your personality.  They want you to share. They want you to evoke emotions.  These elements are key to creating engagement not just with your content, but with you.  Social networks make you more accessible to your potential readers and can play a significant role in growing your reach.

I remember when I first began publishing sites on the Web, the approach I used was dry and academic.  This was the strategy I used to communicate authority and trust.  I am beginning to think that this is no longer the right approach.  Do you trust the advice of a university professor that you have never spoken to?  Or does the combined opinions of your friends count for more?

The wisdom of the crowd is very much upon us and it is only going to get stronger.  As a writer, you need to accept the notion that trust comes from familiarity with you, and your ability to be approachable will enable you to communicate your message.

2.  Tell me why I care

The other big factor that emerges from the ability to get all the world’s information online is that there is too much information. We are more impatient than ever.  If I am going to spend the time reading your article, whether or not I trust you, tell me why I should read this article in the first paragraph.  Get to the point.

3.  Strive for uniqueness, not “me too”

Lastly, don’t waste your time writing “me too” content.  To see what I mean, consider this screen shot:

Making French toast is really, really easy.  I have not made it in 20 years, but I can still tell you how in two minutes.  We don’t need 2.54 million web pages on the topic!

For the search engines, showing multiple results with little distinction from one another is a waste of time.  For your average web surfer, reading more than one such article is a complete waste of time.  So even if I trust you, and even if you tell me what the article is about in the first paragraph, don’t waste my time with a useless review of something that tons of other people have already covered. Give me something new!

Mastering these concepts is essential for today’s bloggers.  Those who get there the fastest will be tomorrow’s authorities.

Promoting your writing

This may be the most straightforward part of this post.  You do need to integrate basic social elements into your posts.  This includes elements such as the Facebook Like, Send, and Share buttons, a Tweet This button, and perhaps a Google +1 button.  While the +1 button does not have the same usage level as the other elements yet, one can expect a meaningful integration into Google+ in the near future.

Going a little deeper, consider using Facebook Comments instead of the built-in comments capability of your blog platform. The content from the comments does not show up as search engine-visible text on your web page, but given that you are writing original posts, this is probably not critical.

But what it does do is function like a Facebook Share.  It shows up in the News Feed of the commenter, and the News Feeds of all their friends.  This is a great way to spread the visibility of your posts. It also provides some inherent spam protection, as no one will leave a spammy comment behind unless they have taken the trouble to setup a throwaway Facebook account.

Also, think of ways to entice your reader to engage more with your blog.   Ask a leading question at the end of your post to invite comments.  Install functionality that suggests other related posts they can read next.

The most subtle part of promotion is the way you use the social networks themselves as a direct extension of your blog.  Daily activity on Twitter and Facebook may prove to be a great way to build the personality and trust that people are looking for.  They both offer great platforms for viral spread of ideas you want to communicate.

Use these platforms to communicate the same types of messages as you do on your blog, but in smaller doses of course.  Use them to establish your personality and build the trust.

Is your content social-web-friendly?

Fully embracing the social revolution is key to the blogger’s long term success.  Based on the pace of the evolution of the Web over the past decade, it is reasonable to expect that the next major shift in web behavior is around the corner.

Three years from now, those of us who are centered on Facebook, Twitter, and texting, but have not yet adopted the next new thing that comes after them will be seen as being behind the times.  There will be many more paradigm shifts in our lifetime, and it will be important to stay as current as you can. Use the media that your audiences use to communicate with your audience.  It sounds simple, and yet it is critically important.

The first step though, is to adapt to the changes that have already taken place.  I could call this a requirement for survival, but I always use a positive mindset—I consider it an opportunity to excel.

Eric Enge is the President of Stone Temple Consulting, a 20 person SEO and PPC consulting firm with offices in Boston and Northern California. Eric is a crusty old veteran with 30 years working experience in technology and the Internet. STC provides Internet Marketing Optimization services to companies ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies.

10 Things You Can Do Right Now to Grow Your Email List

This guest post is by Ethan Waldman.

Everyone starts from zero.  Zero readers, zero subscribers, zero dollars.  I can tell you from experience that staring at that number on the screen is one of the most gut-wrenching things about building an online presence.

You’re staring that that big, fat, zero right now and you don’t know what to do about it. Sure, there are loads of people who sell or give away advice on how to rectify that situation, but no amount of reading twitter or buying flashy information products will change it without action on your part.

When I work with small, offline businesses on building a web presence, they usually start from zero.  In fact, they start from less than zero because they often don’t even understand what social media is or have never had a website.

In times of frustration and near defeat, one of the most satisfying things I’ve done is to take action. When you take action, you assume responsibility for whatever situation you’re in and attempt to change it.

Still, the first few weeks or months of building a web presence can be so lonely. One of the fastest ways to change that is through an email list. Having a quality email list is awesome because:

  • It’s sustainable way to drive traffic to your blog website.
  • It is something people opt-in to. These are people that want to hear from you.
  • You can use the list to figure out what your customers want.
  • It works immediately, regardless of the size.

Building a profitable and responsive email list takes time and effort. Sometimes, it can feel hopeless when you look at your subscriber numbers.  Over the course of my online journey, I’ve both learned from amazing mentors and used trial and error to learn how to grow. 

The following ten items are things that you can take action on that will help you build your email list faster. You can do them right now if you want to. If you’re not doing the following ten activities already, you’re struggling against that “zero” harder than you need to.

Add a Facebook Like button to your Thank You page

1. If you don’t have a custom Thank You page for your list subscribers, you are missing out on keeping that subscriber on your website. In Aweber, the options for a custom Thank You page are in Step 2 when you’re creating a web form.

2. Make sure your page has personality. A generic “Thank you for signing up” won’t cut it.  Use your voice, and thank your new subscriber the way you actually would thank them if you were writing a personal email or talking on the phone. This is also a great opportunity to remind folks that they’ll need to check their email inbox for an email to verify their subscription.

3. Finally, add the Facebook like button to your custom Thank You page.

Here’s the important part: even though subscribers will be clicking the Like button on your Thank You page, you can set it up to like any page on your website.

I would recommend having your Facebook Like button like your Signup page, rather than your Thank You page. Here’s how to configure it. First, go to Facebook’s developer page here.

Create two new web forms and split-test them

I improved opt-ins by 18% simply by trying out different sign-up boxes.  Aweber makes it simple to split-test different forms with one snippet of code.

Under Web Forms, scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Create A New Split Test. Give your split test a name, and choose which web forms to include by assigning them a percentage of how often they will be shown.

Back on the Web Forms page, choose Get HTML next to your newly created split test, and use that code in place of the single form on your site.

Check back on this page in a few days to view the stats. Once you find out what the best performing form is, use it all the time.  For even better opt-ins, do another split test with the winner of the first and two more new forms.

Thank your current subscribers

In his email list, Un-Stream, Jonathan Mead starts by thanking his new subscribers for the week. It’s a nice way of welcoming people into his community.  You can take this one step further: Send out a tweet or make a Facebook post: “Thank you to the awesome 68 new subscribers today to the Cloud Coach stream http://…”

This works on two levels. First, people like recognition. If you @ mention one or two of your new subscribers, there’s a good chance that they’ll re-tweet you (and the link to your signup page). Second, it builds curiosity for people who don’t currently subscribe. They’ll wonder what they are missing and click the link, especially if the number is impressive.

Try a site bar

Have you noticed the full-width bars that pop down from the top of the screen and “push” the whole website down with them? It seems like they are all over the web right now, and that’s because they work well. Visually, they break the flow of the eye as it scans down your page. The result is that they grab the readers’ attention for an extra second, while they read what the bar has to say.

HelloBar and ViperBar are just two of the options:

  • HelloBar boasts universal compatibility, a slick web interface with analytics (yes, you can split test your HelloBars), and easily customizable colors and fonts.
  • ViperBar is WordPress only and comes in plugin form, so there’s no code to install in your theme files. It also allows you to put a signup box for your mailing list right inside the bar.

Regardless of which you choose, your goal is to increase signups for your mailing list. Use the HelloBar to link to your signup page with a compelling headline. Or, use the ViperBar with the signup form built in so visitors don’t have to leave the page they’re on.

Sweeten the deal

Can you offer new subscribers some sort of giveaway for signing up? “Free Email Updates” is not a compelling reason to sign up.  You’ll be much more likely to get opt-ins if they come with something unique.

Not sure what to offer? You’ve probably already created content that you can use with your freebie. Just don’t recycle it! In their (excellent) book Content Rules, authors C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley explain that you should re-imagine your content, rather than recycle it.  For example, take five blog posts that are centered around a general topic, and reformat them into a PDF ebook using Pages or PowerPoint.  Here’s @C.C.Chapman with more:

Switch from personal email to a real email list provider

I can’t tell you how many small business people I know who do their business emailing from their personal email accounts! If you are committing this sin, most of the other tips in this article will be useless to you. Keeping an “email list” as a contact group in your Gmail account just doesn’t cut it.

Switch to a real provider so you can:

  • create web (signup) forms
  • find out which emails get opened
  • provide a safe way to unsubscribe
  • split test your forms and emails.

Not sure which service to look at? Mailchimp offers a free list for up to 500 subscribers. Be wary though, because Aweber is industry standard and once you hit 500 subscribers on Mailchimp, you may be hankering for the advanced features that Aweber offers. See this article for a more in-depth analysis

Create a warm welcome

Write a fun and engaging welcome message that asks your new subscribers to do something. Have them write back to you with the answer to a question, share something on twitter with a particular hashtag, or ask them to post something related on Facebook.

Dave Navarro has some excellent ideas around how to do this including, asking for a share on social media, asking for opinions, or even asking them to listen to an audio or video file. See this blog post for more on responsiveness.

The key is making your communication with your list from passive to active.  Instead of just reading your email, you’re asking your reader to take action. Dave does an excellent job of pointing out that if you start doing this now, it will be easier to ask your list to take action when you want them to buy from you.

Guest post

If you offer a freebie in exchange for signing up for your email list, write a relevant blog post on the topic and link it back to your signup page.  You guest post should provide the framework, and lead readers back to your website and email list in order to get the specific training or details.

How can you get a blog with higher traffic and reach to pick up your guest post? There are countless articles on how to do this all around the web.  The best way to start is just ask.

Increase your blog traffic

It’s a simple fact: the more people who see your blog, the more people see your form, and the more people who sign up for your list.  ProBlogger offers some excellent techniques that will help you achieve increased traffic with your blog.  Some of my favorites (and most successful) are:

Make your webform more visible

Is your signup form hiding at the bottom of your homepage or on another page all together?  Your opt-in should be in a prominent location and draw attention towards it. The top of the right sidebar is a commonly used location (because it works).

If you’re new to WordPress, you might have noticed that whatever you put in the sidebar appears on all of your pages.  You might want your mailing list signup to be at the top right of your homepage, but not all other pages. Luckily there’s a way to customize what you see in the sidebar of each page. To implement this, I would recommend using a plug-in called Per Page Sidebars. Here’s how:

  1. Install and activate the plugin through your WordPress Admin page. If you’re not sure how to install a plugin, see this tutorial.
  2. When you go to create or edit a page, you will see a new set of options below the body text. Check the Activate Custom Sidebar box and then choose which sidebar to replace with a new custom one. We’re working with customizing the sidebar, not the footer.
  3. Save your page and head over to the Widgets page.
  4. Before, you only had the option of placing widgets on “Sidebar” and “Footer” (which apply to the entire site). You now have an additional place to put Widgets. Any page you have enabled Per Page Sidebars on will be listed with “PPS – Name of Page”. Since I’ve just enabled Per Page Sidebars on my homepage, I see:
  5. Congratulations! Now you can add your mailing list sign-up form to the top right corner of your homepage without it applying to all of the other pages on your site.

Many of the actions above will only work for you once you have your website and email list in place. After all, you can’t build an email list if you haven’t at least created one yet.  Start with the ideas that are comfortable and the move to the ones that are more of a challenge.

The most important thing is to take action, and let me know how it works for you in the comments.

What could we add to this list? Share it so everyone can benefit from your ideas.

Ethan Waldman helps offline business owners create an online presence to get more customers. Right now, many people are using his free 4-day course, Pre-Sold & Hooked, to build a profitable and responsive email list for their businesses.

Should You Even Be Blogging?!

This guest post is by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.

Blogging is dead.

In fact, if you ask some people, it was never really alive.

Sure, there are a gazillion blogs out there, and sure, some of them have tons of followers and make lots of money.

But let’s face facts. Most of the blogosphere consists of ghost blogs with single-digit audiences, about topics that nobody really cares about. Most blogs make zero dollars, and even cost the owners money, as well as lots of time.

So really, it’s just a matter of time before the world wakes up to the reality that blogging is dead, or was never really alive, and returns to the comfort and security of print newspapers. Right?

Umm … no, not really.

I don’t think blogging is dead, and I’d like to think that I wouldn’t make such blanket statements about anything (I’m not a big fan of Twitter, but I recognize that as being my opinion, rather than the gospel truth). The above was a quick caricature of the crotchety, ain’t-never-getting-on-board-with-this-blogging-thing sort of naysayer.

And it’s nonsense. Not just because this is ProBlogger, and if you’re reading this, then you probably disagree with almost everything I wrote. But because you’re a smart person, who knows that absolutes like “blogging is finished” or “Facebook doesn’t work” may be right for some people in some contexts, but can’t be right for everyone in every context.

So let’s try another absolute on for size. Tell me how this one grabs you:

Blogging is awesome.

In fact, it’s so awesome that I find it hard to believe people still waste money on anything else!

There are loads of blogs out there with tons of followers making lots of money—these aren’t just hypotheticals, There are tons of easy examples that come to mind, like Problogger, Copyblogger, and Firepole Marketing (okay, so Firepole Marketing isn’t in the same league, but watch this space!).

Sure, there are some ghost blogs out there, but that’s just a testament to how incredibly accessible the world of blogging really is—there are practically no barriers to entry, which means that anyone can do it, and anyone can win big.

Blogging is the ultimate level playing field, and it’s just a matter of time before the whole world wakes up and realizes that blogging is where it’s at. Right?

Umm … no, not really.

Why blog?

There really are tons of great reasons to be blogging. Here are just a few, off the top of my head:

  • Blogging is rewarding. It feels really great to write a post that you know is solid, and then have people read it and agree in the comments.
  • Blogging is educational. To keep on putting out good content, you’ve got to be reading good content, and thinking about interesting things. This makes blogging a powerful learning experience.
  • Blogging builds community. For your blog to do well, you need to connect with others like you. They will have experiences that you share, and that is the start of community. This isn’t just a web 2.0 buzz word—community provides support and momentum, which are both critical resources.
  • Blogging builds credibility. Creating solid, relevant content on a regular basis is a great way to communicate to your audience that you know your stuff.

These are good reasons, but they aren’t the only ones—I’m sure that with a bit of time, you could come up with five or ten more to add to the list!

But rather than expanding that list for several pages, I want to discuss one terrible reason to blog: all the cool kids are doing it.

Too many people start “me too” blogs, because it seems to be the thing to do. Everyone and their sister has a blog, so you should, too. It’s the magical path to freedom and riches, right?

Wrong!

Just because others are growing an audience and making lots of money doesn’t mean that you will. At the same time, just because others aren’t growing an audience and aren’t making a penny doesn’t mean that you won’t.
Each person, blog, and situation is different, and you can’t just copy-paste someone else’s successes or failures onto your life.

So … should you be blogging? Let’s explore that in a slightly roundabout way.

Back to business school

I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re reading ProBlogger, then you’re after an audience, money, or both.
Let’s go back to business school for a moment, and talk about your business model. Fundamentally, your business model answers two questions:

  1. What are people going to pay you for?
  2. What will you do to make them want to pay?

Now, whether they’re paying you in eyeballs or dollars depends on what is important to you. Either way, getting them to do it depends on giving them something that they want.

And how do you know what they want? Well, first you have to know who they are—who are you writing for?
I read somewhere that when Stephen King writes a novel, he has a specific reader in mind—someone that he knows. When the novel is done, he gives it to that person to read, and if they like it, he knows he hit the mark.

Now, if this were a post about writing, then I’d talk about how you should be thinking about a specific reader for each and every post—how to make sure you’re writing what they want to read, using language that will resonate with them, and so forth. But this post isn’t about writing (but leave a comment if you want me to write that post!).

Where does your tribe hang out?

This post is about whether you should be blogging. So here’s what I want you to do. First, choose the person that you’re writing for. See them clearly in your mind, and don’t continue until you’ve got it.

Second, ask yourself this question: “Do they read blogs?”

If the answer is yes, then great. But for too many blogs (read: the ones who never hit the traffic numbers that they want), the answer is no. Like an organization for anarchists, they’re targeting an audience in a way that the audience will never respond to—even if the audience would love all their stuff if only they read it.

It takes courage to admit it, but if that’s you, you have two options: write for a different tribe, or write somewhere else (wherever it is that they do hang out).

Let’s say that the answer is “yes”—they read blogs. The next question is: “What blogs do they read?”

That’s the answer to where you should be commenting, engaging the community, and guest posting.

Who is that one person?

It all comes back to that one person that you’re writing for. Take the time to think about who that person is, and what they want to read. No complicated tricks or frameworks—if you know them, then you know what they like, right?

So who are you writing for? Who is that one person? What are they like? Do you know who that one person is for you? Share it with me in a comment…

Danny Iny is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the definitive marketing training program for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-marketers. Visit his site today for a free cheat sheet about Why Guru Strategies for Blog Growth DON’T WORK… and What Does!

The 7 Harsh Realities of Blogging for Bucks

At this year’s Blog World Expo, Darren joined with Brian and Sonia from Copyblogger for the keynote presentation, entitled The 7 Harsh Realities of Blogging for Bucks.

As Sonia explained, these seven “crying babies” of blog monetization are worth noting and understanding. But as the keynote speakers address each of these, they discuss the blogger’s alternative options: what you can do instead of making these mistakes. They also discuss the many great things about blogging.

The keynote presentation begins in the 33rd minute of this video. Let us know your reactions and thoughts below!