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Blogging Like a Shark: 10 Secrets to Bootstrapping Your Blog into a Business

This is a guest contribution from Matthew Capala of SearchDecoder.com.

Shark bloggers are experts in their field of choice. However, they rarely call themselves experts or gurus. Skilled blogging pros, such as James Altucher, establish their authority on social networks and search engines by creating immensely authentic and valuable content, establishing strong connections with their readers.

1 - James Altucher 2

James hardly resembles a shark, but make no mistake. Think more in terms of a “pool shark” versus a voracious eating machine. Shark marketers are at the top of the promotional food chain but not because they use force or deception.

2 - shark definition

In today’s competitive times, bloggers need to bootstrap intelligently to stand out from the scores of new blogs and brands with million dollars content-marketing budgets. Your objective as a bootstrap blogger should not be praying all day for one kill. Your aim should be the top of the food chain.

3 - predotorty shark

Predatory Marketing Tactics Dont Work Anymore

Shark marketers rarely if ever address themselves as “experts.” This crowd is too busy helping and connecting to pat themselves on the back. Think of yourself as a center of distribution. As you disseminate more helpful content to a growing number of people an inflow of leads, opportunities and money flows in to you.

Contrary to popular belief, the idea of bootstrapping is not based on using free marketing to spread the word about your brilliant idea. According to dictionary.com, bootstrapping means “relying entirely on one’s own effort and resources”.

Play to your strengths by leveraging your time and talent. Growing your blog usually requires a minimum injection of capital to build momentum, combined with persistent, intelligent labor. For example, hiring a designer may be a good idea – online readers tend to judge the book by its over before they commit any attention to what you are saying.

5 - time money talent ven

Unlike the monstrous, ferocious predators which roam the infinite online seas, whale sharks don’t need to use predatory tactics to promote their businesses. They use great content marketing to attract the visitors to their blogs like a magnet.

Today’s intelligent buyer will be repulsed by hard-charging, competitive marketing tactics.  Operate on a creative plane of thought to attract people like a magnet. Shift from a competitive to a creative mindset and you will win big on the Internet.

Stop stalking. Start connecting. Turn your marketing into a conversation.

6 - magnet

Market with a Magnet

Web users are tuning out marketing noise. Click-through rates are dropping like a brick. Visualize marketing with a magnet instead of the old, worn out sledgehammer advertising approach. 

7 - sledgehammer vs magnet

Use pull marketing to employ the principle of attraction versus the old school push marketing tactics that turn off today’s sophisticated consumer. Create value to become valuable.

8 - Own your ZMOt

Own Your Zero Moment of Truth

80% of consumers search for a product or service before purchasing it. Ranking your blog on Google for quality keywords can turn your blogger status to a rockstar overnight. 

Place a heavy emphasis on nailing down one of the top positions on Google for your desired keywords or key phrases. Keep in mind that only 15% of search results are the old-school ’blue links.’ Estimated 85% of Google search results are social media, videos, images, maps, and the knowledge graph. Fish where the fish are.

Increase your click-through rates by designing attention-grabbing page titles and headlines. Include thought-provoking or funny images in your blog posts to stand out and boost engagement. 

Owning your zero moment of truth inspires you to increase organic search engine click throughs by improving your ad creative writing skills. It’s a win-win.

9 - personal branding

Personal Branding Is Branding

Beginner bloggers often ask me: How do you draw a line between your business name and your personal brand?

You don’t. It’s one and the same.

Steve Jobs built Apple, not the other way around. You have built your own company, You Inc. However, being a blogger is much different from being a CEO. The first is a hobby, the latter is a job.

Consider using SlideShare to tell your brand’s story, including the problems you are solving and why people should care about your brand. Readers like eye candy. Creating a visually appealing tale forms an emotional bond with your target audience.

 

10-media company

Every Business is a Media Company

Blogs serve as one-stop shopping for any website visitors. Post articles, reviews, podcasts and videos on your blog to brand your business. Companies that blog get 55% more website visitors and B2C companies that blog get 88% more leads per month, according to Hubspot. 

Yet many businesses fail to achieve desired results blogging. They fail and give up on content marketing because they don’t operate like a media company.

11 - optimize blog content

Frequency is key to success. Blogging regularly encourages your audience to know, like and trust you. Build your blog on WordPress for increased functionality. Use plugins to capture subscribers and improve your presentation. Position sharing button beside each blog post to leverage your presence. Sharing buttons like the Floating ShareBar can increase sharing by up to 30%. Details matter.

Open your blog to guest posting and build strong business relationships. Join blogging communities, such as Triberr, to build solid relationships with fellow niche bloggers.

12 - startegy

Win Your Battles Before the First Shots Are Fired

Understand the difference between content marketing and content strategy. Content marketing is the creation and promoting of content to attract a targeted audience. Content strategy is the creation of scalable and repeatable content for a built-in audience. Content marketing is like baking a cake while content strategy is similar to owning a bakery. 

13 - cake bakery

Developing a content strategy requires intensive planning. Create content based on researched user needs, deliver this content through various mediums such as video and podcasts and promote along channels which resonate with your target audience.

14 - healthy heartbeat

You Need a Healthy Heartbeat

A healthy, vibrant blog looks similar to a healthy heartbeat. Imagine the steady, predictable ticks on an EKG meter measuring your heartbeat. Engaging through social media channels like twitter and Facebook creates tiny ticks. Sharing Infographics, videos and blog posts creates a larger spike which creates a big impact with a small hit. PR and branded content creates massive spikes. The large hits which make big impacts target news outlets and other large audiences through macro content campaigns.

15 - Heartbeat

Build your inbound marketing campaign on being disciplined. Work your system on a daily basis. Set up a content calendar. Starting at a calendar can inspire you to create content even if you don’t feel like working. Use this motivational strategy to hold yourself accountable.

16 - lead genertion

Invest in Lead Generation at the Outset

Create in-depth, thorough content you could sell for a handsome profit and give it away for free. This approach might seem counterintuitive to bloggers looking to monetize every click, but karma ensures that the value you offer will return to you in some way, shape or form. Use your free giveaway as link bait. 

Build your email list through this exchange of value. In return for your helpful, free giveaway subscribers will gladly offer their name and email address. Use tools like “Pay with a Tweet” to increase social sharing. Users can access your free giveaway by tweeting your giveaway link. This expands your presence and gives visitors a quick and easy way to access your free product.

17 - be interesting

To Be Interesting, Be Interested

Successful shark bloggers follow the teachings of famous behaviorists, such as Dale Carnegie. They generate interest by expressing interest. 

Expressing genuine, heartfelt interest in other bloggers will result in similar reaction towards you. Focus on helping others who need help. Engage in genuine conversations, add value wherever you show up and answer questions to gain the trust of your target audience.

Use social media tools like Topsy to find your audience. Run searches to connect with interested parties through twitter, blog commenting, and everything in between.

18 - marathon

It’s a Marathon Not a Sprint

Take a big picture approach to blogging. Each seemingly tiny step taken leads to solid if not spectacular results in the long term. If only you don’t give up to see it.

Work your way through temporary frustrations by visualizing yourself achieving great things. Professional athletes employ this technique. Clearing your inner world can motivate you to succeed. 

Shark bloggers are a driven, dynamic, and focused bunch. However, they combine high-octane enthusiasm with a significant dose of planning, tools and preparation to stay focused and play a long-term game. 

It might not be easy to be positive every day when you grow a blog from its infancy but doing so can provide you with immense returns in the long run.

Good luck!

Matthew Capala is an inbound marketing strategist, personal branding coach, Internet entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and author. He is an Adj. Professor at NYU and Head of Search at Lowe Profero. His free personal branding e-book, Away with the Average, has been widely praised. A leading voice in the start-up community, Matthew founded SearchDecoder.com, a venue for SEO ideas for entrepreneurs. You can find him on Tiwtter at @SearchDecoder.

Why Bloggers Need to Do More Than Just Trademark Their Blog Name

TrademarkBlogs

This is a guest contribution from trademark attorney Xavier Morales.

Should you trademark your blog name? While the answer will vary from blogger to blogger, in general, modern bloggers will benefit from trademark registration. At the start, blogs were something of a personal communication medium. But today, they’ve evolved into businesses and brands. In other words, they have become entities worth trademarking.

Trademarking extends beyond merely filing an application. It starts with the brand itself. Only strong, unique brands will receive trademark registrations. Therefore, a company must search high and low for any existing mark that can be considered confusingly similar.

Even after receiving a federal trademark registration, owners must actively protect their rights. Only they can stop other entities who infringe on their rights. That is, no one else will tell an entity to stop using your trademark. You must go through the steps to protect your trademark rights, which can sometimes include litigation, (though no one wants matters to reach that level).

What Can Happen?

The following recent cases illustrate many pain points in the trademark process. These bloggers applied for, or own, federal trademark rights. But they’ve each encountered obstacles along the way. Bloggers thinking about registering their own trademarks will do well to learn from those who have come before them.

Against All Grain

Danielle Walker had every reason to file a trademark application. Her blog, Against All Grain, barely 18 months old, had acquired an intensely loyal readership. She had just released her first cookbook, of the same name. Anyone in her position should seek federal trademark protection.

In August 2013 she filed her federal trademark application. About two weeks later she received a cease-and-desist letter from Against The Grain, a gluten-free food company from Vermont. A lawsuit followed a month after that. Against The Grain owns several federal trademark registrations for the sale of gluten-free products. But those registrations are not necessarily what spurred this lawsuit.

In January 2013, Against The Grain filed a federal trademark application, “to identify cookbooks, kitchen utensils, chocolate, candy and other confections.” The key is the first in that series. Against The Grain had filed for a federal trademark involving cookbooks before Ms. Walker published hers. That would appear to give Against The Grain superior rights. While they currently have no published cookbooks, Against The Grain founder Nancy Cain plans to publish one in October of this year.

Indeed, the case settled recently, with Against The Grain getting the one thing it wanted: a name change for Against All Grain. Ms. Walker must now identify her blog and products as “Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain.” Additionally, Ms. Walker must abandon her trademark application. She still does, however, own the domain name againstallgrain.com.

Finding a lesson in such a case can be difficult. Is Against All Grain distinct enough from Against The Grain? Could Ms. Walker have done anything differently to better protect her brand? Or was she doomed from the moment she started using the Against All Grain mark?

The biggest takeaway for bloggers: conduct extensive research before you pursue trademark rights. Better yet, research trademarks early in the process. It’s easier to pivot as a young blogger than it is as an established one.

The Honest Toddler

Sometimes two entities can happily coexist – until trademarks come into play. Such is the case with The Honest Company, which sells family and home products, and Honest Toddler, a satirical blog from a child’s point-of-view. The two enjoyed a friendly relationship; The Honest Company blog once featured an interview with Honest Toddler.

But then Bunmi Laditan, the creator of Honest Toddler, filed a federal trademark application.

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published Laditan’s trademark in April 2013. At this stage existing trademark holders can file an opposition to the application. The Honest Company filed an opposition, which sparked a long and well-documented debate among bloggers and commenters.

This case is quite different from Against All Grain, in that no one issued a cease-and-desist or filed a lawsuit. The Honest Company merely objected to Ms. Laditan’s trademark application for Honest Toddler. The next step in that process is arguing your case in front of the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). Before that could happen, The Honest Company tried to negotiate with Ms. Laditan, offering her a free license to use Honest Toddler (reportedly for only one year).

Christopher Gavigan, co-founder of The Honest Company, repeatedly claimed that his company has “superior rights in a class that she is filing in.” Ms. Laditan repeatedly claimed that The Honest Company had no such superior rights. The argument appeared at a standstill after a deluge of commentary in late July 2013. Indeed, there is little, if any, mention of the case after early August.

The case, it appears, has been quietly settled. According to the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), Ms. Laditan received her federal trademark registration on October 29, 2013. So what happened? It’s difficult to determine, given the lack of publicity. The USPTO’s Trademark Status and Document Retrieval system does make it a bit clearer. On September 3, 2013 The Honest Company withdrew its opposition. That cleared the way for Laditan’s final approval for federal trademark rights.

In this case, we see a blogger who stood up for her rights. She filed an application for a mark she was using in commerce, one which The Honest Company did not own. (Their opposition cited their trademark registration for “HONESTBABY”.) Instead of acquiescing to the demands of a larger company, Ms. Laditan stood her ground and won her case. There might be entities that can outspend you in court, but that should not diminish your rights if you have followed the proper trademarking procedure.

Food for Thought

Receiving federal trademark rights is only the beginning. To continue enjoying the rights and benefits of trademark ownership, you must take steps to protect your trademark. In some cases this might necessitate filing a lawsuit. While unappealing to some, failing to take protective measures can diminish your rights as a trademark owner.

So far, Timothy Young has declined to file litigation against The Huffington Post and Chipotle Mexican Grill, though he feels they have infringed on his trademark rights. Since 1998 he has held federal trademark rights to the name “FOOD FOR THOUGHT” on a range of food products. He maintains a website, including a blog, in addition to a wide presence on social media.

In 2013 he objected, frequently and vehemently, though not officially, to a collaboration between The Huffington Post and Chipotle Mexican Grill, also titled “Food for Thought”. It might seem odd that someone who holds the trademark for food classes would object to someone else using the phrase in an editorial sense. But Mr. Young claims he does have rights in this case.

Specifically, he claims common law trademark rights to use the phrase “Food For Thought” in an editorial manner. He started the blog on his site in 2007, long before Huffington Post launched its project. Since they both cover similar topics, just and sustainable food, Mr. Young might indeed have superior rights in this case.

Unfortunately, he’s doing nothing to protect them.

Instead of filing a lawsuit for trademark infringement, he launched a brief, but intense, blogging campaign to raise awareness. He has also gone on what he has termed the “Chipotle Accountability Tour,” where he pickets outside Chipotle restaurants. This might be effective for raising awareness, although mentions of the case have not increased since late 2013.

Mr. Young did file a new trademark application with the USPTO in January that covers a host of products, including: “On-line journals, namely, blogs featuring sustainable agriculture, green living, fair trade, activism and policy and politics related thereto.” Again, he believes that this is merely a formality, given that he started the blog in 2007.

If Mr. Young truly does believe that he has superior rights, he needs to protect them. Merely filing a new application does nothing. The Huffington Post and Chipotle will not abandon their project – or at least its name – unless forced to do so. Young can file more trademark applications and protest more restaurants. It won’t make a bit of difference if other entities continue using the trademark on which he claims to hold superior rights.

Trademark is a Process, Not an End

From these three cases we can learn about the different stages of the trademarking process.

Danielle Walker’s case illustrates the need to find a strong trademark before filing an application. In many ways “AGAINST ALL GRAIN” might appear distinct from “AGAINST THE GRAIN”. But given the similarities in the goods and services being offered under both names, it’s no wonder that Against The Grain decided to take action. The only way to avoid such litigation, and to receive a federal trademark registration, is to ensure that your mark is strong and unique.

Bunmi Laditan’s case illustrates the need to stand up for your trademark even when larger brands object. Given the outcome, it is clear that The Honest Company didn’t have firmly superior rights to Honest Toddler. Ms. Laditan stood her ground and won her case. Bloggers can take advantage of their large readerships in these cases, rallying support through social media and other channels.

Timothy Young’s case illustrates the need to protect your trademark rights. The Huffington Post and Chipotle will not change the name of their joint project unless forced to do so. Mr. Young has chosen to take the non-litigation route, which might prove detrimental to his case. If he does own superior rights, he needs to enforce and protect them. We will learn in time if his refusal to do so does indeed diminish his trademark rights.

The trademarking process does not end when you receive a federal trademark registration. It doesn’t end until you abandon your rights. From the start you must choose a strong mark. Then you must follow the USPTO’s process. Then, once registered, you must take all steps to prevent others from infringing on your mark and capitalizing on your hard work. For bloggers, many of whom have turned their blogs into businesses, this is more important than ever.

Xavier Morales is a trademark attorney who specializes in trademark search, registration, and protection. A 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School, he owns his own firm, The Law Offices of Xavier Morales, which can be found at SecureYourTrademark.com.

9 World-class Bloggers Share Their #1 Email List Building Tip

This is a guest post from Nate Desmond of SumoMe, plus half a dozen contributors you’ll encounter throughout the article.

Too many blogs are plagued by hit-and-run visitors.  These are people who come, read your article, and then melt back into the ether of the internet.

As much as we love to see spikes in our website visitor analytics, post views are actually useless.  Unless those visitors do something – buy your course, follow you on Twitter, join your email list – even a large traffic spike will leave you back in the same place a few days later.

So how can you transform one-time visitors into lifelong readers?

Simple: convince them to join your email list.

Next time you publish a new post, you won’t start over from zero – your new email subscribers will be glad to read your latest writing. Think of it as a great vicious cycle. More emails = more traffic = more sharing = more emails.

But how do you build your email list?

1sean_dsouzaI wondered the same thing, so I asked major bloggers for their advice.  Here’s what they said:

#1. Partner with other bloggers

“Strategic alliances help grow the email list. The clients already know and trust the partner and hence the trust is transferred to us as well.”

- Sean Dsouza writes at Psychotactics

Partnerships with other bloggers can help both blogs reach new audiences and build their reach.  When selecting potential alliances, look for two factors:

1. Size: While bigger blogs offer bigger rewards, they also are less likely to be interested.

2. Audience: The more similar your audiences are, the more benefit both blogs will see.

Keeping these criteria in mind, build a list of 10-20 blogs you’d potentially like to partner with.

1problogger

Here’s an example guest post on ProBlogger

Once you’ve selected a these potentials, decide what type of content you’d like to use:

  • Webinar
  • Guest post
  • Ebook
  • Podcast
  • Email
  • Physical events

Armed with these ideas, you’re ready to reach out to the bloggers you brainstormed earlier.  Particularly when you’re new and don’t know people, this step will often be discouraging as probably only one in 10 bloggers will express any interest.

Instead of becoming frustrated, expect initial failure, and use the results to steadily improve your emails.  As you start gaining momentum after your first partnership, landing the second and third will be easier.

#2. Prominently ask people to subscribe – then provide amazing value2neville_medhora

“A big-ass banner across the top of my blog helped a lot.  I also used CrazyEgg.com to make sure people were clicking on it.  I went through a couple of revisions based on the CrazyEgg stats.

At first I was afraid of asking for people’s emails because I thought it would annoy them.  Then I realized getting my posts via email were people’s favorite way of hearing from me!

Once someone joins my email list, I use Aweber to automatically send a series of epically valuable emails over the next couple of weeks.  This helps transform a new subscriber into a hardcore, engaged fan.”

- Neville Medhora writes at Neville’s Financial Blog

Rather than just sticking a form randomly on your site and hoping for the best, take the time to test the best placement, wording, and coloring like Neville did.

You should test many elements of your form:

  • Headline
  • Button text
  • Forms required (name and email or just email?)
  • Color
  • Incentive

The signup incentive is a particularly potent piece of your form.  Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Ebooks
  • Recordings
  • Cheatsheets
  • Videos
  • Email series

2nevilles_email_list

One of the incentives Neville uses to build his email list

Optimizing form locations and incentives will help you get many times more email subscribers than you do right now.  Just remember, getting email signups is only the very beginning of a strong reader relationship.

This reader trusts you enough to share their email address – now it’s your turn to prove you’re worthy of it.  Work to consistently overdeliver on expectations, and you’ll soon have a thriving email following!

#3. Use a non-annoying popover

“When I first started my latest blog, I just slapped a basic subscription form somewhere on my sidebar.  Barely anyone noticed it, and even fewer subscribed.3nate_desmond

Then I tried SumoMe’s List Builder plugin.  Literally overnight, I saw a 10x increase in subscriber conversion, and my list has continued growing steadily ever since.

I actually liked it so much that I now work for the company!”

- Nate Desmond writes at NateDesmond.com and SumoMe

Building an email list is one of the fastest ways to compound your blog’s growth, so you’ll want to start optimizing your email forms as soon as you get the first trickle of traffic.

3sumome_popover

This is the email popover I use on my blog

For me, SumoMe popovers have been the most successful effort thus far.  They’re pretty simple to setup (took me less than 5 minutes), but you should watch for a couple things:

  1. Timing – Mine loads after about 1 second, but you should experiment to see what works best for your website.
  2. Color – Make sure your form is colored similarly to your website – context matters.
  3. Wording – This is critical.  Brainstorm 25 ideas for headlines and test the three best.

Forms in your sidebar, footer, or even header can be out of your reader’s line-of-sight, so non-annoying popovers can be a highly effective way to get your reader’s attention.

4sean_work#4. Produce exceptional content

“Producing exceptional content that our readers can use to improve their craft.”

- Sean Work writes at KISSmetrics

Ultimately, the success of your blog relies on the quality of your writing.  A strong email list can help speed your growth, but everything ultimately relies on your posts and emails providing stunning content that solves real problems for your readers.

Quality content attracts potential readers to your website and inspires current subscribers to stick around and engage.

4infographic

This is part of an infographic KISSmetrics uses to engage

Here are a few things you can do to make your writing amazing:

Write articles that you would want to read and share with your friends, and you’ll probably be off to a strong start.

#5. Use Post-Specific Bonus Content

“Giveaway a bonus within your content that requires the readers email address.

Think of it like Facebook advertising.

My click-through-rate (ctr) on the newsfeed ads is 2.5% while my sidebar Facebook ads on a great day do .5% ctr.

That’s a 500% increase in clicks.

5noah_kaganPeople are engaged in the middle of the site, NOT on the fringes.

Think of this with email collection within your blog.

Make a benefit and give the reader a link / button to get a cheat-sheet or bonus document related to the content the person is reading.

Then ask them for an email to get that content.

If you are really lazy just do it for the top 3 posts you get traffic on.

I have seen this nearly increase my daily email growth by 30%!”

- Noah Kagan runs SumoMe and writes at Okdork

Advertising platforms like Facebook are working tirelessly to try to better understand visitor intent.  The more they can tailor advertisements to what a person actually wants; the more customers they will see.

You have a major advantage over advertisers though – since your visitor is reading a specific post, you already know that they have at least some interest in the post’s topic.

Based on this knowledge, you can create a targeted call-to-action offering exclusive content that builds on your post.

5email_incentive

This email bonus is from one of Noah’s recent posts

So what exactly can you offer?

  • Google spreadsheets with exact formulas
  • PDF “cheatsheets” with a quick review of your post
  • Video materials adding on to your post
  • Exact emails and scripts you’ve used in your case studies
  • Ebooks closely related to the post topic
  • “Inside tips” like the list of top giveaway sites in the above example

Whatever you choose, giveaway incredible value and you’ll not only get email subscribers – you’ll get lifelong readers!

#6. Use multiple signup forms

“The number one strategy that helped me grow my list was placing multiple sign up forms on high traffic pages on my site and offering a high value giveaway in return.

Today I have forms in my popup, in my sidebar, at the bottom of every post and on a slide in.”6steve_chou

- Steve Chou writes at MyWifeQuitHerJob.com

Different readers will be ready to subscribe at different times.  If you have a subscription form ready when they want to subscribe, your email list will grow quickly.

You should test email signup forms in all these locations:

6sidebar_form

Steve’s got a great sidebar form on his site

Over time, you’ll probably find two or three forms are dramatically more effective than the others.  At that point, you can remove the low performers and focus on optimizing the forms that do work to make them even better.

This is a principle that actually applies in all areas of blog growth – cut the strategies that don’t work and double-down on the areas that are showing results.

#7. Provide deep research that solves problems

“There has to be a steady stream of high quality content that actually solves the visitor’s problem.

There’s a lot of research that goes into the articles we publish, because too many of the marketing articles out there skate by passing opinion off as fact without any kind of qualification. The problem with that is that it creates a culture of “marketers” who blindly follow opinion without being willing to test that on their own.

By including the deep research, and really digging to find those “aha” moment, we try to create a “can’t miss” experience.7tommy_walker

The feeling is that if you don’t sign up for email, you might miss something valuable that increases your revenue. Nobody wants to miss out on revenue, especially if learning how to get more of it will be sent to your inbox for free.”

- Tommy Walker is the editor of ConversionXL

Most blogs today fall into one of two main categories: “churn and burn” websites that just publish frequent, basic posts and long-form websites that publish detailed, researched posts.  Both types of content can build popular blogs, but in today’s competitive blogosphere you’ll generally go farther and faster with long-form content.

How can you do this?

It’s actually not nearly as complicated as you might think.

First, litter your posts with fun, memorable stories.  Some authors actually go so far as keeping a “commonplace book” filled with stories waiting to be used.  Others simply write from memory.  Either way, adding examples and stories to your posts will make them easier to read and more helpful.

Second, use lots of statistics in your posts (and also in your headlines!).  Lots of posts can tell you that colorful images are more popular on Pinterest, but that’s not nearly as useful as knowing that colorful images get 300% more shares.

7case_studies

One of many specific case studies shared on ConversionXL

As you write your blog posts and emails, look for opportunities to share unique, actionable information that will make your readers think “ah ha!”… and hopefully subscribe to your email list.

#8. Place a giant lead magnet on your blog homepage

“For the last six months or so we’ve been displaying a “lead magnet” on our blog homepage that offers four ecommerce case studies that 8mark_macdonalddrip out via autoresponder. After subscribers get the content they’re added to our main blog list.

Note: we aren’t currently using this on the blog as we plan to deploy it somewhere else soon.”

- Mark Macdonald writes at Shopify

What’s the most visited page on your website?

You guessed it… your homepage!

Unfortunately, your default homepage is also probably the least engaging page on your entire website.  You’ve probably got a random array of your most recent posts, maybe a few images, and some sort of a sidebar.

Adding a major email form with a high-value incentive can help you transform confused visitors into engaged readers.

8homepage_subscription

Shopify’s homepage subscription box

By filling most of the above-the-fold space on the blog homepage, this email box is almost as effective as a popover at drawing attention.  The images and growth graph both make the form visually engaging, and who wouldn’t want to get 4 free case studies?

Unless you have a coding background, this could seem difficult to build.  Never fear! You can simply use this plugin to make something very similar on your own website.

#9. Persistently continue writing – growth compounds9penelope_trunk

“The number one thing that helped me grow my email list was persistence. I have been writing a blog for ten years, and working really hard and teaching myself to write posts that people love. When you write good content, the email list is easy.”

- Penelope Trunk writes at PenelopeTrunk.com and Quistic

Here’s the fun thing about growing your blog: moving from 3,000 to 4,000 subscribers will be just about as hard as getting your first 100 subscribers.  Growth compounds.

One of the most important keys to blogging is actually quite simple: keep writing and keep improving.

I always love Babe Ruth’s quote: “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

Generally, growth will be very slow for the first month or two; then it will start to accelerate for the next few months, and you’ll start to feel like you’re on fire after about seven months.

9publish_button

Practice clicking this button frequently

Unfortunately, the vast majority of writers quit before they reach the tipping point.  If you just keep steadily writing, your email list will grow faster and faster.

What single thing has been most effective in building your email list?

Nate Desmond works at SumoMe helping fellow bloggers build their email lists, increase social shares, and build thriving blog communities though a suite of growth tools.

 

3 Mistakes that Are Keeping Your Readers from Becoming Cash Customers

Image via taxcredit.net

Image via taxcredit.net

This is a guest contribution from Sonja Jobson.

You’ve been told that blogging is a great way to grow your business online, snag leads, and ultimately make sales.  And so far, your blog is helping to boost your traffic, spread the word around on social media, and build up an audience.

But leads? Customers? Money? Not so much.

There is a difference between blogging and blogging for business and, if haven’t been seeing much return on your blogging investment, you’re probably participating in the former.

But don’t sweat it – you can easily turn things around and start transforming your blog readers into cash customers and clients by avoiding three common mistakes and counter-acting them with simple changes to your blogging strategy.

Mistake #3 – Never mentioning your products or services

We’ve all been warned that, when it comes to marketing our businesses via social media platforms, we should avoid “pitching” our audience at all costs. That being promotional and sales-y will just turn people off and leave you shouting into an empty void.

Look, over-promoting your business is never attractive. If you’re constantly trying to make a sale – at the cost of being helpful and human – then you’re going to alienate your audience. Content and social marketing is all about being of service, providing value, and giving before getting. But there is a limit to this rule.

We can get so caught up in avoiding the “pitch” that we become media producers instead of business owners. 

You have to find a balance between producing really helpful content that your audience will get value from (which is very important) and educating your audience on your business and what you sell.

If you leave the last piece out, you may attract an amazing, engaged audience – but you won’t make any money.

Mentioning your products and/or services in appropriate places, at an appropriate frequency is not an offense, it’s a smart business move.

#2 – Creating content that appeals to peers, not prospects

A blog isn’t going to help find valuable business leads unless you are attracting the right readers. It may sound obvious, but a lot of people miss the mark on this one.

It’s all about the subtle differentiation between creating content that would attract your peers (or other industry leaders) and your prospects (people who are ideal for your product or service).

Let’s say you’re in the career coaching business. Your prospects probably don’t care about the latest development in career coaching techniques – that would be your peers. Your prospects would much rather read about how career coaching can help them get the raise they’ve been working so hard for or the five simple steps for figuring out what type of job they should pursue.

When writing blog posts that would appeal to prospects, it can sometimes feel like we’re writing about “dumb” stuff. Topics that surely everyone knows about. But it only seems that way because you spend all your time immersed in those topics. You’re the expert. Your prospects aren’t.

#1 – Not focusing on the opt-in

The number one reason most business blogs aren’t converting readers into customers: a lack of strategy for moving blog readers through the sales funnel.

A blog in and of itself isn’t a direct selling tool. It’s powerful way to grow awareness of your brand, build the “know-like-trust” factor with your prospects, and educate people about your business, but on its own it doesn’t generate sales.

A blog can get people ready to become a customer, but you need to have a strategy that goes beyond the blog to convert readers into buyers.

And that strategy is all about your email list. Once you get an interested blog reader to opt-in to your email list, you can begin the sales conversation.

Directing people to your email list should be one of your top blogging priorities. Include opt-in forms on your blog (the side bar and below each blog post are good locations) and prompt readers to subscribe often.

Once you get people on your list, you can deliver more great content to their inbox (like your latest blog posts) as well as sales messages.

Wrapping Up:

Remember that it’s OK (and smart) to mention your products and services on your blog when appropriate. Don’t get super self-promotional, but don’t hold back from including a link to your newest product or mentioning your helpful service if it fits naturally into the context of your post.

Your content should always be written for your ideal prospects, not your peers. Even if something seems obvious to you, it might be just what your prospects were searching for.

A blog all by itself won’t convert readers into customers. You need a follow up system: aka your email list. Make growing your list a top priority when blogging for business.

Sonja Jobson helps small business owners and entrepreneurs become incredible on the internet with content marketing. Grab her free, weekly biz training series and profitable marketing guides for even more business-growth goodness.

How to Hire an Ace Blogger for Your Company: A Blueprint

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Image via Flickr user Brizzle Born and Bred

This is a guest contribution from Steff Green of WorkflowMax.

Having been a freelance blogger since 2009, I’m used to looking for ways to improve my pitches and blogging job applications. However, recently I got to sit on the other side of the desk. I’ve landed the dream job – writing the awesome business blog at WorkflowMax – a cloud-based job management software for creatives and other service businesses. But we wanted to expand the blog from 3-4 posts a week to 7+, as well as start to work on some other cool content projects, and for that, we needed to bring another full-time blogger on staff.

It was up to me – and our Marketing Manager – to find this blogger. Mission: Accepted.

Having never hired a writer before, I turned to the internet for some advice, but didn’t really find much beyond very generic job-search tips. So, based on our experiences flying blind through the application process, I’m writing two posts for Problogger. The first is advice for companies like ours who need to hire a blogger. The follow-up post will be advice for bloggers who are looking for a full-time, steady job as a content creator at a company like ours: what to expect, and how to ensure you have the best chance of landing the gig.

 

Step 1: Write an Enticing Job Ad / Description

The first thing you’ll need to do is create a job ad that appeals to bloggers. This will be the first clue to prospective applicants that this job could be a good fit for them. Most bloggers that I know aren’t looking for a full-time job at a company (they are freelancers looking for several clients or making their income off their own blogs), but remember that you could be offering something that is quite unusual: a regular, monthly income as a writer. That stability for writers can be quite rare, which will mean you’ll definitely have a lot of interested candidates.

Because I’m the writer on staff, I had to take care of writing the job ad. I tried to highlight:

  • Different types of writing the job would entail – such as blogging, ebooks, EDMS, social media.
  • A sense of who the audience for the blog was, and the voice of the company.
  • A sense of who the company are, and the benefits and learning experiences gained from working for them.
  • Some of the perks the blogger could expect, such as flexible hours and their own laptop.

I wanted to attract writers who were used to writing B2B content, who had some knowledge about cloud-based software, service businesses and have the ability to quickly learn, adapt and write about a wide range of topics.

 

Step 2: Narrow Down Your Candidate List

We received a huge number of applications. HR sent us only 10 or so of the more likely candidates – so I didn’t get to see many of the real doozies. Our task was to narrow down our list to 3-4 candidates to interview.

If you are like me, you may never have had to choose interview candidates before, especially not based on resumes, cover letters, and writing samples. If you’re not a writer (like my manager), this can be even more terrifying. How do you know if someone is a good writer or not?

Here are my tips for narrowing down the herd:

  • Think of the resume as a blog writing sample. After all, they are quite similar in structure – lots of headings, lists, and bullets to make it easily scannable, highlighting key points, an eye-catching opener to entire you to read more. We received one resume that was literally a laundry list of points (“Studied Communications. Led 20 person team for International project, A in Social Media Paper, Good Communications Skills”) with no apparent order or hierarchy. If a candidate can’t properly structure a resume, what hope will they have to properly structure a blog post or ebook?
  • Look for creative thinkers. We had one candidate who wrote what would be considered a “risky” application – she made her cover letter into a blog post – with subheadings, bullets, a call to action, everything that is a blogging cliche. For any other job, this kind of application wouldn’t fly, but I found that in the sea of other candidates her writing stood out as fresh and different.
  • Remember not to judge the cover letter too harshly. We were looking for quite a chatty, personable tone, and many of the cover letters we received were stiff and stilted. I tried not to judge them on this, as it’s the normal tone for a cover letter. Instead, I judged their writing ability on the strength of their samples.
  • Ask for samples! We asked candidates to supply 1-2 writing samples with their applications. We also visited candidates websites and blogs to get an idea of the work they were producing. If a candidate lists a personal blog or website, go and check it out, because you can find all sorts of things you might not discover otherwise!

 

Step 3: Interviewing the Candidates

Now that you’ve narrowed down your applicants to a shortlist of candidates, it’s time to get those people into the office or on Skype for an interview. This is the most daunting part of the process, both for candidate and for company, because you’re no longer simply assessing if they can do the job – you’re trying to figure out if they will be a good fit for your team.

We narrowed our list down to five candidates, and interviewed four in the office and one over Skype. We were given a list of questions from HR that we could use, but we also had created a few of our own questions. Here are some of our tips for successful interviews:

  • Start by talking through their CV. I’ve never seen this at an interview before, but I found it an extremely useful thing to do. Often, our candidates had many different jobs listed – from social media internships, to project-based work, to permanent roles, and long stretches of freelance work. Talking through their work history (all candidates were quite young) gave us an overview of where they were going in their career, and helped pinpoint skills they had picked up and unique experiences they could bring to our team.
  • Ask about daily word count. An interesting question I asked each of our candidates was how many words they thought they could write in a day. I’m a solid 2000 word girl myself, and it was interesting hearing responses from 1000 words right up to 4000+. Wordcount definitely isn’t everything (quality over quantity, of course), but as writing is so subjective it gave us at least one solid metric with which to measure candidates.
  • Put them on the spot about their blogging knowledge. For example, we would give them a scenario where they had just written and published a post on our blog. Now, how would they get lots of eyes on that post? I was much more interested in those candidates who talked about forming relationships with other industry bloggers than in those who said, “um … social media?”
  • Ask about their future plans. Future plans can be a good indicator of whether the candidate is looking for a role they can grow into, or something to bridge a gap while they look for something better. We had one extremely strong candidate whose goal was to move into a strategic role, and her current role was already placing her in this type of work. Because our role is primarily production (writing blog posts), we decided she probably wasn’t right for the position in the end.
  • Get to know their personality. You’re going to be working with this blogger for a huge chunk of the week, so make sure you’re looking for a candidate that is a good fit for your company. See how they respond to your questions. Ask them about their working style. Talk about their career so far. Do they seem like a good fit?

 

Step 4: Create a Writing Test

This may not be a necessary step in every company, but we were really struggling to choose a candidate. All four candidates were strong writers according to their samples, and they had great personalities that meshed with our team based on the interview, and different strengths and experiences. We decided to create a writing test that was specific to our company’s blog. Our company regularly sets tests when we employ developers, so it wasn’t so out of the ordinary.

I set three questions that related to different aspects of our blog. It would require candidates to read through some articles on our blog and get a feel for our voice and our audience.

First, I asked the bloggers to write a list of topic ideas for one of our verticals – creative agencies – to help promote an ebook. Then I asked them to choose one of their topics and write a 500-word blog post based on their idea. To do well in the exercise, the candidate would need to look at a few posts on our WorkflowMax blog, and write some ideas that fit our tone and audience (A lot of guest bloggers approach us with general business advice articles, which is NOT what we’re after, so I was interested to see if our candidates would make the same mistake. Some of them did.

The test was the single biggest indicator that helped us choose our first-choice candidate.

When creating your own test, think about:

  • What activities your blogger will need to do regularly (idea generation, creating tweets, blogger outreach, writing posts, submitting guest blogs) and design simple exercises around these aspects of the job.
  • Keep the test short – it should take the candidate less than an hour to complete.
  • Give the candidates a few days to complete the test from home.
  • Look for ideas and writing that could easily work alongside what you’re currently producing. Look for the structure of a blog post. Look for details like linking to other articles, using headings and lists, and having a call-to-action.
  • But on the other hand, don’t discount a blogger because of features that could be learned – such as post formatting or compelling headlines. Have they got the basics right?

 

Step 5: Create a “points” system

So you’ve finished your interviews, and you’ve got notes written about each candidate. But now you’re stumped. They all have their strengths and weaknesses – how do you decide who is right for your company?

One thing I did is create a points system. We created a spreadsheet with a list of different factors, including:

  • digital marketing experience
  • copywriting / blogging experience
  • WorkflowMax writing sample
  • Other writing samples
  • WorkflowMax topic generation
  • Output – words per day
  • Unique, engaging voice
  • Future goals aligned with role

We then went through and rated each candidate out of five for each of the factors. Adding up the points gave us a score for each candidate. This helped to give us something with which we could measure candidates with different strengths against each other, rather than simply saying, “Well, Clara has experience in the cloud computing industry, but Doris’ sample was better. Now who do we choose?” This helped us single out two candidates who stood out.

 

Step 6: Talk to a Writer

If you don’t have a writer on staff already, then hire one to look over the writing samples and give you their honest opinion. If you are not a writer, it can be difficult to understand what makes a good one, and what makes a great writer stand out from the good.

 

Step 7: Make the Offer!

You’ve done it! You’ve found the right blogger for your position. You can now dance on a table and go out for a beer. But not before you’ve made them the offer, of course! We’re really happy with the blogger we chose, and she’s fitting in nicely with our little team.

Finding a blogger for a full-time position can be a real mission. But it’s important to find the right person for the company, because you are stuck with them for a long time.

Have you ever gone through the process of hiring a blogger? What advice could you offer other companies?

Steff Green is the content manager for WorkflowMax, cloud-based job management software that tackles everything from leads, quotes, time sheeting, invoicing, reporting, and more. You can find her writing business advice for creative agencies, architects, IT companies and other business that bill by time on the WorkflowMax blog.

How Your Business Can Make the Most Out of Google Updates

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This is a guest contribution from Emma Henry of True Target Marketing.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), when executed well, can reap significant results for an online business.  It can boost search engine rankings and increase targeted website traffic, resulting in more sales leads and paying customers. If you have plans to implement an SEO campaign, it pays to be aware of the latest Google updates to ensure that you adapt your online business as required in order to boost your search engine rankings and avoid being penalised.

The Search Engine Landscape is Changing

The latest Google Algorithm update has had a substantial impact on the way the search engine is now ranking sites. This update has been one of the most significant in the last 2-3 years. 

We are seeing a trend away from keyword-based search into query-based search. Google is now delivering search results based on what people would ask or say in conversation rather than on specific keywords. So, for example, “Where can I find …?” Or “How to ….?” Or “What is the …”

Google is attempting to return better search results that provide a more direct answer to these query-based searches. Hummingbird pays more attention to each word in a search query, ensuring that the whole sentence in the search query is taken into account, rather than specific keywords. The result is that website pages matching the entire query will rank better than website pages matching just a few key terms in the query.

Does this mean SEO is dead?

No. In fact Google says the fundamentals remain the same, and it comes down to having original, high-quality content on your site. Signals that have been important in the past remain important. Hummingbird just allows Google to process webpages in new and more relevant ways. Gone are the days when it was all about choosing specific keywords and manipulating your content and onsite SEO around these. Content is king. This has always been the case and has never been as important as right now.

So what does this mean you need to do?

You need to create good quality, relevant and unique website content on a regular basis around search queries relating to your niche. 

Google will reward websites who display the most relevant answers to these types of queries. The more query-based content you create, the more likely that Google will boost your search engine rankings. Answering common industry questions will not only get you additional search engine traffic, but it will boost your rankings for your primary geo-target keywords.

Where to find query based content ideas

The originality of your content is very important. It’s about digging deep and creating good content around sub-topics within your niche. Here is a good trick to generate content ideas: type your seed keyword into Google (that is, one of the primary keywords you would normally try to rank for). If you scroll to the bottom of the search results page for this keyword in Google, you will see “searches related to your keyword”. You can then create an informative article relating to a query around those related search queries.

For more content ideas, continue clicking through each related search term and see what other related searches appear, and create more content based on the most relevant phrases. 

Another idea is to note down all of the common questions that your customers ask you.  Or even get friends or family who are not in the business to list out as many “typical” questions that would be asked in your industry. 

These types of questions provide excellent opportunities to create informative website content. It is the language that your customers speak. The best thing is that you are in control and can put a spin on all of your articles that position your company as the industry expert. 

There are many other places to find new content. You can look at industry forums and see what questions people are asking. You can go to Yahoo Answers to see what sort of questions people are asking there. Another idea is go to Wikipedia and have a look at the categories and sub-topics of major categories for inspiration. 

Is Onsite SEO still important?

Yes! Page titles and meta-descriptions are still very important to help you rank in the search engines. It is important to write your articles naturally around the long tail search queries. You can optimise images for your articles with the Alt tag, however do not do this for all images and all articles. Label some as generic names such as building-contractor l001.jpg. Google are on the lookout for sites where the SEO lines up too perfectly and that appear to be manipulating the system and they may just penalise your site for that. You want to get the balance right, by helping Google to understand what your content is about without lining everything up perfectly.  

What does this all mean? 

Educate your market and become a leader in your industry – in the eyes of your customers and in the eyes of Google. The informative articles based around real-life questions will drive traffic to your site for people who are genuinely interested in a specific topic. People really do type industry-specific questions into the search engines. Many of those searches could result in a lead or an inquiry or a sale for you. The traffic that you get from targeting longer query-based keywords probably won’t be as much as for primary broader keywords, however you might rank very, very quickly, and if you attract that right buyer, you are more likely to convert than someone who is just typing a broad term. 

A combination of good query-based content and a strategic offsite SEO strategy to target the prime keywords is the winning formula to reach the top of Google this year.

Emma Henry is an Online Marketing Specialist and the owner of True Target Marketing. Emma tailors bespoke online marketing strategies for her clients. She specialises in lead generation, customer conversions, increased website traffic and improved website responsiveness. 

Theme Week Roundup: Which Tip Will You Put into Practise?

FINDING READERSLast week we delved in deep to the things you can do with your post once you hit “publish”. Some people feel as though that’s the end of the road, and others feel as though it’s only the beginning!

There are plenty of things you can do to keep your post current on social media, ensuring it is optimised for SEO, how to repurpose it for different channels, how to keep readers on your blog once your post is published, and how to extend your ideas for the future. It was a week packed with information, and plenty of takeaways for you at home. Let’s have a look at what we covered, and we’d love to hear your feedback on the ones you think you might like to try (or ones you feel as though didn’t quite work in your situation).

How to Socialize Your Posts For Maximum Effect:

Darren wrote extensively about where you can post your posts on social media to be in the right information stream for your readers. He broke down the choice of social media to what kind of time you have to spend, where the majority of your readers are, what suits your content best, and where your competitors might be. He explained how a rhythm to sharing is important, and outlined how to do this for maximum return. He gave great tips for sharing on Twitter and G+, and the kinds of resharing he does after the initial push. Which tip resonated with you?

Publish Your Blog Post Without SEO, and 1000s of Readers Will Be Forever Lost:

Rand Fishkin reminded us all that content can stay current after its inital social media push by optimizing it for search. He explained how fast your post can die if not supported in the first instance with good SEO, by paying attention to keyword research, the best way to go about finding a title and what kind of information to include in body content, and the best ways of reaching out to your network to get your content seen by the right people. I loved the presentation he included called “How To Earn Traffic Without Selling Your Soul” – something to think about if you feel as though optimising and keywords take away from the beauty of writing from the heart to connect with your readers. Did it have an impact on your thoughts about it?

How To Repurpose Your Content and Why You Should Do It:

Repurposing content isn’t just re-promoting your posts on social media, as Darren explains. It’s about changing up your content for different media streams, and for the different interests for your readers. It heightens your search result rankings, and readers can also connect with your work more deeply. Of course, there are risks present, and Darren outlines those, and he also gives his best advice for how to repurpose your content for the best results. There are some solid tips and concrete examples – which ones do you think you’ll try?

You’ve Got Readers To Your Blog: This is How You Keep Them There:

Day four was all about keeping readers excited and wanting to engage after you’ve optimised your post for SEO, published it to all the right channels, and even repurposed it for different reader needs. I broke it down into site design, reader comments and how to interact with them for the best results, and what you can do off your blog to drive traffic back to your posts. Everything from responding to as many of your readers as you can, being useful, sparking conversations between readers, to having a clear design, making commenting a breeze, and returning the favour of a comment on someone else’s blog. I’m sure at least one of those tips would be successful if you used them today – which one will it be?

Extend Your Ideas With Future Blog Posts:

Darren explains the problem he is seeing with current sites focusing on curated content, and how sensationalist headlines will only get you so far. He outlines the best tips to make you stand out from the crowd – how to go deeper with information, and how to provide genuine, interesting, useful content. He tells us how to find future post ideas in the post you’re currently writing, and how to extend previous posts you’ve written for a new readership. What is something you can adopt in your daily writing practise to help your information go further?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Theme Week: You’ve Got Readers To Your Blog – This is How You Keep Them There

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There’s no denying that driving traffic to your posts is usually at the top of every blogger’s list once they hit “publish”. And while we’ve chatted this week about sharing your posts on social media for the best effect, and how to repurpose your content so even more eyes see it – it’s time now to talk about keeping those visitors on your blog once they get there, interacting with your content, and engaging with you.

Reader comments

Reward your readers

Replying to the comments you do get is one of the best things you can do – not only to encourage that person to be a repeat reader, but also to show other readers that you’re interested in the stories they might like to share. When you put the effort in to have conversations with the people who make an effort to speak to you, it fosters more of a community environment.

Email your thanks

Darren talks about taking the time to email your readers to either thank them for their comment, or to follow up on something they’ve talked about. It is taking the extra step that will make them feel appreciated and more inclined to spend their time on your blog, where they know they will be heard, appreciated, and made to feel welcome.

Ask a question in your reply

If your reader tells you a story or shares an anecdote with you, ask them further questions about it in your reply. It’s likely they’ll come back again and answer you, and you’ve created the beginning of a conversation, not just been hit by a “drop and run” commenter.

Invite future comments

If a reader tells you they’re going to put your advice into action, or make your recipe, or in some other way take your blog into their real life, ask them to let you know how that turns out for them. When they do come back, you can then ask them even more questions: What was easy? What did they find difficult or confusing? Did they enjoy the end result?

Foster conversations between readers

When replying to people who have commented on your blog, you can tag other people in your comments, or highlight where someone’s said something similar, or answered the question they’re asking. You can put the call out for other readers to share their experience, or answer the commenter’s question in your reply to them. By making the environment on the blog conducive to conversation and then letting your readers exchange with each other, you’re only going to see a rise in engagement. This is one of Mrs Woog’s secrets to a highly-engaged community of readers.

“It is the facilitation of these conversations that will give you a really great insight into who your readers actually are. It is this information that will help you to work out what sort of content to deliver to them. What will work, and what will sink.”

Give considered responses

In today’s fast-paced, bite-sized world, a comment is an absolute gift. That someone took the time to read your post, form an opinion, sign in, and leave a comment? and/or perhaps even share your post? that deserves more than a “thanks” or some other brief nod of the head, when you can spare it. Sure, if you don’t have time to reply to every single comment you ever get, then this is better than nothing. But if you can give a chatty reply back, then you are more likely to entice others that it’s worth their time and effort to get involved.

Provide further information

Be useful to your readers not only in the body of your posts, but in your replies to them too. If there’s more information you can point them to, then do so. If there’s someone else’s blog post you can highlight – even better. They might even come back and thank you.

Link your content

If you’re talking about things you’ve covered in posts elsewhere, then highlight that in your text. If the reader doesn’t find anything in this post to respond to, they might be interested enough in something you’ve linked to and feel encouraged to leave a comment there.

Ask questions in your posts

A useful strategy to encourage readers to comment is to not only ask them a question at the end of your post, but also to weave in open-ended questions throughout your text. Create many jumping-off points to start conversations, and let people choose which ones they want. By asking for advice or reader experiences, you’re providing a forum for people to share.

Start a debate

Everybody knows that controversy is one way of getting eyeballs and engagement. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but even smaller-scale contentious points can entice people to comment on which side of the debate they are on. It could be as innocuous as asking readers whether they prefer peanut butter or honey on their morning toast, but it still inspires a desire to answer.

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Use a poll

Further to the debate idea, asking readers to answer a question about where they stand on a subject can be a quick and easy way for people to engage. You can create a post around it, or even have them permanently in the sidebar like the ones on Digital Photography School.

Reader projects

If you and your readers are participating in a blogging challenge, or another type of community project, it can foster a great environment for people to come together to chat about it. It might be something as big as 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, or it could be a fun creative exercise, like blogging every day for a month. When everyone’s in it together, there’s more of a chance they’ll stick around for the conversation.

Hold back a bit

If you say everything that’s needed to be said in a post, then there’s not much for the reader to contribute. While expert, informative posts are incredibly useful, it’s also a much better outcome if the readers are participating in a conversation around it, rather than just writing “great post!”. Leave them something to add.

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Be a mini-expert in something specific

There’s lots of posts on the internet solving common problems. Where you might have more luck with engagement is solving a rare problem that isn’t often covered. I have a post about recovering documents that are saved to Office 2011 Autorecovery. I pieced it together after a very stressful lost-file incident, from advice spread throughout many pages and forums. It is so specific I wasn’t sure if it would be useful to many people, but it consistently gets not only regular views, but regular comments from truly relieved and grateful readers who found it at their wit’s end. Even if you think only a handful of interested people will read the post, you might be the only person writing that particular solution to that particular problem.

Site setup

User-friendliness

If your site is clear, easy-to-read, and gives the viewer a pleasing visual experience (like Dustin talked about here in our last theme week on creating community), it’s more likely they will stay. The longer they stay, the more likely they are to want to engage with you. Dustin says:

“When someone lands on your webpage you have five seconds or less to prove that your site and its content is worth their precious time. So if your web design is cluttered, hard-to-read and visually unattractive, you’re content may not have the chance it deserves.”

Make it easy

There’s nothing more off-putting than a hidden comment section, a cluttered comment section, a hard-to-sign-into comment section, or a comment section that requires you to fill in the captcha code. I’ve heard readers say time and time again that they just give up when they can’t get the captcha right. Others go so far as to not even bother trying.

Point people to newsletters

You’re full of useful information, so ensure you’re letting readers know that you’ve got even more of it that isn’t always on the blog. Keep eyeballs on your site by making it easy for them to click over. If they’ve signed up to receive your newsletter, it might be the incentive they need to visit your blog when it arrives in their inbox. Make your newsletter visible and easy to sign up for. Also include it at the end of your popular posts, or in the body of your posts (when logical to do so, of course).

Call to action

It’s obvious, but still not everyone does it – asking outright for comments. Maybe you feel weird about asking readers directly to comment or share (I know I do!), but it appears to be very effective. Whether it’s a casual “I’d love to hear your thoughts” or even a “please comment”, it might be just the push the reader needs to reply.

Think about the kind of reader you are

What entices you to spend time on someone else’s blog and join in their conversation? Think about the kinds of things you like to see and enjoy elsewhere and see if you can’t replicate similar things on your site. There’s a good chance that if you like it on other blogs, your readers will like it on yours.

Make sure they’re notified when you reply

The best way of keeping engagements high is ensuring your commenters know when you’ve continued the conversation. Not everyone checks back to see if they’ve been replied to, but if they have an email notification (such as a Disqus reply) or similar, then it’s more likely they will come back to chat.

Off your blog

Keep an eye on your pingbacks/trackbacks

When you see that someone has mentioned you on their site, it takes two seconds to pop over and thank them for it. By showing you’re grateful and interested in what they have to say means it’s more likely that reader will keep being engaged in your blog and your work.

Return the favour

Being an active participant in the blog community does wonders for the kinds of engagement you can create in your own space. Reciprocity is a perpetuating cycle that’s beneficial for all involved. Comment often. Comment freely. Comment without expectation, but just enjoying the process. Comments beget comments, and while not everyone will return the favour to you, many will. Be one of the people who do.

Reply on social media

While ultimately it is beneficial to have people solely comment on your blog, it is good practice (and a lot of fun!) to reply to their comments on Facebook or Twitter about your post. Some people prefer to have conversations there, and some people are new to you. They might be more incentivised to click over and read if you’re taking the time to care about what they say on their social media of choice.

What about you? What have you found to be a useful way of keeping people engaged on your blog posts, and not just skipping off to the next distraction?

Stacey Roberts is the Managing Editor of ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. A writer, blogger, and full-time word nerd, she can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

Theme Week: Publish Your Blog Post Without SEO, and 1000s of Visits Will Be Forever Lost

We welcome Rand Fishkin to the ProBlogger Theme Week today to talk us through all things SEO. While this week we’re exploring all the things you can do with a post after you hit “publish”, Rand is reminding is to take a second before we do and have a look at the things you can do to optimize your post before it even gets into the hands of your readers.

For days, you’ve been agonizing over this post. The hours of guilt for not starting it sooner, the toil of finding the right topic, the relentless editing and re-editing, and now, at long last, the publish button is there, tempting you to end the struggle and at last declare this tiny battle over.

publish-button
(above: the blogger’s tantalizer, teaser, needler, and tormenter)

If you give in to that sweet release, it will feel good, at least for a little while. But in the months and years to come, you’ll look back at that post and, perhaps in revery, read it again, and think to yourself:

“That was a really excellent post I published. Why has it had so little success?”

It started so well. The post had some retweets on Twitter. It got shared and liked a few times on Facebook. Maybe it even got a bit of traffic from Google+ or Pinterest. But, then, the traffic stopped. Your post wasn’t “new” anymore, and the web world, it seemed, no longer cared for something more than 24 hours ago. In fact, the data backs this up – social sharing half-lives across networks are <7 hours.


spike-of-hope

There is another way.

The vast majority of content consumed on the web isn’t actually found through social media. In fact, the largest driver of traffic to web content (outside of direct navigation) is still the same source it was 3, 5, and 10 years ago, and remarkably, in spite (or perhaps in part because) of the rise of social & mobile, this source is still growing.

You’ll probably recognize it:

google-search-box

Search, and Google in particular (with 90% of worldwide share), still drive vastly greater quantities of traffic than all the social networks combined (some good research from DefineMG here). Given Google’s 3.5+ Billion searches performed each day, that shouldn’t be a surprise, but to many bloggers, thinking about search, Google, and all that “SEO stuff” has been put aside in favor of Facebook shares, likes, tweets, +1s, and the more visible feedback and applause that come from social sources.

That bias is understandable – a visit from a Google search doesn’t have a fancy embeddable counter you can show off. 30,000 visits a month from search engines doesn’t carry nearly the same social proof that 30,000 Twitter followers does.

But, it should.

The vast majority of visitors who come via social have a browsing-focused intent. They’re looking for something interesting, distracting, temporal, and, only rarely, directly or immediately applicable to an activity that will lead to them accomplishing the goals you’re hoping for on your website (a subscription to your posts, a following of your social accounts, purchasing your products, etc).

On the other hand, searchers know exactly what they want and when they want it – right now. Almost no searches are entirely serendipitous, but most every social visit is entirely so. A searcher is seeking to find information, accomplish a task, or transact in some way right this minute. That’s why they performed a query. If your blog post (and your website, more broadly) helps them achieve this goal, the value of that visit to both parties can be fantastic.

Here’s the tragedy:

When you look over those past posts, you might realize that yes, dammit! It’s time to do some SEO! No more ignoring Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the rest. But, sadly, that ship has probably sailed. One of the harsh truths of blog-focused SEO is that a few hours after a post is published, 90%+ of the ranking ability is spent. Sure, you could go back and tweak some titles, language use, or even URLs (depending on your CMS), but those don’t have a good chance of helping the post perform moving forward.

It’s that first burst of activity – of social sharing and people emailing it around and links coming in – that set the stage for ranking success in the search engines. The words, particularly the title, of the post are how others will describe it when they share, link, tweet, and pin. Those words are strong signals to search engines of how and whether to include your page in the search results. Likeiwse, the first few hours are when you’re most likely to earn that attention and awareness of potential linkers. Links are still a huge part of how search engine algorithms rank pages, and without them, you’ll usually struggle to perform. Both of these are short-lived opportunities on which you need to execute if you’re going to have SEO success with your blog.

Thankfully, you can resolve to make this a priority in the future. It may sound like a bad infomercial, but you can substantially upgrade your blog’s SEO potential with less than 5 minutes per post. Here’s how:

  • Step 1: Keyword Research
  • Step 2: Post Title & Body Content Inclusion
  • Step 3: A Teensy Bit of Proactive Outreach

Step 1: Keyword Research

Earning additional search visits from the content your blog produces over a long streth means ranking for a keyword term or phrase that gets at least a few queries each month. You probably don’t want to tackle competitive phrases where you’ve got little chance to rank on page 1, but you also don’t want to to be ranking brilliantly for a search term no one ever types. In general, phrases with fewer searches are going to be less competitive (if you want to get more data-driven about analyzing the relative difficulty of ranking for a keyword, there’s a tool for that).

Google’s Keyword Planner Tool is still the best one out there to show relative volume levels. Here’s what it looks like:

adwords-kw-planner1

I plugged in a few possible searches related to the post you’re reading now (which is, in a very meta way, about doing SEO for blog posts). The suggestions you see above are what Google’s keyword tool returned. They expanded on a few of my ideas and showed me some terms I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to put in. But, before we go further, there’s four important points to be wary of when you’re looking at the Keyword Planner:

adwords-kw-planner2

A) These aren’t ALL the terms and phrases Google knows are related to your keyword(s). For whatever reason, they’re not comprehensive and, on any given search, may omit numerous good options. This is why it pays to refine and rerun once or twice, and to expand your brainstorm list of terms. It’s also why I’ll suggest using another methodology in combination with Keyword Planner below.

B) The numbers you see are not accurate. We’ve seen them show numbers that are 1/4 of the actual searches for a term and we’ve seen them show 4X the real figure. What is useful are the relative quantities. If Keyword Planner says term XYZ gets twice the searches that term ABC gets, you can be fairly sure that XYZ > ABC. Don’t panic about choosing a term with only 10 or 20 searches/month. These low numbers are actually where we see the least competition and the least accuracy from Google in under-reporting real volume.

C) This “competition” does not refer to how hard it might be to rank in the organic results for a given keyword. Keyword Planner is showing a competition level that’s related to AdWords bids and how many campaigns are targeting these terms. Don’t be too discouraged if it says “medium” or “high” as the organic results won’t always reflect what the paid ads do.

D) Likewise, the cost column can be mostly ignored when thinking about SEO. The one area it can be helpful is to provide a sense of how transactional in nature the search query is, and the value of that traffic to others. If you’re thinking about offering ads on your blog, for example, you might want to note how much advertisers are paying to be in front of searchers for a keyword related to your topic(s).

The other keyword research source I’d encourage you to pursue is Google’s autosuggest. It often illuminates keyword ideas that you may not have seen through AdWords Planner. In fact, some of the best terms and phrases to target are those Keyword Planner hasn’t listed, but autosuggest does (this is because many other SEO-focused content creators have likely missed them).

blog-seo-autosuggest
Start typing, but don’t hit enter!

Step 2: Post Title & Body Content Inclusion

Once you’ve found a few keywords that might work, modify your blog post’s title to include it if you can. For example, when I started drafting this post, I titled it “Publish Now And 1000s of Visits Will Be Forever Lost.” It had a catch and it matched the tone I was aiming for with the piece, but it didn’t target any of those lovely keywords that can help it potentially earn visits for years to come. So I thought up three more:

  1. Publish Your Blog Post Without SEO, and 1000s of Visits Will Be Forever Lost
  2. Your Amazing Blog Post – SEO = 1000s of Lost Visits
  3. These Simple SEO Blogging Tips Will Save You 1000s of Lost Visits

Even though I don’t like #3, it’s probably the best optimized title (note that Google is pretty smart these days about interpreting modifications of words like “blog” and “blogging” that have the same meaning/intent). But, that doesn’t mean I’ll choose it. As I noted above, a lot of a post’s potential success is based on its ability to get in front of the right eyeballs. A title that’s optimized for keyword placement but doesn’t resonate with social sharers and potential linkers isn’t worth compromising for. Instead, I’d go with #1 or #2 and I happened to like #1 just a bit better.

The only other part of this step is to make sure the post itself has at least a mention or two of the target keyword phrase and is actually about that topic (nothing infuriates searchers more than discovering a page ranking in Google that’s not actually about what they wanted – and those user/usage metrics will, eventually, hurt your rankings).

Step 3: A Teensy Bit of Proactive Outreach

Chances are that when writing your post, you mentioned someone, used a graphic or image from somewhere else, linked to some reference-worthy content on another site, or called out a service or organization in some way. If you believe there’s any chance that they (the referenced party) would be interested in reading what you’ve written about them, don’t be shy – let them know.

Twitter makes this incredibly easy (and Google+, too, for those of you using that service). In this post, for example, I referenced a study from Bit.ly, some search stats from Statcounter, and a great post from Define Media Group. Immediately upon hitting publish, I should tweet, G+, and/or email all three of them and say thanks, making sure to point them in the direction of this post. Maybe they’ll share it, maybe they won’t, but they’ll know I appreciate their work, and that goodwill might be valuable in the future, too.

Likewise, if I know there’s a few people in my network or among those that I follow/interact with on social media or the offline world who might benefit from or enjoy this post, I should drop them a line, too.

This might be 30 seconds of thinking about who to contact and another 2 minutes sending the messages, but the reward for that effort could mean the difference between a post that spreads, earns links, and ranks, and one that falls into the tragic “Flatline of Nope.”

———–

A few last pieces of advice:

  • Don’t worry too much about targeting a keyword phrase in more than one post. If at first you don’t succeed, try again! Google has no penalty for a blog that publishes 3-4 posts all chasing the same keyword. The only time I might not do this is if you’re already ranking very well for a term/phrase, in which case, I’d consider updating the old post vs. writing a completely new one.
  • Updating & re-publishing can be a super power! If you’ve got a post that did well, but didn’t quite make it to the first page of results, consider revising it, adding in the most modern information, and publishing a new post to replace the old one. You can use a 301 redirect or rel=canonical tag to point search engines from the old version to the new one.
  • If you need inspiration for titles or content in niches where you think there’s just nothing exciting to write about, I can’t recommend Buzzsumo enough. Give the tool a spin with a few searches related to your potential topics and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Not every post needs to be or should be SEO-targeted. Writing for your audience, for yourself, or simply to court serendipity is a wonderful thing. But every few posts (or at least every few dozen), think about all those poor souls who are searching and finding none of your amazing work – do it for them :-)

p.s. A couple years ago, I created a presentation centered around my love for bloggers and blogging entitled: How to Earn Traffic Without Selling Your Soul. If you’re worried that SEO means sacrificing the beauty of your work, check it out – it may just restore your faith that the two can live in harmony.